By Eilidh Whiteford
There are 101 uses for baler twine – and wrapping up a bale of hay is number 101!
A 'must have' for country dwellers, and a 'recipe book of possibilities' for the first time user, the small, quirky, delightful and chuckle-inducing book by Frank Rennie helps illustrate the diversity and scope of island-based publishers Acair Books, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Lost the drawstring from your hoodie-top – no problem, use some baler twine. Hinges broken on the gate and need a quick fix – baler twine; need to tie your long hair back but have no bobble – baler twine; lost your spectacles chain – baler twine; starter chord on the lawn mower broken – baler twine...
There really are 101, and it appears many more beside, uses for baler twine, as Frank Rennie says in his introduction: “This book began as a joke, well, a wind-up really. I started to tease my daughters every time I saw a piece of baler-twine being utilised around the croft. 'Look! See how useful it is? That's another use for baler-twine!'.”
But “the idea began to grow wings,” he continues. “The concept of this book is half serious and wholly for fun. The uses of baler twine recorded here (and there have been several more suggestions since it was finished) are all actual, practical uses, even if some of them are a bit unusual and not seen every day.”
'101 Uses For Baler Twine' is a fun wee book and one that indicates the huge range of reading materials published by Acair during the four decades since its establishment in December 1977.
The origins of Acair Books can be found in the Bilingual Education Project, began in the Western Isles in 1975, and which recognised an urgent need for new Gaelic books for children. And this work continues. Acair also presents new Gaelic novels and non-fiction for adults, as well as English or bilingual books with a social, historical or cultural relevance to the Highlands and Islands.
Indeed, over its 40 years Acair Books has published a total of 915 titles – 215 of which are currently still in print.
And one of the latest releases from Acair Books – a far cry from the hilarity of '101 Uses For Baler Twine' – is the tale of the struggle and ultimate triumph of a tiny Harris community in Kenny Mackay's book 'Rhenigidale: A Community's Fight for Survival'.
The local postman, Kenny, was instrumental in winning the half century long battle to gain a road from the village of Rhenigidale on the Isle of Harris to the outside world. Campaigning first began in the 1930s, and in 1974 the first plans for the Rhenigidale road were drawn up; but more hard lobbying and fundraising was needed before the road was officially opened in 1990.
Kenny was the Rheinigidale postman from 1975 to 1987, walking daily the three and a half miles across the moor track to Tarbert and back again. He took this over from his uncle Duncan MacInnes, and in the same year, 1975, took over spearheading the road campaign from his uncle Roddy.
Recalling the moment the lobbying spirit took him, Kenny says: “I remember coming back on a bus after a burial at Luskentyre. I distinctly remember another person on the bus making fun of my uncle – that he was fighting a lost cause – and even making fun of the problems we had here. I stayed quiet that day but from then on I got involved in the long campaign road.”
On the publication of Kenny's book 'Rhenigidale: A Community's Fight for Survival', Acair manager Anges Rennie said: “This is a story that had to be told and recorded for future generations and who better to tell it than the man who was at the centre of things, leading the campaign.”
To find out more about the titles explored here, and view the wealth of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children's books available from Acair Books, please visit www.acairbooks.com
And whilst Acair Books have provided a voice and an outlet for writers locally, a number of island-based authors have attracted the interest of international leading independent publishing house Bloomsbury.
A well-known figure around Stornoway's harbour, poet, writer and storyteller Ian Stephen's latest title 'Waypoints' displays the magical draw of Scotland's west coast and islands – and reveals both literary and artistic talent, with stunning illustrations created by Ian's wife, artist Christine Morrison.
Ian fell in love with boats and sailing as a boy, pairing this love affair with a passion for the beautiful but merciless Scottish coastline, the inspirational and motivating force behind his poems, stories, plays, radio broadcasts and visual arts projects for many years.
'Waypoints' is a culmination of this lifetime passion – adventure, memoir, storytelling and a celebration of all things maritime meet in the written account of sea journeys around Scotland's west coast.
Another island writer to be published by Bloomsbury is author, poet and Gaelic playwright Donald S. Murray, originally from Ness on the Isle of Lewis and who now lives in south Shetland.
As with many island writers, Donald's poetry and prose is often about islands and the wildlife on and around them – and in 'Herring Tales: How the Silver Darlings Shaped Human Taste and History', he takes readers on an odyssey around the coastlines of northern Europe in search of a fish that once fed a continent body and soul.
Following a journey from the western edge of Norway to the east of England, from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides to the fishing ports of the Baltic coast of Germany and the Netherlands, culminating in a visit to Iceland's Herring Era Museum, Donald S. Murray has stitched together tales of the fish that was of central importance to the lives of our ancestors, noting how both it – and those involved in their capture – were celebrated in the art, literature, craft, music and folklore of life in northern Europe.
Both Ian Stephen's 'Waypoints' and Donald S. Murray's 'Herring Tales' are available through Bloomsbury – please visit www.bloomsbury.com/uk
And from large global publishers to smaller independents and self-publishing, 'Lady of St Kilda', by Harris resident John M MacAulay, was released last year on Flodabay-based Isle Press.
Born in the small village of Flodabay, John M MacAulay worked in various boatbuilding yards in Scotland before setting up his own successful business, Atlantic Marine Company, in Leverburgh, Harris.
A well-respected builder of traditional wooden boats, he is a native Gaelic speaker, local historian, folklorist and tradition bearer – and combines all in his latest work, charting the history of the 'Lady of St Kilda', a famous topsail schooner.
John M MacAulay's title weaves together the remarkable history of the islands of St Kilda with the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, the Azores fruit trade for which such schooners were designed, and a remarkable 12,000 miles round trip, pieced together from the surviving ship's log.
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland of Devon and his wife travelled to the Hebridean St Kilda in 1812 and fell in love with the remote islands and their people. In 1834, at Dartmouth, the 100ft, 136 ton yacht 'Lady of St Kilda' was built for Sir Thomas, and captained by pioneering navigator Fairfax Moresby.
A book that informs and delights, tells the lives of the intrepid men that sailed in the 'Lady' – complete with drunken sailors, a flogging, skulduggery and rebel pirates – and the amazing places which have been graced with her presence, 'Lady of St Kilda: A Famous Topsail Schooner' is available from Isle Press, Flodabay, Isle of Harris, HS3 3HA.