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Talking Location With author Moira Forsyth – London and the Scottish Highlands

18th July 2017

#TalkingLocationWith… author Moira Forsyth, London and the Scottish Highlands, the settings for A Message from the Other Side.

There are two contrasting locations in the novel – London and the Highlands of Scotland. This is because sisters Helen and Catherine are living miles apart, one near Highgate, the other in East Ross-shire, and their communication, limited to phone calls and occasional visits, is far from perfect. There are too many things they don’t tell each other. Helen is miserable in London, but clings to it as the place she feels safest, and where she’s most likely to see Joe, the man she loves and who has caused her so much trouble.

Ben Wyvis, Ross-shire

In the Highlands, Catherine goes hill walking for the first time, and learns to create a garden. She would like to climb Ben Wyvis, the hill that overlooks the area she lives in. That was one of the first Munros I climbed myself, and though I’ve been up many times since, I never tire of it.

Author near the summit of Ben Wyvis

In all my novels, houses are integral to the story – sometimes these are based on real houses and gardens, sometimes invented, but they all have real locations. Hugh’s beautiful stone house, that Helen was once so reluctant to leave, is in Evanton, a pretty rural village about twenty miles north of Inverness. Catherine loves it, and especially loves his garden, which is an imagined garden based on my grandmother’s but that disappeared long ago. However, the daffodils under the trees in Spring are my own!

London and the Scottish Highlands

Daffodils – spring garden, author’s own

Kenneth’s new house, his ‘present to himself’ after his divorce, is in Strathpeffer, a Victorian spa village which is mostly made up of large Victorian and Edwardian villas, but on the hill above it have been built architect designed modern houses, which have wonderful views over to the hills on the other side.

When Helen wanders disconsolately round Highgate Cemetery, I’m remembering a walk I made there with my daughter when she still lived in London. She was recovering from surgery, and we were going slowly, taking our time. The fox Helen glimpses amongst untidy unknown graves is the one we saw, slipping across the path. We were happy to be together, and we certainly didn’t have Helen’s troubles, but the atmosphere of the place has stayed with me since then.

Highgate Cemetery

Although I always ‘see’ very clearly the settings in every novel I write, that doesn’t stop me making fairly free with geography. This novel actually began with a dream about a huge furniture and books saleroom, perhaps based to some extent on the old Dingwall Sale Rooms, long replaced by new premises. In my dream, though, it was the old Spirella Factory[6], which is not in the Highlands at all, but was built in Letchworth, one of the original garden cities.

Spirella Factory, 1935

When I first saw it many years ago, I was living nearby in Hitchin, and it was derelict, though I believe it has since been turned into luxury apartments. I removed it to East Ross-shire, and made use of it for The Factory, Gilbert’s impossible second-hand business, which is central to the plot, and to both sisters’ lives, though they don’t realise it till almost the end of the novel.

Thank you to Moira for sharing her research of locale. You can follow her on Twitter and via her blog and of course you can buy her novel through our website

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