Ian Stephen is a writer, artist and storyteller from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He graduated from Aberdeen University (B Ed with distinction) before working for 15 years in the coastguard service, based in Stornoway. Since 1995 he has worked full-time in the arts, after winning the inaugural Robert Louis Stevenson award.
The practice of navigating through the geography of stories has been a key element of his work across the arts since a Creative Scotland Award in 2002. Ian was the first artist in residence at StAnza, Scotland's annual poetry festival, creating a verse-blog from a winter voyage to Orkney in the week preceding the 2004 festival. Since then the poem as a track-record of your way through water or overland has also been a key element of his work.From the late 70s on, his poetry and short fiction have been published in numerous UK journals, and in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA. His St Kilda lyrics were published in Berlin and performed in Cologne and Bonn. A parallel text new and selected poems, Adrift, was published by Periplum in the Czech Republic.
In 2016 Saraband (Glasgow) published his selection from 35 years of making poetry from observing seaways and shorelines. It was featured in a performance event at Museum nan Eilean and Faclan (Hebridean Book Festival) featuring Peter Urpeth on piano and Garry Carr on double bass.
a new and selected poems on sea-related themes
In his first work of non-fiction, Waypoints (Adlard Coles Nautical/Bloomsbury), Stephen outlines a history of his personal love-affairs, all of them with boats, illustrated by Christine Morrison. He also proposes that there is a useful comparison between navigation and storytelling.
Western Isles Folk Tales (The History Press) retells traditional tales from Barra Head to Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Boatlines (Birlinn, 2023) is a coastal geography of the vessels and maritime culture of Scotland, vessel by vessel, illustrated also by Christine.
Stornoway and Fraserbugh
A Book Of Death And Fish (Saraband, 2014)
is Ian's first novel, many years in the making and building on his experience of the short story form. It was a book of the year choice in The Guardian (Robert Macfarlane), The Herald (Candia McWilliam), The Glasgow Review (Graeme Macrae Burnett - 2016 Booker shortlisted author)
It is a book in two parts, exploring strands of east and west coast Scotland but also the shockwaves of broader European history and the diaspora. Past and present are filtered through the individual gazes of engineer, cook and historian Peter MacAulay and his daughter Anna Richter MacAulay.
In 2023 Ian completed his second novel, funded by an open project Award from Creative Scotland. It's working title is Sunwise. It is based on linking several traditions relating to an epic Atlantic voyage in an open boat with the wife of the steward of St Kilda aboard and is 75k words. It is available. The stories were also woven into a performance Deiseal/Sunwise with new music from Mike Vass and illustrations by Christine Morrison. a filmed version was part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, 2020.
Top image:El Vigo at anchor, Shiant Islands.
All images and video by Ian Stephen except where credited.