I am enjoying one of the great boons of island life today, a trip on the ferry from the Isle of Lewis to Ullapool on the Scottish mainland. It’s a trip I’ve been making for nearly 13 years now and a trip that is certainly more comfortable now that the “Loch Seaforth” ferry is taking me over. We used to ride on the “Isle of Lewis” ferry and a view of the toilets in bad weather was almost guaranteed!
Today is a typical murky day in February and the ferry is reasonably steady as she rides across “the Minch”, a piece of water with a serious temperament. On a good day, the scenery is wonderful and the ferry trip most enjoyable as you stroll on the upper deck. On a bad day, you stagger around, huddled inside from the elements, hoping the seasick tablets will work to their full effect.
The ferry is an integral part of island life, it’s the most common way to get off-island and the only way to take your car with you. Many of the islanders work on the ferries, even if they are not the ferries serving their own island. In my novel “Surface Tensions”, Donald, one of our heroes, is a ferry worker and the first encounter of the mermaids happens from the ferry. It is major news when there’s a ferry cancellation, and in winter, this occasion caused by the weather is not uncommon.
The ferry also brings the freight to the island, including our groceries and any of the materials in the local shops. If the freight ferry fails to run, then we often see the buying of copious amounts of milk and bread as everyone panics, leaving the shops looking like a Cold War day in Russia.
Living in one of the remoter parts of the UK, you find things you take for granted in other parts suddenly become more important, more controversial and hopefully more appreciated. In my novels I try to include these little pieces of Island life, as they are part of what makes the way we live out here. In some ways life is freer out here but we depend on the regular trips of the ferry to keep us stocked with our daily dose of the mainland normals.
This week the weather on the Hebridean island where I reside has been, as a guest at my wedding once commented, right windy. We’ve seen the power of nature once again up close as causeways were closed, and roads and streets flooded. Thankfully everyone seems to have stayed safe.
Living with the more extreme weather up here becomes part of life. I belong to an archery club who, if we shot outdoors at this time of year, would have to shoot sideways to let the arrow return to the target. We cancel meetings when the conditions look rough and non-essential travel is not advised.
Here’s a few youtube clips to give you a flavour.
I’m currently writing my second Highland & Islands Detective novel and the extremities of the weather are going to feature quite heavily. We’re on the Black Isle this time but with winter comes snow, sometimes in a mere dusting, other times in large dollops. The changing features of the season and the frustrations it causes make writing about the landscapes of northern Scotland fascinating. Linking them to the problems suffered by my two detectives helps bring a realism to the stories and gets past the simple picture perfect beaches and moors the brochures sometimes show.
Whilst I stretch the detail of how people misbehave in the Highlands, I never feel the need to “big up” the weather and its impact. For a writer, the elements and how they deal with the landscape and us mere humans give a tapestry to write against that is second to none. From water to land, snow to rain, wind to sun exposure, it all happens here in one of the most dynamic weather patterns there is. They say up here, if you don’t like the weather just wait an hour. And they’re right!
Change is always rife with the Highland weather and that means challenge, picking your time for whatever jobs you have and taking the moment when it comes. No wonder it paints a great scenery to write a story over.
One of the joys of living in a place for a long period of time is that you get to see it in its fullness, good and bad, different and passionate. Couple this with a desire to write a different genre of fiction than I previously had and you begin to understand the genesis of my new novel “Water’s Edge”. But little did I know where the writing process would take me.
I live on a conservative island where changes that cut against both traditional and religious views can dominate the debate. Yes, there are extremes in this, but there is also a vast number of people who simply want to get on with life and learn how to get by with everyday necessities. But often the extremes of the argument do not allow this to happen. And it was this effect that was to dominate my main character.
Seoras Macleod, born and raised on the Isle of Lewis returns after a long time away, forced by his job to make a return to the scene of the worst moment of his life. The death of his wife years before has dominated his personality, and left in him a conflict with his God and his view of life. Through the resultant clash, I was able to throw the newer way of seeing things against the older conservatism and hopefully find the good and bad in both.
In societies the unspoken, lying beneath the veneer of normal life, shows where things are really at and I use the murder of a young woman to drive my detectives through this layer, exposing the lies beneath. This caused my murder mystery to become more of a thriller, events becoming less of a conundrum and more an act of social discovery. But still some have said they didn’t see the perpetrator coming.
Ultimately the book explores how wholly different characters can find support in extreme circumstances to drive through their mission when the house of cards around them starts to kick when toppled.
“Water’s Edge” my first Highlands and Islands detective thriller is available in paperback right now in my own store, or at Amazon (UK / US / AUS / CAN). If the eBook is your preference then you can pre-order here until the 1st Dec 2019 when it goes on full release. Check the 3 chapter sample out here. And let me know what you think. Book 2 is underway because all things come to the surface eventually.