Ian Stephen is a writer, artist and storyteller from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He graduated from Aberdeen University (B Ed with distinction) before working for 15 years in the coastguard service, based in Stornoway. Since 1995 he has worked full-time in the arts, after winning the inaugural Robert Louis Stevenson award. The practice of navigating through the geography of stories has been a key element of his work across the arts since  a Creative Scotland Award in 2002. Ian was the first artist in residence at StAnza, Scotland's annual poetry festival, creating a verse-blog from a winter voyage to Orkney in the week preceding the festival. Since then the poem as a track-record of your way through water or overland has also been a key element of his work. 

Since the late 70s his poetry and short fiction have been published  in numerous UK journals, and in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA. His St Kilda lyrics were published in Berlin and a parallel text new and selected poems, in the Czech Republic. In 2016 Saraband (Glasgow) published maritime  his selection from 35 years of making poetry from observing seaways and shorelines. It will be featured in a performance event at Faclan (Hebridean Book festival) featuring Peter Urpeth on piano and Garry Carr on double bass.

Ian's debut novel, A Book Of Death And Fish (Saraband, 2014) was a book of the year choice in The Guardian (Robert Macfarlane), The Herald (Candia McWilliams),  The Glasgow Review (Graeme Macrae Burnett - 2016 Booker shortlisted author):


‘…it’s a landmark in Scottish literature and in contemporary fiction, more broadly.’ 
Robert Macfarlane

‘…may well take its place beside Moby Dick… it will, I suspect, be one of those books I will not put down all my days.’ Candia McWilliams

 drawing of Broad Bay by Christine Morrison

In his first work of non-fiction, Stephen outlines a history of his personal love-affairs – all of them with boats. He also proposes that there is a useful comparison between navigation and storytelling:

I loved Waypoints. It is a really beautiful book, above all in its conception, the marriage of telling and sailing, voyages as stories and stories as voyages, something which of course has its Odyssean beginnings, but movingly and saltily real. Metaphors swim in (Stephen’s) wake. Completely effortlessly so that the book at times seems woven like a sail, or scarfed and clenched like a hull, or tied together like a course across a sea —life as ship as sail as journey as a man's life. And the other dimension of it all that I loved is the sense of crowdsourcing in it, drawing like Homer or the Kalevala on deep wells of communal understanding which find their mouths in each new generation, modulating with the ages but still with some kind of artery going down into the past. It is like the Minch speaking.’

– Adam Nicolson  (author of Sea Room and The Mighty Dead – why Homer matters)

Top image, El Vigo at anchor, Shiant Islands.
All images and video by Ian Stephen except where credited.