Western Isles Tour 1/5

This is the first of five mini-blogs describing my week long tour of the Western Isles of Scotland. The tour has been organised by ScottishBook Trust and very generously sponsored by Scottish Friendly (more about them later in the week).
Lady Sedgwick and I arrived in Stornoway yesterday, flying up from Glasgow in a tiny little twin-prop, with a view from the window like this:

We met up with the team from Scottish Book Trust – the inimitable Beth Bottery and the redoubtable Mike Merillo, who drive something akin to the Mystery Machine. It remains to be seen whether we solve any spooky goings on in deserted gold mines while we’re here, but in the meantime, we’re going to talk books to the young people of the Hebrides.
Today I felt like I saw both ends of the writing process: we visited two schools in Stornoway itself: the Isle of Lewis’s largest primary school in the morning, and the largest secondary school in the afternoon. We got a very warm welcome in both schools – here’s a shot of the signing queue at the Nicholson Institute:

After the events, we had a flying visit to see the standing stones at Callanish. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a fine piece of neolithic action, so it was fantastic to see the stones. And if talking to young readers is the very end of the writing process, a trip like this is, for me, the kind of thing that can prove to be the very beginning of a book. A book like The Dark Horse, for example, is based in this kind of landscape, and who knows yet whether my week on the Western Isles will lead to anything creative. Seeing all the windfarms here also got me thinking about Julia Green’s great book, This Northern Sky, set amongst just such a landscape.

Questions of my creativity aside, at the very least we saw a stunning example of someone else’s. We were taking a bite in a café by the standing stones, and I was just expounding the idea to Mike that you learn something knew every day, when around the corner came a cat, straining on a leash. Strange enough, but we expected to see a person on the other end. When it turned out to be another cat on the other end, clearly straining in the other direction as hard as possible, we realised that here is the solution to the well-known expression of disorder: “herding cats”. The answer is simple – tie the damn things together.

Happy with this new-found knowledge, we headed back to Stornoway, where the only remaining problem is how you get round the fluffy roadblocks every couple of miles.


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