The author discusses her debut novel Hame – a kaleidoscope of letters, journal entries, poems and fiction brought together to give a picture of 'home' – and shares 10 essential Scottish words
Tell us about your new novel, Hame
The two main characters are a renowned and irascible Scots poet, Grigor McWatt, and the young American curator, Mhairi McPhail, who travels from New York to the Scottish island of Fascaray to set up a museum to honour him after his death. The third key character is the island itself, whose history and preoccupations reflect the larger story of Scotland.
Did any real life Scottish islands inspire Fascaray, the island in Hame?
As well as many real-life island stories and settings (among them, the tidal islands of Oronsay and Colonsay; the community buy-out on Eigg; plans for a windfarm offshore of Tiree; archaeological finds on Skye; the campaign against the superquarry on Harris) I drew on some mainland Scotland history (the late Lord Brocket, Nazi-supporting Laird of Knoydart; the transformation of a Moray fishing village into the ‘New Age Vatican’ of Findhorn; the campaign against a golf resort on a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Aberdeenshire (since I began writing the novel, the golf resort owner has become President of the United States).
Thrawn adj. - perversely stubborn
The character of Grigor McWatt, the poet in Hame, and his writing and poetry you have created are all extraordinary. Were you inspired by any other writers to create this fictional world, the books within a book?
Not really. I admire the intricate playfulness of Borges, particularly Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, about a Frenchman trying to recreate Cervantes’ masterpiece, and Nabokov’s Pale Fire, ostensibly a poem in four cantos by a fictional poet, with comments and cross references by his editor. But it would be self-aggrandising to claim them as influences.
Who were the Rose Street poets?
They were members of an informal writers’ group which met in the pubs of Edinburgh’s Rose Street in the 1950s and 1960s. Hugh MacDiarmid, the fiery nationalist poet, was their unofficial leader and other members of the circle included Norman MacCaig, George Mackay Brown, Sydney Goodsir Smith and Robert Garioch (as well as my fictional poet Grigor McWatt). They have since been recognised as key figures in the twentieth-century Scottish literary renaissance, kindling a cultural confidence that inspired the revitalised independence movement.
Ten Scots words you need to add to your vocabulary
Bampot – idiot
Cludgie – lavatory
Dreich – wet, as in weather
Glaikit – foolish
Hochmagandy – sexual congress
Nyaff – an insignificant wretch
Peelie-wallie – pale, sickly looking
Plook – pimple
Scunner – sicken
Thrawn – perversely stubborn
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.