Arts / The music takes the words to a different dimension

Author James Robertson joins musicians Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes on stage at Mareel

Author James Robertson reading from his 365: Stories collection on Friday night at Mareel. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

SHETLAND Arts Wordplay festival took on a slightly different guise this year in the form of 365: Stories and Music, writes Alex Purbrick.

Although Wordplay will return in full gusto next year, 365 centred around the artistic collaboration of James Robertson, one of Scotland’s leading authors and folk musician Aidan O’Rourke who brought a weekend of musical performance, workshops and a sound art installation to Mareel.


Following an evening of music and stories hosted by Robertson and O’Rourke on Friday, James led a two-hour creative writing workshop on Saturday at Mareel.

Kit Downes and Aidan O’Rourke during Friday’s concert. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Afterwards Robertson, who has received two Saltire Scottish Book of the Year awards for two of his five novels, spoke in greater depth to Shetland News about the 365: Stories and Music tour.

“I wrote my book 365: stories in 2013 over the course of a year and set myself the challenge of writing a short story every day. Each story had to be exactly 365 words long and in the end it became a collection of folktales, memories and thoughts.


“The book was published in 2014 and in 2015, folk musician Aidan O’Rourke was given the book as a Xmas present. We didn’t know each other at this point but we later met at Celtic Connections in 2016.

“Aidan expressed how he wanted to write a response to my stories in musical form which he did over the course of a year and composed 365 fiddle tunes.

James Robertson hosting a writing workshop at Mareel on Saturday. Photo: Alex Purbrick

“He then combined musical styles with multi-instrumentalist Kit Downes and took the music on tour. Whilst they were on tour, they would read some of my stories from the 365 book and I would occasionally join them.”


Aidan and James’s visit to Shetland is also accompanied by an interactive sound installation which was launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival earlier this year and touring around Scotland before arriving at Mareel where it sits in the downstairs lobby.

Designed by Yann Seznee, and funded by Creative Scotland, this beautifully crafted wooden and brass booth encases the recordings of all the 365 stories and tunes enabling up to six people to listen through headphones as well as browse through the 365: Stories book.

James explained how, “the music with the stories takes the words to another dimension. Aidan didn’t write the music as accompaniment to the stories but more as musical responses.  Some of the stories really benefit from being read aloud in different voices.

“I’ve recorded a huge chunk of them, but we got a range of voices in the recordings from professional actors like Gerda Stevenson and Mathew Zajac to friends.  Actors give a different depth to the words like making a dark story into a humorous story.”

The installation is free to enjoy at Mareel until the 14 November with the literary selection of events culminating in an evening of poetry and prose from across Shetland in A Celebration of Shetland Writing at Mareel on Friday 15 November.

From January 2020, readers can also subscribe free of charge to a daily feed of a story and tune from 365 Stories and Music into their email inbox. Sign up here: http://three-six-five.net/Subscribe