Waypoints - seascapes and stories of Scotland's West Coast is the result of many years of exploring the idea that coastal navigation and storytelling have a lot in common. The shape of Garbh Eilean, one of the Shiant Islands (just  about appearing through the mist in the above image)  is a recurring icon in the work. Illustrations and the cover image by Christine Morrison are also indebted to  several years of voyaging together.

Each section celebrates a craft which has brought me through the seascape linked to an inherited narrative. The book was published by Adlard Coles Nautical/ Bloomsbury in 2017. It was  shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish non-fiction book of the year award, 2017. The paperback was published in Spring, 2018. It has been selected in the  Yachting Year's 'Best books of 2018.'

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

Here are two  recent reviews of the paperback edition:



 shortlisted Saltire awards 2017

‘…a deep respect for the peoples and environments he encounters. And accompanying this is a poetic sensibility that is evident in some beautifully lyrical moments of prose and not least in his preoccupation with and dedication to inherited narratives informing the seas, the shores and landscapes through which he travels.’                                                                            Tom Lowenstein

Amy Ryan image of El Vigo beating, east coast of Lewis, taken from the deck of the Contessa 32 Roaring Meg. Amy is a grand-daughter of a former owner of El Vigo and therein lies many a story.

Transits  is the working title of a second book which alternates factual accounts of voyaging with my retelling of a folk-tale set in the geography observed. This time the book is also a portrait of the author's relationship with the sloop El Vigo .

Call Me Peter.

is the working title of my current writing project, funded by an Open Project Award from Creative Scotland. 

In one sense my secnd novel will be a free-standing work but it will also fall in place as part of  a planned trilogy. Readers of A Book of Death and Fish (Saraband) will recognise, at times, the voice of the wayward storyteller, Peter MacAulay.

My first novel, available in hbk, pbk and e book

'Ian Stephen’s vast and intricate novel (Saraband) hooked me in from its first paragraph –it is a Waterland for the Outer Hebrides, and seems to me a major moment in the modern literature of those islands.'                                                                                               Guardian Books of the Year 2014 

        'I think it’s a landmark in Scottish literature and in contemporary fiction.'                                              Robert Macfarlane (in filmed interview, Saraband publishers website)

'...may well take its place beside Moby-Dick, asking of you something as much and giving in proportion - which is to say incalculably much, and that long after you have finished it, over and over. It will, I suspect, be one of those books I will not put down all my days: island life, life at sea, being en-islanded, the isolation of failed understanding, of loss, of identity, even of nationhood - and of tank warfare - of addiction and of much else, all broached in a daring remade language that teaches you how to read it.                                                                                                                       Candia McWilliam, in The Herald, Books of the Year, 2014

Ongoing collaboration

Ian Stephen and Christine  Morrison (Stephen | Morrison) presented their collaborative work at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, Tasmania 6 - 9 Feb, 2015. Christine also took part in a group exhibition of artists' responses to poetry. See www.stephenmorrison.org and The Island Review on line journal:


  Cape Bruny Lighthouse, Tasmania

A terraced garden                                                                                                                                         contained by hot stones,                                                                                                                                     piled by penal servitude.

But death didn’t follow                                                                                                                                       the order of  rank                                                                                                                                                as it plucked the bairns                                                                                                                                 from cliff or bunk.

 Up the slope,                                                                                                                                                       the seeds that nobody planned                                                                                                                           to leave in the ground                                                                                                                                 under cut names.

A picket of frail white slats                                                                                                                         against the saturated                                                                                                                                       blue of the Southern Ocean.

 Maybe the keening mothers,                                                                                                                       wives to the keepers of light,                                                                                                                     earned their own rights                                                                                                                                      to a patch of Van Diemen’s Land.

Christine and Ian also worked together on the images and texts from voyages developed in partnership with Museum nn Eilean, an Lanntair, Stornoway, an Talla Solais, Ullapool and Taigh Chearsabhagh, Lochmaddy  as the exhibition, Grammar of Wavelength.

This body of work  led into the illustrations which provide section headings for maritime
– a new and selected poems on sea themes, published by Saraband in 2016.

Rathlin dawn

The exhibition and Waypoints were reviewed by Jon Miller in Northwords Now:


'Christine Morrison’s paintings emerged from the Stephen|Morrison residency in Tasmania. Containing hand ground earth pigment, these, in their rough ochres and reds, evoke the blood running in the earth and the brutalities visited on the Aboriginal people further echoed in Stephen’s accompanying poem Ash in the figure of the spiny anteater, the echidna. There are images of grain silos in Saskatchewan taken whilst driving: huge structures acting as landmarks that become lighthouses or waypoints by which someone might navigate across the flat immensities of the Canadian prairie landscape. Others - grainy washed-out, photogravure images of Sule Skerry, Fair Isle, Boreray, Sula Sgeir, all taken at sea level - give the land forms an eerie otherworldliness, like mythical lands, Ultima Thule or those encountered by wandering Celtic monks in the Voyage of St Brendan and are accompanied by a traditional tale particular to that island. Something of an artistic aesthetic appears in Waypoints, as Stephen’s describes how boats go through their various incarnations and restorations, (often individualised by the tastes of their different owners) and how the essential shape (which will also have minor variations depending on location and function) is re-formed and re-fashioned just as tales are with their localised variations thus becoming a ‘living thing’. In this constant re-forming and re-telling, individuals and communities become bound together, a common culture to be handed on to yet more change.'

Recent Events

Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival - Ian and Christine from Lewis  in their own El Vigo to take part in the 2015 , 2016 and 2017 events.

 Morrison helms El Vigo to Gigha

Their event Voyage, developed for the 2013 Edinburgh International Storytelling Festival, with the singer Kirsty Law, was performed on Rathlin with the skipper and tin-whistler Ken Linklater  contributing tunes and percussion. The show, this time with the sound-sculpture of Giles Perring, also opened Settle Stories festival in Yorkshire (9th to 12th Oct). The linked sequence of stories A Circumnavigation, winner of The Village Festival commission n 2014 and first performed at the CCA, Glasgow, with music by Peter Urpeth, was also re-made on Rathlin and its themes fed into the current novel.

"Voyage is a superbly crafted storytelling experience in which narrative, song, music and evocative visuals all combine to draw us into the storytelling magic…. the perfect launch for the Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2013’  (Donald Smith, Festival Director ).

For a taste of 'Voyage', click here: http://vimeo.com/85604546

Commonwealth Poets United

 Close-up of a grain-elevator, Saskatchewan (interior)

Ian represented Scotland in Canada as part of the Scottish Poetry Library's  exchange  of 6 Scottish poets with 6 poets from Commonwealth countries.

Christine was funded to travel with Ian and make work in response, thanks to Creative Scotland – a comparison between a 3 night voyage to Shetland and a 3 night train journey over the prairies.

    old grain elevator (exterior)

Layers of appropriation

                                                                        Bad Lake, Luck Lake,                                                                                                                                 Big Stick Lake, Carrot River,                                                                                                                       Old Wives Lake, Deception Lake,                                                                                                                                            Cold Lake, Lost Lake,                                                                                                                                         

                                                                          Knee Lake, Ear Lake,                                                                                                                             Black Birch Lake, Timber Bay,                                                                                                                                    Dipper Lake, Bittern Lake,    


                                                  Flatstone Lake, Smoothstone Lake,                                                                                                               Big Sandy Lake, Big Muddy Badlands    

(All the names were lifted from a map of Canada but re-arranged, maybe a bit like the names were first lifted from indigenous languages.)                                                          

This is another body of work – joint responses to travels – which has fed into  Grammar of Wavelength. it is an exhibition still developing as it moves from venue to venue. Expressions of interest from public or private galleries are invited.