Published: 03/02/2016 14:14 - Updated: 03/02/2016 14:29

Amy can't outrun Orkney childhood

Written byCalum Macleod

Amy Liptrot. Photo: Lisa Swarna Khanna.
Amy Liptrot. Photo: Lisa Swarna Khanna.

AS a teenager, Amy Liptrot used to dream of escaping her constrictive and isolated Orkney home for the bright lights of London.

But as an adult, her home islands were to provide a refuge after she struggled to rebuild her life after spiralling into alcoholism and addiction,

The Outrun – named after a field on her father’s farm that runs down to the sea – is an honest and open memoir of Liptrot’s life, unflinchingly looking at the affects of her drinking and also at her life before and after her time in London.

Brought up on a farm on the western Mainland, her father was bipolar and suffered from depression while her mother, who split from her father while Liptrot was an adolescent, found solace in charismatic Christianity.

"Growing up on a farm is pretty great for a younger childhood, but, in common with a lot of people, when I became a teenager, I started getting interested in music and bands that never played in Orkney and in fashion and nightclubs," Liptrot said.

In the book, which was serialised as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week last month, Liptrot writes of refusing to be part of the "conspiracy" painting Orkney as an idyllic refuge from the modern world.

"That was my attitude when I was a teenager," she acknowledged.

"It wasn’t until living in other places and being able to see Orkney and the farm through other people’s eyes that I was able to see what was so special and interesting about it."

Returning to Orkney, Liptrot found a job with the RSPB helping to conserve the corncrake, took up wild swimming all year round with the Orkney Polar Bear Club, and wrote The Outrun over two winters on the small northern island of Papa Westray, but even in writing the book, she wanted to present Orkney as a modern working place, complete with the digital technology that has made such a difference to island life.

In telling her story, Liptrot confronted the harsh realities of her addiction and was forced to relive them, but even this had a positive outcome.

"When I get down the first draft, it’s quite raw, but then it becomes something else, a craft rather than a form of therapy," she said.

"The writing itself has been very important to me in my recovery and the fact that I am able to be more productive and build something up has been a great motivator in staying sober and helped make sense of my experiences as well, by placing them in a narrative about my life.

"There are realisations in the book about what motived my drinking and linking it to my father’s mental illness. In writing it, that’s how I was able to find the subtleties of that, which is not so much about being traumatised as seeking my own mania."

When she set out to write The Outrun, Liptrot had a rather different book in mind.

"When I did the first draft, I was thinking it would be heavier on the nature writing and Orkney culture side because I was doing these nature columns for a website," Liptrot explained.

"But they all had this one line mention in them about me and my return or Orkney or that I had been in rehab, and when they were published, I had quite a response, particularly from people who were still going through addiction or knew people that were. That response encouraged me that it was OK to write about this stuff.

"I thought the personal stuff would be much lower in the mix, but it became more of a traditional memoir."

Liptrot may have rediscovered her love of her home islands, but that has not meant she has become immune to the pull of the big city.

"I moved off to Berlin for a year and I’m now back in east London, so I’m still experiencing that push and pull between the city and the islands," she said.

"I’m fortunate to be able to come from such an interesting and unique place and have the opportunity to live in a big city as well.

"I’m one extreme or the other, a big city or an island. I don’t go for the middle ground."

Amy Liptrot will be talking about her life and her book at Waterstones Inverness in the Eastgate shopping centre at 6pm on Thursday February 4, and Waterstones in Aberdeen at 7pm on Friday 5. Tickets for both events are available at each bookshop, price £2, and redeemable against the purchase of a book.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot is published by Canongate books in hardback and electronic formats.

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