I have three great passions in my life. The first one is my family – my husband Richard with whom I share almost all aspects of my life; my daughters Caryl and Ashlyn who are both successful in their chosen careers; and my three grandchildren, Josef, Cerys and Olive. I loved their visits to the island home where we lived for 27 years. Several times a year I used to pack my bags and head south to London and Birmingham where they live. Now that I have moved south to Shropshire I see them on a more regular basis. If pets count as family I must include Leo, a rather large Bengal cat who arrived uninvited, claimed one of the easy chairs and decided to stay. He made the move with us and has settled contentedly in our new home.
My second passion is for words – reading words and writing words. I’m a compulsive reader, not just for books, but for words wherever they appear. I grew up in a house full of books and always loved stories. My dad was an avid reader and whenever he went ‘book shopping’ he would return with a book in his pocket for me. I read in bed every night, a habit that has continued throughout my life. As a child I enjoyed poetry, fiction and fantasy but I also loved the gritty realism of adventures that were based on fact and firmly anchored in a particular place. Jack London’s Call of the Wild was a favourite; but I found true tales of people who faced the challenges of island life to be equally absorbing. Ronald Lockley’s books about Skokholm and Frank Fraser Darling’s about the Summer Isles had a lasting influence on my life. Now my choice of reading material is varied, but I hate horror stories and books based on crime or violence.
Writing poetry was my first love and I will never stop writing it, but poems can take a long time to write. They need exactly the right words in the right order and I have to return to them again and again, paring them back until I’m satisfied. I have a file full of poems that need further work if I am ever to share them.
Writing fiction is more fun. There is nothing quite like the thrill of a character coming to life in a story. The way they develop personalities, habits and speech patterns; and the way they push the story in a direction that I hadn’t anticipated is exciting. That’s not to say that it’s easy. Getting the bones of the story onto the page is one thing, re-writing, editing and checking for continuity is another matter.
Over the years I’ve written many stories, stories that I’ve shared with my school pupils, my daughters and my grandchildren. I have a file full of manuscripts that I have never shared with anyone. I started Clickfinger by sharing it with my grandchildren, but before I had finished it, Cry at Midnight began to take shape. This book became a prequel to Clickfinger and the idea of The Hagstone Chronicles came into being.
My third passion is for landscapes and wildlife. Particularly important to me were the Inner Hebrides – our home from 1991 until 2017. For nearly seven years I lived and taught on the small island of Colonsay before moving to Islay in 1997. Even before these dates, almost all my holidays were spent on islands around the coast of the British Isles. I have always taken particular pleasure in finding those tiny uninhabited islands that can be accessed at low tide from other islands.
Naturally, these passions come together. I read about islands and I write about islands. I always carry a notebook and I jot down odd words and phrases whenever they occur to me. But when I settle down to do serious writing I need silence. The one regret of my life is that I didn’t make time for writing during the busy years of raising a family and devoting myself to my teaching career. As a result, success as a writer has come relatively late in life. It is a modest success, but satisfying nevertheless.
My poems have appeared in many small press poetry magazines and in several anthologies. I am a regular contributor of articles and photographs to Scottish Islands Explorer Magazine. My first book – Slate Voices: Cwmorthin and Islands of Netherlorn, a collaboration with Jan Fortune, was published in May 2014 by Cinnamon Press and launched in London, on Seil and Luing in Argyll and at three locations in Wales.
2014 also saw the publication of my first foray into fiction. Cry at Midnight, Part One of The Hagstone Chroniclesis a fantasy novel for 8-12 year olds set on the Isle of Tiree.
Clickfinger, Part Two of The Hagstone Chronicles was published in 2015 and Book Three, The Snake Wand followed in 2016.
My first solo poetry collection, Waymarks, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2015 and launched in Castle Douglas, Glasgow and The Poetry Library in Edinburgh.
So what next? Will there be a Book Four? It is highly likely because Merryn MacQueen keeps popping into my head with ideas for other adventures. Poems and articles will continue to be written and I know that writing will always play an important part in my life.
So, although I know I will continue to write, other aspects of my life are less certain because my priorities have changed. Although I loved my island life I found that travelling to see my family, tending a very large garden and taking long walks over rough terrain were becoming onerous. It was time to reflect on the past and to decide on priorities for the future. I wrote of three loves in my life and I realised that a fourth love had been neglected during my years in the Hebrides. From early childhood I had been a keen gardener. I studied gardening at College and I enjoyed creating new gardens. Islay gardening was restricted to plants that could cope with strong salt-laden winds. It was rewarding to turn a sea of bracken into a garden where over 200 species of wild plants brought colour and interest throughout the seasons. But I found myself longing for a gentler kind of gardening in a place with access to less rugged countryside.
So, after a long search, we decided to settle in Shropshire, a place Richard and I knew from our early days together. Our location wish list was very specific – a village with a shop and post office, an active community, a medical service, a bus into town, access to country walks and without the possibility of new houses blocking our view. The house itself was less important, but we wanted a bungalow, a garden, space for lots of books, a dining kitchen and a bit of added magic. It was a long and frustrating search but eventually we found it. The little bit of magic came with a small stretch of garden on the banks of the Reabrook and a gate that gives access to open countryside.
The process of moving was unsettling and for a while I was unable to write either fiction or poetry. Fortunately, commissioned articles for Scottish Islands Explorer kept my words flowing. I also joined U3A and am
co-ordinator for a Writing group which meets twice each month. I am sure that new places, new people, new experiences, new sights and sounds will inspire new ideas and new words. So watch my Monthly Blog to see what transpires.