The Around the World Blog Tour is a partnership between TripFiction and Book Connectors – bloggers and authors, travelling the world, through fiction. For more information on the whole tour, and about the partnership, do read my earlier post.
From the moment I discovered that Scotland was to be the first destination on this tour, there was only one author I really wanted to feature. I’ve been an admirer of the writing of Linda Gillard since reading Star Gazing back in 2008, eagerly anticipating and reading every one of her books within days of publication. I’ve also followed Linda’s personal journey – her struggle to find a traditional publisher, her highly successful shift to being an independent author, her recent battles with her health, and now the joy of her new grandson (complete with his shock of flaming hair and the look of a Scots chieftain).
Linda, you’ve written five novels set in Scotland, but you’re English. Why are most of your books set in Scotland, particularly the Highlands & islands?
My love affair with Scotland dates back to my student days in the 1970s when I performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was bowled over by the beauty and atmosphere of the city and the warmth of the Scots. I appeared at the Festival three times and Edinburgh remains my favourite of any city I’ve ever visited.
Much later I took my family to the Highlands and islands for many wonderful holidays and I got to know Scotland quite well, to the extent that I decided I was living in the wrong country! After a huge mid-life crisis in my forties, complete with nervous breakdown, I quit teaching and started writing a novel set in the Hebrides, then in 2001 I moved to the Isle of Skye which became my home for 6 years. I’ve also lived in Glasgow and on the Isle of Arran and had a home on the Isle of Harris.
Linda, with her 10-week
old grandson, Keir
Scottish landscape inspires me. It’s so varied, you could never tire of it. We don’t have the best weather (and don’t get me started on the midges), but whenever I go south I miss the Northern light, Scots accents and the dry sense of humour. I couldn’t live anywhere else now, even if I didn’t have a gorgeous baby grandson in Glasgow.
I wrote most of Emotional Geology living in a Norwich suburb, pining for the Hebrides. All my other books were written in Scotland. I started writing EG just as a treat for myself. I was 47 and I couldn’t find the sort of thing I wanted to read.
Bookshops were awash with chick-lit at the time. I was fed up with middle-aged women being portrayed as somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife, only allowed to pull the hero if they were thin and looked 39. So I decided I’d write a book just for me – a thinking-woman’s romance that dealt with real issues, had believable characters, a yummy hero, but no easy answers. I set the novel on the beautiful, remote, Gaelic-speaking island of North Uist, off the west coast of Scotland, a place I knew well from family holidays and I made the heroine my age (47) on principle!
Elgol, Isle of Skye
Rock is a concrete record of the past, of what happened to the Earth – a build-up of pressure, seismic upheaval, erosion. When you look at rock you’re looking at layers of time. I think our minds and our memories are like that – a record of what we’ve been through and the toll it has taken – so the “excavation” of the past (which is what happens in the novel) becomes emotional geology. Hence the rather odd title.
Yes, for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award, for writing that promotes Scotland’s landscape. I think those two short-listings tell you what my books are like. I write love stories in which the setting is almost a character in its own right.
Star Gazing is set in two of my favourite places, Skye and Edinburgh, but it’s really a novel-length love song to the Isle of Skye. Trying to write about somewhere as beautiful as Skye is daunting. How do you avoid descending into breathless travelogue cliché? I decided I would write about the landscape, but from an unusual point of view, or rather no point of view. I would make my heroine blind – and not just blind, but congenitally blind. She would have no visual frame of reference at all.
I didn’t know if it could be done. I wasn’t blind or visually impaired and I didn’t even know anyone who was, but I thought it might be interesting to write about landscape from a non-visual angle.
It was tricky to begin with. I kept dropping into “sighted-speak”, but once I got into it, I actually found it quite easy and so much more interesting to write from a blind “point of view”. I did some research of course, but mostly I relied on my imagination. It was certainly a challenge having to create the hero, Keir by describing how he sounded, felt and smelt!
As you’ve probably guessed, Anne, I have a bit of a thing about castles, but strictly speaking Tullibardine is a tower house, a small 16thC domestic castle, not built for defence. Scotland is littered with them. Many are just heaps of stones, but some have been restored as comfortable family homes. That’s what the hero, Magnus does in Untying the Knot.
Interior of Elcho Castle,
a tower house in Perthshire,
managed by Historic Scotland
Untying the Knot is a romantic comedy about the couple’s gradual realisation that they still love each other and that their divorce was a terrible mistake, especially as they’re now both entangled with other people.
Some reviewers described The Glass Guardian as “a paranormal for people who don’t like paranormals”. It’s not at all typical of the genre. At the time I was trying to find a new publisher (I’d been dropped by my previous publisher) and editors were looking for paranormal romance. Vampires and werewolves were very popular, but I wanted to write about a ghost, making him the hero. That created a some problems, especially when it came to supplying a happy ending, but I found a way of getting round that.
The ghost hero of The Glass Guardian is a soldier who fought in WWI and haunts his former home, an old house on Skye which the 40-something heroine inherits. If you travel around rural Scotland you’re struck by the many substantial war memorials and the long list of names engraved on them. Small villages must have lost most of their young men folk. Sometimes all the sons in a family were killed. I did a lot of WWI research for this book and found it shocking and heart-rending. I thought I knew about the sufferings of those who fought, but discovered that, actually, I didn’t.
I don’t know how much that research informed the book, but I’m proud of a blogger’s review describing the book as “a story about love, loss, grief, music, WWI, Skye, family secrets, loneliness & a ghost who will break your heart.” He certainly broke mine and he haunts me still.
This was a rare instance of visiting a place and getting an idea for a novel – the whole thing: the settings, the characters, even part of the story. I visited Cawdor Castle which has always been inhabited by the same family, torn apart by a notorious 20thC family feud. Walking round the castle, I thought about the family living there and their successful attempts to make the castle pay as a tourist attraction. I also wondered (naturally!) if the castle was haunted…
Cawdor Castle, Nairn
Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire
Linda very kindly offered a giveaway, a signed paperback copy of any of her books, which she will send direct to the lucky winner. Thank you to everyone for comments and entries, and to Linda for the ensuing conversations – I wish you could all win, but first out of my hat today was Dawn O’Brien who asked for a copy of Emotional Geology. Congratulations Dawn – I’ll be in touch for your address shortly…!
Linda Gillard (pictured outside Glasgow University) lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She is the author of seven novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and HOUSE OF SILENCE, which became a Kindle bestseller and was selected by Amazon UK as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category.