From holiday to story


Last summer some lovely friends took me with them on their family holiday to Scotland. From the first day as we drove up through the mountains and past the lochs, I knew I wanted to write a story set in the Highlands. I thought it was going to be about a male artist and a female gallery owner.

Where we stayed:
Eilean Donan Castle
Not really. That’s Eilean Donan Castle and it is stunning. Really well worth a visit even on a sunny August day when it is full of tourists. There was a lovely lady doing spinning demonstrations who let me have a go. In my story I talk about the Mediterranean blue of the sea. My editor commented that she didn’t quite believe this until she looked it up and checked that, in fact, the sea in Scotland can be as blue as you like on the right day. This was the only properly sunny day of our two week holiday, and you can see how bright it is.

Scottish loch on a sunny day
This was taken from Eilean Donan. I used this (or possibly one of the other ones taken from this spot, not sure) for the background of the cover of Island Fling.

One day we all drove out to Arisaig and took the little ferry to the Isle of Muck. As soon as we arrived on the tiny island, I knew that I wanted to set my story there, not in the Highlands after all. And it wouldn’t be a male artist who lived here, it would be a woman. And the gallery owner would have to come and see her, taking the train up from Edinburgh and then getting seasick on the ferry. I was not actually sick, but I admit that the outward journey did leave me a little queasy. Going back to the mainland is much easier because you’re travelling with the waves, not against them.

small concrete jetty and grey sea
This is the ferry ‘terminal’ on Muck. There’s a little hut and the tip Household Recycling Centre. And then a few minutes walk along the only path you find a little, unmanned shop, where you can buy vegetables, postcards, arts and crafts, and a few yards beyond that is the tea room. They serve very delicious cake in the tea room. They also sell knitting wool and various things for tourists. It was a grey, damp day when we were there so there was no one in the garden. Except the sheep.

picnic tables with sheep

Muck is TINY. We were only there for a couple of hours, but that’s plenty of time to walk over to the other side of the island. I didn’t, but some of my friends did. Visitors aren’t generally allowed to bring cars onto the island, though there is a car ferry a couple of times a week, and islanders do have vehicles. The ferry we took is mostly for tourists. On the way back, we passed a basking shark and the ferry stopped for a few minutes to let us all have a good look at it. They are huge, ugly creatures but rather glorious.

As we left Muck, a lady in bright orange work trousers and a fleece was saying goodbye to someone. I guessed he was her son. She got out her bagpipes and played as he left. I loved that it wasn’t done with any ceremony. It was just the way that was right for her to mark his departure, and for him to leave with the sound of the pipes in his ears. I couldn’t help but include that little scene in my story.

dim outline of an island blurred by seaspray
Looking back at Muck from the ferry.

There were several times where my editor wanted more detailed description. Almost every one was about something real that I’d seen and remembered from this trip. Because it was vivid in my head, apparently I forgot to make it so on the page! Hopefully in the final version, the real things are as vivid to the reader as the made up ones!