Congratulations to Gerda Stevenson who have been nominated in Scots Writer o the Year sponsored by Creative Scotland in the Scots Language Awards 2020. Vote now!
We asked Gerda Stevenson the following questions.
Tell us aboot yersel or yer ootfit.
I’m a writer, singer-songwriter, actor, director.
IF THIS WERE REAL (poetry collection, Smokestack Books, 2013; Italian translation SE QUESTO FOSSE VERO, Edizioni Ensemble, Rome, 2017)
QUINES: Poems in Tribute to Women of Scotland (Luath Press, 1st edition 2018, 2nd edition 2020; Italian translation to be published November 2020 by Edizioni Ensemble, Rome)
INSIDE & OUT: the Art of Christian Small (introduction and poems by Gerda Stevenson, 1st edition: Lyne Press, 2018; 2nd edition: Scotland Street Press, 2019)
EDINBURGH (Allan Wright Photographic, 2019, a collaboration with landscape photographer, Allan Wright, introduction and poems by Gerda Stevenson)
Whit wis it got ye involvit wi the Scots leid?
I’m often asked: “Why do you choose to write in Scots?” This question can carry an assumption, i.e. that the act of writing in a language – particularly a minority language – is a choice, and possibly a political one. For me, it’s neither. I write simply in the voice that suggests itself to me, based on instinct and research. And I’m fortunate to have access to two languages – English and Scots. I was born and raised in the Scottish Borders, a daughter of English parents. I grew up hearing Scots spoken in my home village, including at primary and high schools. My father, the composer/pianist Ronald Stevenson, set the words of many Scots language poets to music, including Hugh MacDiarmid, William Soutar and Helen B. Cruickshank, all of whom were involved in the Scottish Renaissance, at the forefront of the revival of the Scots language. So, from early childhood, I was exposed to literature in Scots and connections across art forms, in this case, music and literature, through the creation of songs. As an actor, I’ve performed in many Scots language plays by writers such as Sir David Lyndsay, Hector MacMillan, Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan.
Ony particlar career heighlichts?
I love collaborating with fellow artists. This year I was fortunate to be commissioned to write the lyrics for WHERE THE CITY FLOWS: NEWHAVEN, a song for Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, with music by my long-term collaborator, composer Dee Isaacs. This was a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh’s Music in the Community (MIC) department and Victoria Primary School, Newhaven.
The song celebrates Newhaven, a coastal area of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth. Once a small fishing village, it has a rich history. As part of the research process for writing the song, I visited Newhaven’s Victoria Primary School, on Main Street, and the exhibition there, which contains many fascinating objects – a model of the warship The Great Michael, coloured glass fishing net floats, old photographs, and information about the locality. My remit was to create a song of about 8-10 minutes in length for a choir of 160 school children and fifteen university students. Like many songs from Scotland’s coastal fishing areas, including Newhaven, this song is in Scots. I attended rehearsals of the song, but unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the performance in Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall was cancelled. But you can read and hear me reading the lyrics here: http://scotsinschools.co.uk/poems.html
It was a pleasure this summer, during Lockdown, to be reunited – remotely! – with my colleague the actor Amy Conachan, when I was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and BBC to direct a short film for their Scenes For Survival series – an excerpt from ‘Skeleton Wumman’, a Scots Language play I wrote for stage, originally for three actors. I have never directed rehearsals on Zoom before – a challenging, but fascinating process, working with the whole production team online: https://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/latest/skeleton-wumman
Last year and during the early part of this year, before lockdown, I also had the pleasure of touring around Scotland with Freeland Barbour, promoting his book ‘The White Rose of Gask’ promoting his new biography of the great 18th century songwriter Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne. Freeland has also published her songs, ‘The Lays of Strathearn’, which have been out of print for over a hundred years. Freeland and I read excerpts from the biography, and I sing Lady Nairn’s truly great songs, such as The Land o the Leal, many of which have long been assumed to be by Burns:
A purely personal Lockdown project – a task which I set myself – has been translating a marvellous Norwegian song, Til Ungdommen – into Scots: Tae the Young. I happened to hear it on the radio, sung in Norwegian by Ingebjørg Bratland, and was so impressed that I wanted to sing it myself. The song was written by Nordahl Grieg, in 1936, in response to the Spanish Civil War. He was a Norwegian poet, and distant relative of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. The melody of the song is by the Danish composer Otto Hübertz Mortensen. I hunted online for English translations of the poem, but couldn’t find any that I felt were comfortably ‘singable’. On close examination of the original Norwegian, it struck me how similar some of the words are to Scots, and got going on the task:
Another highlight for me was being commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library to write a poem in Scots for their Champions project, a guest curatorship programme to extend their national outreach:
Wha’s yer plans fir the days aheid?
Writing, singing, walking…
Read more about Free-lance writer
The Scots Language Awards 2020 will be online at www.scotslanguageawards.com. We will have a mixture of events on the 23rd / 24th October. Performing at the Award on Saturday 24th September will be Gerda Stevenson, Gary Robertson, Shona Donaldson and Jim Malcolm.
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