These are all available on Amazon Kindle – print versions are also available on Amazon, and in indie bookshops around the UK. Although I have published the books as a trilogy, they don’t have to be read in any particular order, and each can stand alone. The stories are linked –
- by geography: the croft house called Kingdom, lying a mile outside Balvaig village, home of the MacKenzie family, built with a view to utility rather than aesthetics or comfort, has been home to all the main female characters in the books, for a greater or lesser time
- by themes: each of the four women’s life-stories (Containment has two narrators) has been shaped by the beliefs she took on board as a child – as often as not as a result of her parents’ religious views and prejudices.
- by the seventh dimension: the Celtic temperament has, since time immemorial, been imbued by a belief in and respect for the supernatural; a ghost story forms an underlying link, particularly between White Cranes Dancing and The Swan Widow.
Where is Balvaig?
The islands of the Inner Hebrides – that double-stranded jewelled necklace prodigally flung down on Scotland’s western seaboard – are magical places, spiritual and timeless. Soma lies close to Coll and Tiree, and Balvaig is the second largest settlement, just over seven miles from the island’s capital, Portmore, which is also the ferry terminal.
Balvaig Bay lies at the head of Loch Olla, a sea loch which opens into the Minch at the rocky headland of Red Point on the southern side and the lower promontory of Scarisdale on the north. Since the 1980s, the island has seen the development of salmon farming, and there’s a farm in Loch Olla, several others elsewhere around the island, and a salmon processing factory in Portmore.
The other mainstay of the 21st century island economy is wildlife tourism, as the waters surrounding it are home to seals, dolphins, porpoises, minke whales and basking sharks, while otters can be seen along the shoreline and sea eagles in the skies overhead. The cliffs at Red Point are famous for their huge colonies of seabirds.
Large chunks of Soma are still owned by ‘sporting estates’, though the once-prolific sea trout and salmon fisheries have dwindled to almost nothing.
In common with the rest of Scotland’s West Highlands, the island has seen many changes over the past fifty years. There are fewer than fifty native Gaelic speakers left, and the population is an ageing one. Immigration of retirees (many from outside Scotland), good-lifers, artists and craftspeople has resulted in a social and cultural mix undreamt of by the island’s traditional inhabitants.
The books in the trilogy centre on the lives of four women – two who were born in Balvaig, two who were not – who have lived, for periods ranging from a few weeks to most of their lives, in the croft house called Kingdom, which lies a mile from the main village, on its own tiny bay, sheltered by the islet called Eilean Olla.
Each in her own way discovers that although island life can be a safe cocoon, protecting one from the rest of the world, an island upbringing (moreso, possibly, in the generations up to the 1970s) can also be restrictive and restricting. Their experiences while living in Balvaig are life-changing and cathartic. Since there’s no light without darkness, not all the experiences are happy ones.
By the end of the period covered by the three books (2014!), all four women have left Balvaig and will never return – even Peigi MacKenzie, who was born in Kingdom and has spent much of her life there.
But then, that’s been the experience of so many of Scotland’s islands, indeed her entire west coast. The young folk leave and don’t return, and many of the incomers are just passing through.
Balvaig endures. The standing stones on the moor behind the village keep watch as they have done for five thousand years, unchanging through the seasons. Wild swans still visit the bay below Kingdom in the summer. The three Beinns hide their heads many days of the year, in mist or in snow. Ollasdale’s waterfall still thunders down its gorge, its waters the colour of smoly topaz.. The sea over Soma’s white shell-sand beaches is still as brilliant as any Caribbean scene on a sunny day. The machair still explodes into a tapestry of blue and white and yellow and pink and purple in June. The tiny, fragile blue butterflies still arrive to kiss the flowers.
Soma wakes and sleeps as it always has, oblivious to the humans passing by on its peaty soil.