Yvonne Marjot is the author of The Calgary Chessman, an archaeological mystery published by Crooked Cat. It tells the story of Cas Longmore and the discovery she makes at Calgary Bay, on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. Its sequel, The Book of Lismore, will be published in 2015.
These days I live in Tobermory, the largest town on the Isle of Mull, with around 800 souls, but when I first moved to Mull I lived in an isolated house near the village of Dervaig, in a situation not too different from that of Cas, the main character in The Calgary Chessman. So today I’m going to tell you about island life, as it was for me back then.
The island is very beautiful. It’s not as famous as Skye, holy as Iona, or striking as Jura, and we can’t compete with Islay because we only have one whisky distillery. But in many ways, Mull is a microcosm of the all the islands of the Inner Hebrides, with high mountains and broad upland moors, pretty beaches and rocky outlooks, tiny island outliers, and everywhere the untamed wildness of the sea. The place where I lived was very beautiful – a single-storey house on the edge of a babbling brook, with views towards the loch and forested hills behind. I was delighted, the first time that I did the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, to be able to list grey heron and buzzard as birds that came to my garden.
Being an island, Mull’s weather is pretty equable, although it can be wetter than the mainland. However, the day we arrived, on a grim November afternoon, the sky was spitting lumps of sleet and you could hardly see a hand in front of your face. Within a month of moving in, a massive Atlantic low coincided with the full moon and we found ourselves cut off from the village by flooding across the road. Our pretty stream had turned to a raging torrent (the classic Scottish ‘spate’ river) and within hours burst its banks. It came within two centimetres of flooding the house. The next day we woke to find the waters had receded, like a drunk’s nightmare, leaving only the hangover of debris and a ruined garden behind.
I made some good friends in and around Dervaig, but I didn’t see them every day. One woman warned me, ‘you have to like your own company if you want to survive the winters here.’ I soon found out what she meant. Each morning my husband would head off in the car, leaving me at home with a toddler and a baby. The road past our front gate wasn’t busy, by mainland standards, but there was no footpath and the verges were boggy and dangerous. There was a single bus service, into Tobermory in the morning and back late in the afternoon, too long a day to spend in town with very young children. I soon found myself becoming more and more isolated.
On the rare occasions when I had transport, I would bundle the boys into their waterproofs, whatever the weather, and headed for my favourite place: the curve of white sand and turquoise water that is Calgary Bay. Calgary is a lovely place –green hummocks of machair edging a white shell-sand beach shelving gently into a broad, sheltered bay with views out to the west. In calm weather it looks like a tropical paradise – although dipping a toe into the water at any time of year will soon put you right. I’ve swum there, but you have to be hardy to take that first plunge! In the full force of a winter storm, it’s wild and crazy and wonderful. Best of all, two small boys who have been shut up at home for too long can run, and jump and shout to their hearts’ content.
I would huddle in the shelter of the machair, sipping coffee or soup from a flask, or rubbing my hands over a tiny campfire, while the boys raced the length of the beach and back again, yelling at me, the sky, each other, or rushing up to show me what they’d found. Machair is a unique product of the west coast of Scotland – a thin layer of grass, herbs and flowers holding together the surface of dunes and levels made up of wind-blown shell sand. It’s both lovely and fragile, and wonderful examples of it may be found on the outer islands, but Calgary Bay is a small and precious example. The wind and high spring tides undercut its edges, gradually nibbling away at it. I worried that I’d found this beautiful place only to watch it disappear before my eyes.
A few months after moving in, I watched a TV program about the British Museum’s greatest treasures. That night I had a nightmare that I was running along the sand at Calgary Bay, pursued by something faceless. I looked down and saw an object lying at my feet. It was one of the Lewis Chessman, featured on the program the night before. That dream gave me the germ of an idea, which eventually became The Calgary Chessman.
If you like the sound of The Calgary Chessman, you can read a sample of the book here:
The Book of Lismore, published July 2015, will tell you more about the town of Tobermory, on the north-eastern tip of Mull – and about another beautiful Hebridean island, the Isle of Lismore.
You can follow the progress of these books, and my poetry writing, on facebook by joining The Calgary Chessman group (https://www.facebook.com/TheCalgaryChessman)or liking The Calgary Chessman page, on twitter @Alayanabeth; or follow my blog, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, at http://yvonnemarjot.wordpress.com .
Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Her archaeological romances The Calgary Chessman and The Book of Lismore are published by Crooked Cat Publishing.
She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it’s the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.