~Scottish Literature ~
~ Covering the written word; Books,
Essays, Short Stories, longer Stories, Poems and Poesy ~
"Nae man wha loves the lawland tongue but warsles wi' the thocht
- There are mair sangs that bide unsung nor a' that hae been
( from The Makar, by
William Soutar )
* * * *
1. "The Italian
published September 2009, by Black and White
The Author writes:-
My wife and I first entered the Italian chapel on Orkney in August
2005, with no idea that the visit would change our lives. We were on honeymoon. It was a beautiful day but there
was no-one else around so we put our money in the box at the entrance and each picked up the little booklet that
gives a brief history of the building.
We walked along the nave, reading the booklets and looking at the images on
the walls until we met up again at the beautiful rood screen. By this time I had quite a moist eye. However, when I
looked at Catherine, tears were streaming down her face. I thought, this is extraordinary. How can a Second World
War Nissen hut, converted with scrap material, affect us to much that we are reduced to tears?
Before we had even left the building I had decided to find out as much as
possible about the events surrounding the creation of the chapel. That quest set me on a journey the likes of which
I doubt I will ever walk again. I tracked down elderly men who had been prisoners of war in Orkney. I spoke to the
families of the key artists who built the chapel and the descendents of the men (British and Italian) who ran Camp
60 in which the chapel had been built. I sat by the bed and listened to the stories of 101 year old Alison
Sutherland Graeme, whose father had owned the small island of Lamb Holm. They all had a part of the chapel’s untold
I was forty-six in 2005, the year in which I
had a complete ‘life change’, moving to the Highlands to be with Catherine. We had agreed that this should be
the catalyst for me following a lifetime’s unfulfilled ambition to write, albeit in my spare time. There was
still the day job to do, working in the printing industry. I arrived in Scotland with plenty of ideas but it
seemed that the story of the chapel, which had never before been told in any depth, was calling to me to tell
I decided to write an historical fiction, but one that stuck closely to the
actual events and timescale. At the start, I even tried to base characters only on real people who had been
involved in the chapel’s existence, but whereas I could find out a great deal about some craftsmen, a few key
artists disappeared after the war and nobody I contacted had ever heard of them again. As I didn’t want to make
things up about individuals, I quickly realised that the novel would not work in this format, so I also created
fictitious characters. However, even with these I attributed many incidents that are reported to have occurred at
The research and writing went on for more than three years. Finding the truth
became a passion and I followed every lead slavishly. This included writing to several dead people, although in
fairness I didn’t know they were deceased when I wrote. Occasionally, I heard back from a widow or daughter.
Gradually the jigsaw that was the chapel’s history was put together.
There were plenty of surprises along this incredible journey. The Italian who
built the impressive rood screen died in 1980 but via his grandson ‘Pino’, I liaised with the blacksmith’s son
Renato, who only speaks Italian. One day I received an excited email from Pino informing me that he had just learnt
that while his grandfather had been in the Lamb Holm camp he had fallen in love with a local woman. Also, Pino’s
cousin, born twenty-six years after his grandfather’s repatriation to Italy, is named after this Orcadian lady.
With this knowledge, which had previously been known only to the blacksmith’s son,
daughter and granddaughter, Catherine and I discovered the token that he had left in the chapel for the woman he
loved. That was a moment we will never forget.
And so my debut novel was written. An Edinburgh company,
Black & White Publishing, took on the project and The Italian Chapel was
published in hardback in September 2009. A large print and audio version are planned (the recording, read by
Aberdeen born actor David Rintoul, has already taken place). In the end, I had gathered a great deal of
fascinating information about the chapel that was not suitable for a work of fiction and this is included in a
non-fiction book, Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story of an Icon, which will be published by
Black & White in May 2010.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There's an article about The Italian
Chapel in The Mag, under the section Buildings of Scotland. Click
on THIS LINK to go directly there.