Here I am on Sue Barnard’s blogspot, talking about the writing journey, and my new book, The Ashentilly Letters (third in the Calgary Chessman sequence, published 18/11/16).
17 Nov 2016 Leave a comment
by yvonnemarjot in archaeology, author, book, books, contemporary fiction, CrookedCat, fiction, literary fiction, new zealand, novel, publication, Scotland, Scottish islands, Tobermory, Uncategorized Tags: blog, inspiration, novel, writing
08 Aug 2016 Leave a comment
by yvonnemarjot in author, books, crooked cat, Fantasy, fiction, published, Uncategorized, writing Tags: Author, book, Crooked Cat, Fairy tales, fairytales, Fantasy, fiction, newly published, novel, trilogy, writing
All the Wild Weather: available for pre-order, released 11 August 2016 (see below for links)
Hello, Yvonne, and many thanks for inviting me. I’m going to talk about an inspirational building today.
The Clavell Tower is a remarkable construction – a little piece of Italy perched on a Dorset cliff top. It was built in 1830 as a folly, or perhaps a summerhouse, and it has done its fair share as an inspiration to writers. Thomas Hardy is one big name associated with it, and PD James had it in mind when she wrote The Black Tower in 1975. And now, although I don’t count myself in that august company, it has inspired me, too.
The tower has had a bit of a lively history, having caught fire in the 1930s, and then been slowly threatened with falling into the sea as the cliff eroded around it. But then in 2006, it was bought by the Landmark Trust, a charity well known for rescuing unusual buildings. The tower was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt 25 metres inland. Along with other walkers on the coast path, I watched its progress with interest. When the work was complete the building reopened as a holiday let, and I went to visit it during an open day. I was delighted with its quaint round rooms and brilliant sea views across to the Isle of Portland. It was crowded with visitors that day, but it was easy to imagine it as it more usually is, silent and remote on its cliff top.
I thought of the Clavell Tower immediately when I needed a setting for my novel All the Wild Weather, and although it is my no means an exact portrait, Island View House has several features in common with the original. The round rooms of the tower became the ‘many-sided room’ of my story, where my hero settles down to write a book in peace and finds himself rudely interrupted by some unexpected arrivals. I moved the tower much farther than the Landmark Trust did – all the way from Kimmeridge Bay down to Weymouth – but I did my best to keep its curious atmosphere intact.
The tower is booked solid through this year and 2017, too, but you can at least read about its alter ego, Island View House, in All the Wild Weather, to be published on 11 August.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Kathy-Sharp-111574195915740/
The Larus Trilogy:
Isle of Larus, http://tinyurl.com/olfyskv
Sea of Clouds http://amzn.to/1wYCPH0
and All the Wild Weather (to be published 11 August, 2016) http://amzn.to/29QyIqJ
Kathy’s Telling Stories: Monday Blog
Meet the hapless Mr Muggington and friends in Mr Muggington’s Discovery and Other Stories http://tinyurl.com/hec25gr
22 Jul 2016 1 Comment
Today I’m delighted to host Jennie Ensor’s novel Blind Side, published on 23 July 2016 by Unbound. Jennie has a fine eye for character, and for creating an atmosphere of discomfort or even menace without giving away too much detail. How well do we know the people we love? I’m looking forward to reading this. Scroll down for an extract from the book.
Tell us about your book/series. What genre does it belong to? What is it about? Are you drawn to this genre in particular, or is this something new for you?
Blind Side is my first published novel, a thriller set in London during 2005, the year of the 7/7 suicide bombings. It leans heavily towards the psychological thriller, though it is not typical of this genre. When pitching the novel to agents and publishers I came up with the description The Book of You (a ‘stalker novel’ by Claire Kendall) meets Gone With The Wind. This may seem an odd combination but it actually gets across a lot of what Blind Side is about. It’s impossible to describe succinctly (well, I have trouble!) – suffice to say there is love, war, sex, politics, jealousy and a whole lot more. One thing the novel looks at is the darker aspects of friendship between the sexes – it may make a few people think twice about being friends with the opposite sex!
The story starts in the run-up to the May general election, with a heated debate on immigration going on. Georgie and Nikolai are at opposite ends of the social status spectrum. She is a marketing professional who wears a suit to work and has a well-off father; he is dreams of becoming a composer but to survive works as a labourer on a construction site. Their relationship is played out against a backdrop of intolerance towards migrants. (There are interesting parallels with Britain in 2005 and the caustic climate of xenophobia in 2016.)
Anyway, going back to your questions… The novel I started first is also a psychological thriller, more of a domestic noir than Blind Side and darker in tone. So I guess I am drawn to fairly dark, edgy stuff. I hate gratuitous descriptions of violence though; I prefer to let the reader imagine the horrible bits!
Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?
Two of my three main characters in Blind Side are prickly and difficult – Georgie and Nikolai – the third, Julian, is a dark horse type, intense and introverted. Nikolai, the Russian who Georgie falls for is my favourite character. He is, like Georgie, burdened by past bad experiences, only he has an outgoing, warm side that is very engaging. When Georgie meets him he has been out of the Russian army for several years, but she comes to realise that whatever he did or saw there has scarred him both physically and mentally.
What inspired me to write his story? Difficult to say, though I knew someone a long time ago who left a big impression on me, and who seemed to be in a constant battle to overcome the emotional wounds inflicted on him as a child. Like many writers, artists and others, his creativity seemed to flow from a disturbance in his psyche. As far as the way I write about Nikolai – I heard his voice in my head clearly and I tried to capture the sound of it in my writing.
What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can your readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?
London is somewhere I know well. I was born in the capital, grew up in an outer suburb and have lived in various parts of London for the past decade or so. In the novel I show contrasting parts of London from the affluent parts near Hampstead where Georgie my main narrator lives to bustling, multi-ethnic, much poorer area of Finsbury Park only a couple of miles to the east, where Nikolai lives. Also the novel is firmly grounded in a particular time, a few months before and after the bombing of a bus and underground trains. In the weeks after the 7 July bombings, the atmosphere of the capital totally changed; people were on their guard, wary of each other. This was made worse when a nail bomb (which didn’t detonate) was discovered two weeks after the initial attacks. I’ve done my best to get across what it was like being in London that July, without any explicit descriptions of the bombings or their aftermath.
Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite film? Why that colour, that film?
Favourite colour is cornflower blue; I can’t get enough of it. Animal – giraffe. Film – The English Patient – the story, the landscapes, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes… need I go on?
Author web media links:
Blind Side: extract
Julian has been quiet since he arrived. His rigid posture, stick-thin back and clump of pale hair suddenly make me think of a scarecrow.
‘What’s the matter, Jules?’
His eyes fix on mine with an uncanny intensity. Instead of his studious-looking black plastic-rimmed specs – ‘Joe 90s’, I call them – he’s wearing his new contacts. They transform the uncertain haze of his irises to a precise blast of metallic blue. The effect is disconcerting.
‘Oh, just things,’ he replies, finishing his glass of wine. He prods a piece of the tandoori chicken from the local Indian as if a slug has crawled onto his plate. ‘I’ve been feeling a bit off lately.’
Come Away With Me, Julian’s favourite album, is playing low in the background. Nora Jones’ sweetly sad rendition of ‘Don’t Know Why’ seeps through my flat, adding to the melancholy mood.
‘What things? Bridges?’
Aside from his shiny black Jaguar XK8 and watching Formula One races, Julian’s thing is bridges. He specialises in bridge design at his civil-engineering firm.
He scowls. ‘I don’t want to go into it now.’
‘If it’s to do with the earrings… I’m sorry if I upset you.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing. They look nice, by the way.’
‘Thanks.’ I pull my hair back and turn my head to show off my ears, each adorned with a disc of lapis lazuli set in a spiral of silver. ‘I do like them. I didn’t mean to be ungrateful. I was a bit taken aback, that’s all. We never give each other anything for Valentine’s Day. We’re not that like that… ’ I wait for him to look up from the table. ‘Are we?’
Since he gave me the earrings two days ago – he thought I’d appreciate them because I didn’t get any Valentine cards – they’ve sat in their box inside my dressing-table drawer, where I keep things that I’m not sure what to do with: foreign coins, spare buttons and a collection of brooches, scarves and other items my mother has given me over the years. I put them on for the first time fifteen minutes before Julian arrived. Julian has never before given me jewellery; on our birthdays we buy each other silly cards and maybe a cake or a bottle of wine.
‘What do you mean?’ A woolly unease gathers inside me.
‘It’s OK, Jaf. If that’s what you want, I understand.’ He turns his attention back to the table.
Jaf, originally Jaffa, was Julian’s nickname for me at university, when I had a thing for Jaffa Cakes. I got to know him in my final year; we both hung around the same local pubs where certain bands played. At first I saw him as a bit of a geek, obsessed by puzzles and anything with an engine. But it didn’t take long to find the humour beneath his reserve. I got Julian in a way that some people didn’t. Like me, he had issues with his mother. She died unexpectedly, soon after we finished uni, while we were backpacking around India. It struck me as odd that he decided he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to go to her funeral.
Julian sighs, his shoulders slumping. ‘Hey, why don’t you open another bottle?’
I find the bottle of Haut Medoc that my father gave me. The contents smell like a dusty library but taste pretty good. We chat about the dangers of stilettos; Julian’s sister caught her heel in a drain cover while running for a bus.
‘No one knows what random fluke is going to strike next,’ Julian gazes around the room as if expecting a meteorite to crash through the ceiling. ‘A car accident, an incurable disease –’
‘You’re in a cheery mood.’
Julian pushes himself up from the table. ‘It’s Saturday night ’n’ all. What about a film? I brought a DVD over.’
I take the wine and glasses into the living room and tend to the DVD player. As I sit down on the sofa beside Julian he gestures to the magazine on my coffee table. It has a full-page, near-naked male model on its back cover.
‘That hunk’s been there for a while. Your bit of hot totty, is he?’
‘Well, you know how it is for us single girls,’ I smile. ‘I fantasise about him ringing my doorbell late at night, wearing just Calvin Kleins under his coat. I give him a shot of whisky and he unbuttons the coat, really slowly.’
A small crease appears above Julian’s nose, and rather than laugh as he’d normally do, he says in a low voice, not looking at me, ‘I don’t know why you bother with all these guys. If you don’t want a relationship, why go out with them in the first place?’
‘What guys? There’s been about three in the last six months.’ I scowl at him. ‘I do want a relationship. Just not with anyone.’
‘Not with me, you mean.’ He says it under his breath.
Something has changed between us, a micro shift. I take a slug of wine.
‘You’ve been acting really weird lately,’ I say. ‘Do you want to tell me something?’
He rubs the bridge of his nose, not meeting my eyes. I feel a surge of irritation.
‘Jaf.’ A blotch of red creeps up his neck. ‘You know I’ve always… fancied you.’
Julian has never hidden from me that he finds me attractive. Sometimes he compliments my legs or how I’m dressed. A few months ago in the Hampstead Everyman as we sat in the dark waiting for the film to start, he told me my face had the perfect bone structure. I giggled, nearly choking on my popcorn. Julian is short-sighted and on the scrawny side, whereas the only man I’ve ever been in love with and most of the guys I’ve dated have been strapping fellows. He has a high forehead, straight nose and wavy hair, lighter than mine. Handsome enough in a studious, slightly effeminate way. Like me, he went to a private school. An aristocratic overtone sometimes enters his voice, as if he’s asking the butler to bring him the newspaper.
‘Well, yes, sure,’ I reply. ‘But I didn’t think… ’ I’m up-ended for a moment. ‘We’re pretty close, aren’t we? But we’ve always kept it on one side of the line. That’s what I really like about us. It’s not like we’re in each other’s pockets, we’re not fuck buddies or anything. Are you saying you want to… Well, what are you saying?’
‘Sorry, Georgie, I didn’t mean to confuse you. It’s just… ’ He sighs, running his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know. Can we talk about it another time?’
Now we’re finally getting to the nub of the matter, I don’t want to let it go. I wonder what’s going on; we can usually talk about anything, pretty much. His dread of losing his hair and his hope to one day become a father. My loathing of being photographed and my secret wish to get a tattoo of a seahorse at the top of my left thigh. His ambition to be his firm’s/the UK’s/the world’s number-one bridge designer. My uncertainties over what I should be doing with my life. The real purpose of bras. The components of dust. And the top ten ways to die – skiing off a mountain (accidentally or on purpose) is the only item we agree on.
07 May 2016 1 Comment
Today my guest is Astrid Arditi, whose romantic mystery A Cunning Plan has just been published by Crooked Cat.
Determined to put her family back together, Sloane Harper stalks her ex husband and his annoyingly stunning mistress, Kate. But she’s not the only one. Handsome IRS agent Ethan Cunning is surveying them too, but not for the same reasons. He is attempting to nail Kate’s playboy boss.
Ethan and Sloane decide to help each other, which sends Sloane’s wobbly life spinning out of control. She’ll have to face danger, humiliation, and scariest of all, the dating scene, to lure her daughters’ father home.
Losing control was the best thing to happen to Sloane… until it turned lethal.
Hello Astrid, welcome to The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet. Tell us about your book.
A Cunning Plan is the first book in the Sloane Harper series. It’s a romantic mystery. Although my heroine’s everyday life shares similarities to my own – we are both stay at home mums with two young kids – the rest of the story is total fiction and my life is way more predicatble (thankfully!) than Sloane’s.
Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?
I’m very fond of Sloane. She’s sweet and loving, funny and totally dedicated to her family and friends. She’s also weak and insecure, although she grows a lot in the book. At the beginning, some readers were shocked at how much of a doormat she is but it’s a truth about her character I couldn’t tone down. It makes you cringe to read it but I actually know many women like her. Fantastic women who have lost their confidence and believe they deserve to be put down. You wouldn’t cheer as much for Sloane if you didn’t know her to be weak, and at least the only way for her to go as the story evolves is up!
What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can you readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?
The story is set in London where I live. Most places actually exist or are loosely based on real locations, which helps make the world of the story believable.
How did you come to be a writer? Tell us a little about your personal journey.
I’m cursed with a wild imagination so I’ve always dabbled with writing but my lack of confidence held me back for a long time. Over the last two or three years though, I’ve completed a couple manuscripts and finally came to accept I was a writer. Sending my novel to agents and publishers, then being signed by Crooked Cat, has finally made it official. I can’t wait to start receiving feedback from total strangers!
How do you choose your characters names? Are names important? Do you feature real historical characters, or are they all completely fictional?
For Sloane, I needed a name that conveyed her social status – AKA a WASP. Hence Sloane Harper. For her male counterpart, Ethan, I chose a last name that gave hindsight on his personality – Cunning. My characters are all fictional so all names are made up. I look through baby names’ lists, keep store of all names that strike my fancy. Names are really important to me. They make the characters real.
What’s coming up next? Are you working on a new novel? What else have your written?
I’m meant to start book 2 in the Sloane Harper series. Most of the book is already neatly outlined in my mind, I just need to sit down and write now.
Tell us something about the main character in your next book.
Sloane will be back in book 2 obviously, and so will Ethan Cunning. I’ve got a new sexy character ready to make an appearance in book 2, Felix Leconte. Can’t wait to see how he and Sloane will interact. You can expect sparks!
Who will enjoy your books? How do you connect with your readers?
Women age 25 to no limit. There is a universal truth in a character like Sloane, trying to find equilibrium between her family’s demands and her own needs. Hopefully it should speak to all women looking for a light read and a good laugh.
I’d love to connect with my readers. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and I blog at www.astridarditi.com. I’m also planning to set up an Instagram account for Sloane.
Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite food? Why does it appeal to you?
I’ve got a massive sweet tooth. I’ve been promising to go on a diet every day since I’m twelve but I’ve never turned down a cake or a piece of chocolate. Life is too short to eat lettuce.
Who are your favourite authors (or favourite books)? Did these authors help to inspire your writing? In what way?
My favourite all time author is Stefan Zweig. I’m especially fond of his short stories. In a totally different register, I’m a big fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. More than twenty books down the line and I still laugh till my ribs hurt.
Astrid Arditi was born from a French father and Swedish mother. She lived in Paris and Rome before moving to London with her husband and daughter back in 2013. After dabbling in journalism, interning at Glamour magazine, and teaching kindergarten, Arditi returned to her first love: writing. She now splits her time between raising her kids (a brand new baby boy just joined the family) and making up stories.
A Cunning Plan is Arditi’s first published work.
08 Apr 2016 1 Comment
I’m here today with Stella Birrell, author of romantic comedy How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right? Today is the beginning of Stella’s blog hop, leading up to publication day on 15 April. The book is available for pre-order (links below) or you can join the launch party at https://www.facebook.com/events/453998841462572/ next Friday. Tomorrow Stella will be on Emma Rose Millar’s blog https://emmarosemillar.wordpress.com/ where she’ll tell us more.
Hello Stella, welcome. Tell us about your book.
How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? is what I’m calling a ‘chick-lit-with-grit’ novel. It’s about a twentysomething girl, Melissa, who is searching for The One (even though she doesn’t really believe in soul mates). More neurotic than erotic, the book combines sneak peeks into Melissa’s past and future, with a mildly amoral year in Melissa’s present, set in 2001.
I love reading women’s fiction, so I wanted to write something that was easy to read, with a happy ending. But there is a lot of darkness for a fluffy story about finding a boyfriend. It’s not a straight memoir, but there are aspects of my own history within the book.
What about location?
It’s written to be realistic, and recognisable, so I felt it was important to write about places that I knew well.
I chose to write about the Lake District: because I used to live there, and Edinburgh: my closest city and also somewhere I lived for a short while. Edinburgh is almost a character itself, I found it such an inspirational place to live and work. The history seeps into you somehow, from the stone.
How did you come to be a writer? .
I’ve always claimed I’m not one of those writers who ‘always wrote,’ but recently I found evidence to the contrary in a box of letters from the loft! As I got older it became more and more clear to me that I should attempt a full length novel.
Combining writing with childcare and a very understanding husband meant I could give up paid work, which gave me the head space to ‘just do it’. The first three years were hard, because you’re writing in a vacuum. The rejections, and there were several, make you question the quality of the writing.
What’s coming up next?
My second novel is currently with the friend who gave me the best advice after reading How Many Wrongs…
There is a third, but to be honest it’s just a twinkle in my eye and half a page of notes so far!
I do have some short pieces coming up in The Ropes Journal, and The Dangerous Women project, and a spoken word piece I recorded for the podcast Lies, Dreaming.
Who will enjoy your books?
I’ve thought hard about my target audience, and I love connecting with people on Twitter and wondering whether they might enjoy reading How Many Wrongs…
I reckon women with small children, in their late twenties and early thirties, who love their kids, but also love getting out once in a while to the pub, would really connect with my novel.
But anyone who has ever had their heart broken, or felt stuck in a place and time, or kissed a frog (and let’s face it, we’ve all been there, right?) will relate to Melissa’s story.
My book is available from the following places
Search ‘How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right?’ in the iTunes Store
How to find me! Please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places
My blog space is https://atinylife140.wordpress.com/
Twitter is @atinylife140
I have a page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/stellaherveybirrell/?ref=hl
Email me at email@example.com
I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.
26 Mar 2016 Leave a comment
My friend (and editor of my first novel, The Calgary Chessman) Jeff Gardiner has written a new twist on one of my favourite themes – the modern child thrust into an alternative universe. In ‘Pica’ modern technology gives way to magic and mystery, as Luke tries to find his feet in a place that is very far from home.
PICA by Jeff Gardiner
I’ve always been inspired by nature. The times when I most feel alive are when I’m walking in a forest, on a hillside or by a lake.
Our relationship with nature as a human race is an odd one. On the one hand we are animals – part of nature. On the other, we often seem to be at odds with nature. We cut down forests and build concrete jungles; we pollute and urbanise as if we own the place. We seem to have forgotten our place in creation; our relationship with other animals and the wonderful world that is our home. How many young people go for walks and holidays in the countryside these days?
Although world politicians are now slowly moving in the right direction, most environmental experts agree that it’s not enough. We’ve done too much damage in such a short space of time. We are killing our planet. What a strange way to behave.
Pica picks up on this idea.
Luke plays violent computer games and hates the idea of a boring rural walk. One day a magpie taps on his window, and from then on he sees magpies everywhere he goes. A new boy, called Guy, joins his school, who is odd and soon a victim of bullying. However, Luke is drawn to this strange boy, and as he gets to know him everything he understood about his life is turned upside down.
I wanted Pica to challenge people’s perceptions about young people and about our relationship with the natural world. In the past we understood things that have been lost over the years. Luke begins a journey to rediscover that ancient ‘magic’.
I was also keen to make this novel – the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy. Fantasy literature allows us to use our imaginations in our understanding of reality. Luke discovers powers that many of us can only dream about, so there is also a sense of wish-fulfilment alongside the serious environmental message.
The planning and writing of Pica took about a year. The novel went through a number of revisions, with one whole sub-plot completely deleted and rewritten. I sent off the synopsis and first three chapters to a few publishers and agents that accepted unsolicited manuscripts, but received standard rejections (the ones which don’t really indicate if anyone actually read it at all).
This led to further major revisions and rewrites, until Pica was eventually picked up by Accent Press. They have been brilliant, offering excellent editorial advice, and some wonderful opportunities. Accent YA – their young adult imprint – are being rebranded and I was told that Pica would be one of the titles they were planning to launch at The London Book Fair.
So things are very exciting. I even have a cover quote from fantasy author, Michael Moorcock, who read it and wrote, “One of the most charming fantasy novels I’ve read in years. An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”
05 Feb 2016 Leave a comment
by yvonnemarjot in author, book, CrookedCat, fiction, island life, Scotland, Scottish islands, Uncategorized, writing Tags: Crooked Cat, fiction, Ghost story, novel, paranormal, romance, Scotland, writing
At the summit of a bare hill, on a quiet island in the bleak west of the world, a storm was brewing. Lightning flickered and dark clouds glowered over the hilltop, their rain-heavy bases lit from within by sullen flashes.
A bolt split the sky and the rain sheeted down, half hiding the ground with its jumbled boulders and sparse coating of grasses. For a moment the scene flickered, like a jerky film noir, and then a figure could be seen on the hilltop, curled up in the foetal position, unmoving.
Thunder cracked overhead and the man raised his head, hauling his body wearily after it. He climbed to his feet and pressed them against the ground, as if testing its ability to hold him. On one buttock there was a red mark, where a rock had pressed into his side, but as he stood in the rain the mark bruised and faded, leaving no trace.
He squared his shoulders against the deluge as the clouds roiled overhead. A great shaft of lightning hit the hilltop precisely at his position, limning his figure for an instant in a halo of blue and white. He looked down at his fists, unclenched them and regarded his hands as if seeing them for the first time. He put his head back, staring upward as the rain poured over his face, drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and howled a cry of pure anguish.
Who is he? To find out, pre-order Walking on Wild Air now.
11 Sep 2015 2 Comments
Is it really nearly NaNoWriMo time again? I promise I’ll do it this year!
Is it that time of year again? Well not quite, but it comes upon you before you know it. Having spent the past few months on paid work, my fiction-typing fingers are tingling and the ideas are flowing. I need space to write and I can’t do it with clients and deadlines snapping at my heels.
But now the next deadline is looming – National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short). A recent, and timely, conversation in a Facebook group made me think about it.
View original post 613 more words
26 Apr 2015 Leave a comment
THE CALGARY CHESSMAN enters the Top #100 Genre Chart on AmazonUK (26 April 2015)! Time for an excerpt…
I quartered the beach, down to the water’s edge and back to
the machair, gradually becoming calmer as I wandered. I kept
my head low, glancing out to sea occasionally when the waves
came close, not focusing beyond the headland where haze on
the horizon prevented me seeing even the closest islands. The
greenish grey of the sea blended imperceptibly into the sky, and
all the colours of the landscape were subdued. For a moment, I
felt disorientated, as if gravity had inverted and I was walking
upside down on a great curved dome, feeling that at any
moment I might fall into the flat, featureless surface above me. I
shook my head and kept my feet moving.
Slowly some memories seeped into my mind; images of a
small boy flickered across my inner vision, like photos in an old
album. It’s easy to forget what treasures are tucked away in
there, behind the grey divide. Sometimes they feel so immediate
that they shock me right into that other world which was once
so real. It’s so much easier to live in the past than to face what is
in front of me.
My foot scuffed against a tuft of grass and I came back to
myself. I’d walked the beach up and down, and fetched up
against the edge of the machair again. Last night’s high tide and
wind had dislodged a whole chunk of cliff edge, and the lump
had slid down the dune-face, exposing a vertical slope of fresh,
white sand. In it was a dark hollow, a deep space about the size
of my fist. I put my hand in to see if it would fit. My knuckle
grazed something hard. Scratchy. Not like the rounded pebbles
and wave-smoothed pieces of driftwood lying on the beach.
I pulled my hand out quickly and shivered, thinking of
sheep bones. Okay to look at, found scattered on the grass
while out walking. Not so nice to touch, unseen. With a faint
hiss, the little hollow collapsed and something rolled out of the
hole and landed at my feet in a damp clump. I bent down to
dig it out. My fingers closed on a pale ivory-coloured handful, a
little darker than the sand, squat and squarish and about eight
centimetres tall. Not a sheep bone. I pulled out my hanky, spat
on it and rubbed the object. I stared at it.
I was holding something like a gnome sitting on a chair;
rather ugly, but with complex, carved clothing and draperies. It
was surprisingly heavy. The figure was vaguely familiar; even
though at the same time I was sure I hadn’t seen anything like it
in my life. I went to drop it back where I’d found it, but
changed my mind at the last moment and put it in my pocket.
After all, I could easily throw it away later.
A superstitious voice in the back of my head muttered about
omens. I’d come out today looking for something to knock me
out of the self-destructive track of my life. Perhaps this was it?
Or maybe it was more bad luck? Either way, picking up litter
should make me feel good, and at least this was more
interesting than the usual plastic bags and empty bottles.
I glanced back up the beach to where the family had set up
camp. The boy was crying; I could hear his voice, piping like
one of the little birds that run along the shoreline. He was in his
father’s arms, being comforted. The woman was down at the
water’s edge. She had rolled up her trousers to paddle, and the
little girl jumped and splashed, clinging tightly to her mother’s
hand. The woman seemed happier, her stance relaxed. Was that
because she was away from the man? Or were they the happy
family they appeared to be? I wondered if I’d ever learn how to
tell the good relationships from the bad, or whether perhaps all
marriages were as secretly miserable as mine had turned out to
be. Her husband walked over and she greeted him with a kiss
and took the boy from his arms. She might have been smiling. I
gave them the benefit of the doubt.
14 Dec 2014 Leave a comment
Only two days until I post the first installment of my Christmas story to https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/
In the meantime, here’s a sample of The Calgary Chessman – one that seems quite topical today, as I’ve just got back from the mainland, and a nail biting wait to see if the ferry would dare the winds and high seas today.
Anywhere that can be reached on a calm day, will be. The
vast sweep of the Pacific, with its myriad of tiny islands, was
settled by brave Polynesians who set off eastward, always sure
they would find another land, following only their hearts, the
spoken knowledge of their ancestors and the signposts of
seabirds, ocean currents and cloud patterns. At last, they
reached New Zealand, and Hawaii, and Easter Island, and so
stitched together the greatest body of water on the globe into a
patchwork of human dispersal. All over the world, places have
been settled, raided or just plain visited because they can be,
and because we humans are a curious species.
I shaded my eyes against the glare off the sea, and thought
about ocean distances in the world of the Lewis Chessmen.
Sometimes I find it difficult to imagine what life must have
been like back then. Post-industrial revolution Britain is such a
different place from even three or four hundred years ago, let
alone a thousand. But here in the Hebrides it isn’t so hard to
picture. Life would still have to go on, whatever the weather, so
that houses could be built, food provided and necessities
produced or traded for. People would have been waiting for the
regular visits of ships to provide what they couldn’t grow or
make for themselves.
The only difference now is that the sailing birlinns have been
replaced by powered vessels. The ferries are still the life-blood of
the islands, and even tourism is nothing particularly new.
Samuel Johnson, he of the dictionary, and his friend Boswell
visited Mull and Ulva, and there were plenty of others like
them. The basics of life have remained comfortingly familiar,
despite all our technological advancements.