I was delighted to be invited by the Gaelic Society of Inverness to give a talk about Skye during the Second World War, in connection with my latest book, “Had we never loved so blindly”. In walking around the city I discovered the wolves outside the Town hall and the blue plaque for Josephine Tey, the author of, “The daughter of Time,” an historical detective novel suggesting that Henry VII rather than Richard 111 was responsible for the murder of the princes in the Tower.
‘Northwords Now’, a magazine that features new Scottish writing, features a review by Cynthia Rogerson of ‘Had we never loved so blindly’. This is what she writes:
“Shaw effortlessly pulls you into a convincing wartime past, into a beautifully evoked Skye landscape, and into parts of southern England that I know feel I know. And then, while your imagination is still reeling, she pulls you into the very heart of her characters. From the first page, I felt not just sympathy, but empathy with John Norman and Felicity. I’m a slow reader normally, but I finished this book in 2 days. At 325 pages, it still ended too soon for me.
John Norman is the son of an island fisherman and Felicity is the only daughter of an embittered wealthy widower from London. The elements, I thought, were in place for a Romeo and Juliet scenario of thwarted love. Class obstacles would daunt them! But neither of Shaw’s characters are your typical hero and heroine and they defy stereotypes. They are not beautiful, merely memorable. They do not fall in love instantly, steal kisses and struggle melodramatically against societal disapproval. Instead, they meet briefly, mumble a few words, go fishing, then separate. For the majority of the book, the narrative is not concerned with their relationship at all, and yet their separate story lines arch inevitably towards each other.
And what happens to them? I won’t say, but I can tell you this – it’s not what you think. Shaw doesn’t overly manipulate readerly emotions, and yet I don’t think that I’ve ever enjoyed being misled in a book so much before. Perhaps it’s because her protagonists are just weird enough to feel real. And I cared about them. To my mind, this makes Shaw a kind of magician.”
Every time we travel along the M6 I notice the turn for Carnforth and say,’ We should go and have a look at the station.’ Finally we did! The main reason for going is of course the central role that the station buffet played in the film, ‘Brief Encounter,’ but also because the film’s themes of love and loss chime with those in my latest historical novel, ‘Had we never loved so blindly,’.The volunteers who organise the displays have used fittings from the old station which capture a convincing 1940s ambience.
Here are some pictures of a Skye terrier puppy, an endangered breed which is fortunately increasing in numbers. Like all terriers they are tough and resilient. One of them features as a character in my latest novel which I’m currently revising. It’s set during the First World War and has the working title, ‘A Summer Project’. The most famous Skye terrier is ‘Greyfriars Bobby’ who is commemorated by a statue in Edinburgh and has featured in two films.
Now that everywhere is opening up again I’ve been having an enjoyable time travelling to craft fairs on the Isle of Skye and the mainland. These include Dornie, by the iconic seat of the MacRae clan at Eilean Donan castle, picturesque Plockton, Glendale in North west Skye and Minginish,near the Talisker Distillery. It’s been a delight to meet so many friendly people and sample delicious home made baking.
Really excited to share this with you – my first Eventbrite online Book launch! There’s a button to book tickets at the further down on this post, and I hope to see you there.
The inspiration for my novel came from this postcard. It was sent from Glasgow, to my mother in 1942, with a very brief address, ‘Kyle of Lochalsh, Ross-shire’. She was working at the hotel there which had been requisitioned by the Royal Navy and transformed into HMS Trelawney. The card came from her brother who had left his job as a fisherman on the Isle of Skye to sign up as a merchant seaman. Merchant sailors were the unsung heroes of the Second World War who kept Britain supplied with essential imports. John Norman, one of the central characters in my book, like my uncle, joined the merchant navy. Before signing on, he met Felicity, the upper-class daughter of a retired tea planter. This encounter was a prickly one but as their paths crossed in wartime a tentative friendship developed. While John Norman was involved in dangerous convoy duties Felicity was recruited to work at the secret code breaking centre of Bletchley Park. The impact of the War is refracted through the prism of their different perspectives. Can they navigate the dangers of war and overcome the differences between them?
As the title suggests, this is a novel about a relationship between a mismatched couple. Felicity, the daughter of a retired tea planter, is on holiday on the Isle of Skye in 1937 when she meets John Norman, a young fisherman. Their first encounter is a prickly one but when they later bump into each other during a London air raid, a tentative friendship begins. As a merchant seaman, John Norman is caught up in perilous convoy duties while Felicity finds a role at Bletchley Park. Their long-distance relationship falls prey to doubts and misunderstandings that have fateful consequences, not only for them but into the future.