Tag Archives: Scottish novels

Sixty Degrees North (Extract 5 – Norway)

To correspond with BBC Radio 4′s ‘Book of the Week’ shows – featuring of course our very own Sixty Degrees North by Malachy Tallack – we will be releasing short extracts from the book each day this week!

Today, in episode five of ‘Book of the Week’, Malachy reaches the last point of land on his journey along the sixtieth parallel – a small island just off the west coast of Norway. In this extract, Malachy sits by the ocean and reflects on his journey, home, and where he now finds himself:

“My destination was the island of Stolmen, a little further south along the coast. It was the last point of land on the sixtieth parallel before it dropped back into the North Sea and then returned to Shetland, and it seemed the most appropriate place to complete my journey before going home.


Sitting there beside the sea, two hundred miles from home, I thought back to the traffic that had ventured west from this coast towards my own shores. To the Vikings who had sailed in the eighth and ninth century, and who had made their way ultimately to Greenland and beyond. To the refugees of the Second World War, who were carried in fishing boats and other vessels, in what became known as the ‘Shetland Bus’. And then to the oil tanker Braer, which left the refinery just north of Bergen in January 1993, carrying 85,000 tonnes of crude oil. She was bound for Quebec in Canada, but made it only as far as Quendale on the south east coast of Shetland, where she hit the rocks and spilled her cargo. It was a few years after my family moved to the islands, and a few miles from the spot where, later, I would find the parallel.

I’d come to Stolmen by following that line around the world. Once there, I had nowhere else to go but home. I’d known all along, of course, that this was a journey with only one possible destination. But faced with that last stretch of water that separated beginning from end, I felt nervous and uncertain. Would the place I was going back to be the same place that I had left? And did I even want it to be? Perhaps I’d expected answers, but I hadn’t found any. I’d been left with only questions. Ahead, the sky was like a welt, blue and purple ringed with pink. A crack in the clouds brought sharp fingers of light down onto the blackening waves, and the cold chafed against my face. I sat for ten minutes more, perhaps fifteen, and then it was time to go. I stood and flung a stone into the water, towards Mousa, as though to reach as far as I could towards home, and then I walked away.”

Sixty Degrees North (Extract 4 – Russia)

To correspond with BBC Radio 4′s ‘Book of the Week’ shows – featuring of course our very own Sixty Degrees North by Malachy Tallack – we will be releasing short extracts from the book each day this week!

Today, in episode four of ‘Book of the Week’, Malachy arrives in St Petersburg, the most highly populated place on the parallel. In this extract Tallack describes his first day in the city in wonderful detail:

“It was a week into September when I arrived in St Petersburg, but autumn had not yet caught hold in this corner of the north. A warm wind bustled down Nevsky Prospekt as I pushed my way through the crowds towards the river. And though it had passed six in the evening the sun was still bright, lingering like a blush against the pink walls of the Stroganov Palace. From edge to edge, the wide pavements were filled with people: tourists in raincoats and baseball caps, striding businessmen in suits and shades, girls in short skirts locked arm in arm, old women whose headscarves could barely contain their peroxide perms. The street overflowed with beeping horns and screeching tyres, over-revved engines, sirens and shouts; the smell of drains and exhaust fumes thickened the air. It was loud and chaotic, a heaving pandemonium, and I kept close to the buildings, nervous of the hustle and din that seethed between them.

Crossing the sluggish grey Neva to Vasilevsky Island, I lingered beside the red Rostral Columns that tower there, with their four marble figures representing the great rivers of Russia. Once, these columns served as oil-blazing lighthouses, aiding vessels, but today their only role is to lift your eyes up and away from the filthy water below. From there I continued to Petrogradskaya and across the walkway to Hare Island, and the fortress where this city was founded. The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul shone butter gold in the evening sun, its gilded needle spire reaching 400 feet upward, to where hooded crows blinked like black stars against the sky. A syrupy light lay dappled among the trees around the fortress, and yellow leaves were just beginning to fall, a step ahead of the weather. In drains and on paths they were piled, dry and crackling underfoot. I kicked them as I wandered through Aleksandrovskiy Park, feeling a childish pleasure in that most irresistible of acts.

There is nowhere else like this in the north.”

Sixty Degrees North (Extract 3 – Alaska)

To correspond with BBC Radio 4′s ‘Book of the Week’ shows – featuring of course our very own Sixty Degrees North by Malachy Tallack – we will be releasing short extracts from the book each day this week!

Today, in episode three of ‘Book of the Week’, Malachy reaches Alaska, America’s self-proclaimed ‘Last Frontier’. In this extract, Malachy reflects on the fates of Captain Vitus Bering, Georg Steller, and their crew as they first reached Alaska, and how Bering’s Alaska and today’s compare:

“The land Bering found that summer was a place thus far untroubled by the careless hands of colonists, traders and professional adventurers. It was a place of immense forests and towering mountains; of fish-filled rivers and wing-beaten skies; of coastal waters crowded with sea otters, fur seals and whales; of plenitude and abundance; of a natural wealth that seemed, at first, boundless. And though like others after him Bering was unable to see it, Alaska was a place of dazzling, exhilarating potential.

The men and women who crowded onto these tour boats every morning, and who chugged out of the bay and then back again at night, were looking for what Steller saw. They were hunting for that place of abundance and boundlessness which greeted the very first arrivals in Alaska. They were trying, in some curious way, to go back in time. I found myself torn. I wanted to join one of these tours, to sail away from the town and see for myself the wildlife and the wilderness, and then to return to Seward in the evening, to a café meal and the relative comfort of my sleeping bag and tent. But something held me back, and for some days I struggled to reconcile my feelings. What troubled me most, I think, was the idea – advertised incessantly – that out there somewhere was the real Alaska, and what was here was something else, quite different. Those well-waterproofed tourists had been promised a journey into another world, and yet it seemed to me that that world was made impossible by their very presence within it. For what those passengers were being promised was their own absence, and that is something we can only imagine. Perhaps I was wrong, but I thought I could see disappointment in those faces as they disembarked and spread out among the town’s restaurants and hotels in the evening.”