Friday, May 11, 2018

Photos from Iceland (in January)

Months belated, because I am both way too busy and also a really absurd perfectionist, but now finally, in May, I've finished putting together albums from my most recent time in Iceland . . . in January.

There's a:

REYKJAVÍK ALBUM (including my wondrous rapture at the sea, the snow, the stunning light; beautiful times with good friends; and did I mention the gorgeous, gorgeous light)

and an

ÍSAFJÖRÐUR ALBUM (including romps through the beautiful, snow-covered fjord; celebrating the return of the sun after the deepest part of winter, wonderful friends (and a wonderful cat), and my study of what daylight looks like in a northern fjord in January)

As always, it's the irritating Google Photos set-up that doesn't always show the captions...and the captions are much of the fun and work that goes into it! So click the little "i" symbol if you want to read my hopefully humorous thoughts about the pictures.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Home again (for a given value of home)

I'm back in Aberdeen, where I arrived yesterday to bafflingly warm weather and a profusion of springtime flowers the likes of which we hadn't yet even dreamt of up north in Orkney.

It turns out my apartment building is surrounded by cherry trees! And apple trees! And daffodils! Aberdeen, usually so gray, has burst into sudden life.

Also, I made a map to show where I went during my month (plus a week) in Orkney. It's crudely drawn, but it gives as sense of it.

First, here's a zoomed out version that shows where Orkney is in relation to the rest of Scotland, and includes my trip up from Aberdeen by train and short ferry, and back down by overnight long ferry:

 And here's the map zoomed in to just Orkney. I managed to get to 10 different islands (there are 70 total, 20 inhabited), which I think is not bad at all, considering I was also working full time while I was there! Here's a visual representation of my time on Mainland (lots of parts of it), Hoy, Rousay, Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray, South Ronaldsay, Westray, Papa Westray (Papay) and North Ronaldsay:

Monday, May 7, 2018

Greetings from North Ron

Greetings from North Ronaldsay, the northernmost of the already quite northern Orkney islands. (Why yes, I do have a pattern.)

I finished my INDESCRIBABLY FANTASTIC fieldwork placement at Orkney Library a week ago – though they must be thoroughly sick of me by now, because I hung around in the library most of the next days, too, working working working on my coursework. (The assignment deadlines come furiously one after another both during and directly after the period where we're also required to be focusing full time on the fieldwork placement...the system is not terribly well thought out.)

I've been so grateful to be able to stay on in Orkney a little longer (I don't have hard and fast appointments back in Aberdeen until this coming week), which means I've been able to see a little more of the islands, even though most of my time I'm frantically working on assignments. Hence these couple of days on North Ronaldsay, where I've been partly exploring the beautiful coast, and partly working on assignments from a window overlooking the sea. Despite the looming deadline stress, it's a very good life. 

Incidentally, the only way to get to this particular island (aside from the ferry that goes only once a week!) is by tiny 8-seater plane. It was definitely the smallest plane of my life, and it was SO COOL. Here's a view over the pilot's shoulder, coming in to land on North Ronaldsay:

Now sharing the hostel with me are an adorably enthusiastic group of bird-watchers (North Ron is a major stopover for migrating birds, and the hostel here is an offshoot of the bird observatory). I'm getting up early tomorrow to go with them to see the "mist nets," where scientists catch, tag and release birds so populations can be monitored, before I have to head back out to Kirkwall then on the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen. 

Oh, and? North Ron, in addition to being beautiful (and covered in birds), is home to the famous seaweed-eating sheep. Yes, you read that right. Fences keep them out of the farmland of the island's interior and on the communal coast, where they live primarily on seaweed. They (the sheep) seem pretty chill about it:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Booky McBookface!

Today was (yet another) pinnacle of my time at Orkney Library & Archive... I got to go out and join the mobile library on its rounds for a whole morning. I've been fascinated by mobile libraries ever since I moved here to Scotland and started hearing so much about them, and it was just fantastic to get to go along and see it all in action – checking books in and out, chatting with the folks who came in to switch out one massive, heavy bag of library books for another. It's a really amazing service that makes sure people all over the islands get access to the library, not just those in the main towns. 

And a very fangirl moment for me, because I adore this snazzy blue bookmobile. 

(Got to hear some *very* Orcadian Scots spoken, too!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


The true spirit of Britishness is...a bag of 1,100 teabags.

(With a normal-sized mug next to it for scale.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Orkney! (It Makes an Impression)

My first week at the library was unbelievably fun. Everybody's been so generous about taking time to sit down with me and chat about what they do and answer all my questions. (Well, I guess the boss scheduled them in for that, so it was literally their job to talk to me...but still, they've all been so friendly and fun and welcoming.)

I've learned about both the library's physical sites, the mobile library, the Home Library Service (for homebound people), the Family Boxes (sent out to people on the really far islands that the mobile library can't get to), all the fantastic book groups/author visits/writing groups/other events they do here, and I learned how to use the stocktaking software, so that I can actually do something helpful instead of just following around being excited about what other people do.

I also got an unofficial crash-course in using the catalogue to check books in and out, because I was doing my inventory work at the front desk, and felt bad when people came up wanting to check books out and I had to point them to someone else because I didn't know how to do it. So I learned – at least the basics – and it was very satisfying to be able to help people myself.

There's so much still to come; I've yet to meet the children's librarian, or the guy who does the amazing social media, or really get to know the Archives upstairs, and I'm going to help out with (more than one) author event, and pay a visit to the mobile library in action...

Yes, I'm a little obsessed with Booky McBookface, Orkney's gorgeous mobile library. It's a really amazing service they provide from this one unassuming vehicle. Here's my dear Booky McBookface:

And on a personal bookworm level, okay, yes, I do realize I'm just being silly at this my first two days at the library, I checked out probably more books than I can read in my whole month here. Plus a bunch of audiobooks (not pictured). It's the danger of reshelving and doing inventory, you see all these things you want...

(The top two are Orkney authors, the next is the book I need to read ahead of a book club I'll be helping out with, then an Icelandic author I spotted on the shelves and someone said was good, then another Orkney author, then just a few books generally on my recommended/want-to-read list.)

I seized the weekend, knowing how little time I have here and how very many parts of Orkney I want to see... I went to Maeshowe (5,000-year-old Neolithic tomb...amazing) then wandered around the Stenness Stones and Ring of Brodgar and the whole area between two lochs that's a major archeological site still in the process of being excavated. It was a stunningly beautiful day, sandwiched fortuitously between lots of days of rain (and occasional snow). In one of the lochs, just as I was leaving to catch the bus back, I saw seals. How is this place even real.

The Barnhouse Settlement, remains of a Neolithic village: 

One small bit of the Ring of Brodgar:

Oh, you know, just some more standing stones. (Stones of Stenness.)


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Famous in Orkney

I've mentioned here before, at some point, how Orkney Library is known for their excellent, quirky, funny Twitter feed – it's followed by nearly 40,000 people around the world. (Yes, that means Orkney Library's followers are equivalent to about twice the population of Orkney as a whole.)

Today, I'm Orkney Twitter famous!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


I've only been working at Orkney Library for one day, but – bet you didn't see this one coming – I've already checked out a small stack of books, with plans for tracking down a few more tomorrow.

(I like to read books set in the place I'm in, and also as a writer I have an interest in local folk tales...)

Also, how gorgeous is this place?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Great Northern Scotland Adventure Begins

I'm on a train! (Well, I will be shortly – I'm waiting in the station.)

Today I travel all the way up to the very northern tip Scotland, then continue tomorrow by sea: to reach the Orkney Islands, where I'll be doing my professional fieldwork placement the whole month of April. A fascinating, beautiful place and an excellent public library. I am very, very lucky.

I'm already pondering plans to visit Shetland as well (another group of islands even further north from mainland Scotland), thinking that maybe I could go up there for a couple days after my placement finishes (that is, if I manage to free up a bit of time by also completing all my coursework ahead of schedule, ha ha right) and then complete the loop by returning by ferry, allll the way back down from Shetland to Aberdeen, a 12-hour trip by sea. Up by train and back down by ship. That certainly appeals to my romantic wanderlust...

Watch this space. Orkney ahoy!