I really enjoyed reading The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, an award-winning memoir about alcoholism and recovery, and an evocative exploration of Orkney.
It’s a complex and inspiring book, beautifully crafted, dense, and full of insightful reflections on inner and outer worlds.
I wondered if the festival event would be able to capture this complexity, so I came to the event with a little trepidation. However, I left even more intrigued by the book and its author, able to go back and re-read it with a fresh eye and additional respect for the writing and the writer.
An outrun is a liminal space between land and sea, or cultivated and wild land. In the context of the book, this was a piece of rough pasture on Amy Liptrot’s parents’ farm in Orkney. In the book, she also refers to the outrun as a “sweep of wind-scoured, cliff-edged land” and “a type of habitat referred to as ‘maritime heathland’.”
The Outrun is not only a physical space in the book; it also acts as metaphor for self-exploration and the experience of emotional and geographical wildness.
The presenter of the event, the author Jan Carson, asked exploratory questions which allowed Amy Liptrot to reveal the diverse aspects of The Outrun.
The first reading from the book was about Amy Liptrot’s life in London, focusing on her battle with alcoholism. Liptrot explained that the date of the event, the 1st of May, made it apt to begin her reading from her book with a passage which began: “May is my powerful month of change and possibility: it’s my birthday and my middle name.”
The second passage was about Liptrot’s experience as corncrake officer on Orkney, which provided fascinating detail about the flora, fauna, geology, astronomy and geography of the region.
As with any book one really loves, I am curious about the author, as well as a little apprehensive about meeting them, in case they confound my expectations.
On one level, Amy Liptrot was different from what I expected. In the book, she describes herself as “tall and gangly”, a person who is used to living in wild places, psychically as well as physically. In real life, she is elegant, with classic good looks. She has a soft voice which catches at times, because she speaks quickly; she keeps smoothing her long brown skirt over her knee.
Jan Carson, the presenter, seemed to pick up on Amy Liptrot’s energy and intensity, and made a space for her to share her reflections on her struggles with alcoholism and the processes of writing and island-living.
Liptrot also explained how her experiences as a journalist had contributed to the quality of her writing of The Outrun and her ability to integrate a range of information into the book.
The audience referred to some of this information in the question time at the end of the session, asking about natural phenomena discussed in the book such as Fata Morgana and about Liptrot’s experiences of sea swimming.
Although much of The Outrun is about Amy Liptrot’s battle with alcohol and other demons, such as the challenges of her father’s manic depression, the book is by no means a misery memoir.
The book is honest and self-searching, not attaching blame for the author’s issues to her tumultuous childhood or life in an isolated environment. This honesty was evident throughout the dialogue between Carson, Liptrot and the audience.
The relaxed and intimate nature of The Green Room at the Black Box contributed to the effectiveness of the event.