Expressing An Island, Patrick Corbett Geology Poetry Workshop July 2023, Film Still By Glenda Rome

Expressing An Island with Norman Bissell

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Norman Bissell and I’m a poet and author. 

I’ve published a poetry book called Slate, Sea and Sky, A Journey from Glasgow to the Isle of Luing, as well as a novel, Barnhill, about George Orwell’s last years on the Isle of Jura. Barnhill is where he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, and as the crow flies it is about 12 miles from where I live now.

I’ve also got another book that is due to be published next year called Living on An Island Expressing the Earth, about why I was inspired to come and live where I do and about my involvement in geopoetics over many years.  

I’m also the Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.


Where do you live?

I live on the island of Luing, which is one of the Slate Islands, and have been here for 16 years now.  

I was the Vice-Chairman of the Isle of Luing Community Trust for eight years, and we raised £1.3million to build the Atlantic Islands Centre, which opened in 2015. My partner and I also run the only shop and post office on the island.

Before I lived here I was a teacher, mainly in Motherwell. When I first visited Luing in 1995, I came round the corner and looked out to the west, and was blown away by the view. I immediately fell in love with the place. 

I’ve also had a love of the coast since my parents used to take me as a boy on holidays to Dunoon – I always knew I wanted to come and live by the sea.


Tell us about Expressing An Island, your project for Coastal Cultures.

I was the lead artist on the project, and worked with Lottie May, an artist, illustrator and printmaker, who is also based on the Isle of Luing. 

Expressing An Island relates to geopoetics, which is the creative expression of the Earth, and something I’ve been involved with for most of my life. Geopoetics is for anyone who wants to develop a heightened awareness of the natural world of which we are part. It’s not just for writers and visual artists, but for creative people of all kinds.

Over a six-month period, we ran workshops to introduce the concept of geopoetics to anyone who was interested, particularly writers and craftspeople, and to inspire them to express these islands in their work.

What came out of the workshops?

When I first read about Coastal Cultures, I knew that Lottie and I could make a real contribution to creative people on Luing that would also have wider value not just in Argyll and the islands, but also worldwide.

Several of the participants from the writing workshops submitted poems and prose to the Luing Newsletter, where they have been published. We’re also hoping to have enough good quality poetry, artwork and prose for a special print issue of Stravaig, the journal of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.

We already had a craft group on the island, called 12 Dancing Pigeons, and the free workshops that we ran during the project strengthened that network considerably and it will continue to meet. 

People joined the workshops from Luing but also from Oban and the surrounding area, as well as Seil. Out of the workshops a writers’ group called Seil Scribblers was set up, and then, at a subsequent workshop, we created a network called Slate Scribblers to bring together writers on Luing and Seil. 

We’ll now be meeting once a month to discuss what we’re working on, to take walks together and to write some haiku or other pieces of writing following the walk. 


Who else did you work with on the project?

We worked with Patrick Corbett, Emeritus Professor of Geology at Heriot-Watt University, who is also the assistant director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. One of his main projects has been to walk around the whole coast of the British Isles – not all in one go!

He’s also very into writing poetry, particularly related to geology. He came and ran two workshops on Luing. In the second we all walked up to the former slate quarry at the edge of Cullipool village, where we discussed the idea of developing a geology trail and promoting geotourism on the island.

We also worked with Glenda Rome, a freelance filmmaker, who is making a crowdfunded documentary film called Expressing The Earth, all about geopoetics. She filmed some of the workshops, and interviewed Lottie, Patrick, me and others about our work. She’s made a big contribution to the project. 

We also worked with Dugald Macinnes, an archaeologist and slate mosaic artist, and the project was able to fund one of his workshops in Cullipool. These were very popular, and a lot of new work came out of them. 


Were there any unexpected outcomes to the project?

One of the interesting things that happened the first time we had a Zoom meeting with the people from the other Coastal Cultures residencies organised by CHARTS was that Jen Skinner at Screen Argyll on Tiree was interested in seeing Glenda’s film and perhaps taking it to other venues.  That would be a real win-win for us.

Unfortunately, the Screen Machine is too big and heavy for our ferry! But we do have a big screen in Toberonochy Hall on the island so we’ll be able to show the film there.

The workshops that Lottie and I did on Seil, Lismore and Kerrera really strengthened the links between creative people on five Lorn islands including Easdale. We had hoped that would happen, but more unexpected was that six writers and artists on Seil and Luing joined the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics as a result of the workshops. I also made contact with a writer who lives on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, where he is developing a geopoetics research centre using Facebook and other means:


Learn more about Coastal Cultures Islands Residencies and Expressing an Island here


Coastal Cultures is funded by Creative Scotland and supported by The Scottish Government, Argyll and Bute Council and Bòrd na Gàidhlig

Expressing An Island Project Images