During one of our visits to San Diego, California, my family and I visited the Shamu show at Sea World. The thing I recall most vividly about that day wasn’t the tricks performed by the orca, or those limp dorsal fins that speak more eloquently than any words about the immorality of their lives. What made the deepest impression on me was a request made by the announcer prior to the show.
Lighting The Darkness
I love looking at pictures of Earth taken from satellites. Those taken at night are particularly illuminating – if you’ll pardon the pun.
The great centres of population in Europe, North America, India, China and so on, are lit up like Christmas trees. But the darkness too has a story to tell. There are deserts where only the hardiest creatures can scratch a living. There are great forests, swamplands, mountain ranges, Arctic tundra.
Then there are those areas where the darkness is man-made.
Much of the northern half of Scotland lies black and empty. Here the landlords of the nineteenth century did their work well, leaving little but ruins and silence and an emptiness that tugs at the soul.
And the families, the descendants of the great clans who once inhabited these darkened glens; what of them? Well, their seed was scattered to the four corners of the Earth; to the towns and cities of the New World. To where the lights now shine brightly.
As many as twenty-five million Americans claim Scottish ancestry. Add to this five million Canadians; some two million Australians and New Zealanders. Half a million Northern Irish also trace Scottish roots.
It seems our greatest export has always been our people.
But there are signs that the tide might be turning. At the last count, over 400,000 English people had moved north to settle in Scotland. Many – though not all – have come to escape the rat race. Other accents can now be now heard in our towns and villages: Irish, Asian, West Indian; and of course Polish, experiencing their own diaspora.
The Isle of Skye, whose population had slumped to 7000 in 1971, has seen a 40% increase in forty years.
Here and there one even hears the odd American accent.
On a recent TV programme I followed the story of a wonderful lady by the name of Angela Scott. She was a New York attorney who visited Skye some 16 years ago and simply fell in love with the island.
Now she lives in a croft, grows vegetables and keeps chickens and sheep. She and her husband own a smokehouse, where they cure venison and salmon. It is said you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted her savoury smoked salmon cheesecake; based on a recipe brought to Scotland from Brooklyn.
Her products are sold across the U.K.
But Angela Scott and others like her are pinpricks of light in the darkness. Great swathes continue to lie empty.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century the Skye poet Mhairi Mhor, Mary Macdonald of the songs, predicted;
“the day will come when the sheep will be wheeled away and the glens will be tilled. The cold, ruined houses will be raised up by our kinsmen.”
Not in my lifetime, certainly, but perhaps one day people will be able to look at satellite images which show the dark Highland glens lit up once again, however faintly, with light and with life.
I was nominated by the very talented author, Diane Major http://diane-newauthor.blogspot.co.uk/
Thank you, Ruth Watson Morris, for inviting me to participate in the blog tour. The link to Ruth’s blog is:- http://authorvoxiansseriesbooks.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-next-big-thing-2/
Here are the questions for the blog hop:
What is the working title of your book?
The Last Sunset.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea sprung from the empty glens and deserted townships of The Western Highlands.
The Last Sunset was my way of relighting the peat fires in the ruined houses.
What genre does the book fall under?
I would place it in the Dystopian, time-travel, romantic, action adventure, tragi-comic genre.
Yes, I know there isn’t such a genre. But there should be.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Kelly Macdonald as Ishbel.
Brian Cox as Achnacon
Dakota Fanning as Shawnee
Haley Joel Osment as Sam Kramer
Christopher Biggins as The Duke Of Cumberland
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“Can a rag-tag band of unwitting time-travellers prevent an eighteenth century massacre, and so save the world from nuclear Armageddon?”
The book was published by Greyhart Press. A independant publisher run by the redoubtable Tim Taylor.
How long did it take you to write the first draught of your manuscript?
One year to write, and a further year to cut all the fat, gristle and assorted self-indulgences that had crept in there.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Absolutely none. But then The Last Sunset is probably the only book in its genre.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired to write this book by His Royal Highness The Duke Of Cumberland. His army brought such mayhem and slaughter to The Highlands that the effects are still felt to this day. Thirty years after Culloden, Dr Samuel Johnson toured the area. What he saw inspired him to quote the Roman biographer Tacitus: “They have created a desert and have called it peace”.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’d like to quote one of the people who were kind enough to post a review on Amazon: “I was thrilled to find that the author has taken physically diminutive female characters and armed them with a feistiness that would make any Redcoat think twice! Overall, I would highly recommend this novel for all ages and both sexes, if you like action its there in bucketloads, if you have a soft spot for romance, its there too.”
Here are my book links:-
My son was an accomplished long distance runner who had the honour of competing for his country. Unfortunately he broke his foot in Royal Marine Commando training, bringing a premature end to two promising careers.
He often spoke about the loneliness of the long distance runner. How there is only the athlete and his pain for company.
Writers can’t compete with the physical discomfort, but we all know about the loneliness. Whether we write from a study, a bedroom, library or Grand Central Station, in our minds we are utterly alone. Whether words flow like music from a maestro, or have to be quarried from the granite recesses of our brains, writing can be an intensely lonely business. We lock ourselves away in solitary confinement for months on end. We scratch and scribble, plagued with doubts, never knowing whether any of it will ever see the light of day.
All we have for company are our imaginary friends. Those children of our minds that we create, nurture and develop. We are like Gods of our own little worlds, and like capricious gods we hurt and maim our creations. We test them to the limits of human endurance, and when it suits our needs, we kill them. “…Like flies to wanton boys,” as Shakespeare observed.
I swear, sometimes I have been in tears over what I have put my guys through. They may only be splinters of our personality, or composites of people we have met, but after a while they become real; they take on a life of their own. So much so that in my novel “The Last Sunset”, one of the principle characters had developed to the point where he simply would not act in the way I wanted him to act. In the end I had to take the story in a direction I had never intended, simply to accommodate this character.
I am sure this is something all writers experience. Some, like Steven King, have taken the phenomenon to the next level, and have written novels in which the characters have literally come to life to take revenge on their creator.
So why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves and our creations through such mental anguish? Fame and fortune? Nah, so unlikely they’re not worth thinking about. The stubborn determination to see a job through? Partly. I think what keeps us going is a quest for recognition, not just for ourselves but for our creations. We simply want these imaginary offspring, who came to life somewhere along the way, to take their place in the literary world.
Like many of you, I am sure. I have the great good fortune to have an incredibly supportive wife. She’s my number one critic and my number one fan. She will stop anything she’s doing to read over my latest scribblings – What’s that dear?
Sorry, almost anything.
Okay. Some things.
As for our son. Every time we hear of the latest casualty amongst the coalition forces in Afghanistan we grieve for their parents, and then thank God for that broken foot.
“I once saw the Loch Ness monster.”
Nowadays this statement ranks alongside headlines such as “Elvis Presley spotted working in local supermarket” or “Fleet of UFOs sighted over Skegness.”
I find it sad that Nessie has fallen out of favour so dramatically that she is now a figure of fun.
Why? Because a lot of people who live along the shores of Loch Ness will tell you there genuinely IS something strange in those deep, dark waters. However, they have learnt to keep any sightings to themselves, simply to avoid ridicule.
I live about 30 miles from the loch, and drive along its shores about a dozen times a year. And yes, one day I really did see something in Loch Ness that I couldn’t explain. It was a cold, February day. The water, unusually, was flat calm and empty of boats. As we were passing a gap in the trees I saw, about a hundred yards from the shore, something long and black protruding six to ten feet out of the water. My instinct was to slam on the brakes, but I don’t think the driver behind me would have appreciated that. By the time I reached the next clearing in the trees the object had submerged. In its place could be seen a large area of disturbed water. Had I seen this anywhere else I would have thought it highly unusual. But here, on Loch Ness….!
That’s it. That was my sighting. Not exactly conclusive proof, but very interesting nonetheless.
I suspect the reason Nessie now ranks alongside mermaids and leprechauns is because of recent scientific studies, which claim that the ecosystem in the loch is incapable of supporting a family of large creatures. Now, I’m no scientist, but even I know of one particular food source that migrates through Loch Ness in huge numbers throughout the year: Atlantic salmon. These fish are not part of any food chain because their stomachs atrophy as they approach fresh water, consequently they are incapable of feeding. In fact so many salmon migrate through the Loch Ness system that they help to support a population of some 80 bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth.
Are there large unknown creatures in Loch Ness? Possibly. A lot of people who know those waters well definitely think so. Certainly, there is no good reason why they couldn’t exist.
I’ll finish with the strange tale of a deckhand on board a Royal Navy warship, which happened to be steaming through the loch on V.E. day. To celebrate the end of the war some bright spark dropped a couple of depth charges off the stern of the ship. In the aftermath of the explosions, rising out of the depths of the loch, was spotted the tail ends of two gigantic eels.
Eels? Now there’s a thought.
Okay, so now that I’ve stuck my head above the parapet, who’s going to join me? Who’s going to admit that they’ve seen something in this amazing world of ours, which simply defies explanation?
How many of you good folks have visited the casinos in Las Vegas? I’m not a gambler, so that side of it holds little appeal. But the all-you-can- eat buffets. Oh dear Lord, those buffets. I am 6 feet tall, 180lbs, so I’m not overweight by any means., but being presented with all that food sparked something very deep and primitive in my psyche. I felt like an ancient hunter who had encountered a dead mammoth.
I gorged until I could gorge no more. Three or four hours later, when the stomach had absorbed some of this calorific mess, I was back at the carcass, gorging again. It was as well we were only there for a long weekend, because after four days of this I needed rescuing from myself.
This experience, to me, was an extreme illustration of one of the major problems of our society. Over eating. We in the west live at a time when food has never been so cheap or so plentiful. And it shows.
I remember as a child visiting Glasgow for the first time and marvelling at the number of slim, tiny Glaswegians I saw there. When I arrived in Belfast in the 1970s I noticed the same thing. So many small people. It’s all down to the industrial revolution, of course. So many generations of underpaid, undernourished workers created a tendency towards dwarfism in the human population. Apparently the same thing happens in nature when the availability of food diminishes.
Incidentally the Glaswegians may have been small, but they certainly weren’t petite. During the great war the Germans called them “the poison dwarfs”. For good measure they called the Highlanders “The Ladies From Hell”. Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?
Glasgow and Belfast, and I daresay other industrialised cities in the UK, continue to produce a fair proportion of small people. Nature has not yet adjusted to the super-abundance of food.
Alas, however, many are no longer slim or dainty.
I believe it all comes down to the dead mammoth I encountered in Las Vegas. The survival of our hunter gatherer ancestors depended on their ability to take advantage of any abundance that came their way, because, of course, there would be times when food was in very short supply. I believe our brains are still hot-wired in this way. Only now there is a constant abundance of food, and the lean times, when the accumulated stores of fat would have been used up, no longer arrive.
Nowadays, I suppose, we all have to learn to exercise self control. It is easier to keep that beast in check once you understand its nature. But I will never forget those four days in Las Vegas, and the discovery of that mammoth. Yum.
During one of our visits to San Diego, California, my family and I visited the Shamu show at Sea World. The thing I recall most vividly about that day wasn’t the tricks performed by the orca, or those limp dorsal fins that speak more eloquently than any words about the immorality of their lives. What made the deepest impression on me was a request made by the announcer prior to the show. If you’ve been to Sea World you’ll know the one I mean:
“Ladies and gentlemen, please give a round of applause to those men and women of our armed forces, past and present, and those of our allies”.
Now, I know San Diego is a major U.S. Navy and Marine Corps base, but I have never experienced anything of that nature here in the U.K.; garrison town or otherwise.
The sad fact is the British do not hold their armed forces in the same high regard as do the Americans. The recent experiences of our troops in Afghanistan is slowly changing this, perhaps, but we are a long way behind the U.S.
My father arrived home from the battlefields of France in 1945 on a hospital ship. He’d been badly injured at Nijmegen in Holland. Three years earlier he’d come home in another hospital ship, also badly injured, this time in Malta. My dad just did not get along with the Germans.
He never talked about the war, at least not until the last year or two of his life, when he began to open up about his experiences. When the boys came home from the war, he told me, nobody wanted to know what they’d been through. Anyone who tried to talk about it was seen as a bore. A blowhard. So they learnt to bottle it up and get on with life. But what they’d seen and done stayed with them all their days.
Many years ago, in the course of my work, I visited an old Highland croft house in the back-end of beyond. The house was occupied by an old brother and sister – a Highland Derby and Joan – neither of whom had ever married. As the sister led me into the living room her brother scuttled into the kitchen, and remained there until after I’d left.
“You have to excuse my brother,” said the lady. “He’s never been the same since he came home from a German prisoner of war camp in 1945”. He had been captured in 1940 with the rest of the 51st Highland Division at St. Valery in France, and had spent much of the next five years slaving in a Polish salt mine.
It broke my heart then, and it breaks it now to think of it: a soldier of the 51st, one of the finest divisions in the British army, reduced to this. Perhaps if he’d had counselling, been encouraged to talk about his experiences, the depression would not have taken him in his later years.
My father has been dead a long time now, but I am so grateful for the hours I spent listening as he unburdened himself. So, if there is a moral to this story it is this: If you are fortunate enough to have a family member, still alive, who served in WW2, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, The Falklands, The Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan, then talk to them. Today. Don’t listen to this rubbish that they won’t want to talk about it. Lend a sensitive ear and they will unburden themselves.
It could be one of the most profound experiences of your life.
Okay, this is my first ever blog, and I do not know what I’m doing. Complete klutz when it comes to computers. Actually, I give klutzes a bad name. I know how to do a smiley face or a sad face But that’s about it.
My wife gave birth to twins somethingty something years ago. Our daughter took to walking like the proverbial duck to water. Our son didn’t fancy this walking business at all. He was quite happy to crawl about the planet for the rest of his life. My wife and I realised that this would not be good for his job prospects so we forced him on a little. Eventually he got there, but only by holding onto his own ears as he tottered about.
So, here we go then, the first tottering steps….clutching both ears……..