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I'm a novelist and playwright, traditionally and independently published.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Historical Fiction One: The Curse of Presentism

Past mysteries: the minister who went away with the fairies. Or did he?

Last month, which seems like a very long time ago now, I blogged for the Edinburgh eBook Festival, writing a series of posts about Historical Fiction. Since they've now disappeared into the ether, as festival posts will, I think it's well worthwhile giving them another airing here because I know there are a great many readers who love historical fiction - and lots of writers thinking of embarking on it as well. For myself, I write a mixture of historical and contemporary. Right now, I'm researching a new historical novel and simultaneously finishing off a novel set in the here and now, so my mind is literally all over the place. 

There are five posts, and this is the first. 

Thanks to Valerie Laws of Authors Electric for helping me out with the term presentism. I wasn’t aware of it, but it neatly encapsulates a point I want to make – and it seems like as good a beginning as any to this series of posts. Here’s a useful Wikipedia definition: Presentism is a mode of literary or historical analysis in which present-day ideas and perspectives are anachronistically introduced into depictions or interpretations of the past. A quick scan online will reveal plenty of blog posts and other pieces pontificating (with some justification) about anachronisms in historical fiction as well as in film and television programmes. Sometimes they can be deliberate. The judicious use of anachronism in movies like A Knight’s Tale where the fuss and adoration surrounding participants in these Mediaeval tournaments is beautifully paralleled by that accorded to gladiatorial athletes like Ice Hockey players, manages to be both accurate and illustrative of a genuine truth about the times. We recognise the parallel and extrapolate from it. It’s also enjoyable and entertaining. There are, I’m sure, novels as well as movies where these deliberate anachronisms are used with a purpose to illuminate some kind of parallel between past and present culture and society. In many ways they involve the opposite of presentism, using present day ideas and preoccupations to illuminate the past.

Casual anachronisms do cause problems for various reasons, the main ones being that they look like mistakes, they look like inadequate research and they can pull readers right out of their willing suspension of disbelief in the world of the book. The trouble is that we come across rather a lot of pieces of historical fiction where the author has been meticulous in excluding all possible anachronisms – and we still don’t believe a word of them. We don’t believe in the world of the book. And that is always going to be a problem for readers, arguably an even bigger problem than the occasional inadvertent anachronism.

I’ve been asking myself why this happens and have come up with two possible answers. One could indeed be described as the curse of Presentism, where 21st century ideas, character traits and perspectives are deliberately made to take precedence over historical realities for what are seen as reasons of marketing to a modern audience. The other challenge seems to involve a general failure on the part of the author to seek to address and inhabit the time and place in which the novel is set. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at this in more detail and in terms of my own historical fiction, and offering a few possible solutions from a personal perspective. Feel free to chip in with your own thoughts and ideas below.

We all indulge in manipulating ideas and perspectives to some extent especially as readers but as writers too. Who doesn’t love the ‘feisty’ heroine and the ‘bad boy with the kind heart’ hero – especially if we’re writing and/or reading within a genre such as romance? But this needn’t necessarily involve presentism. Lizzie Bennett could be described as ‘feisty’ in modern patronising parlance. She’s certainly clever and opinionated. Darcy is the epitome of the unlikeable, disdainful hero who turns out to be honourable and loveable and since Jane was writing for her own contemporaries and with a pen that could occasionally drip acid, we’d better believe in the truth of these characters. But we can’t then criticise Pride and Prejudice for the way in which Charlotte marries Mr Collins because an ‘establishment’ of your own is better than none at all, in a world where unmarried daughters tended to lead very miserable lives indeed. And if we’re writing about this time and place, we’d better be well aware that although we might be allowed our feisty heroines and bad boy heroes, very few young women at that time were brave enough to challenge the status quo. An establishment, a home, a marriage, however unfortunate or ill starred, might well be better than the alternative and we should at least let that perception inform our fiction, if we want it to seem real.

There’s also a sort of reverse presentism that infects critiques of novels and that influences the way we sometimes tackle historical fiction. I’ve seen swathes of people criticising Wuthering Heights (one of my favourite novels, for which I make no apologies!) because ‘Heathcliff is nasty and Cathy is irritating.’ This attitude seems to me to involve a sort of retrospective imposition of modern romance conventions upon a great but unique novel. Ironically, many of these conventions seem to have been inspired by a misreading of WH. I’ve a feeling nobody would publish it now, or not without serious revision. The characters would be deemed unlikeable, the story incredible. This is exactly the novel Emily intended but it was very shocking back then. It certainly shocked Charlotte. We find it shocking even now and blame the writer for our own revulsion.

The Olivier movie didn’t help. It’s probably the best of a very bad bunch of evocations of the novel. They took a story that was rough hewn, thorny, prickly and uncomfortable and softened all its hard edges, turning Heathcliff into a romantic hero and Cathy into a wishy washy heroine. Few people in subsequent years seem to have been able to come to terms with the undoubted fact that Heathcliff is a damaged sadist, Cathy is mad as a box of frogs, and this is still a brilliant, troubling and upsetting book about the nature of obsessive attachment, written by a young woman who lived at a time and in a rural place where instances of casual cruelty would have been fairly commonplace. They are not unknown now, but we women are not supposed to write about them with the grim and disturbing impartiality Emily managed to achieve. We are supposed to show our disapproval where she did not. 

My own 'homage' to Wuthering Heights.
Years ago, when I was studying Mediaeval Literature, one of our lecturers pointed out to us that we were never, ever going to be able to understand the texts as somebody living at the time would have understood them. You can’t unlearn. You can’t forget what you know. But he taught us that we could at least be aware of what we knew, and how we understood things, and try hard not to impose that and its related sense of superiority or cynicism on what we were reading and how we understood what we were reading. It’s something that has stayed with me all these years and whenever I tackle a piece of historical fiction, I find myself trying hard for a kind of total immersion in a time and place. It’s what an actor does: assuming a persona, thinking like the character thinks, speaking as they speak. As a writer, you don’t ‘make’ anyone do anything, but you have to find ways of interrogating your characters, inhabiting them, finding out what makes them tick and then writing as that person, back then, even when it goes against the grain of all your contemporary insights.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fatal Flaws - How Do You Like Your Characters?


This was originally posted on the Authors Electric blog, earlier this month - but it seems worthwhile reblogging here on my own blog. Worth thinking about and discussing, anyway! 

A little while ago, I was asked to speak to a group of readers. One of them had spent many years as a professional editor with one of the big, prestigious publishing corporations. All of them had read the Physic Garden and were interested in talking about it and asking questions. I’ve done plenty of these sessions and you don’t expect everyone to like the book. Some of the questions can be challenging, so you have to be able to think on your feet. All of which is a good thing. But on this occasion something happened that brought me up short.

‘How on earth,’ said this ex-editor personage, ‘Did you manage to write in the first person voice of somebody so unlikeable?’

There was one of those dismayed silences in the group, with everyone trying not to catch my eye. An uneasy stirring. A little murmur of protest. I’ll admit I was gobsmacked. It wasn’t that she was questioning my writing abilities. Not really. She was asking me how I could possibly have written 90,000 words in the voice of a totally unlikeable person. Except that of all the characters I have ever created, and if you include my plays and stories that’s a lot of people, I think William Lang is right up there with my favourites.

I simply love him.

Which was all I could say, really. The story was no hardship because I loved William to bits. Still do. And moreover, as somebody else in the group was quick to point out, even though William lived 200 years ago, you can still find his like today. Many of us know them and some of us think ourselves lucky if we do: elderly Scotsmen, very clever and sometimes self-taught, a little prickly on the outside, but with a loving soft centre, dry, humorous and with all the wisdom of their years. They’ll be doting grandfathers too, given half a chance.

Did it matter that she didn’t like him? Not a bit. But it did get me thinking. Because this was a person who had been an editor, a person of some influence within traditional publishing. And if she had still been working in that role, it would have mattered a lot. Because that would have been her judgement and yet it was one that the rest of the group – voracious readers - disagreed with.

And then it struck me that I've had other responses like that. Not, I hasten to add, from the excellent editor who worked on The Physic Garden, a pearl among editors, who confessed that she too loved William. But in the past, I've had agents and editors telling me that a particular character wasn't likeable enough. And although I’m prepared to admit that sometimes they might have been right, I suspect mostly they were wrong. It was a matter of personal preference. Something to do with their own prejudices. We all have them. But when publishing acquisitions stand or fall by them that’s when the trouble starts. Perhaps, like the advice to decorate a house as blandly as possible if you’re putting it up for sale, this goes some way to explaining so much that is anodyne in contemporary fiction emanating from the big corporations.

Do you have to like your main protagonist to write about him or her? Do you have to like this person in order to enjoy the book? I don’t think so. I rather dislike Jane Eyre, the character, I can’t help it, but I do like the book very much. I don’t like Heathcliff and Cathy at all. Who would? But I love Wuthering Heights almost more than any other novel and reread it practically every year. I don’t much like Fanny Price, but I enjoy Mansfield Park.

As for my poor William, she thought him too dour, too Presbyterian, even though he makes determined efforts not to go to the kirk as often as his family would like. And I think she believed that William had been prone to over-reaction, which is an opinion she shares with a few other readers, and makes a good point for discussion. For anyone who hasn’t read the novel, and without giving away any spoilers, our narrator remembers a time when he is reading in the library of his much wealthier friend, Thomas. There, he comes across a book called The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus, complete with illustrations, and is shocked to his youthful core by the pictures he sees there. This is a real book. I was able to see a very old and precious facsimile in Glasgow University Library. But you can also find some of the images online. I remember seeing them for the first time. And I, with all my 21st century assumption of sophistication, was also shocked to the core. The images are very beautiful. But the horror lies in realising their beauty and almost immediately becoming aware of the fact that they are depicting the deaths of women and children, mostly through privation and poverty. You can see some of them here. But be warned before you click on the link, they are not at all comfortable to see!

Anyway, we agreed to disagree about William’s likeability or otherwise, although most of the rest of the group seemed to be on William’s side. But it also got me thinking about all those letters of rejection that said, ‘I liked the book but I didn’t love it.’ Or ‘I loved this book but I couldn’t carry marketing with me.’ (i.e. they didn’t love it.) I used to sigh and resolve to do better next time. Now that I only have to submit a novel if I want to, I realise that liking and loving a character are personal judgements and may have nothing to do with the quality of the book – but more importantly, they may have very little to do with whether or not I enjoy reading a book. If that were the case, neither Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, nor the Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner would be the astonishing reads they undoubtedly are. And as for Scarlett O’Hara? Oh dear me no. Consigned to the outer darkness as terminally unlikeable.

I like my characters flawed, sometimes fatally so. How do you like yours?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Curse of Presentism - today's eBook Festival post.

Cover by textile artist Alison Bell

All this week, I'm resident on this year's Edinburgh eBook Festival where I'm blogging about historical fiction. Here's an extract from today's post - but do visit the festival site here, to read the rest of this post. There are four more to follow about aspects of historical fiction -  and a great many good things besides for the whole month of August, including free books and insights from an excellent cross section of writers.

Thanks to Valerie Laws of Authors Electric for helping me out with the term presentism. I wasn’t aware of it, but it neatly encapsulates a point I want to make – and it seems like as good a beginning as any to this residency. Here’s a useful Wikipedia definition: Presentism is a mode of literary or historical analysis in which present-day ideas and perspectives are anachronistically introduced into depictions or interpretations of the past

A quick scan online will reveal plenty of blog posts and other pieces pontificating (with some justification) about anachronisms in historical fiction as well as in film and television programmes. Sometimes they can be deliberate. The judicious use of anachronism in movies like A Knight’s Tale where the fuss and adoration surrounding participants in these Mediaeval tournaments is beautifully paralleled by that accorded to gladiatorial athletes like Ice Hockey players, manages to be both accurate and illustrative of a genuine truth about the times. 

We recognise the parallel and extrapolate from it. It’s also enjoyable and entertaining. There are novels as well as movies where these deliberate anachronisms are used to illuminate some kind of parallel between past and present culture and society. In many ways they involve the opposite of presentism, using present day ideas and preoccupations to elucidate the past.

Casual anachronisms do cause problems for various reasons, the main ones being that they look like mistakes, they look like inadequate research and they can pull readers right out of their willing suspension of disbelief in the world of the book. The trouble is that we come across rather a lot of pieces of historical fiction where the author has been meticulous in excluding all possible anachronisms – and we still don’t believe a word of them. We don’t believe in the world of the book. And that is always going to be a problem for readers, arguably an even bigger problem than the occasional inadvertent anachronism.

You can read the rest of today's post on the Edinburgh eBook Festival site.

For this week as well, there will be a couple of special offers on two of my own historical novels: The Amber Heart, set in mid nineteenth century Poland, and Bird of Passage, in which the story spans the years from the 1950s to the present day. Does this qualify as historical? I think so, since some of the issues explored in the book have a very definite historical dimension. Do feel free to argue with me if you disagree - and if you download the novels, you can decide whether or not I follow my own advice! 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Ellisland: the long road to a new novel.

Ellisland Farm
Last week, we headed south to Ellisland, near Dumfries, the farm where Robert Burns and Jean Armour spent some three years of their early married life and where he composed - among other memorable poems - Tam O' Shanter. 

The last time I visited this place, I was very young. Even then, I was so 'into' Burns, a fascination that has never really left me, that I was always persuading my mum and dad to drive about the countryside, visiting places with connections to the poet. It helped that we lived within walking distance of Burns Cottage in Alloway and I would wend my way there on fine spring and summer Saturdays, always hoping to see a ghost or two. Rab remained obdurately unwilling to manifest himself, even for such a fan as me. 

Later, much later, I wrote a couple of plays about Burns: one for BBC R4 about the writing of Tam o' Shanter, notable mainly for a stunning performance of the poem from Liam Brennan as Burns, with Gerda Stevenson as Jean and an early appearance by Billy Boyd (of later hobbit fame) who was an absolute joy to work with and made everyone laugh. 

Later, I wrote a play for Glasgow's Oran Mor, about the last few weeks of the poet's life down on the Solway coast. But in both of these plays, Jean Armour, the poet's long-suffering wife, figured largely, her voice more or less demanding to be heard. (Much as William's voice would not be denied in The Physic Garden!) 

Ever since then, I've wanted to write a novel about Jean. Not a piece of non-fiction, although like all my historical fiction it'll be well researched. But I've had this longing to crawl inside Jean's head and try to write her story. You've only to read a few accounts of the poet's life to see how easy it seems to have been for academics to dismiss Jean as 'not quite worthy of the bard.' Creative Scotland, it seems, agrees with me, because they have just awarded me a very welcome sum of money to research the novel and here I am, at the start of a longish road to a new book. 

Donald Pirie and Clare Waugh as Rab and Jean

Anyway, I loved Ellisland. And I loved it not least because it hasn't been overly interpreted. It remains one of those atmospheric places where nobody has got their hands on the displays, nobody has introduced sound and light effects with a hundred buttons for kids to press, and nobody has tried to tell you what you ought to think and feel. 

I don't know how long the Trust in charge of Ellisland will resist the temptation to revamp it, so I'm very glad I saw it as it is. It was a very fine day, there were house martins flying and calling about the old buildings and the walk along the Nith, where Rab is said to have composed Tam, was a green, shady pathway, fringed with wild flowers, dappled with sunshine. The curator, who lives in the cottage, was knowledgeable and helpful, and the exhibits - oh the exhibits were to treasure: Burns's sword, Jean Armour's much mended 'mutch' and the poet's wooden box, hewn from a single log, with his initials on the top. 

This is how these small museums used to be and sometimes I find myself wondering what it is about them that I enjoy so much and what it is about the new museums that - splendid and well thought out as they are - so irritates me sometimes. I can only conclude that where there is too much explanation and interpretation, there is no room at all for imagination. You are always being told what to feel and what to think. 

One of the tricks to writing historical fiction is to do just enough research. But then, you give yourself permission to make things up. And only then do you find out what you don't know, what you actually need to know. So you go back and find some answers. But if you do too much research to begin with, if you dot all the 'i's and cross all the 't's there's a good chance that you won't want to make anything up at all. 

Ellisland is open to the public and it's magic. If you're a Burns enthusiast, go and see it while it's still in it's wonderfully welcoming state. If you're not a Burns enthusiast, you may well have changed your mind by the time you come away! 




Monday, July 28, 2014

Game of Sevens - The Physic Garden

My Authors Electric colleague Pauline Chandler tagged me to take part in this little game. You go to the seventh page of your work in progress, or your newest work if, like mine, your current work in progress consists of a heap of reference books and some notes and not much else! Count down seven lines and post the next seven sentences. Or you can go to the seventy seventh page if you like. We're hoping you don't have a seven hundred and seventy seventh page, but I suppose it's possible. Pauline's extract was from a tantalisingly interesting historical novel - you can find it here, on the Authors Electric blog.

I decided to run with another historical novel - my own new novel, The Physic Garden. When I turned to page seven of the paperback version, and counted down some seven lines, here's what I found:

'I should have started the tale elsewhere and earlier. But I wanted to write about her, the way you want to talk about what you love. Loved. I wanted to bring her to life in words the way I would once have made seeds, bulbs, roots and tubers grow into plants, the way a few green shoots could grow and stretch out and blossom, the way affection grows and blossoms, although you never see it happening, no matter how closely you try to follow the movement of it.

All the same, I should have started the tale earlier. Perhaps I should have begun by telling you about my father, Robert Lang, who had been college gardener for many years, since I was just a lad. Or with myself, who loved green and growing things, even as a boy. Or with Thomas Brown, who had come to teach botany at the college, a few years before I met Jenny.

But I think that would have been the hardest beginning of all. So instead, here I am, telling you about Jenny Caddas and her swarm of bees, the way she smelled of sweat and honey, and how her hair flew about her head and caught the light, a tangle of flax in the sunshine.'


You can see right away that I've cheated! It seemed such a shame to stop, since these few paragraphs are right at the end of a chapter - and I think we need to know that Thomas Brown would have been the 'hardest beginning of all.'

Incidentally, I had occasion to meet a retired editor a little while ago (not my editor, I hasten to add, who was an angel in human form and the kind of editor who is beyond price.) 'How,' this person asked, 'could you write in the persona of such an unlikable character?'

I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked. The novel is written in the first person 'voice' of William Lang. He is writing as an old man, remembering his youth in early 1800s Glasgow. Coming to terms with the events of his youth. Coming to terms with a grave betrayal. It would be no exaggeration to say that I loved every last thing about him, and still do. I had no way of answering the question, therefore, except to say that I didn't find him unlikable at all. Fortunately, a few other people agreed with me. They liked him too. What's more, they recognised him. But it got me thinking. And mostly what I thought was how very glad I was that this individual had not been my editor. Because if I had been persuaded to make William conform to somebody else's idea of 'more likable', I may well have destroyed the whole book in the process.

By the way, I'm hesitant to tag individuals in this game - I know how busy writers are. But if you are reading this and feel like doing it - why not just give it a go? And let me know how you get on in the comments below.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Robert Burns and Jean Armour


On this day, 21st July, in the year 1796, the poet Robert Burns died in Dumfries. He was only 37. His wife, Jean, was heavily pregnant at the time. In fact she was in labour during his funeral.

A few years ago, I wrote the play Burns on the Solway about the final weeks of the poet's life for Glasgow's Oran Mor venue and its lunchtime A Play, A Pie and A Pint series. I wrote it with the encouragement of the late, great David MacLennan, which makes it a doubly bittersweet memorial day. I remember when I first had the idea for this play, some time before I actually wrote it. It was when all our kids were young and we went on an annual camping trip to Loch Ken, over the Ayrshire border in Galloway. Some years there were up to fifty of us - adults, kids and friends and usually several good natured dogs as well. One year, while husband and son were canoeing and sailing on the Loch, I took myself off to Brow Well on the Solway Coast, which is where the poet was sent by his doctors in a last ditch attempt to find a cure for an illness that looked increasingly likely to be terminal. As indeed, it was.

It was one of those fine but cloudy days, when the sky had a dazzling, glassy tint to it. It was June, as far as I remember, not July. The flowers the poet loved were still in bloom. The Brow Well was a sort of poor man's spa, with a chalybeate spring. 18th century invalids would drink the waters and would also be prescribed seabathing, a fashionable 'cure' of the time. I parked the car and wandered down towards the shores of the Solway Firth. This is a landscape of long horizontals, mud flats (people still go flounder trampling here) and I remember how it struck me that poor Rab would have had to walk for a very long way if he were to immerse himself up to his waist in water. It must have been a torment to him in his seriously debilitated state. And that was how I began the play, with the poet's voice.

And what happens next and what happens next is ... I walk to the sea. Here, at the Brow Well on the Solway, I come to the edge of the land and almost tumble over into a great mass of thrift, clumps of pink, fringing the shore like some wild garden. But it is already dying. I go struggling and staggering and wading into the sea, half a mile every day, far enough for the water to reach up to my waist. That’s what the doctors advise. Sometimes I can feel the flounders slithering away beneath my feet. My landlady here tells me that she would go flounder trampling when she was a lassie, kilting her skirts up and wading out into the firth, feeling for the fishes with her toes. I tell her I should like to have seen her.The seawater does some good only in that it numbs the pain. And what happens next is ...

All those years ago, I sat there amid that wild garden, listening to oystercatchers calling and thinking about the poet and his wife. It seemed like a sad but peaceful place and in my mind's eye, it still does. Clare Waugh as Jean and Donald Pirie as Burns in that play gave wonderful performances, bringing these two characters vividly to life and - what's more - making me determined to write more about Jean in particular. Well, I've just learned that Creative Scotland has given me some money to help me research a brand new, full length historical novel about Jean Armour. 

Now, I'm gearing myself up to start and today seems as fitting a day as any other to put the pile of papers and books cluttering this room in some kind of order and ...

And what happens next is ... 



Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Curiosity Cabinet: A Good Scottish Island Summer Read - On Special Offer Now.

'The island is a flower garden.'
This week, The Curiosity Cabinet is on a seven day special summer offer for only 99p. Download it onto your Kindle, and read it on holiday, especially if you're going to the Scottish highlands or islands! (Or here, if you're in the US.)

When I look back on everything I've written, I still have a lot of affection for this novel. I suppose that's mainly because I set it on a small fictional Hebridean island that isn't a million miles from a real Hebridean island - one I love dearly and visit often: the little Isle of Gigha, the most southerly of the true Hebridean isles. The island in my novel is called Garve, and in truth it could be one of any number of small Scottish islands - Coll, for example. Garve isn't Gigha and Garve's people are not Gigha's people, but the landscape of the island was certainly inspirational for me and if you get the chance to visit, take yourself off to Tayinloan on the Kintyre Peninsula - and see for yourself. It's one of the loveliest places on earth in my opinion!

Gigha is tiny - some seven miles long by a mile and a half wide, but since it has some 25 miles of coastline, you can imagine what an interesting place it is. It also has a fascinating history and prehistory, since it was always such a strategic place in the various battles between indigenous people and successive invaders. It lies outside the Kintyre Peninsula and as such - with its fertile landscapes and sheltered harbours - it would have been a very good starting point for anyone wanting to invade the mainland. I love the place so much that I've written a major history of the island, called God's Islanders  so if you're into Scottish history, you could do worse than get hold of a copy while it's still available. I've also set another, infinitely darker novel on a small Scottish Island - and if you've read and enjoyed The Curiosity Cabinet, you might like to give it a try. It's called Bird of Passage but be warned. It's a much more harrowing read - although I also think the magic of this very special landscape shines through.


Such beautiful seashores.
On the way to Donal's boat.'
The Curiosity Cabinet tells two parallel tales set in the past and present. Some three hundred years ago, a young widow, Henrietta Dalrymple, is kidnapped and taken to the remote island of Garve where she is held prisoner by the fearsome Manus McNeill for reasons she can't fathom but which eventually become clear in the course of the story. In parallel with this is the present day story of Alys, coming from Edinburgh to revisit the island where she spent childhood holidays, and renewing an old friendship in the process. Motherhood with all its joys and challenges is central to this novel, as is the gap between urban and rural living, between highland and lowland cultures - but most of all, I think this is a novel about the way certain landscapes seem able to contain past and present, all in one, like the layers inside some precious stone. And it's also about a theme that (I now realise) seems to obsess me a bit - the possibility of redeeming the past in the present. Maybe it's because I'm a part time antique dealer that I'm fascinated by the history of objects, by the way in which each owner, each 'keeper' leaves his or her mark on something. The cabinet of the title isn't really a genuine 'curiosity cabinet' of the kind in which botanical and other specimens were kept. Instead it's an old and precious embroidered box on display in the island hotel - a box which contains the key to Henrietta's fate and Alys's future.

An old laird's house.
 But really, I just hope it's a good and not too heavy holiday read: two love stories in one, in a beautiful setting, a magical place, a magical embroidered box, a couple of engaging heroines and a couple of attractive but realistic heroes. Oh, and a very nice little boy as well. That's what I was aiming for and I hope that's what this is! Meanwhile, cast more than a passing look at the gorgeous cover image, made for me by my good friend, Scottish artist Alison Bell who has a love for islands and the sea - and it shows!
Cover image by Alison Bell