Writers can often be our eyes and ears to different cultures, providing some understanding of the world and ourselves, as they expose stories, hone connections, find truth and offer a new perspective.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival are sending five Outriders out across the Americas and their five travelling writer companions will appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. One of these writers is poet Harry Giles, who has already embarked on his venture, and prior to heading off, The Fountain spoke with him about Orkney, Canada’s connection with Scotland and what his expectations were.

TF: Can you sum up what Outriders is?

It’s an Edinburgh Book Festival project about partnering five writers from Scotland with five writers from all across the Americas. We are each taking a week long trip together across the Americas. We will all be coming back together for the book festival this year.

TF: Can you elaborate on your involvement?

As one of the five writers from Scotland I will be travelling around Canada starting at the end of April actually and I have been paired with a native writer from Canada called Katherena Vermette. We will be travelling through Montreal then West to Winnipeg, then North to Churchill which is on the edge of Hudson Bay so right up in the Canadian north. It will be quite icy at this time of year. We will be looking at things like the language, particularly the minority language and we will be looking at some of the cultures, particularly Orkney and Scotland’s role in that part of Canada.

TF: Is this part of the world that you have come across before or is this a new venture?

I have spent a little bit of time in Montreal and I have spent quite a bit of time in Ontario where we have family but I have not been to the Central and North of Canada at all. Churchill, especially is a place which has quite the Orkney origin history, as that’s where I am from, and the Hudson Bay company was largely staffed by people from Orkney when it was depopulating quite a lot, so I am interested in that part of history, and have a connection with what happened there.

TF: What are your expectations, professionally and personally, in what you are hoping to get from the experience?

I am personally hoping for a challenge at a time when it’s thinking about its national identity, its political identity and its role in the world. It’s important to be looking at parts of Scottish history, which are linked with Canada. I want to be able to meet with that and tell some of that story back. That’s quite important to me so that’s what I am going to try to do.

TF: What do you think about this idea of Scotland becoming part of Canada – you must have an opinion on that? There has been a lot of speculation recently on this.

I had not heard that. (Laughs) It sounds more like provocation than anything like reality at the moment. What’s important to me at the moment in all of the kind of upheaval is being connected to a wider international body but I am interested in is forging links across different cultures, trying to build connections, working together to build something a little more hopeful.

TF: And you are going to be joined by Katherena Vermette, Canadian writer from Winnipeg who is also a poet? How does this interaction occur?

That’s right. I mean we are just going to find out. We have had a good bit of back and forth conversation beforehand and we are both history nerds which I think will help, because a lot of what we are doing is looking at the historical side. And we are both writers who have similar interests which will also help. In terms of the rapport and discussing things that we are both interested in, that will be a challenge, but as I admire her as a poet very much it’s very exciting for me.

TF: Do you think you might get involved in any slams whilst you are over there?

A few years ago when I visiting Ontario I did look at the slam scene in New York and Montreal but I will be at the Montreal Book Festival which is called Festival Metropolis Bleu or Blue Metropolis. There will be a little less slam and a little more reading. It should actually be really interesting reading at the book festival in Montreal as I will be reading with an SL poet so there will be the translations, which will make that more exciting.

Main photo courtesy of Alan McCredie.

To read up on the Outriders and their experiences across the Americas follow their blog.