Tuesday 9 August 2016

Sanday - A Very Special Island


Two books ago, I was invited to take part in Orkney and Shetland’s libraries’ 24 islands in 24 hours event. Anne Cleeves, fellow crime writer and author of the Shetland series, together with Stewart Bain (Librarian of the year 2016) were to the fore in the organisation of this ambitious project.

I visited three islands with Paths of the Dead, one of which was Sanday. Paul Harrison, true crime writer, hosted the event at his writer’s retreat. I was delighted to visit Sanday at last. When I used to live on mainland Orkney, my husband John had waxed lyrical about Sanday, where he’d played football on a midsummer’s day at midnight, having been asked by the man-short Stenness team to be in goal, even though we were then living in Orphir!

I arrived on the tiny island hopper aircraft. Climbing into a plane that seemed little bigger than a bumble bee, and seeing the itinerant music teacher complete with her fiddle, put in her earplugs, suggested it would be a noisy crossing. It was. And, because of a typical change in the weather, I had to take the ferry back to Kirkwall later in the day.

Picked up by Paul at the tiny airstrip, we headed for his home, a converted primary school from where he runs excellent courses in writing about crime.

My fabulous audience included Karen Binnie Douglas who became a great fan of the Rhona books and a friend. After the event, having a cup of tea with Paul and his partner, he handed me a clear evidence bag, suggesting I might be interested in its contents.

I must admit I felt a little strange looking in on what looked like an ancient muslin flower which might have fallen from Miss Haversham’s veil. When he told me its story I immediately knew that it could be the core of a Rhona book. Thus None but the Dead was born.

Two years later, I launched the book on Sanday with the enthusiastic help of Myra Stockton who was at that initial '24 islands' event. And what a fabulous launch it was. We set off for Sanday with the Orkney Library Saturday Slaughters book club and Stewart Bain, despite the dire warnings that we might not return because of gales.

The island turned out in force for the launch. Books were sold out in double time, and we then sat down with 140 islanders to enjoy a Sanday Soulka feast, with all of the food sourced in Orkney.

After getting back to Kirkwall through high seas, I signed the rest of the copies of None But The Dead that the fabulous Orcadian bookshop had in stock, and signed more later in the week, before I left Orkney.

What can I say? If you have never visited Orkney, and Sanday, you should - magical islands which house Neolithic remains older than Stonehenge. But best of all are the wonderful people who make you so welcome there.

None But The Dead was longlisted for the McIllvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year. Please buy a copy at a bookstore, or buy online. Reviews welcome!

'The bleak landscape is beautifully described, giving this popular series a new lease of life' - The Sunday Times