My book launches tomorrow. I'm truly overwhelmed by the interest & support it's had so far -- I never imagined anything like this. Thank you.

Following this thread on language, here's one on Orkney's history, & the thinking on time & space in the book.

This is the Ness of Brodgar, a 20-year long (so far) excavation of a stone age building complex that's shaped what we know about neolithic Orkney.

It's a group of large, likely ceremonial buildings, in regular use for about 1000 years, from 3300BC.
It's in a World Heritage Site called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, which has dozens of stone circles, individual stones, tombs, settlements and other features.

It's sat between two lochs, with islands and hills rising round: a place where time is held.
From the scale and extent of the buildings throughout this region, and also from the goods found there, with origins around Western Europe, we can guess that the region was a major site of travel, maybe pilgrimage, maybe trade, maybe more. It feels significant to that world.
Growing up around these stones and homes gives a particular sense of time. This is the Knap o Howar, from the same period. It's one of the oldest dwellings in the islands, in Papay. I used to play house in here when I was a kid.
When I say "I played house in here", I'm trying to get across that that felt ordinary. Being familiar with these places was just a part of life. They didn't necessarily feel special. When I go to Brodgar now, it's like visiting friends.
A great book on this history is Mark Edmonds' "Orcadia", a synthesis of the current archaeological and anthropological research.

A great literary imagining of neolithic life is Naomi Mitchison's "Early in Orcadia". Yes, I stole the pun.
(Mitchison is a criminally underread writer, by the way. She wrote promiscuously across genres, including some incredibly gay science fiction -- more on that in a later thread. Look at this list of titles!)
Skip ahead a few thousand years (which seem a lot quieter in Orkney), and thinking about the Norse world helps to understand why Orkney might have been so important in the Neolithic.

Here's a simple map of Viking colonisation of these islands:
Travelling by sea-road, Orkney doesn't look peripheral to Western Europe. Rather, it's a travel hub: you can get down either side of the Atlantic Archipelago, and on to Iceland even. Plus, it has exceptionally good natural harbours and better farmland than anywhere else nearby.
Two great novels about the end of this period are Margaret Elphinstone's "Islanders" (also very neglected), set in a small community in Fair Isle, and Dorothy Dunnet's "King Hereafter", which creatively imagines that the historical Macbeth and Thorfinn were the same person.
(King Hereafter features an *incredible* homoerotic sequence between feuding jarls trapped in Maeshowe, a neolithic tomb, in a winter night. It's absolutely worth reading this huge book for that one scene.)
Both novels, writing about different ends of the social spectrum, show the life and importance of islands in a world governed by the sea-road, where inland settlements are peripheral and coastal communities are cosmopolitan seats of power.
As European power became more urban, places like Orkney shift to the periphery, but are still useful staging places for imperialism: several of Cook's voyages left from or returned to Orkney, and the doomed Franklin expedition left from Orkney too.
I mentioned in the last thread that the Hudson's Bay Company had a major recruiting station in Orkney. Most of its ships left from the islands, and Orkneymen made up a high proportion of its workers.
Another sidebar: there is considerable resentment in Orkney about the treatment of John Rae (here's his statue in Stromness), the HBC man who learned the truth of the Franklin expedition from local Inuit (the sailors probably got botulism posioning, maybe ate each other).
Rae was pilloried in the national press for this, and Charles Dickens wrote a racist article denouncing the Inuit account.

A good film about all this is Passage, which also features a meeting between Tagak Curleyand Dickens' great-great-grandson:…
Another example of this is that Scapa Flow, the huge natural harbour in the south of Orkney, was Britain's biggest naval base during the world wars.

At the end of WW1, the German fleet was brought there to be divided among allies, and the German captains scuttled the lot.
Just like inland Orkney is full of visible tombs and standing stones, the coast is littered with military lookouts and gun emplacements. Here's Hoxa Head:
In WW2, Italian PoWs were imprisoned in Orkney. Some of them worked to build a catholic chapel out of scrounged materials.

They were illegally forced to build anti-submarine barriers between the South Isles, using the excuse that it was a municipal improvement.
The last thing I want to talk about is the future. Along with sites of worship and colonisation, the other striking feature of the landscape, verticals cutting the low, treeless horizon, is wind turbines. Lots and lots of wind turbines.
We have resource-looting investor-led windfarms, we have microgeneration powering farms and electric cars, we have community-owned turbines funding local development projects. In the last 30 years they've become a major feature of the landscape. I love them, personally!
The other big thing that's going on is the European Marine Energy Centre. We're one of the biggest research sites for wave and tidal energy in the world.
Our role in renewables is made possible by our location for the same reasons we've been important to successive waves of colonisation: very windy, lots of coast, good travel links. But our perceived peripherality also limits how much we're able to do.
The definitive book on this is Laura Watts' "Energy at the End of the World", which is a local science history and cultural anthropology of renewables in Orkney. It looks at science, power, politics and how energy development does and doesn't happen. Strongly recommended.
So! There are two things I'm trying to say with all this.

The first is that in Orkney time is visibly layered on top of itself: you see a standing stone, a wind turbine, a Viking settlement and a British military base all in the same open view.
The second is that places like Orkney shift your ideas of "centre" and "periphery", partly through that geography. You see, through the landscape, how they're related, and how what was once the centre can shift to the edge, and vice versa.
The idea of Scottish islands as peripheral, wild, remote is common now. Here's a Shetlander taking proper aim at it, showing how the idea serves money and power:

But this is a *new* idea, a shifting of geography. seen. And it's not how we see ourselves.

Mallachy Tallack has written beautifully about this here:…

And Mallachy's own novel (set in Shetland, and about community and sheep farming and a lot more) makes the argument in its title: The Valley at the Centre of the World.
So, when writing a sci fi book, I got interested in time and place, and how interstellar expansion would *feel* to the people on the edge of it (the distant edge, the cutting edge). What happens to the staging grounds for space colonisation when power & technology changes?
This poem is early in the book and introduces some of this material. In the early days of faster than light travel, what's the view from places built at sublightspeed? Also, what kind of time-folding happens when we introduce FtL?

I don't go deep into hard SF work on FtL and time paradox! Though I did do my research, to try and make the metaphor work. For me, the idea of how faster-than-light travel upends space and time was a way of talking about the kind of community I'm from.
I could also talk here about how the Orkney economy now is built on oil - refining it, using it in farming, profiting from cruise ships - and trying to make a shift to renewables, how this has changed our culture through tourism and extraction. But maybe another time.
Sci fi heroes often come from remote sites of resource extraction: that's where their adventure begins. But I'm from that place and that's where I want to write about: life in empire's useful peripheries, and how they work through ecological and economic crisis, or don't.
That's your thread for today! Thanks for reading. Deep Wheel Orcadia is in shops right now, it's officially published Thursday 14th, and the launch event with live music is at Summerhall on Saturday 16th. See you soon x

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More from @HJosephineGiles

12 Oct
oh... a spare hour... maybe i should get round to che cking through my invoices, it's been a while...

*opens invoices_complete.ods*

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11 Oct
Rehearsing with @AtziComposer for the official book launch!

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8 Oct
It's six days until Deep Wheel Orcadia is published, and pre-orders are landing through letterboxes now!

An Orkney language science fiction verse novel is a queer thing, so I'm going to do a few threads about the ideas and inspirations behind it.

First, what is this language?
Here's Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland. My whole childhood was in Westray, one of the north isles, at the old Midbea Schoolhouse.

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9 Sep
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