Reviews / ‘The global web of life with a valley at the centre’

WORDPLAY was host to one of Scotland’s most promising new writers, Malachy Tallack, who returned home to Shetland to deliver a travel writing workshop on Saturday morning at the Shetland Library and a public talk in Mareel in the evening to introduce his book Valley at the Centre of the World to a local audience. Alex Purbrick spoke to him about his latest book.

Book author Malachy Tallack. Photo: Shetland News

Valley at the Centre of the World is a fictional story about a small community living in the West coast of Shetland and focuses on their lives, their connection to the land and their place within the valley which is rapidly changing and evolving in amongst age old traditions and beliefs.


“I very deliberately made the valley feel like lots of places. I didn’t want people to pin it down because it doesn’t matter where it is and in terms of the characters it would be a mistake to base them on somebody you know because then everyone is going to know who it is,” Malachy explains.

“I wanted the characters to feel like real Shetland people but none of them are based on anyone specific. When you’re creating characters for a story, you’re always using experiences of people you’ve met. There are always bits of yourself and bits of people you know in each of them.”


The issues of human identity within a small community are explored in a very quiet, slow style yet the use of Shetland dialect interspersed throughout the novel expresses a sense of belonging and richness that identifies the connection to home and heritage for some of the characters.

Malachy described how “there has been a mixed reaction to the use of dialect in the book.

Malachy Tallack after his talk on Saturday evening. Photo: Paul Bloomer

“Some people have told me they’ve found it difficult in the first few pages but once they made an effort to read it, they were fine. I didn’t want this book to just be read in Shetland.


“I wanted it to be a book people could read in London or anywhere in the world and to give people a sense of what it’s like to live in a small community like this of which there are still many in Shetland but for lots of readers they would never have experienced that kind of life.”

Valley at the Centre of the World has so far been a success with the book released in America a few days ago and plans for translations of the book into Italian and German set into motion. It was also featured on BBC Radio 4’s Books at Bedtime with narration from Shetland actor Stephen Robertson.

Exploring the sense of home within a place is a topic Malachy has delved into with his previous book 60 Degrees North and continues to explore in this current novel.

He seems to grapple with the definition of home and states that Shetland when he was younger “was a place I never had an easy relationship with.

“In this novel I want to show the global web of life with a valley at the centre, the feeling I get when I leave Shetland but still feel it tugging, pulling me back.

“Now if someone asks me where home is, I don’t have to think about it, Shetland is home and it feels like the centre of my world.”

Valley at the Centre of the world by Malachy Tallack is published by Canongate Press, paperback due for release in March 2019.