On a bleak January morning in 2013 my husband decided to surprise me with a trip to Papa Westray. We would never set foot on the island but the flight from Westray to Papay is the shortest in the world, and we were doing it for the novelty/bucket list factor. It isn’t very touristy to take this flight in January, even the pilot commented so, but we’re not tourists and clearly my husband wanted to beat the rush. While we waited at Kirkwall airport for our plane I was intrigued by a young woman also waiting for the plane who I now know to be Amy, the author of the book. Amy is difficult to miss as she is so striking in looks. Tall and slim with long blonde hair, I remember thinking she looked a little out of place to be travelling one way to Papay and wondered what she might be doing there. For some reason, I know not why, I decided she must be a locum doctor or something. I now know how wrong I was. Our paths never really crossed again other than the occasional sighting around Orkney but I later put two and two together and realised we followed each other on Twitter and further still I knew her mother who I met when I came up to Orkney for a first visit several years earlier, and she kindly invited me to lunch. We briefly touched on similar stories in that we were both fairly recently divorced or separated and spoke a little of our experiences. Strangely much of these fleeting glimpses into Amy’s life weaved their way into The Outrun and I now know why she was catching a plane to Papay.
Living in Orkney, and only a mile away from The Outrun and farm Amy grew up in, we share the same view. My house looks down onto the bay that Amy describes and I can almost see the farm she describes from my window. my house was built by a neighbouring farmer. All these things little facts combine to fascinate me. I picked the perfect time to read the book, during the peak of a particularly rough storm. The winter is long and dark and showing no signs of abating and Amy’s descriptive language helped me to fall in love with Orkney all over again as I endure the last few weeks before Spring. She draws many contrasts between the 24 hour stimulation of London life and the solitude and wonder of nature in Orkney. In this extremely well written first book I felt at times almost voyeuristic as Amy describes in detail her struggle with alcoholism and determination to free herself from this addiction. From the very first paragraph, describing her arrival to Orkney as a new born, while her mentally ill father is taken away in a straight jacket, we discover there is nothing average or run of the mill about the author or her life.
Through showing us her deep knowledge of Island life, Orkney myths, nature, birds, seas and skies we come to realise that what Amy was initially escaping is also the very thing that brought so much healing as she recovered. There are some hilarious chapters for instance when the author describes a cleaning job she once had in Flottta and there are some deeply moving lines, some which made me draw breath and at one point cry out. ”When I first left Orkney, my friend Sean gave me a compass. I used to wear it round my neck at parties, and when people asked about it, I would tell them it was so I could find my way home. I left the compass somewhere one night, then I was totally lost.” Amy is totally lost to alcoholism in the book but eventually finds her way North to recovery. I’m a huge fan of quirky people and Amy strikes me very much as one of these. Modest and at times self deprecating, with her enormous talent I’m sure she will go far. I cannot recommend The Outrun highly enough. It’s worth all the attention it’s currently getting.