Friday, 25 April 2014

The Island's of Loch Lomond

An island map

Oh, ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.

The words of a very famous song, the identity of the author is long lost in the mist of time. As is its meaning.
It might have been written by a soldier, waiting for death at the hands of the enemy.
Or more popular is the version that it was written by a soldier returning north after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops in the 1745 rebellion. Or it could refer to the Celtic belief that if you die away from home, the faeries will take you back via the 'low road', some kind of transport friendly underworld. Or it be that the high road means ‘hanging by the neck until dead’, the low road means ‘by foot’ i.e. the faithful will get home before the traitor.

The banks of Loch Lomond are indeed bonnie. The loch has many islands, about 60 in low water and about 20 at high water. With that lot on a loch 18 miles long and 4 miles wide you’d think I’d find one suitable for my new book.

But alas not, so I invented one.

The islands are dotted with religious buildings, follies, old ruins and castles and in my case, some dead bodies. There are also a fair amount of crannogs (also found in Scandanavia) where ancient types also had difficulty finding an island to suit them so they built some. Probably some ancestor of Ikea.  One upright stake sunk deep into the loch bed, then stones piled round it until it breaks the surface and hey presto - your own island. They were used as homes, status symbols, refuges, hunting and fishing stations. They date back 5000 years, some of them were still in use in the mid 1700s.

                         A member of the Moray Club took this picture, he blinked and the deer was gone.

As well as the famous wallabies, there are white deer that swim the loch looking very ghostly and rather magnificent.

Here’s a run through of the islands - 

Bucinch (island of goats)
Has no goats.   

Used to be owned by the Earl of Lennox. In 1225 he gave it to his clerk ( a Buchanan ) for an annual rent of a pound of wax. The Buchanan’s became a very powerful family from this small start. This island has it’s own wee crannog, Keppinch or The Kitchen.

Ellanderroch (island of Oaks)
Has oaks.  Very big ones, for a small island.  One oak was weakened by a big hollow in the trunk so the locals filled it with concrete. It was then struck by lightning leaving only the concrete. The loch has many squalls and this is the Island the fisherman head for safety.

Fraoch Island (Heather island)
Covered in heather. Only 150 metres long and  12 metres high.  Has little soil to it dries quickly and autumn appears here a month before anywhere else on the loch. A 1792 map shows  the island as a prison. It is also said to have been used as a deposition site for nagging wives.


 Inchcailloch The island of the woman
The woman being St Kentigerna.  This is the most accessible of Loch Lomond’s islands. In the 13th century a church was built in her memory and the Buchanan family used to row across  for their  Sunday worship. The church was abandoned in 1670  but the graveyard was used until  1947.


Inchconnachan (Colquhoun's Island)
Although no real evidence of occupation remains, there are signs of a grain drying kiln and rumours abound of an illicit still closeby. This is the island of the walllabys. Rarely seen but the place is covered in their droppings seemingly. Or are the sightings of Australian wildlife and the production illegal hooch somehow related....


Inchcruin (Round Island)
Inchcruin  has a couple of sandy beaches but is mostly rocky.  At low tide it touches Inchmoan island at a strait called  ‘the geggles’. Previous owners kept a ex-US army truck on the island. Handy as there are no roads.
Inchfad (the Long Island.)
Boasts its own  canal. The canal gave access to a (legal ) distillery on the island. The grass is rich here and is thought to sustain the white deer.

Miniscule. About 25 feet high. Probably an overgrown  crannog.  The surface is covered by the remains of a castle built by the Galbraiths of Glen Fruin.

Inchlonaig (Yew tree Island)
Has Yew Trees! They were planted by Robert The Bruce. His army used up all the previous ones, using the yew for the bows of his archers

Inchmoan (peat island)
Locals used this island as a source of peat obviously. Has some splendid ruins.  Swimming here is relatively safe ( but never warm), but the interior is impassible due to  gorse and rhodedendrons.


Inchmurrin (St Murrin's island)
The largest island,  1½ miles long, 300 ft high. St Mirren, the saint not the football team, is said to have had a chapel here but no remains have ever been found. Inchmurrin was renowned for its whisky until the exciseman got a boat and put a stop to all the fun.


Inchtavannach (Island of Monks)
Monks, not monkeys. ( some people have misheard it)   At Ton-Na-Clag  the monks used to toll their bells to call the faithful to worship.

Isle of Inveruglass
'Island of the Black Stream', the Clan MacFarlane had a nice castle on the east side. Oliver Cromwell destroyed it.

Tarbet Isle (Isle of the Portage)
Tarbert is a Gaelic word  meaning, literally  'to carry over' or 'portage'. Here it refers to boats being dragged over a narrow strip of land. In this case the land lies between the north ends of Loch Long and Loch Lomond where the Viking King Haakon's men dragged their longboats across to get access to Loch Lomond  where they  caused havoc.  Sweet justice was forthcoming  as they lost ten ships in a storm on Loch Fyne, as they sailed to join Haakon’s fleet at the Battle of Largs.

The loch and its islands are in the top ten of the greatest natural wonders in Britain.

English  writer, H.V. Morton wrote:
What a large part of Loch Lomond's beauty is due to its islands, those beautiful green tangled islands, that lie like jewels upon on its surface.

I'm away now to design my own island, with an illegal still, monkeys, duck billed platypuses and ....sunshine

                Caro Ramsay 

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Writing Process Blog Chain

Here is my take on the writing process blog chain that is going around. Next week it will Frank Muir, the witty and wondrous crime writer, known in crime writing circles as Fruitie Frankie due to his contribution to the Killer Cookbook.  is his website. It will be interesting to see what he has to say.
But for the moment, here's my contribution.

1)     What am I working on?
At the moment I am completing the first draft of book six while sorting out some publicity for book five, The Night Hunter which is being published on the 31st of July. While walking the dog book seven is swirling round my head in some kind of confused state but if I leave it long enough it will sort itself out.
2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t think it does, crime writing is very much Ronseal writing – it kinda does what it says on the tin. Although I am definitely moving from being a writer of police procedurals to being a thriller writer. So expect dead bodies, thrills and spills liberally dosed with dark Glaswegian humour.
3)     Why do I write what I do?
 If I didn’t write a book about murdering people I would probably be a murderer. Its very cathartic. That’s why most crime writers are nice people with a good sense of humour we get all our badness out on paper.

4)     How does my writing process work?
 I made the decision early on in my writing career to keep the day job so I don’t really have any time in my writing life to sit and wait for the muse to strike me. I just batter out words! I scribble out a plan on a page of A4 paper then I write 100,000 words then edit that twice. If I have time I will leave it for a while in between so that when the second edit comes I approach it fresh. I also eat a lot of chocolate.

A lot. Here's a picture of Frank to keep you going until next week. No doubt he will keep us in touch with what is happening in the Andy Gilchrist series set in Bonnie St Andrews. Frank spends a lot of his time there - in the pub, researching.... or that it what he tells me!

Caro 14 04 2014

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dancing on the dark side

Imagine opening up your email to the following request;
Would you like to come on the radio and record a ten minute interview, talking about your favourite piece of classical music?
It sounds great but then you get thinking….anything too high brow I'm going to look like a smart Alex. Anything too lowbrow and I will look a numpty.
So I emailed back, Are you ok with something that everybody can hum?
Oh yes, he said, you are a crime writer.
I got the subtext there ( no exclusion on numpties).
                   BBC Scotland. No need for weather forecast, just look out window

Not an easy choice. Ben, the lovely production assistant gave me some advice. ‘Something that means a lot to you, something that you really relate to or is linked with a special event in your life or your career.’

                                                 Inside the BBC

I was still stumped. But after a think I picked the one that made me seem slightly less psychotic than the one I really wanted to choose. O Fortuna is my favourite  but I decided on the  Danse Macabre.
I listen to O Fortuna while walking the  dog  just before I write something a bit ‘stalky’ and ‘gruesome’. What I didn’t realise is that Mondegreens for O Fortuna is some kind of national sport. Just google, YouTube, O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics, strap yourself in to prevent injury as you fall about laughing.  You'll never think about North Korea again without imagining an octopus in boots. (You can see why I felt it best to avoid talking about that piece of music now, I would have been locked up.)

But what fun a crime writer can have with the ‘ dance around death’ that is Saint Saen’s Dance Macabre. It’s very clever with its little question and answer. Are ye dancing? Are ye askin? The fact that it is death who is doing the asking adds a little frisson.

It started off as a tone poem – just a little narrative told in seven minutes. In old folklore at  Halloween Death goes back to the graveyard and asks the dead to rise and dance. (Again on YouTube you can see skeletons doing breakdancing and aerobics to the tune.)   It starts with the harp sounding the 12 chimes of midnight, and ends with the cock crowing the new dawn (oboe). If you listen carefully you can hear the dialogue between death and the dead. I did read somewhere that the violin is tuned slightly differently to give it that discordant sound, it just feels slightly uneasy as it reaches the ear. Somewhere in the middle is a sample of tone of the Gregorian chants from the Requiem Mass.
                                            The Lord Of The Danse

The ‘Danse Macabre’ poem which was written two years before the orchestral piece, was all about liberty and egalitarianism - death being the great leveller - The Grim Reaper will summon representatives from all walks of life to dance, the emperor will dance with the pauper. And the tone of the poem does suggest that there is a ‘desire for amusement’ while amusement is still possible.

“Emperor, your sword won't help you out
Sceptre and crown are worthless here
I've taken you by the hand
For you must come to my dance
Whether rich or poor, all are equal in death."

The English translation of the poem  by Henri Cazalis  says
‘Striking a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
You can hear the cracking of the bones of the dancers.
A lustful couple sits on the moss
So as to taste long lost delights.
A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked.
Her partner grasps her amorously.
The lady, it's said, is a marchioness or baroness
And her green gallant, a poor cartwright.
Horror! Look how she gives herself to him,
Like the rustic was a baron.

That’s sounds my kind of party.

                                                        Yu Na Kim

When the Danse Macabre was first premiered it was not received with overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews. The audience found it rather disturbing. But since then it has grown in popularity,  Anna Pavlova danced to it, the world record score in ice skating womens short programme was to it,  it has anchored Sherlock Holmes and  Jonathan Creek.  It was used in Hedda Gabler and The Turn Of The Screw.  It is the great non verbal clue that Something Bad Is About To Happen.

The best versions I think must be by the full orchestra. I’m  not too keen on the grand piano duet version, too clean, too clinical,  while I admire the technical skill- there seems little humour in those versions.

                                                       Henri Cazalis

There is a young Dutch organist called Gerd Van Hoef, he looks about 12 but I think he is 20? He plays it on the local organ and what a noise he makes! It’s fabulous! For a clumsy dude like me, to see his feet and hands fly over those keyboards producing that noise, nodding at his pals to pull out or push in the stops at the right time... it takes me back to Esmerelda and the bells the bells….

                                           Gerd- pulling out all the stops.

Which brings me neatly onto the subject of synaesthesia.  I am a synaesthesetic ( I think most writers will be) and I was surprised when I saw a TV programme that pointed out it wasn’t normal, ( that’s normal in the scientific sense).  But all it means is that stimulation to certain parts of the brain lead to excess stimulation or association with other parts of the brain. Even as I write this I’m thinking, Isn’t everybody synaesthetic in some way? Why do some musical chords make us (universally)  feel fearful.  Is it  A flat minor that is the most sinister chord? No  jokes about pianos going down  coal shafts….

                                               Singing the rainbow...

All music has a colour, surely?   Most music has a vision that goes along with it?  Surely that’s why folk close their eyes to listen – are they not all watching the accompanying film that is playing on the back of their eyelids. …
Or is it just me….

Caro Da