This page is about the three books Findings, Sightlines and Surfacing.
The links will take you to more information and opinion.
Around the age of 40, I decided to teach myself how to write prose. With no talent for fiction, I tried the non-fiction essay form.
At much the same time, I recall standing in a bookshop looking at the Scottish section and the nature/outdoors section and thinking ‘The book I’d want to read is not here. It doesn’t exist.’
So I wrote one essay, then another and then another. When there was enough for a book, Sort Of Books published them beautifully. First came Findings, then Sightlines, which won the John Burroughs Medal in the USA, and in the UK, The Royal Geographical Society’s Ness Award.
The RGA citation recognised ‘writing at the confluence of nature, culture and travel’. I thought, that’s it exactly. Nature, culture and travel, by a Scottish woman with young children. (Sometimes ‘travel’ meant the Post Office, or the bottom of the park! But often islands and archaeological sites too.)
Later, I could go farther. The third book, Surfacing contains a long essay about an astonishing archaeological site at Quinhagak, Alaska. Also, by contrast, a short piece about my grandmother, a miner’s daughter.
They are about looking. In this last book, memory and reclamation is also a recurring theme.
I like to think of my essays as expanded poems.
“Surfacing is a book whose impact is accretive and, eventually, astonishing … it’s wonderful writing, testing the limits of nonfiction.” Alex Preston, Observer
A new and highly anticipated collection of essays from the award-winning author of Findings and Sightlines.
Under the ravishing light of an Alaskan sky, objects are spilling from the thawing tundra linking a Yup’ik village to its hunter-gatherer past. In the shifting sand dunes of a Scottish shoreline, impressively preserved hearths and homes of Neolithic farmers are uncovered. In a grandmother’s disordered mind, memories surface of a long-ago mining accident and a ‘mither who was kind’.
The outer world flew open like a door, and I wondered, what is it that we’re just not seeing?
Five years after Findings broke the mould of nature writing, Kathleen Jamie subtly shifts our focus on landscape and the living world, daring us to look again at the ‘natural’, the remote and the human-made. She offers us the closest of perspectives and the most distant, too: from vistas of cells beneath a hospital microscope, or the pores of a whale’s jawbone under restoration, to satellites rising over a Scottish island, or the aurora borealis lighting up an iceberg-strewn sea. We encounter killer whales circling below cliffs, noisy colonies of breeding gannets, and paintings deep in caves.
Between the laundry and the fetching kids from school, that’s how birds enter my life. I listen. During a lull in the traffic: oyster-catchers; in the school-playground, sparrows.
It’s surprising what you can find by simply stepping out to look. Award-winning poet Kathleen Jamie has an eye and an ease with the nature and landscapes of Scotland as well as an incisive sense of our domestic realities. In Findings she draws together these themes to describe travels like no other contemporary writer.