Talks & Book Signings Summer 2016

Nairn Bookshop, Friday 17th June 2016 at 7-8.30 pm.

I’ll be talking about my writing life and my books, non-fiction and novels.

Books will be available for sale on the night and I’ll be delighted to sign them. Free entry and refreshments will be served.

Nairn Bookshop 01667 455528

NTS Visitor Centre, Culloden Moor, Saturday 2nd July 2016 from 1-2 pm, doors open at 12.45.

Staying True to the Past: Weaving Fiction from Fact

This talk is part of a series looking at how Culloden and the ’45 have inspired so many writers to tell stories around the events of 1745-46. As someone who has written both fact and fiction on the subject, I’ll also be looking at how one genre can inspire the other.

Booking is advised: NTS Culloden /01463 796090

Waterstones, George Street, Oban, Saturday 9th July at 2 pm.

I’ll be signing books and chatting informally in the lovely West Highland seaside town and ferry port of Oban, which has breath-taking views out over beautiful Oban Bay.

Further information from Waterstones in Oban on 01631 571455

Waterstones, Eastgate Centre, Inverness, Saturday 13th August at 2 pm.

Another book signing, this time in the fair city of Inverness.

Further information from Waterstones in Inverness on 01463 233500

And I think these will keep me busy for the next wee while. 




Neil Munro and the Language of the Garden of Eden

Neil Munro

Neil Munro was a Scottish writer who lived from 1863 to 1930. A busy journalist, newspaper editor, loving father and husband, he wrote a clutch of highly-enjoyable and highly-regarded historical novels, which include The New Road, John Splendid and Doom Castle.

He’s remembered by many Scots for his humorous Para Handy stories where the crew of a Clyde puffer, The Vital Spark, fall into



a  series of adventures while shipping supplies to the islands and coastal communities of the Firth of Clyde and the West Highlands of Scotland. Two very popular TV series were made.

Munro came from the West Highlands. He was born in Inveraray and his first language was Gaelic. Although he wrote in English, it’s underpinned by what many Gaels refer to as the language of the Garden of Eden. The combination makes for a lyrical result, especially in Munro’s collection of short stories, The Lost Pibroch. 

Pibroch is a style of Highland bagpipe playing, very hard to master.

Here are a few enchanting examples of Neil Munro’s writing, the first from the story that gives the collection its title:

“To the make of a piper go seven years of his own learning and seven generations before. If it is in, it will out, as the Gaelic old-word says; if not, let him take to the net or sword. At the end of his seven years one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, and leaning a fond ear to the drone, he may have parley with old folks of old affairs.”

From the story of The Fell Sergeant:

“It is ill enough to have to die in Glenaora at any season, but to get the word for travelling from it on yon trip in the spring of the year is hard indeed. The gug-gug will halloo in your ears to bid you bide a wee and see the red of the heather creep on Tom-an-dearc; the soft and sap-scented winds will come in at the open door, and you will mind, maybe, of a day long-off and lost when you pulled the copper leaves of the bursting oak and tossed them among a girl’s hair.”

From the story entitled War, describing how the Campbells of Inverary went off to fight against the Jacobites at Culloden:

“On the belts of the older men, loth to leave the fire-end, mothers and wives were hanging bags with thick farls of cake, and cheese, and the old Aora salve for sword cuts.”

From the same story, with the added poetry of place names:

“Far up the long Highlands the Campbells were on their way. Loch Sloy and Glen Falloch, Rannoch’s bleakness and Ben Alder’s steepness, and each morning its own wet grass and misty brae, and each night its dreams on the springy heather.”

And I was inspired to write this post courtesy of Bookshelf Fantasies Thursday Quotables. It’s good to share words that we love!






Remembering The Jacobites of 1715

The Jacobite Rising of 1715 had its formal start on 6th September 1715 when the Earl of Mar raised the standard at Braemar. Prior to the rising of 1745, this was the most significant attempt to win the British throne back from the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart.

Three hundred years later, on 6th September 2015, some of us foregathered at the NTS Visitor Centre at Culloden to remember the Jacobites of 1715. It was a bright, breezy and gloriously sunny day.

A temporary exhibition was unveiled by Katey Boal, Learning Manager with the National Trust for Scotland at Culloden.

This is a joint project between NTS Culloden and The Fifteen (The Northumbrian Jacobite Society), initiated with great enthusiasm by NTS Property Manager Andrew McKenzie and John Nicholls, MBE, Chairman of The Fifteen (The Northumbrian Jacobite Society). John is glimpsed here to the left of the handsome display boards.


The Jacobites of 1715 don’t have nearly as high a profile as their counterparts in 1745 but they’re just as interesting and many of their stories are equally poignant.

Take James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, executed for treason on Tower Hill in London early in 1716 at the age of 26. From his point of view there was no treason. He was loyal both to his Catholic faith and to the man he saw as his rightful king, James VIII and III, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father.


A beautiful old lament remembers Derwentwater and his commitment to the cause of the House of Stuart. Listen here to The Corries’ version, with the late and sorely missed Roy Williamson accompanying himself on the hauntingly-beautiful Northumbrian smallpipes.


John Nicholls (seen here more clearly with his wife Elizabeth), is passionate about remembering the Jacobites of 1715, especially those who came from the North of England. At Culloden in September 2015, he read out the names of many of the men who took part and the places they came from. It was a very moving moment. One of those men was George Collingwood, who is mentioned in Derwentwater’s Farewell.


John also laid a beautiful wreath and, preceded by a piper, led a group out to the entrance to the visitor centre, where a replica of the Jacobite standard of 1715 was raised.


As John says: “Apart from its being a once-in-a-lifetime anniversary that should not go unnoticed, we felt also that it would add to the visitor experience at Culloden by giving them some indication that there wasn’t only just the ’45 and that this was the culmination of several previous plots and risings, of which the ’15 had the best chance of success.”


Find out more about the Jacobite Rising of 1715 and The Northumbrian Jacobite Society, who also have a Facebook page.




A Passion for Jacobites



A Passion for Jacobites

I was 10 or 11 when my father first took me to Culloden. Just east of Inverness, this is the site of the last battle fought on British soil, where Redcoats under the command of the Duke of Cumberland defeated the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie. On Wednesday 16th April 1746, the Stuart dream of wresting the British crown and throne back from the House of Hanover died here.

I was around the same age when my Uncle Alex put DK Broster’s The Flight of the Heron into my eager hands – and that was it. My fate was sealed. The Jacobites of 1745 became my lifelong passion. I’ve read this story of the unlikely friendship between a Redcoat officer and a Highland chieftain more times than I can remember. It’s my Fahrenheit 451 book, the one I would save from the flames.

Back in the 1960s, the road to Inverness still ran through the battlefield. It’s since been covered over. Later, I was to discover from my researches that battles were often fought near roads. It made it easier to run the canons into position. We stopped in a layby near the cairn which commemorates the battle, got out and read the inscription.

The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16th April 1746. The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.


My father pointed out the grave markers, modest little stones carved with those names: Mackintosh, MacGillivray, Cameron, Stewart, Fraser and the rest. He told me about the merciless massacre of defeated and wounded Highlanders by the Redcoats and how this earned the Hanoverian king’s son the nickname of Butcher Cumberland. He told me of the terrible harrying of the glens in the aftermath of Culloden, how men, women and children suffered at the hands of the Redcoats thoughout the bloody summer of 1746.

I’ve learnt a lot more since of the complexities that swirl around the Jacobite Rising of 1745. History is never simple. Take the cairn at Culloden. It was raised by a descendant of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, a man who was an implacable opponent of Bonnie Prince Charlie but who pleaded for humane treatment of the Jacobites after the battle. I’ve written more about him here:

Duncan Forbes of Culloden