A solitary woman bobs through icy waters, leaving a wake of ripples on the slick surface. Water laps at undisturbed grasses on the shore, nothing but birdsong in the air. This is how author Amy Liptrot celebrates after attending literary festivals and book readings. Where once she might have found solace in a glass of something strong, she now directs her adrenaline towards a wild swim somewhere remote and peaceful.
In a cosy corner of the Record & Book Nook at the Lush Creative Showcase, Amy Liptrot opens up her debut memoir The Outrun, a book about coming to terms with addiction and embracing the restorative powers of nature. She turns the page to a chapter titled The Corncrake Wife and reads aloud the words she’s crafted about her own life. On such a warm day in the city, it’s difficult to imagine the wild landscape of the Orkney Islands, but Amy transports us right there.
After battling alcohol addiction, the first reaction of many people might not be to immortalise the story by writing a memoir. However, writing is what Amy does. She’s written diaries since she was eight, she’s blogged about all manner of topics, and writing is a reflex. When dramatic events happened in her life, writing about them was only natural.
Amy beams about the supportive and positive reaction she has had to The Outrun, and is surprised at how people have been affected by her story. She says: “The book seems to have connected with people in different ways for all different reasons.” She describes the unintended consequences of her writing, that the book has served as a way for people to open up a conversation about alcohol or addiction.
Sharing such a personal story wasn’t easy, but Amy has no regrets. She says: “Inviting people to read about my life is like a seesaw of feeling quite proud and pleased, and also embarrassed. What people have told me they’ve got out of the book, and my personal relationship with readers, have been worth that discomfort.”
After sharing intimate details about herself and her family, Amy knew returning to Orkney would leave her feeling exposed: “When I went back to Orkney, I walked down the street feeling a little bit like my skin had been peeled off.”
In The Outrun, Amy openly discusses intimate details about her family, including her father’s struggle with mental illness. When she tentatively showed her parents an early draft, she was relieved that they didn’t try to stop her from writing the story.
Amy is fascinated by the connection between the natural world and technology: “It’s easy to fall into this trope of ‘the internet’s making us all lonely and disconnected,’ but I wanted to be more positive than that. The internet can help people understand more about the natural world.” Her passion is infectious, and she enthusiastically reels off a list of ways people can find out more about the natural world by using technology: astronomy apps, the marine traffic app, or using the internet to locate whales.
The connection between technology and the natural world mirrors Amy’s life. She feels the ongoing push and pull between city and island, never quite sure where she belongs, but almost certain that Orkney is her heartland. “What I realised when I went back home to Orkney, was how much the landscape had impacted my psyche. I’d grown up with this huge horizon, and in the city I couldn’t see that horizon and I was always looking for it. The landscapes of our childhood cast shadows.”
Amy plans on writing this winter, but mostly she’s dying to get back to a place where she can walk in the wilderness, and swim in freezing cold rivers.