dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Books at the edge of the world

I love the view from John O’Groats probably more than any other view in the world – so far! Each time I find myself on the road just above the village looking down to where the road ends and the sea begins and beyond is island upon island out to the far horizon, my breath catches and my heart thumps with awe and wonder.

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It feels like the very edge of the world… mainland fraying into a ragged flotilla of broken-off rocks and skerries, hump-backed islets, dots with precariously perched stark white lighthouses, and the odd ship braving its way through the maze.

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My father used to always point out that white-crested rough wave patch where the Atlantic met the North Sea in a clash of titans. And we would gaze – as my sister and I did today – in wonder.

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But we had come not only for the views but for the delights of the first full day of the John O’Groats Book Festival – and a great day we had.

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This time, I could relax and enjoy other writers doing the work! And so first of all, we met up with two of the novelists for coffee and a sharing of experiences, much laughter and mutual sympathy, before making our way to the first talk of the day – poet Andrew Greig casting the spell of his trip by boat round Orkney in the Arctic Whaler ‘like a poem she’s not a machine, but a craft.’

A change of theme and a change of venue – in surely the most scenic lecture room in Britain?

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for James Hunter’s heartbreaking history of the Sutherland Clearances, that indefensible, inhuman destruction of lives and livelihood, 50 centuries of habitation, tradition and culture – all to make way for sheep and money in some strangers’ pockets. I found myself sitting next to a young woman studying for a degree in Scottish history and looking to base her dissertation on the land and social issues of the Clearances and am heartened that there are young local folk who care, are interested and maybe the heartbreaking stories will not be forgotten after all.

Next to hear Chris Brookmyre, who has been 22 years with the same publisher, producing a solid track record for gritty crime novels. The latest is a science fiction/hybrid which sounded so fascinating I bought a copy even though it’s only out in hardback and therefore expensive!

And last but not least a group book signing and I was back on parade. But it’s not hard work when folk are so interested in your books and seem keen to buy them!

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All in all, I reckon the Festival has been a huge success. Now the challenge is to get the next book written and published in time for the next one!

 

 

 

 

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Wick, day one

I’m writing this a day late. Because I was out late last night. Didn’t get to bed till midnight. Which is a problem for folk like me who turn into pumpkins at 9.30. And at my age, I need my beauty sleep! However, as a wise person once said, if you think you’re too old for something, do it before you’re another day older! So I did.

Last night I found myself in a packed room at the Seaview Hotel, John O’Groats, for the first author event of the first John O’Groats Book Festival. And it was a great evening.

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The first half showcased seven local authors, talking about and reading from their books. (I was on second.) The second half allowed a longer talk from three of the four authors who are the mainstays of the event: Christopher Brookmyre, Theresa Breslin, and Andrew Grieg. 

The great thing about writers is that they are generally thoroughly nice, interesting people, so finding myself at the top table with a gang of fellow contributors soon became a delightful social gathering. No way could Cinderella drag herself away when the witching hour struck. Just as well then that my sister and friend were both ready to depart before the cabaret began around 10.30!

I’d already had a lovely day, walking round the town with my sister:

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and in the afternoon visiting Nucleus, the amazing purpose-built archive for the nuclear industry and local and family history. Sixth-formers in town had been researching the lives and stories of the men from the first world war whose names were on the town war memorial, and the afternoon was their opportunity to share their findings and enjoy looking at more original materials – old copies of the local newspaper, the John O’Groat Journal, and letters and drawings from 1916.

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We’ll be going back to Nucleus next week so I can get stuck into research for the next book!

 

 

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Day Seven: To the end of the earth

That’s what it feels like – standing on the northernmost edge of the mainland of Britain, gazing out over island upon island studding the cold blue sea all the way to the horizon.

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View from the beach

John O’Groats. A tiny hamlet with hotel, harbour and a few shops – one of which has the best stock of Scottish-related books I’ve ever seen.

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Books and more lovely books!

And I’m delighted to say, they requested stocks of both When the Boats Come Home and Mizpah Ring so my sister and I went out there today to gaze at the view, deliver the books, buy some others and some gifts for the kind folk who have been feeding my cat Lucy while I’ve been away.

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This is the shop where you’ll find those fabulous books

And have lunch – with glorious views over the Pentland Firth across to Orkney.

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The Storehouse, John O’Groats

We also went exploring, round an old mill built in 1901 and fitted out by our great-grandfather, millwright Donald Miller.

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At Huna, near John O’Groats 

All useful background for the next book!

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