Readers, here is something that I think is rather special. Guesting on the blog tonight are three very fine fellow island bloggers — all of them women.
As International Women’s Day week comes to a close, I’ve put together a post with views from Catriona Murray, Katie MacLeod and Jane Hepburn Macmillan. I asked the three of them if they would like to take part in a shared guest post about what blogging means to them — particularly as women of the Hebrides — and I was delighted that they all agreed.
They all have their own very distinct identities and niches which is, I believe, one of the tricks to making a success out of blogging. Catriona’s Christian faith is a distinct feature to her blog. Katie is a travel blogger and Jane is an exceptionally good trad musician.
Ultimately, though, we are all just telling stories — and isn’t that one of the oldest forms of cultural expression on the planet? And one of the most profound human impulses? And maybe there should be no surprise that storytelling spills out now across digital platforms. We are a world away from the oral tradition but we have tech at our fingertips.
But without further ado, I’ll hand the laptop over…
CATRIONA MURRAY Post Tenebras Lux
It’s not an easy exercise to articulate your own identity in a few words, as I have found out since starting the blog. My strapline is a snapshot of where I was in my thinking before I even wrote the first post – Hebridean, Christian, Widow, Nationalist.
I thought that those were the things I would most likely be blogging about.
However, it has not panned out quite as expected. And yet, when I look back from where I stand now, it was always a little bit inevitable that this is how it would be.
One of the things that has always been able to wind me up is the misrepresentation of our island culture in the media. I have rarely read an article, or watched a television report about Lewis that did not resort to stereotype and sneering. You can set the sneerometer to ‘off the scale’ for any story in which religion is involved, and it has been this way since I can remember.
And, oh man, it has fired me up for as long as I can remember too.
That response in me to the denigration of the island I love has taken on a new aspect since becoming a Christian. It used to be that I was simply annoyed that people laughed at Lewis — at Gaelic, at the Free Church, at crofters, at islandness in general — because they were mocking my very own identity. There is something so jarring about seeing all the things you associate with warmth and safety, and the people you love, splashed across the pages of a national newspaper to entertain the gawping masses.
‘Look at the quaint folk up in Lewis – a few of them speak a weird language that’s costing the country a fortune, and they all belong to a sinister cult run by men in black suits. Oh, their scenery is lovely and you can’t beat their gin or their textiles for quality but, well, thank goodness we’re not like them.’
That is why I started blogging. I wanted to put the other side – the truth as I’ve experienced it. It was always my intention to share the real Lewis. Stupidly, I didn’t think I would become seen as a Christian blogger or, indeed, that I would write as much as I do about religious issues.
That does not make you popular with some. I have been called things on social media that would make a navvy blush. All because my views are not palatable in certain quarters. Recently, a post I wrote caused what I can only describe as an outpouring of hatred. Sitting at home, alone, I contemplated giving up the blog.
That’s when the support network kicks in, though. Messages from other Christians – yes, friends, some of them, but also from people I have never met, feeling compelled to say, ‘just keep on, God is with you’. And prayer sustains; my own prayers and those of His people, who are also my people.
Recently, I was asked by Coinneach Mòr MacIver how I came to be a Free Church woman with a voice. We have always had a voice; it was never the Free Church that tried to silence us. There certainly are those who have tried to censor me, to limit the reach of what I write, but they are – all of them – the very ones who shout the loudest about the Wee Frees subjugating women.
I have never felt like I needed anyone’s permission to raise my voice. My father always feared that I was too shy ever to attempt it, but he and my mother, and the culture they taught me to love, gave me the confidence – and God gives me the strength.
KATIE MACLEOD Stories My Suitcase Could Tell
Hello! I’m a journalist and travel blogger from Lewis now living in New York City. I’ve written about travel for publications like BBC Travel and Buzzfeed, and I’ve worked as a features writer for Stornoway’s EVENTS newspaper for 10 years, but my travel blog, Stories My Suitcase Could Tell, was born at my kitchen table in Point back in 2011.
My original blog, Tianjin Tales, had been about my experiences of daily life teaching English in China, and when I returned home to Lewis a year later, I realized I wanted to continue blogging – and so I pressed “publish” on Stories My Suitcase Could Tell without really knowing what I was getting myself into!
Aside from being a space for me to write, I hope the blog inspires people to travel, at home and abroad. I hope it shows people that travel is possible, but also that travel doesn’t always have to be far flung and exotic; you can embrace a travel mindset at home and discover new experiences right on your own doorstep.
For me, a big part of this has been exploring the Outer Hebrides. Some of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had have happened at home in the islands, which ties in to another main driving force behind the blog, which is promoting the islands as a travel destination. I truly believe we have something unique to offer, and I wanted to share our extraordinary home with others (I love showing people pictures of Luskentyre or St Kilda and watching their jaws drop!).
Intertwined with that is the goal of showing the islands as they really are, and trying to combat the stereotypes about the islands (and islanders) that are still perpetuated by the media.
The islands have always had a strong storytelling tradition, whether that’s been through prose, poetry, or song, and maybe blogging is the latest iteration of that tradition. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the majority of blogs coming out of the islands are run by women.
For one, Hebridean women have always been strong women, but I also think it reflects what’s happening in new media more generally, where the ease of setting up a blog, an Instagram profile, or a podcast means anyone can have a voice and put their content and opinions out there — so women are taking up that opportunity where they might not have had it before, and as a result we’re hearing more women’s voices, which is brilliant.
For me, being from the Outer Hebrides — as a writer or otherwise — is to be part of a community. No matter where you go you always have those roots, you always have that community, and now that I live in the USA, that means more to me than ever. I’ve had so much support and encouragement from everyone at home over the years, which I’m so grateful for.
I also love that being from (and writing about) the Hebrides brings you into contact with islanders everywhere, from fellow bloggers like Katie, Catriona, and Jane, to old friends, and even people who emigrated from Lewis to the USA sixty years ago!
It’s been quite the blogging journey so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads next…!
JANE HEPBURN MACMILLAN Living in the Outer Hebrides
I’m a bit of a ‘newbie’ to the world of blogging world. I wrote my first piece, ‘How do you Solve a Problem like Depopulation’, about six months ago and to be totally honest, I didn’t expect anyone to read it!
The motivation behind it was sparked by a fair amount of personal frustration. I was dissatisfied with politicians’ answers to our depopulation worry, bored of hearing people complain about my favourite aspects to island life and I was determined not let the challenges of building a house defeat me. With that, I decided to share my thoughts. Little did I realise the opportunities it would bring.
I only ever write about matters I care about. I don’t set myself a target of writing ‘X’ amount blogs per month, I don’t do it for a living and I don’t write on behalf of anyone else. They are my own thoughts, my own honest feelings and I’d like to keep it that way.
Since my first post, I’ve been asked to take part in numerous TV programmes, news reports and other online articles. I’ve managed to grab the attention of people who can actually make a difference here in the Outer Hebrides too. If nothing else, it’s worth doing for that purpose alone.
Deeper than all of that, there lies something quite peculiar. Beneath the fiery moments, the passion, the excitement, the exasperation (at times), there is a small circle of female island bloggers doing the same thing, and I’ll let you into a secret, they’re quite remarkable. They’re writing about things they believe in, they’re standing up for what they think is right and they’re writing about matters that excite them. They’re passionate, they’re proficient and they’re persistent.
As the ‘baby blogger’ (the newbie, the beginner), being able to look up to the women behind blogs such as Hebrides Writer, Post Tenebras Lux and Stories my Suitcase Could Tell is a real encouragement and motivation.
It’s true, you must have the right mindset before dangling yourself in front of the public, opening up your own feelings and sharing your personal thoughts. You do have to accept that people WILL disagree with you and know that it would be a pretty boring world if they didn’t.
Sadly, you do need thick skin. I don’t think bloggers should ever have to accept nastiness from readers — not privately and not publicly either — but they do. Fact.
I’ve only had a little snippet of it. Like I said, I’m the baby blogger, I’ve only just started. My ‘A Holy Hogmanay?’ post unsurprisingly hit a few local nerves, but my mum did warn me it would happen. Even my ‘What is it about being a Leodhasach?’ post offended someone. I was surprised by that one, actually.
I know that further nastiness takes place, some really quite hurtful, but I don’t know of anyone in my new network of female bloggers who has let it stop them writing. Remember what I said before about our small circle of female island bloggers? Passionate. Proficient. Persistent.
The next time you read a blog and you enjoy it, remember to comment and say so. Words of kindness go a lot further than any other, believe me.
Also remember, it’s just a blone behind a screen, remember that it’s just one opinion, remember that it’s someone’s blog.