Strange times we are living in and pretty awful for everyone, including authors who no longer have the opportunity to get out to launches and book festivals to allow the public to discover how good their books are.
One of those is the cracking read that I’ve already reviewed, The Blood is Still by Douglas Skelton. You can see similar rave reviews from Chapter in My Life, Suze Reviews, Love Reading and Scotland on Sunday, to name but a few. Ian Rankin says of Douglas: ‘If you don’t know Skelton, now’s the time’ and Denzil Meyrick calls Skelton ‘one of my favourite authors‘.
Just one of the reasons I love Douglas’ writing is the way in which he conveys a fabulous sense of place and atmosphere. I think one of the reasons he does that so well is that in addition to being a writer, he is also an accomplished photographer. So I asked Douglas to share some of his location photographs for THE BLOOD IS STILL, alongside some words of explanation. I hope this encourages you to buy this exceptional book. Links at the end of the post.
First a reminder of what THE BLOOD IS STILL is about:
When the body of a man in eighteenth-century Highland dress is discovered on the site of the Battle of Culloden, journalist Rebecca Connolly takes up the story for the Chronicle.
Meanwhile, a film being made about the ’45 Rebellion has enraged the right-wing group Spirit of the Gael which is connected to a shadowy group called Black Dawn linked to death threats and fake anthrax deliveries to Downing Street and Holyrood. When a second body – this time in the Redcoat uniform of the government army – is found in Inverness, Rebecca finds herself drawn ever deeper into the mystery. Are the murders connected to politics, a local gang war or something else entirely?
Now, over to you, Douglas.
To write any of my books I generally go location scouting. And with me goes my trusty Nikon to snap what I see. THE BLOOD IS STILL (Polygon Books, out now) was no different – and it took me to Inverness. I already knew my story would begin at Culloden battlefield, so that was my first destination.
It’s a barren stretch of heather and scrub, with memorials to the fallen sprouting from the land like gravestones and flags fluttering against the gloomy skies to mark where the various combatants stood before the slaughter.
It is a solemn place, even when the sun shines – and it gleamed intermittently while I was there on a chilly day in March. Clouds gathered and waned as the sun broke through. There was even a sudden skirmish of snow, which ended as quickly as it begun, leaving the sun to rake across the heather once more.
I have visited many battlefields but only here – and Glencoe – do I sense the deep melancholy of death. The senselessness of a battle royal between power hungry nobles – a civil war – is perhaps something we cannot understand. At least I hope not.
The slaughter here is etched into the Celtic soul, the feeling of loss and its lament is carried on the breeze and the rain and snow and sunlight.
I both love it and hate it.
The first Rebecca Connolly book, THUNDER BAY (Polygon books), was mainly set on a fictional Scottish island. This new one is very much based in Inverness and so I wandered around the Highland capital to try to get a feel for the place. Luckily, it is a place I enjoy so it was no hardship!
In one scene Rebecca is covering court cases in the Castle and she sits outside to eat her lunch. This is the scene she enjoys, looking down the plain towards the Great Glen, with the Cathedral nestling against the bulk of Tomnahurich, the hill of the yews and place of the dead.
The old High Kirk also plays a part in the story. It was here that Government soldiers are said to have executed Jacobite prisoners in the wake of the
battle. The story goes that they placed the weak and the wounded against a gravestone while a rifleman steadied his musket in the notch of another a few feet away and fired.
The climax of the story takes place at Clachnaharry, which is a short drive out of Inverness. Here there is a sea lock to allow the Caledonian Canal to flow out into the Beauly Firth while footpaths on either side are magnets for dog walkers, joggers and strollers.
I chose this because of its relative isolation – there is a village but the canal offices and narrow bridges across the canal are far enough away to allow my story to reach its tragic conclusion.
I spent a great deal of time here, sitting on a bench looking out across the Moray Firth to the Kessock Bridge and the Black Isle. It is big sky country, wide and open. Yet as darkness falls there is a sense of claustrophobia. The water of the canal turns black and deep. The firth laps in the darkness against
the stones. Ideal for my story. As was every location I visited.
Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written eleven true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction. His novel Open Wounds (2016) was longlisted for the McIlvanney Award. Douglas has investigated real-life crime for Glasgow solicitors and was involved in a long-running campaign to right the famous Ice-Cream Wars miscarriage of justice.