By Eilidh Whiteford
A collection of wonderful, charming, at times poignant and often very funny tales from one of Stornoway’s ‘old guard’, Mr Pat MacFarlane, is proving to be a hit for Lewis based Gaelic publishers Acair Ltd.
Launched on Pat’s 95th birthday in 2015, ‘A Stornoway Life – From Scotland Street to South Africa’, sees the author reflect on his early life growing up in Stornoway, in the same Scotland Street house built by his great-grandfather in 1920 where Pat still lives. Then there are his war years in South Africa and tales of the many acquaintances he met through his iconic town centre bookshop, Loch Erisort.
From stories recalling childhood games, japes and ploys that went with growing up in that era, to tales of his service during the war years – Pat trained pilots how to land planes using early simulators – and musings on the plethora of individuals and characters that have made their way into his life, the book is charming, laughout- loud funny and full of personality; just like Pat himself.
‘A Stornoway Life’ is just one of the recent publications from the Lewis-based publishing house to have hit the mark with audiences.
And within the industry itself, the work of Acair has been honoured, with ‘Dol Fodha na Greine’ (The Going Down of the Sun) being awarded the Overall Literature Prize at the Royal National Mod last year.
Co-published by Acair and Comunn Eachdraidh Nis (Ness Historical Society) to mark 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, the bilingual work delivers a poignant account of one community’s war-time experiences through a collection of photographs and pieces of writing.
‘Cuimhneachan – Remembrance’, is another title launched in commemoration of World War I and presents the first anthology on Gaelic verse from the Great War, giving prominence to the voices of the soldiers and sailors who fought, as well as the mothers, sisters, and wives who waited for them back home.
From spirited patriotic verse composed at the beginning of the war to the final tragedy of New Year’s Day 1919 and the loss of over 200 returning servicemen on the Iolaire, ‘Remembrance’ gives a unique view of war as experience by Gaelic speakers with poems published in their native tongue, with English translation, as well as notes on authors and key personalities and events mentioned.
Established in 1976 to provide Gaelic language materials for bilingual education, Acair Ltd has grown, producing new and original works of Gaelic fiction and championing new Gaelic writers, as well as presenting bilingual books on a variety of topics from original poetry and plays to local historical titles and books with social and cultural relevance to the Highlands and Islands.
Working in collaboration with the Scottish Book Trust, Acair deliver a plethora of Gaelic titles for pre-school and primary schools through the BookBug project; and its ‘Sgriob’ series, aimed at eight to 12-year-olds, is offering a platform for many new, unpublished authors.
And the new fiction series ‘Aiteal’ – meaning ‘a glimpse of sunshine’ in Gaelic –also delivers a treasure trove of literary delights, including ‘An Aisling’ by Alison Lang which received a ‘Highly Commended’ accolade in the prestigious Donald Meek Awards, set up to encourage new and creative writing.
Translating as ‘The Dream’, Lang’s fiction is an unruly saga of friendship, jealousy, Gaelic identity, Scottish politics, a 25-year romance and a whole lot of guilt and questions as what started as a student joke, the dream of a new Gaelic-speaking community to escape the bleak economy of the 1990s, is left shattered twenty years on.
Also recently released under the Aiteal title is ‘An Dosan’, the fourth novel by Lewis writer Norma Macleod and winner of the Donald Meek Award for Gaelic Literature at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015. A book within a book, ‘An Dosan’ focuses on an eccentric character called The Dosan, short for his proper name Domhnall Seumas Iain, who sets out to write a novel, becoming increasingly unhinged as he does so, the chapters from which interweave with Norma’s writing.
Outside the fictional world, and recent Acair titles proving popular include ‘Gu Leor’ (Galore) by imaginative and innovative poet Peter Mackay. Written in Gaelic and English, with the sensibility of a native speaker and an astute reader of poetry, the voice of Peter’s work is lyrical and cogent, with an exotic vocabulary that presents an intelligent, measured and powerfully resonant collection, with a maturity far beyond that of a poet publishing his first full anthology.
‘Ceol Chaluim – The Pipe tunes of Calum Campbell of Benbecula’ highlights some 50 previously unpublished tunes, tinged with poignancy as the composer, Calum Campbell tragically died, alongside his daughter and her family, in the hurricane which hit the Hebrides in early January 2005.
The wealth of pipe tunes left by the accomplished piper, tutor and prolific composer have been edited by Niall Caimbeul and Catriona Garbutt, his son and sister, and published by Acair Ltd, keep the memory of Calum’s works alive.
And the publication of ‘Dun Eistean – Ness’ by Rachel Barrowman; and ‘The Archaeology of Ness’ by Chris Barrowman, focus on the history and discoveries unearthed in the northern most Lewis region.
‘Dun Eistean’ encapsulates a remarkable archaeological study, one that has transformed the understanding of Medieval Gaeldom; and the lavishly illustrated ‘The Archaeology of Ness’ takes a closer and very detailed look at the Ness landscape and what it reveals.
With over 500 titles published by Acair Ltd since 1976, there is something to suit every literary taste – and to find out more, including the publisher’s back catalogue, visit www.acairbooks.com