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Welcome to the official website of Norman Bissell, writer, educator and Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. He grew up and lived much of his life in Glasgow and now lives on the Isle of Luing in Argyll where he writes poems, fiction and non-fiction, and co-edits the online journal Stravaig.

Pre-launch Special Offer

Living on an Island

Expressing the Earth

Buy a signed and dedicated book

for only £9.99 + p&p = £13.99

- and get a free Stravaig#14 journal here

'Norman Bissell is an accomplished and prolific writer, and long-time champion of geopoetics in Scotland. His autobiographical reflections presented here provide a frank and personal look behind the scenes of the geopoetics movement, offering sometimes challenging insights into its leading personalities.' Prof. Mairéad Nic Craith BEd, BA, MA, PhD, MRIA, FAcSS, Professor of Public Folklore, Institute for Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands

'Norman Bissell’s Living on an Island is an extraordinary compendium of a book, a wonderfully readable autobiographical account of a poet’s accommodation with the ecology of life on a small island, a growing understanding of a community of care and concern, but also an intellectual enquiry into what has come to be termed “geopoetics”: a way of living in what the American poet Charles Olson called a “human universe” - an earth of actual value. But it’s also more than that. It’s a meticulous literary exploration of the author’s grateful relationship with the Scottish poet Kenneth White, long resident of Brittany and world-traveller, geographically and spiritually, an intellectual nomad, yet a poet grounded in glancing but profound realities, shorelines of understanding, coastal territories, tidal places. Bissell’s story of meeting, searching for, rediscovering and finding White in person, and his exposition of White’s writing, documents his own growing comprehension of an earth increasingly under threat in a climate of political encroachment. This is a quest narrative of ultimate discovery. Bissell takes us into his confidence, and locates Kenneth White, and himself, in the company of a wide range of other writers whose priorities are shared, exchanged and endorsed. It is an affirmation of a world where truths can be accurately valued.' Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow

'Living on an Island: Expressing the Earth is an extremely readable book that combines personal memoir with an in-depth account of the history of the geopoetics movement, seen in particular from Scotland. It’s a seminal and timely work and an informative and engaging account of this significant and growing approach to living.' Poet and author Carol McKay

Norman Bissell was awarded a Coastal Cultures Islands Residency in 2023 by the Culture, Heritage & Arts Assembly, Argyll & Isles (CHARTS) for his Expressing an Island project. A series of free writing and arts/crafts workshops took place on the Isles of Luing, Lismore, Seil and Kerrera and a special print issue of Stravaig#14  journal has been published from the work that was produced.

His poetry collection Slate, Sea and Sky is published by Luath Press and signed and dedicated copies are also available from him: see Poetry and Shop pages.

 

Some of his poems and thoughts on geopoetics featured in Ramblings with Clare Balding on the Isle of Seil in Argyll which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in October 2021 and is available on BBC Sounds at Ramblings with Clare Balding.

 

Barnhill, his novel about the last years in the life of George Orwell, is published in hardback, paperback and e-book by Luath Press. Order a signed and dedicated copy here.

 

George Orwell left post-war London for Barnhill, a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Jura, to write what became Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was driven by a passionate desire to undermine the enemies of democracy and make plain the dangers of dictatorship, surveillance, doublethink and censorship. Typing away in his damp bedroom overlooking the garden he established and the sea beyond, he invented Big Brother, Thought Police, Newspeak and Room 101 – and created a masterpiece.

Barnhill tells the dramatic story of this crucial period of Orwell’s life. Deeply researched, it reveals the private man behind the celebrated public figure – his turbulent love life, his devotion to his baby son and his declining health as he struggled to deliver his dystopian warning to the world.

If you want to get a feel for the inner life and personal relationships of George Orwell, and to enter into the imaginative world of the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four in his dying years, then you must pick up Norman Bissell's brilliant dramatization of the life of the man who gave us Big Brother and doublethink - and I guarantee you: you will not put it down until you finish.” John Rodden, world leading authority on George Orwell and his legacy, and author of The Politics of Literary Reputation and Becoming George Orwell as well as many other acclaimed books. 

"Bissell fills out and explores more deeply the Orwell’s character and his relationships with those around him. It’s a very believable portrayal, digging beneath the surface of a man who could be awkward, opinionated and intransigent in an attempt to see what made him tick." Alastair Mabbott, The Herald on Sunday and Sunday National

"Extensive research by the author provides an excellent and insightful retelling of George Orwell's experiences on the Isle of Jura where he conjured up the ground-breaking dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four." The Scots Magazine

"This impressively researched novel by Norman Bissell tells a vibrant, moving and compelling story of the final years of a troubled Orwell’s life. Bissell offers us a fascinating insight into the mind of the tormented and notoriously private author, while painting an evocative and insightful picture of the context of Orwell’s later work. Sitting at the intersection of fact and fiction, Bissell’s narrative is absolutely gripping and engrossing. A must read." Frank Pignatelli, former Strathclyde Regional Council Director of Education

"I have just finished reading Barnhill and cannot start another book because it is still living with me! I lived every moment of that incredible story, felt the cold, the pain, the bliss and excitement. You have done such a marvellous thing in bringing Eric to us and allowing us to visit him in such an intimate way. Thank you, I am so glad I put it to one side for a day I might have a little more time to read and digest... I rarely read a biography but this has shown me how an outstanding account of someone's life is a huge education as well as a riveting read." Joy Cameron, Chair, Bookends Festival, Benderloch

Norman Bissell is an experienced speaker and reader of his work and is available for book festivals and other events by contacting him and for talks and creative writing/poetry workshops through the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature scheme.

Performing poems at the Belladrum Festival

The Firth of Lorn off Cullipool, copyright Gudrun Häusler

Sounds

Sometimes here
it’s hard to tell
the sound of the wind
from the sound of the waves
or the sound of the waves
from the sound of the rain
or the sound of the wind
and the waves and the rain
from the sound of my breath.

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All website text and images are copyright Norman Bissell unless otherwise stated. Permission to use them will normally be given if contacted.

Writing

Poetry

Slate, Sea and Sky: a Journey from Glasgow to the Isle of Luing is a striking combination of poems and photography which offers a new soundscape and vision of Glasgow and of a land/seascape far beyond its busy streets. From the screech of buses to the crash of waves on shore, the poems take us on a perceptive journey from the city to an island. They are beautifully illuminated by Oscar Marzaroli’s stunning photographs which capture a changing Scotland in shade and light. Read some poems here.

Fiction

Norman Bissell was awarded a Creative Scotland Artist’s Bursary in 2014 to undertake research and professional development to enable him to write his first novel about the last years in the life of George Orwell. His novel I Want to Live will be published in 2018. You can read an extract here.

Geopoetics

Norman Bissell is the Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics which was founded in 1995. It is a network of individuals who share a common interest in developing an understanding of geopoetics and applying it creatively in their lives. It organises talks, discussions, day and weekend events, conferences and courses, field work in interesting places, to extend our knowledge and experience of geopoetics. Find out more here.

Read some poems

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Latest News

Changes Needed in Arts Funding in Scotland

The current system of funding the arts in Scotland is deeply flawed since far too much of the budget is spent on administering funding by Creative Scotland instead of funding artists and arts provision. Radical changes are needed along the lines of these proposals I put forward in April 2019. Some of these were taken forward by the CTEEA Committee in its report of December 2019 but much more needs to be done. SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT […]

Writing Barnhill

This is an extended version of an essay originally published as an afterword in my recently published novel Barnhill. I first walked into Barnhill on the Isle of Jura in September 2006 but didn’t go inside the gate. I knew that George Orwell had written Nineteen Eighty-Four in that remote farmhouse but was puzzled by the contrast between his dark, dystopian novel and that beautiful location by the coast. I could see a little of […]

Becoming George Orwell

Here is a shorter version of a review I wrote for the Orwell Society website. John Rodden is widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on the legacy of George Orwell. Beginning with The Politics of Literary Reputation The Making and Claiming of ‘St George’ Orwell in 1989, he has established himself as the foremost expert on the cultural and political impact of Orwell on the world. His latest book more than justifies that reputation. […]

Trotsky, Orwell and Stalinist Agents

Eighty years ago today Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico by Ramon Mercader, a Stalinist agent. Here’s my take on that significant event in twentieth century history as it affected George Orwell. It’s a short extract from my novel Barnhill when George Orwell feared for his life on Jura. Were his fears justified? In the novel George Orwell and his friend Paul Potts walk from the Barnhill farmhouse to the north of Jura and discuss […]

WGGB Scotland: Creative Industries Funding for Economic Recovery

This paper by the Writers Guild Great Britain Scottish Committee has been sent to the Scottish Government Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Parliament CTEEA Committee Convener Joan McAlpine and Creative Scotland Chief Executive Iain Munro. It proposes an original and innovative way of using some of the £107 million funding for the benefit of freelance and employed creatives, their communities and economic recovery in Scotland. It is hoped that WGGB Scotland and the other […]

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