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Kidnapped by a tidal island..
16 June 2019

‘The time I spent upon the island is still so horrible a thought to me ...’ 

Forced to eat a diet of limpets, buckies and periwinkles, some of which made him sick, Davy Balfour, having been shipwrecked on the Isle of Erraid, never did get used to the ‘horrid solitude’. He found himself ‘quite alone with dead rocks, and fowls, and the rain, and the cold sea.’ It rained continuously for nearly three days. Believing himself to be totally enclosed by sea, he beseeched passing boats to save him. He was ignored until finally he understood the word ‘tide’ shouted across the water by a fisherman, and came to realise he was on a tidal island and at the ebb could walk dry-shod onto the Ross of Mull, berating himself for not understanding better the ways of the sea.

Like the hero of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’ (1886), I spent three nights here, camping in what is now known as ‘Balfour Bay’. I had intended only one night. Unlike him, I came deliberately and stayed as long as I did because I was entranced. The ‘trick’ of the tidal island experienced by Balfour, his ‘pitiful illusion’ of being trapped, wasn’t mine. I actively wanted to be on this island, and came prepared to be cut off. Yet, as I was visiting during the ‘neap’ period when the moon has less magnetism and the difference between high and low tide is smallest, the islet remained attached by a creek of dry white sand to the Isle of Mull.

On a kind of pilgrimage ahead of my Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, I’d been intrigued to learn that RLS had spent time here when his engineer father was quarrying and building the lighthouses at Skrerryvore and Dubh Artach. This was how the ‘islet’ came to play its part in Balfour’s famous journey. My own journey there by bicycle from Craignure satisfied my restless impulses. Once installed on a grassy bank with a warm sleeping bag, a stove and supplies, my immediate surroundings gave me little need for further movement other than meandering with the burn to the shore to where fresh and sea-water meet, noted the changing tides, the glassy translucence of the turquoise water, and the shells and algae that washed in.

The life of the green and granite amphitheatre revolved around me each day, its sandpipers and plovers singing out the long length of the June day, a gang of boy-racer ravens diving and climbing in the thermals and seeming to enjoy the echoes of their raucous croaking. I watched a Golden Eagle hunting and cavorting with a northerly through my binoculars, and felt my breath stall in response to its brute grace. Even horizontal in my tent with no view, the place pulsed on conspicuously: the rhythmic wash of waves crept a little closer at high tide; sheep came to sunbathe the cold night from their bones on the white sand at six a.m..

My food stretched to a second unplanned night there, but by the afternoon of the next day, I was still reluctant to pack up and make my way back across the island and the dry creek. However, it would be a hungry night if I stayed. And then, miraculously, and again so unlike Balfour’s experience, a passing stranger with a 10-week supply of food on her boat offered me whatever I needed. Rather than limpets, I feasted on tinned mackerel and shortbread, with muesli in store for the morning. I sank ever more deeply into being there, to watch and listen, and scramble amongst the clefts of granite, feeling that there was nothing else at all that I needed, and that I was gloriously irrelevant to the steady turning of the place.


In the Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson and other news..
29 May 2019

Please find my May 2019 news here.

23 November 2018

Call of the Undertow is back in print! You may recall that it disappeared with the liquidation of Freight Books this time last year. I have now reissued it as a special edition hardback -- it even has its own silk marker ribbon -- with a lovely dustjacket designed by Andrew Forteath. It won’t be possible to distribute it through bookshops but I will have it available for events etc and it can be purchased through my website here. The price is £12.99 and £15 to include postage and packing. A perfect Christmas present? Read a review in The Independent here. 

Creative Writing Workshops 2019
Stories from The Sands STOP PRESS: there is 20% discount on the cost of this travel and writing adventure to the Moroccan Sahara from February 15th-24th 2019, IF you book by the end of November 2018. Please see here for details and contact Karen Hadfield directly on (or contact me with any queries about the workshop/writing content). it's a very good price already, but even better with the discount! I always find the desert has a powerful influence on my own writing and highly recommend the beautiful setting of Cafe Tissardmine and its sumptuous food.

Other workshops I will be teaching during 2019 include: 

Words in The Landscape, a weekend workshop at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in the Cairngorms, March 22nd-24th, for women participants to generate words from the experience of landscape, movement and nature. Part of the year-long Into the Mountain project inspired by Nan Shepherd - details will appear on their website shortly.

In July I return to the wonderful setting of the Garsdale Retreat in the Dales for a fiction-writing residential course 22nd-27th July, with Carol Farrelly as the visiting writer halfway through the week.

And in September (9th-14th) I'm delighted to be back in the Highlands at Moniack Mhor teaching with Rob Cowen, and with Tim Dee as the visiting writer. We will be taking excursions into the local environment for our stimulus and exploring the area and our responses to it in words. More information here.

Who goes there? Mapping ‘Extreem Wildernes’
I am map mad, and when I read that Ordnance Survey map 440 is the least purchased in Britain and represents the least visited area, at least by walkers, I had to go there. You'll find my piece for Walkhighlands here about a trip to inland Sutherland in late October and about the whole fascination of maps and remote places.
Happy reading and writing!

19 October 2018

Writing News

The Travel Guardian (22nd September) was all about autumn walks, and I contributed a small piece to a collection of writers' walks, highlighting Dorothy Wordsworth in Perthshire. If you are interested in Scotland in the early 19th-century and in travel writing, I highly recommend looking up her 'Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, 1803', full of insights into nature and social conditions.
In more on walking, my latest piece for the online Walkhighlands magazine is about a short walk up Ullapool Hill where local artist Peter White has been walking as a form of memorial and secreting some beautiful painted stones. You can read it here. My piece about a hot overnight trip to Glen Coe's Lost Valley was published in the latest issue of Womankind, an interesting international magazine that takes no advertising, published in Australia. 

I'm delighted that a piece I wrote as an essay for BBC Radio 3 about quartz has been included in a beautiful anthology 'Cornerstones' edited by Mark Smalley and published by Little Toller. It has already attracted considerable attention and takes some fantastic writers in literary explorations below the surface of the earth. My essay can be read in its entirety on The Clearing blog here and is still available for listening on i-player here.

Finally if you are a teacher of creative writing in secondary schools you may be interested in this resource I wrote for the Scottish Book Trust, suggesting ways of using authentic writerly activities in the classroom.

Upcoming events

Tall Tales, Tall Trees is a walking workshop with myself and storyteller Claire Hewitt as part of the inaugural Birnam Book Festival 23-25th November.

Looking ahead I will be running a two-day writing workshop for women as part of the 'Into the Mountain' initiative inspired by Nan Shepherd at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in the Cairngorms next year, 24/25th of March, as well as the usual Moroccan Sahara travel and writing adventure February 15 - 24 2019 (please E-mail me about this if interested). 

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