Life and literary legacy of Nan Shepherd inspires new Scottish theatre project

The trailblazing nature writer, hillwalker, novelist and poet Nan Shepherd is to inspire a new Scottish theatre project more than 30 years after her death.

The life and literary legacy of Aberdeenshire-born Shepherd, whose seminal memoir was based on her experiences of the Cairngorms, will be explored in a new podcast drama.

The three-part series, being created by Borders-based theatre company Firebrand, will be drawn largely from Shepherd’s own novels, poems and letters.

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But “A Journey with Nan Shepherd” will also examine why she gave up writing to pursue a career teaching English, leaving her most famous work unpublished and hidden in a drawer for more than 30 years.

Nan Shepherd's image was used by the Royal Bank of Scotland for a five pound note.
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The project, which will see Aberdeenshire actress Sophia McLean portray Shepherd, will also look at how her career as a writer – which saw her publish three novels between 1928 and 1933 – was almost forgotten about until a new edition of The Living Mountain was released by Scottish publisher Canongate in 2011.

Written during the Second World War, the novel only saw the light of day in 1977, just four years before Shepherd passed away at the age of 88.

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However, it has been a best-seller in recent years, with a revival of interest in her leading the Royal Bank of Scotland to add her image to its five pound note.

Shepherd’s novels have drawn comparisons with fellow Aberdeenshire author Lewis Grassic Gibbo n, while Amy Liptrot, Robert Macfarlane and Jeanette Winterson are among the modern-day writers to champion Shepherd’s work.

The life and legacy of writer Nan Shepherd has inspired a new Scottish theatre project.

Firebrand is working on A Journey with Nan Shepherd with Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which will launch the series on its audio platform Sound Stage in October. It is hoped the project will eventually become a full theatre production.

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Firebrand previously turned the life story of legendary Scottish rugby commentator Bill McLaren into an audio drama and a stage play.

Richard Baron, director of A Journey With Nan Shepherd, one of the founders of Firebrand, said the origins of the project had come from the growing popularity of The Living Mountain during the Covid pandemic. He said: “It’s an extraordinary story as the book was self-published by Nan Shepherd when she was in her 80s, but it wasn’t a hit in her lifetime.

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"There has only really been a revival of interest in her in the 21st century.

The life and legacy of writer Nan Shepherd has inspired a new Scottish theatre project.

“The Living Mountain was picked up and championed by the nature writer Robert Macfarlane, who described it as the best book on nature that had ever been written in Britain.

"It’s been gathering momentum since then and is now available in 16 different languages.

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“When we began doing research into Shepherd, we found that there was an extraordinary woman behind this book.

"She wrote three really fabulous novels in the 20s and 30s, rather like Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song trilogy, which at the time were considered great works.

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The life and legacy of writer Nan Shepherd has inspired a new Scottish theatre project.

“She was known as the Scottish Virginia Woolf and was being compared to Thomas Hardy. She was very much part of the Scottish literature renaissance of the time. But her books basically became forgotten about.

"One of the intriguing things we found out that she loved to read Raymond Chandler novels. The great mystery at the heart of what we’re doing is why one of Scotland’s hottest literary properties suddenly just gave up.”

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