Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Windmills of my Mind

The windmills of my mind…

The time and the place for Windscape
What a week. Great kids, wonderful teachers, fantastic libraries and a chance to launch my first topical kid’s adventure - WINDSCAPE.
Up in Harris and Lewis there is a real dichotomy. They’ve just voted to halt a huge wind farm that would have run down the spine of the Western Isles. Some say that it’s been a real missed opportunity, some say that it’s been a near miss. My book: an innocent adventure, has been hailed as a catalyst in the discussion. Mmm… Not sure I wanted that but, it’s good to talk. Unsure where I am on the subject, it was interesting to hear the various responses and ideas.
Some say the energy used to construct these majestic machines would never be cancelled out by the good they would do. Some say that the local community would stand to gain a great economic boost, both commissioning and decommissioning these things. Some say they scar the beautiful landscape that the many tourists come to see. Some say they disrupt wildlife and destroy the peat bogs, Scotland’s lungs. Some, like me, are simply confused, torn between the damage they may do and the horrible alternatives. Are there other viable alternatives out there? Will it be the children who read this book that are ultimately affected?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A dip in the loch

The last time I went for a paddle in Loch Lomond would have been about 20 years ago. I put my toe back in this weekend. It was 23 degrees and we had our own wee private beach. We really are very lucky to live beside such a beautiful place. Even Mrs Wilding braved the chill. Wee Ruthy had great fun skiffing stones inches from my head,while Betsy, our flatcoat retriever, swished her tail and tried to disembowel me with her front paws. Part four of the Denthan series is set on Loch Echty (Loch Lomond), about 500 yards from that island in the distance. I also had my first signing of August in W H Smith's Glasgow. Even though Jordan, or Kate Price, was just along the road, stealing business away, I still sold quite a few of my books. I met Clare Wilson, a new Olida author, during the signing. Clare's book The Long Staff, is a great young adult, fantasy tale and due for release any time now. You might catch Clare at the Publishing Scotland knees-up on the 23rd, at the Edinburgh Book Festival. We plan to do a few joint workshops and events, both here and down in London. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it's time to cook the Sunday dinner.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Aerosmith and Camper Vans

Last weekend I journeyed down to Download, near Derby, to the biggest rockfest of the year. My main remit was to keep my boys happy, but I love this kind of music too. I probably sound old fashioned but I just think, oh, no... whenever the 'stars' feel they have to swear and stuff. ACDC and Myles Kennedy didn't seem to find it necessary. You basically camp up in a field full of litter, next to some over-flowing toilets and walk 2 miles to get to the gig. Once there, you're stuck in a massive pen with 100,000 other rock fans. There's food all over the place, 4 stages that merge into one cacophony of sound if you stand at the wrong point, and no chance of finding anyone you know. This is fine, even strangely enjoyable when the sun shines, but when the heavens open, it's no joke. It remained beautiful until the last few songs in Slash's set. After that it poured. We retreated to our trusty camper van but decided to ignore our wet clothes and venture out again to see the living legends that are Aerosmith. Steve Tyler was amazing! What a voice and what a showman. Spinning like a dervish in his gold spandex, he sang his lungs out. We all went home tired, dirty, smelly but happy. (Finds of the Festival were singer with Slash - Myles Kennedy, and new band - Them Crooked Vultures. Check em out.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Big Hoose!

After a refreshing swim, I settle down to some lunch and then walk the gardens of the place I once worked and played. Cameron House, formerly the home of Sir Patrick Telford Smollett, it is now a full-blown De Vere Hotel. It was, however, a stately home when I first ran along the grassy lawn by the family jetty. I was, well, 6 when I first stepped off the launch and joined in the Sunday school games. Mmm... 1967. It was a sunny day, like today, and the gardens were made all the more mysterious by the wailing of peacocks and the bleating of exotic geese. I got to know the Smollett's through the church, St Mungo's, and always found the local gentry personable and kind. Patrick would hail me in the supermarket, even though he did call me by my last name, whereas Mrs Smollett was more of a mystery. She was, in my opinion, like Grace Kelly in looks and seemed more distant, in a movie-star kind of way. I still see her from time to time, and she still looks beautiful. After a childhood of once a year visits, I eventually sang at their daughter's wedding. I think the song was 'By Blue Galilee', and I think the daughter's name was Gabrielle. After a few more years I became an employee of the Smollett's, working as a game-warden, shop-keeper, fairground attendant and ticket collector in the Loch Lomond Bear Park. I wandered, blinded by hay fever, through an assortment of fully-grown Himalayan, European Brown and Canadian Bears, protected only by luck and the odd clump of dirt. They were great days and I still keep in touch with the various survivors. Patrick would, from time to time, yell at me from a high turret as I lay sunbathing in the bay, bobbing in the gentle roll of Loch Lomond. "Murdoch! I don't pay you to float!" Time moved on and, after the sale of the estate, the Smolletts moved up the hill to a smaller pad. I visited the new house once, where, after several huge whiskies, I was introduced to the black piano where Irvin Berlin wrote White Christmas and where David Niven, perched on his boney elbows, recounted many an anecdote. I now swim and exercise in the building that has managed to form such a constant part of my life. And, I might add, have the odd wonderful meal. Cameron House - I salute you!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Harris Tweed

It’s a full house. Fiona at the Tarbert Library has, like the pied piper, drawn in children from every school in Harris, and this on a day when Sir Seb Coe is only a few miles away promoting the relevance of the Olympics in the Western Isles. Hosting the biggest sporting event in the world is extraordinary but I still wonder how, other than T.V., the islanders up here will get to see it. Hat’s off to Seb though for coming all the way here. The kids were totally enthralled and excited to see him. The workshop in the library goes well, and has brought children in from 20 miles or more. There's great interest in the Denthan Trilogy and the kid's questions are yet again, brill. I give the Callanish visitor centre a plug and, after expressing my thanks to the library, get back on the road towards Leverburgh and the ferry to North Uist.

Port Ness

After a wild drive to Port Ness, on the most northwesterly tip of Lewis, I arrive at the school and settle down in their new Library. The school kids are at the door to greet me and they lead me inside to give my workshop. They are fantastic and soon tell me about the real Gugas Hunters. One girl’s dad is an actual Guga Hunter and disappears for 2 weeks every year to harvest the gannets. He is only allowed back in the house after 3 showers. I ask them what the birds taste like and how they cook them. They are very salty and fishy in taste but many of the kids enthuse about them and the teacher tells how they are cooked. They are scrubbed with washing-up liquid and then boiled for an hour before being served with boiled potatoes and veg. The gannet skin has the complexion of an old tramp and the fat layer is extremely thick. Some of the class say how you have to eat the fat and the dark flesh together. The teacher isn’t too keen on the fatty parts. I eventually take the road to Callanish. It’s been 20 years since I’ve visited the stones that appear on the cover of The Magic Scales. There is a visitor centre there now, so I track down the manager and show him the cover of the first book. He loves it and sees that it will sell in the shop, so takes 6. I take some pictures of the magnificent standing stones and realise the time. Racing down the road towards Harris, the site of Windscape, my new book-to-come, I just get into the library in the nick of time.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Argie Bargie

Stratford was bathed in sun as we boarded the barge and prepared to feast. Pate, pork and pricey river properties all came and went as we sailed down the Avon through a series of slimy locks that gurgled and bubbled. It was rather decadent but you're only here once. In the heart of Shakespear's-ville the tourists were buzzing and the fizz was flowing. Promise to be good next week. Back to reality and back to the thing I love doing most of all - exploring the Western Isles, from Ullapool to Oban and quite a few points in-between.