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Lise Sinclair obituary


My friend Lise Sinclair, who has died of cancer aged 42, was an entrancing poet and musician. Born in Shetland, she grew up in her mother's native Fair Isle, northern Scotland, where she returned to live as a young adult, crofting with her husband, Ian, bringing up their four children, playing the organ, teaching in the school, leading the choir and editing the Fair Isle Times for the community of 70 who live on the island.

Her family encouraged her to take up the piano when she was very young and the fiddle when she was about eight. She went to the island primary school and then, as her own children would, boarded at Anderson high school in Lerwick. She also had a year at a sixth-form college in Swindon and went on to study briefly at the Glasgow School of Art. Growing up among singers, she became part of the family group Frideray, and was on stage with them last in May of this year, at the Shetland folk festival.

I first met Lise in 2005, when the Scottish Poetry Library and Literature Across Frontiers brought together a group of writers to translate each other's work on Shetland. The same year she published her first collection of poems – here. We had great discussions about Shetlandic, and Lise's devotion to it and her exploration of its possibilities as a language for poetry and song were a large part of her life's work. She struck up enduring friendships from that workshop, with poets from Finland and Iceland and those led to travels in Scandinavia and the Baltic. She was often on the move, with her guitar and backpack, making the most of every opportunity that came her way, but she was in her element in remote Fair Isle.

We can still hear her slightly husky voice, of course, on the CDs she made: Ivver Entrancin Wis (2008), settings of Shetland poems; Under the Evening Sky (2010), emerging from another translation workshop; and her beautiful interpretation of the stories of George Mackay Brown, A Time to Keep, with Shetland and Icelandic musicians. I heard this launched in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney, on a raw March day last year, and Lise was magnetic as always, with her long hair and long legs and a radiant absorption in the music.

The strength of her opinions and the sound of her laughter were a hallmark of any encounter with her. Poets across northern Europe as well as from Shetland and elsewhere in Scotland have paid tribute to this immensely gifted, generous and energetic young woman.

Lise is survived by Ian Best, whom she married in 1991; their children, Tom, Hannah, Alice and Lowri; her parents, Anne and Barry; and her brother, Steven.

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