Orkney satire makes for pulp friction

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IT'S the bizarre saga of the outspoken author, the affronted MP and the hugely controversial book which sank quicker than a leaky longboat.

Max Scratchmann's warts-and-all account of his six-year stay in Orkney, in which he lampoons the islands and their inhabitants, was due to hit bookshelves worldwide this month.

But the tome – Chucking it All: How Downsizing To A Windswept Scottish Island Did Absolutely Nothing to Improve My Life – has been pulped after an angry backlash and the intervention of Orkney's MP.

Scratchmann's irreverent travelogue caricatured Orcadians as "staid, emotionally repressed drunks" who live in a 1950s timewarp.

Parliamentarian Alistair Carmichael failed to see the funny side and complained to the publishers about the work's "hurtful and vindictive" tone.

The writer, who now lives in Aberdeen, accused the Liberal Democrat of acting like a "latter-day Lord Chamberlain" who wanted to censor what people could and could not read.

But Carmichael insists his intervention was solely to protect the reputations of "clearly identifiable" constituents mercilessly mocked in the work.

The book chronicles Scratchmann's disillusionment after he and his partner leave Manchester for Orkney, a move he describes as: "falling through a rent in the fabric of the universe and tumbling headfirst into the 1950s".

He states: "We were taken aback at our first night-time encounter with Orcadians, who are rather staid and emotionally repressed by day, but veritable Jekyll and Hydes when the midnight sun sinks and rum and whisky washes away their numerous inhibitions."

He concludes: "The two major pastimes on long winter nights are gossip and adultery."

Chucking It All also features accounts of numerous chaotic booze-fuelled ceilidhs and discos, village lotharios, shambolic amateur dramas, toe-curling parish pageants and the only gays on the island.

Scratchmann is perplexed by the backlash to his work.

He said: "Before we moved to Orkney I read a lot of books about downshifting like A Year In Provence which I found unbearably smug and terribly unrealistic.

"As a response I wanted to write an honest, truthful book about what life in Orkney is really like. Up there Orkney is universally portrayed as God's own territory on earth.

"I dared to point out in a light-hearted way that is not the case and the people there get drunk a lot, have affairs and are normal human beings."

Scratchmann says a prominent Orkney business figure raised concerns after recognising a thinly veiled version of themselves after the book was previewed on island radio.

London-based publishing firm Nicholas Brealey decided to pull the plug on the work shortly after being contacted by a perturbed Carmichael. The author claims the move has cost him thousands of pounds, as well as the two years he spent writing the book.

Scratchmann said: "If I had written a book exposing serious scandals in the Orkney fishing and farming communities I could understand why an MP might be concerned."

Carmichael personally picked up Radio Orkney's review copy of the book after a pre-publication interview with Scratchmann caused a furore and led to the book being "the talk of Orkney".

He said: "I was concerned that there were a number of people in the book who were easily identifiable. The book was potentially very hurtful, so I spoke to the publishers.

"I am a liberal and am not about banning books and ultimately it was their decision whether or not they published the book.

"Max Scratchmann claims I orchestrated getting his book banned. I would love to have that power and influence, but the reality is rather different. The concerns that I, and a number of other people had, about the book were genuine. If you know some of the people involved it does seem vindictive."

A spokeswoman for publishers Nicholas Brealey declined to comment on Carmichael's involvement. She said: "The reasons we are no longer publishing this book are a private matter between ourselves and Mr Scratchmann." An online advertisement for the aborted book is accompanied by the folk song Bloody Orkney, whose lyrics state: "Oh bloody crows, Oh bloody rain/No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains/The council's got no bloody brains/In bloody Orkney."

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