Read an extract from Annalena McAfee's kaleidoscopic novel, Hame - where journal entries, poetry and letters combine to explore the ideas of identity, love and home
Ah maun gang doon tae the sea agane, tae the lanely sea and the sky,
An aw Ah speir is a heich boat an a starn tae gae her by,
An the whurl’s fung and the wind’s sang and the white sail’s shooglin,
An a grey haar on the sea’s face, and a grey dawk brakkin.
Ah maun gang doon tae the sea agane, for the caw o the rinnin tide
Is a gurly caw an a vieve caw that wullna be denied;
An aw Ah speir is a blashie day wi the white cluds fleetin,
An the skoosht spairge an the dirlt spume an the pewlie’s greetin.
Ah maun gang doon tae the sea agane, tae the gangrel tinkie’s crib,
Tae the pewlie’s wey an the whaul’s wey, whaur the wind’s like a snellit chib;
An aw Ah speir is a scurrivaig wi a lauchin cantie yairn,
An saucht dowre an a douce dwaum whaun the pliskie’s neath a cairn.
Grigor McWatt, efter John Masefield, 1944*
19 August 2014
My own first view of the island is unpromising. I barely glimpse Fascaray during the rough crossing from the mainland port of Auchwinnie. ‘Look!’ I say with sham cheerfulness, pointing through the rain-streaked porthole at a distant grey strip of what I take to be terra firma tipping crazily on the churning sea. ‘Land ahoy!’
My nine-year-old daughter, Agnes, a valiant traveller who’s never been carsick, chooses this moment to reveal she’s a poor sailor in a swell. We huddle in the cabin of the ferry and I stroke her hair as she throws up in a paper packet provided by the skipper, our pose a parody of an art-history cliché – Madonna and Child in Wet Anoraks with Sick Bag.
For this we’ve left New York shimmering in the heat under a cloudless sky.
It’s still raining heavily when the boat finally pulls into Finnverinnity Harbour and we join the queue of passengers waiting to disembark. A sudden hot panic grips me as I realise I’ve lost sight of our luggage. It’s not in the corner of the deck where I had carefully placed it, half hidden under a tarpaulin sheet with other cases and backpacks, next to a sack of post, bags of grain, boxes of groceries and containers of engine oil. Now it’s my turn to feel sick. I knew I should have kept it with us. There was no space to stow it near our wooden bench in the cabin when we boarded. But we could have held on to some of it, instead of following the other passengers’ leads and piling our bags at the back of the boat. Our luggage has gone. Vanished.
You want to trash your life? Here – try this.
This is serious. It’s not just all our carefully chosen possessions (the pre-packing selection and editing process was especially painful for Agnes) but my laptop, edited printouts of draft chapters of my new book – not all of them emailed or copied to the memory stick in my purse – copies of the precious letters, photos, documents, and 70,000 words of The Fascaray Compendium notebooks, typed up by me over two months, printed out and marked up with my own irretrievable pencilled annotations.
I can almost hear Marco’s voice from 2,600 miles away rising above the clamour on the boat. ‘Why the hell didn’t you just use Track Changes? Then at least you’d have all your work on a memory stick?’ ‘Because,’ I mutter to myself, a stereotypical screwball American lady, ‘I like working with pencil and paper, goddammit!’ Agnes, recently prone to embarrassment over her parents’ behaviour in public, doesn’t seem to have heard me, nor have my fellow passengers who, until now, appeared to be benign young families, wisecracking construction workers, a bunch of teenagers recovering from a heavy night on the mainland and hikers in primary-coloured waterproofs frowning at the view.
Suddenly they’re all recast as villains. The disappearance of our luggage feels a greater crime than mere theft; it’s an existential assault, a vengeful god’s payback for my wilful obliteration of our life in New York. You want to trash your life? Here – try this.
*From Kenspeckelt, Virr Press, 1959. Reprinted in Warld in a Gless: The Collected Varse of Grigor McWatt, Smeddum Beuks, 1992.
Find out more about the author
Hame, n. Scottish form of ‘home’: a valued place regarded as a refuge or place of origin
In the wake of the breakdown of her relationship, Mhairi McPhail dismantles her life in New York and moves with her 9-year-old daughter, Agnes, to the remote Scottish island of Fascaray. Mhairi has been commissioned to write a biography of the late Bard of Fascaray, Grigor McWatt, a cantankerous poet with an international reputation.
But who was Grigor McWatt? Details of his past – his tough childhood and his war years as a commando – are elusive, and there is evidence of a mysterious love affair which Mhairi is determined to investigate. As she struggles to adapt to her new life, and put her own troubled past behind her, Mhairi begins to unearth the astonishing secret history of the poet regarded by many as the custodian of Fascaray’s – and Scotland’s – soul.
A dazzling, kaleidoscope of a novel, Hame layers extracts from Mhairi’s journal, Grigor’s letters and poems and his evocative writing about the island into a compelling narrative that explores identity, love and the universal quest for home.