Friday, December 7, 2018

Island Hopping.

Today I  threatened Mr Douglas Skelton to do a blog for me as he was island hopping during the recent Scottish Book Week. So I penned a few incisive questions. As well as being a great writer, award winning journalist, playwright, actor, and Alec Guiness impersonator, he is a very talented photographer, so I threatened him a little more and got some pics, which I am sure you will enjoy.

                                                       A view from the ferry crossing Oban to Mull

Why is it so great to set thrilling adventures against the Scottish landscape?
I think because it can be so dramatic and diverse. Also, and perhaps only Scots can feel this, there is a melancholy to it, thanks to the history (clans, massacres, wars, clearances). The weather also plays a part. You don’t like it now? Wait half an hour, it might change. The Highland landscape is stunning on a beautiful day but add some mist on the mountain tops and a wee smirr of rain and you have something else, something mysterious. Plot is good, character is great but I also like atmosphere. And we got that by the bucketload. Sometimes it can seep right through your anorak.
                                                                         Lismore Lighthouse

When you wrote Thunder Bay (Polygon, out March 2019) - how did you go about designing the island for your purpose,  was it based  on a real one?
It wasn’t actually based on a real island, although I’ve used elements of the islands I know and also bits from the mainland that suited my purposes. My God – the power we hold as writers! Stoirm in the book is a fairly large island but I even used bits of tiny Gigha, the land of my forefathers. I wanted to control all aspects of the land and its history so I put together what I needed for the story – mystical mountain CHECK, rocky shoreline CHECK, stormy weather CHECK (also, cue song), rich folklore CHECK. To have used a real one would have limited my scope and, to be honest, there are elements in the storyline that would have any real inhabitants burning me in effigy. (Effigy is a small place and they don’t need the smoke pollution)

                                                               The view across Loch Fyne

And what is your favourite Scottish island? Where do you get the best chips? How sick have you been on the ferry?
I don’t have a favourite island. I know – that’s a cop out but it’s true. I’ve not visited every Scottish island, there are nearly 800 of them, but of the ones I have visited – Bute, Arran, Cumbrae, Lewis and Harris, Skye, the Uists, Iona and, of course, Gigha – I couldn’t possibly pick a fave. As for the chips, I think the only one on which I’ve tasted the delicacy is Bute and they were lovely. However, I have no frame of reference. And I don’t get sick on ferries. Yet. 

                                                         Wade’s Bridge on the Isle of Skye

What appeals to you about writing about island life and would  you like to live on one in real life?
It’s a stock answer but it’s true nonetheless – it’s the notion of isolation. For a thriller/mystery/crime writer isolation can be important to some plots. The fact that you can’t easily escape, that the water is a barrier and sometimes a threat. And when you throw in our stormy weather it compounds that threat level and adds to the atmosphere. 
                                                             Ailsa Craig in winter  

You do tour a lot, and are  known to sneak off to take pics  into the darkness.  What is the best time of day, year to show the Scottish island at its best? Or it is just when you can see it through the rain?
Seeing it through the rain does help! Just around sunrise and sunset are the best times to grab landscape shots. Real photographers – which I am not – will leave the house at Ohmygod o’clock in order to get to a location to catch the sunrise and the light that follows. The Golden Hour is just before and after the sun going down. Or Michael Bay time as we film buffs call it. I have a fondness for autumn (that’s Fall, for the benefit of our US readers) and winter (that’s Winter for the benefit of our US readers) because the low light is softer and during autumn (Fall, etc etc) the colours are breathtaking. That’s one of the reasons I’d like to visit New England in the autumn       (see above). So anyone would like to invite me..
                                         Loch Leven and Eilean Munde, Isle of the dead    
Have you ever been on Ailsa Craig? Do you think it looks like a soufflé? A tea cake? Or a bobbly hat? Please tick one answer only.
I have not but I used to live in rural South Ayrshire so have driven past it many, many, many times (many times, many, many, many times, as Dame Celia Molestrangler and/or Binkie Huckaback would have said in ‘Round the Horne’). It does resemble all the above but also, in winter with a sprinkling of snow, a Christmas pudding.

                                                        The ferry heading to Bute

What was bestest, writing about New York or Thunder Bay (The Janus Run versus Thunder Bay )? 
Oooh, you saved the hardest one for last! The Janus Run, set in New York, was something of an experiment for me, just to see if I could do it. I hope I pulled it off. But writing about New York, any real place, is more difficult than a fictional location, simply because you have to stick to the facts, ma’am. Well, more or less. I did take liberties with Janus. I would say that I much preferred Thunder Bay, because it freed me from worrying about the location and allowed me to concentrate on characters, plot and finding all the right words and putting them in the order right.
                                                                Ornsay Lighthouse, off Skye      

Will you come back and  do a blog when Thunder Bay comes out?
Yes – did I mention it’s out in March 2019? From Polygon? Available in all good book shops and on line?
                                                                              Tobermory on Mull.

            Douglas Skelton For Caro
            07 /12 /2018


  1. Wow. I’ve known Doug to be a great writer and gifted comedic actor, but never did I know of his considerable photographic talents until now. His photos are the equivalent of paintings by the masters, making it hard for me to choose my favorite from among them. I guess I have to go with the one captioned, “The Ferry Heading to Bute (sic),” though it may be the title that grabs me what with me scheduled for a colonoscopy on Monday (moonday for my Scottish friends).

  2. The text wonderfully amusing. The photos beyond spectacular. But I have a quibble with you, Doug, and your fellow denizens of the British aisles. Why is it that you think we yanks don't understand the word "autumn?" Really? Why? Have you heard this little ditty?
    Autumn in New York as sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong!!!
    We know that word!!
    We yanks have extensive vocabularies! We also have the the BEST SINGERS in the universe.

  3. We ( Douglas and I) do have a confession to make. We do, in Carry On Sleuthing, make a few references to those that live across the pond as not being very errr….. I'm getting myself into deep water here. There are those that voted for your president and then there are the intelligent ones!
    But, yes, with Brexit, we have no right to mock.

  4. Evidence needed to support the accusation that yanks don't know the word "autumn."

    Or you could name a fabulous Scottish hit song with Autumn in the title. I'm listening.