Event: Day Conference: Nan Shepherd:
The Spiritual, Ecopoetic and Geopoetic Vision in her Life and Writings.
Venue: Sanctuary, Augustine United Church, 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL.
Date: Saturday 6 April 2019.
Time: Registration: 9.30am-10am. Day Conference: 10am-5pm.
Event Description: Anna Shepherd (known as Nan) was born on 11 February 1893 at East Peterculter, and died in Aberdeen on 27 February 1981. Her father, John Shepherd, was a civil engineer, and her mother came from a family well established in Aberdeen. The family moved to Cults soon after she was born, and Shepherd lived in the same house there for most of the rest of her life. She went to Aberdeen High School for Girls, and studied at Aberdeen University, graduating with an MA in 1915. She then joined the staff of Aberdeen Training Centre for Teachers, (later the College of Education) and taught English literature there until her retirement in 1956 – by all accounts an inspiring teacher, with a feminist approach in her lectures which was ahead of her time. After retirement, she edited the Aberdeen University Review from 1957 until 1963; in 1964 the University awarded her an honorary doctorate.
Shepherd’s first novel, The Quarry Wood, was published in 1928, with two more following in the 1930s. All three are set in the North-East with the country communities and harsh landscape as background. Her book The Living Mountain, a work of poetic prose exploring her close relationship with the hills, was written in the 1940s, though not published until 1977. Hill-walking was Shepherd’s great love; her single collection of poetry In the Cairngorms (1934) expresses an intensity of deep kinship with nature. They are poems written with the perception of one who has climbed the mountains and truly knows them. She had published several poems in the Aberdeen University student magazine in her youth, but little followed until the publication of the book. Although she used Scots in her novels, there are only three poems in Scots presented in In the Cairngorms, but they are the ones most often anthologised. The poetry has many religious notes – references to ‘the Light’ and ‘the Presence’ in the hills; though these references could seem Christian, they are perhaps expressions of a broader spirituality – Shepherd herself likened her expeditions to the hills to a Buddhist’s pilgrimage to the mountain, the ‘journey into Being’. The final section in the book consists of love sonnets, written, according to the poet herself, for a man, but it is not known who he was, and she never married.
Nan Shepherd was renowned for the enthusiasm with which she taught and helped students, colleagues, and other writers. Her generous attention was not confined to caring for her invalid mother and the family housekeeper; she devoted much energy to friendships with many writers, including the poets J.C. Milne and Charles Murray. She brought out John Milne’s Collected Poems after his death; organised a trust to benefit the family of Lewis Grassic Gibbon; helped set up the Charles Murray Memorial Trust and arranged the publication of his last poems. She was also a friend of Hugh MacDiarmid.
Nan Shepherd’s novels were re-published in the late 1980s. In the Cairngorms was recently reprinted by Galileo Publishing, with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane. She is represented in anthologies of Scottish women poets, and books of mountain poetry. She joined those Scottish writers already honoured in Edinburgh’s Makars’ Court when a stone dedicated to her was placed there in 2000.
Event: Day Conference: Nan Shepherd:
The Spiritual, Ecopoetic and Geopoetic Vision in her Life and Writings.
Venue: Sanctuary, Augustine United Church,
41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL.
Date: Saturday 6 April 2019.
Time: Registration: 9.30am-10am.
Day Conference: 10am-5pm.
Organised by Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace, EICSP, Scottish Charity, SC038996, www.eicsp.org
9.30am-10am: Arrival and Registration.
10am-10.10am: Introduction and Welcome: Dr Ian Wight.
10.10am-10.50am: Keynote address: James McCarthy.
Title: Nan Shepherd: An Early Geopoet.
Description: Following a general summary of the life and work of Shepherd, this talk focuses on the geopoetic aspects of her life, notably her deep personal identification with the natural environment, particularly the inspiration provided by her often solitary walks into the Cairngorms, describing these as ‘a journey into being’. Living life with gusto, Nan was an inspirational teacher, who in her own words believed that ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live.’ But it only relatively recently that her outstanding contribution to Scottish literature, both fiction and non-fiction, has been recognised, while her insights into the effect of nature on both the intellect and passion are surprisingly modern.
Bio: James McCarthy is the former Deputy Director (Scotland) of the Nature Conservancy Council Following military service with the Kings African Rifles, he explored the forests of Uganda and Tanzania. He is the author of some 15 published works on the environment of Scotland and biographies of Scottish explorers. He is the joint winner of the Proverse International Prize for his life of Sir George Macartney of Kashgar and is the former Chairperson of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.
11am-11.30am: Plenary address: Patti Lean.
Title: Thirled to the Mountain: Nan Shepherd, Ecocriticism and Nomadology in Painting Practice.
Description: I set out on my journey in pure love. It began in childhood, when the stormy violet of a gully on the back of Sgoran Dubh, at which I used to gaze from a shoulder of the Monadhliaths, haunted my dreams. That gully, with its floating, its almost tangible ultramarine, thirled me for life to the mountain.
Nan Shepherd, 1977.
In this illustrated talk about her own work in Iceland and Finland, artist Patti Lean will take up the idea of being thirled to a place, and will discuss ways in which The Living Mountain may provide a model for overlaying and imagining ecological concerns through visual art. She will draw connections between Shepherd’s literary writings and contemporary theories, practices and methodologies, arguing that Shepherd’s work is prescient and relevant to artistic and eco-centred understanding of our endangered planet.
Bio: Patti Lean is an artist and tutor based in rural Dumfries and Galloway. A keen runner, hill-walker and skier, her work seeks to articulate the memories, feelings and ecological significance of being a living body in living terrain. In 2012 she happened to attend a discussion about The Living Mountain at Wigtown Book Festival, and found that Nan Shepherd’s voice, with its precise and lyrical prose seemed to speak about things that could be said within the medium of painting. Since then she has spent time in remote areas of Iceland and Finland, aiming to apply the Nan Shepherd mindset to what she records and sees, always with a mind to the environmental changes and catastrophes that we must now take on board, conceptualise and somehow attempt to ameliorate.
11.40am-12am: Tea/coffee break.
12am-12.30pm: Plenary address: Dr Donald Smith.
Title: Descent from the Cross: Literature Abandoned?
Description: In 1942 Nan Shepherd wrote a masterly long short story/short novella that featured in The Scots Magazine and then disappeared along with, apparently, her literary career. Yet ‘Descent from the Cross’ is a profound and challenging work that reveals much about the achievements and the frustrations of contemporary literature. It is also about war, religion, healing or the lack of it, and Scotland as it struggled towards renaissance. In this talk I shall explore the stature of this piece and its place in Scottish literature, even as its author moved in a different direction – which may be foreshadowed in her own writing.
Bio: Born in Glasgow of Irish parents Donald has worked in theatre and literature in Scotland since the seventies. Director of the Netherbow Arts Centre from 1983, Donald was founding Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre from 2003- 2014. He was also a founding Director of the National Theatre of Scotland, first Chair of the Literature Forum for Scotland, and a founder of FEST, the Federation for European Storytelling. In addition to his creative work in theatre production and traditional storytelling, Donald has written, lectured and published widely on Scotland’s cultural, civic and religious life, past and present. He has been Artistic Director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival since its inception in 1990, and between 2013 and 2016 Directed the EU project about urban and rural landscape narrative Seeing Stories. In 2014 Donald became the founding Director of TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland).
2pm-2.40pm: Keynote address: Erlend Clouston.
Title: Nan Shepherd and the SAS: Nan's covert links with the secret army that keeps this country safe.
Bio: Erlend Clouston worked for the Guardian for 19 years, latterly as Scottish correspondent. He was a friend of Nan's for over three decades, and is her joint literary executor.
2.50pm-3.20pm: Plenary address: Kerri Andrews.
Title: On the Edge of Being: Nan Shepherd's Correspondence.
Description: Nan Shepherd’s (1893-1981) work as a novelist, poet and nature-writer has come to be recognised as some of the most important writing in Scotland of the last century. Published at the height of the ‘Scottish Renaissance’, Shepherd’s three novels, The Quarry Wood (1928), The Weatherhouse (1930), and A Pass in the Grampians (1933) were lauded by readers and critics alike. Shepherd went on to achieve success as a poet, publishing a well-regarded collection, In the Cairngorms (1934), though her most famous work is her ‘prose-poem’, The Living Mountain.
Less well known is Shepherd’s correspondence, and the role it played in Shepherd’s work as a key cultural figure in Scottish literary history. From the 1920s onwards Shepherd developed friendships with Neil Gunn, Jessie Kesson, Agnes Mure Mackenzie, Helen B. Cruickshank, and Barbara Balmer. Around two hundred and fifty letters survive, sent from and to these writers and others, including David Murison, Sir Alexander Gray, and Lyn Irvine Newman. Shepherd’s letters discuss the purpose of writing, literary ambitions and rivalries, the role of the artist, mutual friends and acquaintances including Hugh MacDiarmid and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and the intimacies of long-standing friendship. The letters are especially illuminating of the role played by women in the development of a Scottish cultural identity in the twentieth century, and the importance of the relationship between regional and national literary aspirations. Never published and infrequently discussed, these letters are a trove of insights into Shepherd’s life and works. In my talk I will discuss some of these letters, and what they reveal about Shepherd’s relationships, writing, and imagination.
Bio: Kerri Andrews is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Edge Hill University and the editor of the first ever edition of Nan Shepherd's correspondence, 'On the Edge of Being'. She is a keen mountaineer and is currently working on a book about the history of women's walking.
3.30pm-3.45pm: Tea/coffee break.
3.45pm-4.15pm: Plenary address: Simone Kenyon.
Simone’s talk will introduce elements of her ongoing research, artistic practice and how Nan Shepherd inspired her current project Into the Mountain.
Description: Into the Mountain is a creative project exploring and celebrating women’s relationships with Scotland’s mountainous places. Inspired by the multi-lensed, lyrical and embodied prose of Nan Shepherd’s 1974 book, The Living Mountain, this new site-sensitive dance performance takes place in the Cairngorms Mountains, revered in Shepherds’ writing.
Through a year-long programme including workshops, talks and live performance, Into The Mountain is an invitation for audiences to (re)discover the unique environment of the Cairngorms National Park. Exploring how women’s experience of place provides us with tools to navigate and come to know the landscape with fresh perspectives.
Bio: Simone Kenyon is an Edinburgh based artist and dance maker. For the past 21 years she has created trans-disciplinary works that encompass dance and somatic practices, walking arts, mountaineering, creating participatory and performance events for both urban and rural contexts. She explores walking as a choreographic practice, sensory experience, ecology and our perceptions of environments.
For more information about the project visit: www.intothemountain.co.uk
4.25pm: Closing Discussion: Dr Ian Wight.
Title: On the tramp… (living) all the way through
- A Pilgrimage into Identity?
Description: Having tramped our personal mountains, with Nan Shepherd as our guide and inspiration, this closing session extends an invitation for some shared reflection on what might have emerged for us. What might we be noticing from inside our collective mountain? What light is Nan Shepherd shedding on our identity today? In what ways might she be helping us to come home to ourselves, to know ourselves better? What are we being inspired to profess afresh?
Bio: Ian Wight PhD FCIP GTB is a former professional planner and planner educator, with a continuing interest in transformational professional learning, focusing on professional-self design. He is particularly interested in the implications for a more evolved professionalism in Scotland, from tapping into the work of inspirational historical figures such as Patrick Geddes, John Muir and Nan Shepherd – meshing the personal, the professional and the spiritual.
NB: There will be no refund if you cancel your booking.
Cost: £10/£8 (Concessions)/£3 (Students). For a Registration Form: