I have very happy memories of BOOKMARK 2019, a gathering of stimulating writers and friendly participants brought together by brilliant organisers. The current pandemic has left few corners of the world untouched but it gives us a moment to remember how much we enjoyed it, and how much more we’ll appreciate what we took for granted in 2021.
On the Friday night in 2019 Magnus Linklater interviewed me on my third novel Women of the Dunes and apart from discussing the book (myth, murder and archaeology set on Scotland’s west coast) we talked about what inspires the books I write. And the answer is always landscape, and place. Well, these last few weeks, like everybody else, my landscape has become limited and place has been home. So thank goodness for books! By reading them, and writing them, we are still able to travel in space and time, and that is what I have been doing during lockdown.
No-one enjoys enforced isolation or confinement but writers are used to seeking out seclusion in order to write. Some prefer the bustle of cafes or the calm to be found in libraries but we all have at least one quiet place where we write at home. Whenever possible a corner of the garden is my preferred writing spot and the weather has certainly been helpful – the best spring for years. Oh, those clear skies and birdsong! I think we all noticed the difference. Lockdown coincided for me with the arrival of my editor’s comments on the draft of my next book (Alchemy and Rose pub January 2021, Hodder and Stoughton) and so I dived straight in. What a treat to have a spell of uninterrupted time rather than shoe-horning in the edits amongst a hundred and one other things.
At BOOKMARK 2019 I discussed with Magnus Linklater the restless gene in my family which, over at least six generations, has taken my forebears backwards and forwards to Canada, Australia and New Zealand and I have many family stories upon which I can draw. Alchemy and Rose is no exception and the story begins in Scotland but moves rapidly to New Zealand at the time of the last great goldrush on the west coast of South Island in the 1870s. In recent years I have visited friends and family in New Zealand, tracing forebears but also gathering material for the book and meeting a range of interesting people. Many Scots went out to New Zealand in the 19th century, seeking farm land and sheep runs but got diverted when gold was found. Gold inevitably brings trouble and, as the story unfolds, ambition and betrayal, seduction and love, kidnap and attempted murder all play their part as old scores are settled and the four main characters follow, in their different ways, the quest to transform the base metal of fate into the glowing gold of good fortune. It is not a smooth ride! Almost done now and I’ve had a sneaky preview of the proposed cover which is gorgeous!
In between times I’ve begun on my next book, drawing this time on personal connections to Newfoundland in Canada, where my father worked for the Grenfell medical mission, providing healthcare for isolated coastal communities. Early days yet but the story begins in war time Scotland, just after the surrender of the Highland Division at St Valery. The casualties of war come in many forms, and the scars go deep and have a resonance that continues for decades... I’m at that great stage of researching and developing the plot so spending a lot of ‘time’ in the Borders and on Newfoundland’s rocky coast, all from the house and garden. Pandemic permitting, I will visit Canada later this year or early next when our horizons can once again expand.