White Below, published by Hansel Cooperative Press, is a collection of short stories and poems by six Shetland writers. As the title suggests, the writing focuses on Shetland’s fishing culture, and the writers involved have used conversations with fishermen, gutters and their families, to develop new works with a common theme.
Laureen Johnson, who researched the seasonal work of the gutters as they followed the herring, celebrates their labour in poems like Barrels and Rhythms, while reflecting also on lightsome times in Wir Hut and Gutted. The woman’s viewpoint is also reflected in Lise Sinclair’s longer poem Kuna, while Mark Smith takes a humorous look at the generation gap in A owld fisherman bulders at a young een.
The psychological and physical hazards facing the apprentice fisherman is the subject of Charlie Simpson’s Turbot Line, John Cumming’s Da Nipper and Smith’s The Fisherman. In Settlin Up, James Sinclair’s old fisherman looks, with some trepidation, on his forthcoming retiral.
Arranged in chapters under headings such as Da Boat and Darg, this book provides a rich contrast to the existing library of historical studies of Shetland’s fishing industry. Illustrated with simple line and wash drawings by John Cumming, it gathers from the live traditions of those Shetlanders who went to sea in search of sustenance, companionship, adventure and mastery; and those who added value to the catch in the herring-curing industry. It is, as John Goodlad suggests in his foreword, a project long overdue. Let’s hope this is only the first of many such ventures. The writers will read from their work on Friday 7th May at 6.00 pm in the Boat Hall at Shetland Museum and Archive.