crofetr cover

In 1978 my father decided on a family move to the Scottish highlands. My sister and I were at University by then and so the disruption was to be fairly minimal. I lost touch with a few school friends but that was because I failed to keep in touch. I did not enjoy writing letters and was a little phone-phobic so I lived in the present, as I always had done in the past as an RAF brat, and just made new friends. It did mean that vacations involved a long train journey home of course but Scotland proved a wonderful place. I took long walks in the forest, swam in the Spey and worked part-time in a local hotel and in my father’s shop. We were regulars on the Whisky Trail and after so many talks on how whisky is made I feel I could nearly build my own distillery. The prize for listening was always a wee dram at the end and I grew fond of malt whisky, particularly the Spey malts which are mild, warm and fruity rather than sweet, smoky and peaty like the Islay malts my late father loved.

Anyway, I digress (because I like whisky so much). From being a little put out at the move, I became very fond of our new home and I can smell the clean air to this day in my memory. If you have never been to the Scottish highlands and you prefer wide open spaces to clubbing and city excitement, do go there please. You will love it. It must have made quite an impression on me as I found myself returning there again and again in my mind’s eye as I wrote A Crofter’s Tale. This started as a short story, written following a request from Jewels some twelve years ago. Looking back on it, it was a sweet little story but I lacked the confidence to make much more of it at the time.

Now, having published one not particularly great novel (that seems to be either loved or detested) and another more middle of the road novel that I am actually quite proud of, it seemed it was time to take the original story to its conclusion and I worked very hard on it. I researched the Jacobite Memoirs to learn about the rebellion from first source and I read a biography of the Duke of Cumberland for balance. I steeped myself in the Victorian genre too because I wanted an antiquated eighteenth century feel to the language.

Meanwhile the original story line expanded to include a truly black-hearted villain and also the political intrigues that led to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s downfall and the dreadful aftermath of Culloden. (Drummossie Moor is one of those places you won’t forget easily, by the way. It is so empty and bleak even now. I stood there and felt I could almost hear the screams of the massacred men. I wouldn’t want to spend a night alone there and remembered my father saying how Belsen had encroached on him in a similar way in the 1950s – a bleak place, where even the birds refused to sing). So, I approached the historical scenes with an eye to accuracy, using descriptions of the times wherever I could, particularly with Lord George Murray. For some, that might be dry but I found it necessary to understand the times and the events better.

There is nothing new in any of that of course but one thing struck me in my reading that I felt I needed to address. That is the issue of stereotypes. My story is different because it has a lesbian romance at its heart but that is not the only difference. I wanted to build on characters and on a way of life now lost to us. I wanted to have earthy, ordinary characters. The original Jacobite novels and the modern highlander take-offs I have read usually have big similarities – they focus on the rich, noble and powerful players in life and ordinary people, if they do appear at all, tend to be rogues or beggars who speak in unintelligible dialect. You won’t find much of that in A Crofter’s Tale. They speak more eloquently than we do because the 18th century was a time when most people did speak well. There is a tiny bit of Gaelic and a few expressions common in Scots English but apart from the Burns poem I quote at the beginning there is no heavy dialect.

Anyway, A Crofter’s Tale is out there in the wild, yours for the taking so to speak. You can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited, it’s on Kindle and published also in a clear print paperback edition. I hope you do give it a chance and I hope you will enjoy it.

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Well the easy answer is because that is her nature. Life as a writer would be infinitely more easy if our characters were less complex. If Midge were heterosexual that would throw open a much larger readership for me for a start. Schools and Christian readers would not be taken aback by her love for another woman for example. Yet she would blend unseen into the infinitely large pile of boy meets girl romances. If she were to be a lesbian on the other hand that would make her life much less complicated for her and for my novel too. There would be a ready made niche audience of lesfic fans who I suspect would be somehow much more comfortable with her sexuality. There would be fewer triggers in the story although, for me, it would be less true to life and less interesting. Midge is neither gay nor straight and that shapes her life in unexpected ways. Although she is obviously drawn to women emotionally she enjoys the company of men as likeable human beings and has a strong sex drive which is modified by the era in which she was born. There will be those readers who say she always was a lesbian and just had to discover her true self; there will be some who castigate her for marrying a man just as there will be those who condemn her for being unfaithful to Richard. So why did I write her this way? Was I trying to be trendy?

In answer to the first, my writing tends to be character driven. I believe that our characters exist in some hidden dimension of space or time waiting to speak to those who will be most attentive to their needs. Maybe some will see that as paranormal; I think it more likely that it is a product of our own psyche, our conscious beliefs and our unconscious dreams. When a character like Midge is “born” she takes over the writing of the story and leads it down paths a little different possibly from those we had planned. I could no more force Midge to be gay or straight than I could force myself to eat melted blue cheese on cornflakes! She has a voice of her own and her scenes were almost dictated to me, as distinct from scenes I wrote for other characters after in depth historical research.

Was I trying to be trendy? Absolutely not. The concept of “bisexual being trendy” is really limited in my experience to the young and famous. For most honestly bisexual individuals it is not an easy label to take on or live with. The ideas many people have about bisexuals derive from sources that have a strong agenda. I won’t go into that now, but I will reference a superb book that addresses many of the misconceptions about bisexuals. This comes from my review of Purple Prose on Goodreads:

“Bisexual is not a “one size fits all” label. Being bisexual is not about being confused, trendy, greedy or dishonest. Bi-phobia and bi-erasure are institutionalised everywhere. Bisexuals are often, but not always, monogamous. They might identify as straight or gay/lesbian their entire lives but they know they have romantic feelings towards both genders and indeed sometimes to people whose gender falls outside the binary norm. A bisexual friend once said to me “I love a person, not a gender.” For those individuals who fall into the “monosexual” category gender assumes an overwhelming significance in partner choice. For bisexuals it does not – a person is loved for more than their intimate parts, their masculinity or femininity. This should be liberating. Often it is not.”

So I was not trying to be trendy and by being honest rather than reductionist in my writing I was probably always going to limit my book’s audience but if one person reads The Wings to Fly and says “I know that girl, she is like me” or “she is like my friend” then it will have been worthwhile. Sometimes life does not fit into convenient pigeonholes and neither do heroines in fiction.

Searching for AmberSearching for Amber by David Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Searching for Amber by David Smith is a work of literary fiction. I have to declare an interest in that I read and reviewed this as a Goodreads Giveaway. I don’t enter these regularly, it is an occasional thing when I have little to do and as I was nursing a broken ankle I had time on my hands. I like to be adventurous with my reading and while most of the blurbs on Giveaways tell half the plot, this one drew my attention because it had only one sentence.
“Under the fluid metal of a steel-blue sky,
the body of a young woman strokes silently through the dawn waves… “
The book could have been about anything but it sounded intriguing enough to warrant filling in a few details and several days letter I received an email to say I had won, followed the same week by a copy of the paperback. I was in the mood for a spot of late night reading, my Kindle batteries had gone flat too, so I started on my prize – and prize it was!
To start things rolling, this book will not please those readers who want fast and furious action, it is thoughtful, has a long exposition and descriptive passages, many of which are exquisitely written. The first chapters are apparently exposition and are full of the minutiae a visual artist would capture. The use of the present tense puts us very much in “the Now” as well as in the mind of Jade. It is those early chapters that introduce the basic premise and main characters of the story.
I don’t want to write a review that either tells the story or deals in spoilers, but the novel deals with the intimate and largely unknown links between these characters. There is much of loss and tragedy in these pages, love, betrayal and suicide are also themes. The shift between time periods is emphasized by shifts in tense between past and present. The author is fond of the present tense and handles it well. I was impressed by the way he draws action out in an almost dreamlike state. I also like the use of poetry.
It was only when I reached the end that I realized the perfect symmetry of the plot and how well that sentence “Under the fluid metal of a steel-blue sky, the body of a young woman strokes silently through the dawn waves… “ becomes a sort of leitmotiv for the work. The sea moves almost like a character itself throughout the story.
Another theme that runs through the story nicely is the theme of searching for Amber. The cover has an amber blonde Jade in the foreground with two children beachcombing in the background. They are searching for amber, which features in an item of jewellery and also is the name of a very important character. I leave you to find the link! This is a book for readers who love thoughtful books that go that little more deeply into descriptions, motives and the interaction of character and landscape. I would recommend it to lovers of literary fiction and I am very grateful to have received a review copy of such a thoughtful work.

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