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This article is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

Archipelago Alan Riach

In one of those essential, late-night conversations when the historian and poet Angus Calder visited me in New Zealand back in 1995, he said with wry wisdom that indeed, things do look different, ‘On this side of the Atlantic.’

We paused on that and thought about where we were, exactly.

When I went to see him in the nursing home a few days before his death in 2008, he smiled and said, ‘Well, Alan, what side of the Atlantic are we on now?’

Things look different depending on where you are: Westminster or Holyrood, Oxford or Unst. And yet, what matters at the end of your life is something as local as a shared memory, a co-ordinate point to refer to, a sense of humour that allows for a quantum of dignity.

That is the first co-ordinate point here, where humour and dignity meet. This new magazine, Archipelago, edited by Andrew McNeillie, has the look, feel and character of real substance and a universal purpose gives it weight. The front cover, picture by Julian Bell, design by Gail McNeillie, reproduced on every edition, is a slantwise map of the north west European islands still known as the United Kingdom and Ireland, with gulls diving, waves surrounding, fish leaping and rainclouds passing over them.

What sort of literature arises from a place like this, on this side of the Atlantic?

Nothing singular, but something as varied as the ...

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