WRITING IN SCOTTISH GAELIC TODAY

Angus Peter Campbell
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Read a review of Angus Peter Campbell's An Oidhche Mus do Sheòl Sinn below. Read a chapter from the book here.
Angus Peter spent his early years in his South Uist. He attended secondary school in Oban, where he developed a keen interest in literature under the expert guidance and encouragement of his English teacher, the late Iain Crichton Smith. He graduated in History and Politics at the University of Edinburgh, and continued his literary education through the encouragement of the late Sorley MacLean, Writer in Residence in Edinburgh at the time. A career in journalism followed, first with the West Highland Free Press, later with the BBC and Grampian Television. Books by Angus Peter Campbell include two poetry collections and five short novels for schools. An Oidhche Mus Do Sheol Sinn, the second in the Ur-Sgeul series of new Gaelic prose, is his first novel for adults, and his major work to date. In 2001, he was awarded the Bardic Crown at the Royal National Mod in the Western Isles, and in the same year was given a 'Creative Scotland Award' by the Scottish Arts Council. He has been a Writer in Residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, and currently works for the Iain Crichton Smith Writing Fellowship, sponsored by the Highland Council, with the aim of encouraging writing skills and creativity in Highland schools. He is married to Lyndsey, and lives in Sleat on the Isle of Skye with his wife and six children.






Ambitious Tale of Gaelic Life
An Oidhche Mus Do Sheòl Sinn, Aonghas P. Caimbeul
CLAR (October 2003)
ISBN 1 900901 10 2
Novel

Review by Torcuil Crichton. Published with the permission of the Sunday Herald (Scotland) www.sundayherald.com. © Newsquest Media Group

[...]

Under the banner of Clár, a publishing venture of the Gaelic Books Council, a clutch of new writing in [Scottish Gaelic] is expected over the next few years. A collection of short stories by Martin MacIntyre, Ath-Aithne was launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August.

Now comes Angus Peter Campbell's much anticipated novel An Oidhche Mus Do Sheòl Sinn, (The Night Before We Sailed). Campbell's book is epic in scale and ambition, taking its title from a love song, and is a voyage across the 20th century through the eyes of a boy born in the writer's native South Uist. In English the idea of the family saga is common enough, even tired, but centred in a Gaelic universe, spanning war, borders and generations, the story sustains itself into the start of the 21st century.

Tired of the English-speaking world but standing on the abyss of language extinction, Campbell had to overcome all the usual anxieties of a first-time author as well as finding the strength to write in Gaelic. Perhaps it was an awareness of the statement that a Gaelic novel would make that explains why the story encompasses almost every aspect of the 20th-century - from peasant society to satellite broadcasting.

Midway through the book, the first world war dispatched, the Spanish civil war underway and the family characters unfurling across the years, there is a sense that the book has taken on too much. Following the strands across the pages is part of the challenge, but the threads do come together at the end.

Campbell felt overtaken by his characters, gave them the free will to do things he wouldn't, but despite this admission it is clearly his voice that drives the novel; his bardic listings give it cadences and his philosophy are the pillars of its several over-arching themes: love, religion and forgiveness.

Religion is a huge part of the life of this former journalist, who found an exit route from perdition and rediscovered himself as a poet, parent and broadcaster. For the last two decades he has been an important part of Gaeldom's conversation with itself and the rest of the world. 'You try to lock your own opinions in a dark cellar but it's not the computer that does the writing,' says Campbell. 'There's no doubt that a great part of me is in the book but I'm not all the characters'.

Few people will read his novel, but that doesn't bother him. He doesn't intend to provide an English translation himself. In fact, writing in Gaelic is the whole point. Campbell's writing transmits emotion off the page in a way that would be impossible in English. His greatest sources were the tradition bearers of his own district of South Uist and he has a beautiful descriptive style that owes everything to his poetry and nothing to those years of journalistic scribbling.

He jokes that he read Dwelly's Gaelic dictionary twice before writing, but actually that comes as something of a relief. While there's a joy in reading a work of fiction in Gaelic, it's accompanied by the ever-present threat of losing the nuance and detail of the story on an obscure piece of etymology.

Campbell understands the dilemma. He did not expect to hear every note when the Moscow Chamber Orchestra played recently in south Skye, where he lives, but he knew he would be carried away by the whole experience. In any case, the language of the novel, deliberately, gets simpler as the century moves on, a mirror image of our own language disintegration.

He tells several stories very well as he hurtles across the years. Sometimes the novel introduces some self-conscious references that seem unnecessary to the storytelling but then redeems itself with moving, emotional writing. An Oidhche Mus Do Sheòl Sinn is an important book, symbolic as a cultural statement, weighty and challenging to its readers, as all good things should be.











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