I’ve written all kinds of non-fiction over the years, including reviews and features for a wide cross- section of newspapers, websites, literary and online magazines including publications as diverse as the Scotsman, the Financial Times, the Edinburgh Review, Highlander Magazine, New Writing Scotland, She, Vogue and the People’s Friend. I’ve contributed to the Society of Authors magazine, the Scottish Review and – more recently – to the Royal Literary Fund’s online ‘showcase’ site. I’ve even published a little book called Precious Vintage, all about buying and selling collectables, drawing very much on my own experience.
Back in 2006 I researched and wrote God’s Islanders, a surprisingly big history of the tiny Isle of Gigha, just west of the Kintyre peninsula. Gigha has been a place I’ve loved and visited for many years, and it has inspired a great deal of my fiction (not least The Curiosity Cabinet and Bird of Passage) but this history was very much a labour of love.
Now, Birlinn, who first published God’s Islanders in hardback, are publishing a new, updated version of the book, with a gorgeous new cover and even a new title: The Way It Was.
As part of the research for the book, I recorded many hours of island history with the redoubtable Willie McSporran MBE – and the title is his.
‘Even when the engines started, in the launches and skiffs, they wouldn’t lift the creels with them. What happened was there was always two on the boat, it was about forty-eight creels a man, the engine was stopped and one of them took the oars, and it was no mean feat, you would see them with their arms crossed. The boat, she was built for rowing, she narrowed in towards the bow, for easier cutting through the water. You had to have the sweeps crossed and just a wee pull and there was so much spring in the oars, a long slow stroke, different entirely to the oars now, a sweep oar, a long slow sweep and if you put your weight on, they would bend. It was fantastic to see these old men, you wouldn’t hardly think they were putting any effort in and yet the boat would be cutting through the water and that was the way it was.’