Talking Location with author Abi Curtis – Istanbul
Talking Location with… author Adrian Harvey (“sometimes writing can lead you astray”)
30th March 2017
#Talkinglocationwith … author Adrian Harvey … taking us on a tour of Scotland – Canna (Hebrides) and Glasgow – featured in his latest novel The Cursing Stone. We first met him when we reviewed his engaging novel “Being Someone” (set in Mysore and London). Over to Adrian…
I actually wanted to write a book about London. More specifically, a book that would allow me to rediscover London, to walk the city’s streets as if for the first time, to feel the wonder that I felt too many years ago. But despite my best intentions, The Cursing Stone ended up being as much about a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland as it did about the city. Sometimes writing can lead you astray.
I had wanted to find a protagonist with an utterly untainted eye, a blank sheet onto whom I could write a love letter to London. I didn’t want him to be ‘exotic’, so he had to come from a remote corner of the UK; a Scottish island is about as remote as it gets around here. I settled on a blob of green on the map, and then Canna’s myths came tumbling out. Here was a real place that blurred into a mythic place: an island called Hinba that was lost in history. So I went ‘on location’, making notes as I went, conscious of how I was going to use the material, assigning buildings to be the homes or businesses of characters, and taking photos of details to remind me of the little things that would bring my imagined island to life.
I took the Sleeper to Fort William, and from there the train to Mallaig. You can only really get to Canna through the small port town of Mallaig, and in the novel the town acts as a physical and metaphorical gateway between the charmed realm of Hinba and the outside world. I spent a night in the Steam Inn, a friendly stone pub above the harbour, and took the morning ferry across to Canna.
Unlike my Hinba, there’s no pub on Canna; no school either, and the post office is a garden shed. I overlaid a place that might have been onto a place that is: a parallel universe, an augmented reality. But believe me, when you wander across the moorland of the real island, it feels pretty magical. It’s only 5 miles long, but the island has at least 3 significant archaeological sites, and plenty of other bits of rock to keep you occupied, including the cliffs where puffins and eagles nest. I walked for the whole day and saw no-one from the time I left the harbour to when I returned.
The next day, I took the train south to Glasgow. It’s a beautiful line down to Fort William, with the elegant curve of Glenfinnan Viaduct a particular highlight. But after you have left the town behind, things get really interesting. Rannoch Moor is massive and overwhelming, a mass of peat bog, streams and frankly desolate beauty. Everything appears to be made of water, or held together by water. I’ve walked on the Moor before, and it’s an amazing place. But if you don’t fancy muddy boots and the prospect of getting very, very lost, then the train line from Glasgow to Fort William cuts straight through the heart of Rannoch along one of the most stunning stretches of track in the UK.
It takes a long time to reach Glasgow from Mallaig, four or five hours by train, but eventually the journey ended and I emerged from Queen Street station, the drizzle clinging to the grand stones of George Square. Glasgow is a fabulous city, which I’ve visited far too infrequently. But it was only this time that I made it to the centre of the old city, well away from the shops of Sauchiehall Street, where the Necropolis, an amazing hilltop burial ground, rises above the cathedral. If you like grand Victorian cemeteries, this is one of the best: streets of tombs and views out across the city and off over the Clyde.
I spent the evening before my return to London with an archaeologist friend, a daughter of the islands and a Glasgow resident. We chatted about cursing stones and St Columba before the beer took over and we ended up bar hopping our way through the Merchant City, ending up at the Babbity Bowser [http://babbitybowster.com/] long after most people had left for their beds.
Thank you so much to Adrian for taking us to some amazing parts of Scotland.
You can catch up with Adrian on Twitter and of course buy his novel here – if you buy through TF (Amazon) we get a tiny percentage of the price (at no cost to you) and all funds help build the Tripfiction site into a valuable resource for both actual and armchair travellers.