Guest Blogs

Guest Blog – Emma Fraser

51QRrTnj+zL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_One of the pleasures of reading (as Laurie said so eloquently on her blog last week) is that it allows us to experience places we haven’t been to and lives we haven’t led. The same might be said of writing. I have always been intrigued by ‘what if’ scenarios. What would I have done had I been in a particular situation? How would I have coped? What choices might I have been forced to make?

Having said that, in my most recent book The Shipbuilder’s Daughter, I draw on personal experience and childhood memories as well as stories of a time before I was born, passed on to me by my grandfather Peter, my mother Annie and her brother, Lachie as well as great aunts and other relatives.

In The Shipbuilder’s Daughter, my heroine, Margaret, fearing her children will be removed from her, flees to North Uist where she has accepted a post as a doctor. Unable to keep her children with her while she carries out her medical duties, she arranges for a family of a friend to care for them while she works. I’ve kept the name of my grandparents home, Sandbank, describing it as it would have been in the thirties (and still was when I was a child !) and modelled the family the children stay with on my mother’s family, even giving them the same names.

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My grandfather worked in the shipyards of Govan but left to return to the islands when the health of his children, particularly that of his eldest son, Lachie, suffered in the smoggy, damp conditions of Glasgow. My grandfather, Peter Morrison was a remarkable man. Although he received very little formal education he was a well-known Gaelic bard. Many of his stories, songs and tunes have been recorded and collected over the years by the School of Scottish studies and are still sung today. He was also a prolific writer of letters to newspapers, sharing his opinions, of which he had many with the world at large. In the forties – seeking a better life – he took his family, including my mother, to live on the Monach Islands, about as far away from civilisation as you can get, where they lived, just the six of them for four years, surviving on what they could grow themselves, and income from the sale of lobsters or rabbit pelts – but that it a story for another time.

As a child going to Sandbank to stay with my grandparents for the summer holidays was a great adventure. The journey there seemed to take forever involving an interminable car journey; how me and my five siblings and our parents ever squeezed in to one car, I can’t imagine – it almost certainly involved sitting on laps – plus a boat journey of around three hours. Arriving at Lochmaddy (North Uist’s port) we’d be met and another journey over single-track roads would follow. Even then the journey wasn’t over. Sandbank at that time had no road or causeway to it, so if the tide was in, we’d be bundled in to anther small boat and rowed across to the house.

The magic for me didn’t stop there. Because of where Sandbank was built the tide would come in twice a day, high or low depending on the time of year and when it did it would completely change the landscape. I’d go to bed, (my way lit by a small paraffin lamp – there was no electricity at the house only a generator which supplied electricity for a couple of hours ) with my uncle’s boat lying its side on the sands only to wake up to find it bobbing in the sea, the house completely surrounded by water. (The causeway you can just see in the photo is a relatively recent addition.)

Without television or toys, we children would make our own entertainment. There were too many of us to be kept in doors so we’d be chucked out to play regardless of the weather (although the sun always seems to shine in childhood memories ) and we’d roam the croft, sail pretend boats made from reeds in the fissures of the fidean, or share a home- built wooden one (made by my then bachelor uncle Lachie), on the incoming tide. We’d search rabbit holes and feed hens, play in boats that were no longer in use and had been left to rot on the sands, dig for cockles, or hang our legs over the jetty and fish using crab heads for bait.

Many of the activities necessary to survival were shared by the community and often we children would help lift and stack peats or gather the hay – looking forward to when the Byre filled and we could fling ourselves from the hay loft into mounds of sweet-smelling hay. There were also trips in Grandfather’s boat to other, uninhabited islands where lunch would be tea, made with water taken from a loch and boiled by a fire made with heather (to this day I can still smell its particular scent) along with mussels picked from the rocks and bannochs or scones baked that morning by my grandmother and spread with home-made butter.

Not all the memories were pleasant; there was no indoor toilet and no running hot water so baths had to be taken (and shared ) in a zinc tub in front of the Rayburn stove, and my grandfather used to force spoonfuls of seal blubber on us to keep us healthy. A man of his time, he was strict and as a staunch member of the Free Church of Scotland, forbade any activity on Sundays that wasn’t reading the bible or writing letters – excruciating for young children.

In the evenings, people from other parts of the island would visit. Drams of whisky would be poured for the adults, someone would bring out an accordion or fiddle and then the music and dancing would start. In between there would be the story-telling. My parents and all the islanders were gaelic speakers – but not us children – so sadly we couldn’t follow what was being said.

My mother’s family were crofters and lobster fishermen and an abiding memory is of my Uncle Lachie striding across the sands – a sack of crabs slung over his shoulder (crabs weren’t considered to have monetary value back then in the same way lobsters did) and me running to meet him. It was he who told us the story of Baroomba who lived in a nearby loch and wanted nothing more than to grab a child and drag her, or him, in to a watery grave – thinking back it was to keep us away from that particularly deep, steep- sided loch, he who made us bats and boats out of wood and even painted them for us and he, who later, when my brother and I returned to live with him and my grandfather as lively teenagers – intervened in what could only be described as a clash between the generations. But that too is another story and for another time.

So it is with much love and gratitude that I dedicate this blog to the memory of my Uncle Lachie, who died in 2015 at the great age of 91 and is still sorely missed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You can read an extract from The Shipbuilder’s Daughter here on Wednesday and order it on Amazon. The ebook version of my second book We Shall Remember is currently, but only for a little longer, heavily discounted and you can buy it on Amazon at its reduced price if you’re quick.

Thanks also to my fellow authors for inviting me to contribute today!

Finally, I have a question for you. Is there somewhere that holds an abiding place in your heart?

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25 thoughts on “Guest Blog – Emma Fraser”

  1. Ohh! Looking forward to reading this! Congratulations, Emma! Abiding places in my heart? I think that would be the eight long summers I spent as a child camping at Wilson’s Prom. I was a pre-teen and then teen. I had freedoms I didn’t have at home. I had my first crush, my first boyfriend…not the same as the first crush…I learned how to hike, I met peopel from around the world and my world expanded.

    1. I’ve just finished The Shipbuilders Daughter and I apsolutely loved it. I particularly enjoyed the vivid descriptions which really drew me in. It is a real page turner and Margaret’s plight was very emotional and her thoughts and experiences were captured beautifully. I am always intrigued about how an author writes a characters speech – do you say the words out loud to see how natural they sound and the dialect and spelling must need a lot of research?

      1. Aw, thanks so much for saying you loved it. The descriptions were so much easier to write because I love Uist so much and go back there whenever I can. As far as dialogue is concerned I try to hear the words in my head. When I’m writing I don’t use much dialect – if I wrote the way some Glasgow folk speak, it would be more difficult for the reader to get the meaning.(I do love the Glaswegian turn of phrase however.) It’s easier to write the way the Islanders’ speak as a) English tends to be their second language so they rarely use slang and b) I’ve grown up hearing the rhythms of the way folk from the Highlands and Islands speak all my life. There are the odd idiosyncrasies however such as ‘I haven’t had the news today- instead of I haven’t listened or heard the news today as well as several others which escape me for the moment!

    2. Hi Fiona, Good to hear from you. It’s been a while!

      Everything is so much more intense when we are children and even more so when we are teenagers. I came back to Sandbank and North Uist when I was 17 and it was like stepping back in time but no less exciting for all that. I particularly remember how cold it was and how short the days were (it was January and the job my uncle found for me and my brother involved working outside) I remember on one occasion, when the tide was high and therefore surrounding the house when my brother and I had to take a small rowing boat, him rowing, me at the front holding a torch, in order to get to work! A crossing that should have taken ten minutes took as three times as long because we were hopeless rowers. Happy days!

  2. Ooo – what a great blog. Looking forward to reading the book! There was a house we once lived in when we first moved to the town (I was a navy brat) where my father was posted…pink, on a clifftop overlooking a huge inlet. Absolutely gorgeous. Deer used to come and graze in the orchard and…I suppose because I was little….it retains an absolutely magical status in my head. If I win the lottery? I’m getting that house!!!

    1. Me too, Annie. But if you’re not able to buy it, what about setting a book there? Next best thing? I don’t know about you, but houses often make me want to write a story around them. Like my next book (still in production) which involves a house – the only one on an island – two elderly ladies and a secret!

  3. Hey Emma – love the look of the book! Is that pic of the real Sandbank?
    We’re looking at staying on Uist for a week in December in a few years time to celebrate my 50th. Hoping to see the Northern Lights!

    1. Hi Amy, Yes it is the real Sandbank! There weren’t as many trees around it when I was young and it’s had a fair bit of re-modelling inside, but it’s essentially the same house. I can’t believe you’re going to Uist! Take some warm and water proof clothes and let me know nearer the time and I’ll give you some hints on what to do and where to go. x ps My uncle’s widow is planning to do up the outhouse and potentially put it on airbnb. Possibly in time for your trip. Trust me, you won’t find a more wonderful and atmospheric place to stay on the island!

  4. I always think of my hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin as my favorite place. I lived there the first 31 years of my life, moving to Florida in 1987. When I lived in Wisconsin the city was about 60,000 people, but still small enough that you could drive from one end to the opposite in 15 minutes. I had that magical childhood of yesteryear where from the age of 10 on we were allowed to ride our bikes or take the bus all over town. It was a very safe and family centered town with many beautiful parks on the shores of Lake Michigan. The main industries were automotive or related. Cars, firetrucks, brass fittings, tools and one large clothing company were made and shipped out via car carrier, train or ship from the harbor. Unemployment was pretty non-existent. We had excellent public schools with wonderful arts programs. There were some ethnic areas centered around the Italian, German and Slovak immigrants, and oh, the food and church festivals in those areas! Sadly, in the late 80’s the car factory closed, the firetrucks were no longer made, the harbor was closed to large shipping and the economy tanked. We were lucky to have moved to Florida a year before the major closings. My elderly relatives passed away, and we really had no reason to visit after 2006, when we had my mom’s funeral there and settled the estate of my great aunt.Selling her 100 year old home that my great grandfather built from a kit with help from his friends was so sad. I loved that house and all the antiques furniture in it, but the neighborhood had turned unsavory and I just coudn’t take a lot of things back to Florida. I was amazed at the changes, factories torn down and their large lots left unused because of fear of toxic chemicals, the neighborhood where I spent the first 8 years of my life was now basically a slum, store boarded up, even the 200 bed hospital where my kids were born and I worked the first 10 years of my nursing career had been sold and torn down to make way for apartments for the elderly. I j guess I just long for the good old days. I may get back there in September for my high school reunion and get to see my old haunts once again. It’s bittersweet.

    1. I can relate to that, Laurie. Although I still love going back to Uist, a lot of what I’d call the community spirit is no longer as evident. When I was a child, people from all over gathered together to help with the peats or the hay, after which they would sit down together for a meal and a ceilidh. No one ever passed a house without stopping in for a visit and a strupak ( cup of tea and a bite to eat) now, because of the roads and the fact that everyone drives, these impromptu visits happen less often. Also now that everyone has TV, they spend less time visiting and having ceilidhs – it was these aspects of the islands that I loved most. The scenery is still beautiful and people do still gather – although more often in a community hall for a dance rather than in each other’s homes. I think the thing I miss most when I go back are the people who have passed on – many of whom were real characters – taking with them a way of life we are unlikely to see again.

  5. H Emma

    WOW what a great post and this books sounds like a beauty 🙂

    I have very fond memories of family and fun had when we visited my grandparents hobby-farm as a child and adult so many memories 🙂

    Have Fun
    Helen

    1. Hi Helen
      Thanks for stopping by… Interesting how those childhood memories stick, isn’t it? I do wonder if our children are missing out – I wonder what their best memories will be? Will they include playing on farms and crofts and mixing with all generations?

  6. Sounds like another fabulous read, Emma. I’m looking forward to the excerpt and then the book!
    My special place is Aldinga Beach, south of Adelaide, where we spent most of our summers (and still do). My husband, coincidentally, also spent his summers there (he swears we met at mutual friends when we were about 16 but I don’t remember 🙂 ) but it means we still holiday there as it is special for both of us.

  7. Thanks Lynne – so long since we’ve caught up. Must put that right. This book is kind of special to me as it contains so many personal memories and I wanted to do the Islands and islanders justice. I hope I’ve captured a bit of social history as well as writing a great love story.

      1. Hi again Lynne, All my books are currently available as ebooks or via book depository and I understand The Shipbuilder’s Daughter will be available in paperback via Amazon in October this year. x

  8. What lovely memories of Uist, Emma! One of my special places is in Sussex – I’d been helping my Mum with our family tree and we’d traced some of our family back to Sussex. I took a day-trip to a little village, looking for the church they’d attended, wondering if I might find some clue of their having been there.

    When I got there, a couple of ladies chatting in a front garden pointed me in the right direction, telling me that the church was less than a mile’s walk. Naturally I got myself lost, but after more than an hour of walking around in circles in the hot sun I found the church, set on a secluded hillside. Looking amongst the scattering of gravestones around it, I found the plot where my 3 x greats grandfather was buried, along with his family. Perhaps because I’d walked so far, or because I was entirely alone, it seemed as if somehow I’d walked back in time.

    It was a beautiful day, and I sat for a long time on that quiet hillside, with a bottle of warm water and some half-melted chocolate from the bottom of my bag. When I finally left, I remember feeling entirely at peace.

    When I took my mother back there, it didn’t seem quite the same – perhaps because this time we came by car and my Mum’s map-reading skills were a lot better than mine are 🙂 But the church was unlocked this time, and we were able to leave a note in the visitors book. This time, seeing how happy my Mum was to be there, was very special. I’m not sure I’ll go back – maybe these two memories should be left as they are 🙂

    I’m looking forward to ‘The Shipbuilder’s Daughter’ – I loved ‘We Shall Remember’ and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet!

    1. Hi Annie

      What a lovely story and so beautifully described! There is something about graveyards that has always appealed to me and as for churches – you can just feel a sense of people who worshipped there. And I’m with you on sometimes not going back – especially when a memory is perfect.

      ps Thanks for saying what you did about We Shall Remember. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it. x

  9. Oh, what a wonderful time and place you had, Emma. So few children have those kind of wonderful memories. My grandparent had all 7 of their grandchildren for one week in the summer. It was much like your experience. Those were great times for me.

    1. Hi Susan

      I can only imagine how much fun you all had and how special it must have been for your grandparents. I hope when I eventually have grandchildren, that I’ll be able to create some wonderful memories for them too. Sometimes I worry whether kids these days know what it’s like to have the freedom to run wild!

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