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


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