Displacement: The Novel’s Emotional Turmoil

From the upheaval of loss to insight, acceptance and love

Displacement Cover MEDIUM WEB - Copy

This is the second of two posts where I share a bit about why I chose the theme of displacement for my novel of the same name. In the first post I talked about physical displacement – displacement from home and country. In this post I’m going to look at the emotional aspects explored in the novel.

Rachel, one of the two main characters, is a fifty-something woman. She lives alone on the Isle of Skye, one of the Hebridean islands off Scotland’s west coast. Her home is on a small farm, or croft as it’s called in the Scottish highlands. And as well as looking after her sheep, she also works as a children’s book illustrator and writer. Rachel has been through a lot of upheaval in her life––divorce, grief after the loss of her soldier son, killed in Afghanistan, and then as the story begins, the loss of her mother who she’s been living with and caring for.

And the other main character, is newly retired Edinburgh police detective, Jack. He’s coming to terms with his retirement, has just had heart surgery, and is feeling stuck in a relationship that has run its course. Like Rachel he is divorced. At the start of the novel he has just bought a rundown cottage in the (fictional) Skye village of Halladale. He plans to do it up and to use it as a holiday home.

Both Rachel and Jack have lost their way emotionally. Both of them need to come to terms with the changes in their lives and to find a new way of living. During the course of the novel both of them explore new ways of life.

Rachel goes to Israel-Palestine, where her brother lives. She wants to explore her Jewish heritage and to see if she too can settle and make a new life in the Middle East. And the people she meets there certainly open her mind to new ways of living and new possibilities. There’s Hana, a Palestinian woman who owns a guest house on the West Bank where Rachel spends a few days. The conversations Rachel has with Hana are life-changing. And then there’s Eitan, an artist, and best friend of Rachel’s brother. Eitan reawakens in Rachel what it is to be a woman and a person in her own right––not just a mother, daughter or ex-wife.

Jack meanwhile finds working on his cottage to be therapeutic. He also finds walking in and photographing the stunning Skye landscape provides him with time and space to decide what’s next now he’s retired.

And then there’s the relationship between Rachel and Jack. They establish a strong friendship before Rachel leaves for Israel and it’s a friendship that benefits both of them emotionally. But there’s also a complication––an undercurrent that both of them sense but neither acknowledge––they are strongly attracted to each other. Beginning a new relationship isn’t something either of them wants and it’s this emotional complication that drives the narrative of Displacement forward.

At its heart Displacement has the question of whether Jack and Rachel can become new anchoring points in each other’s previously turbulent lives.

Displacement: From the Hebrides to the Middle East and back

The reasons behind the plot and settings of my second novel

Displacement Cover MEDIUM WEB - Copy

When I wrote Displacement, I wanted to explore what knocks people’s lives off course, what pushes them out of their normal place and space. I also wanted to examine the consequences of both physical and emotional displacement. In other words i wanted to look at what happens when people are forced by circumstances to change their location – both external and internal.

At the emotional level, I wanted to explore the displacement caused by grief, betrayal, illness and ageing and I’ll share more of the background to this in a subsequent post. But I also wanted to explore the long term consequences of physical displacement, of what happens when people are forced to abandon their home and culture in order to stay alive – and that’s what I’m looking at in this post.

When I came to write Displacement, three examples of the forced movement of people were in my mind – two from the relatively recent past, and one that has existed since the 1940s and continues to the present day. The first was the forced eviction of people from their land in the north of Scotland. The evidence of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries is still visible today. And this, combined with the earlier punitive measures put in place by the victorious Hanoverian side following the Battle of Culloden, meant that Gaelic culture came close to being eliminated. The wearing of tartan was outlawed as was speaking Gaelic. The organisation of Highland society by the clan system came to an end and thousands of Scots were forced to emigrate to Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand.

The second example of the forced displacement of people that I had in mind was the much deadlier clearance of a whole culture that was wrought in Nazi Germany. I saw an item on Scottish television marking the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport that took place just before the second world war. This happened when Great Britain agreed to accept 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany and Austria. The children were taken in by British families and most never saw their parents again as they died in the Holocaust. Some survivors of the Kindertransport were interviewed about their experiences of arriving in and growing up in Scotland in their adoptive families. Their stories of stoicism and survival made quite an impression on me.

And the third example is that of the plight of the Palestinian people displaced from their homes by the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 following on from the end of the Second World War.

I brought the three together in Displacement by making the late mother of the main female character, Rachel, a Kindertransport survivor who was taken in by a family in Glasgow and who later married a native of the Isle of Skye (in the Scottish highlands) and settled there. Rachel lives on Skye, but her brother has followed his Jewish heritage and emigrated to Israel-Palestine.

And because of the significant emotional upheavals in Rachel’s life, she decides to visit her brother in his adopted homeland and see if she too can find a renewed sense of home by being there.

Hence the action in the novel moves between these two very different places and addresses many layers and levels of displacement as Rachel tries to decide where in the world her future lies.

And I was able to describe both settings from experience.

I’m a Scot and I live in the Scottish Hebrides so I’m steeped in that environment and its history. The wild and often challenging landscape, the resilience and resourcefulness needed to survive here, and the still visible evidence of whole townships abandoned and left to crumble when the inhabitants were forced off their land – all lend themselves to the exploration of the themes of upheaval and displacement .

I’ve also been to Israel-Palestine several times. It’s a country that fascinates me and it’s certainly no stranger to upheaval.

My link with the Middle East dates back to when I was fourteen and to my high school days in Edinburgh. A new girl joined the class and I was the one who volunteered to look after her. The new girl was Revital and she was an Israeli. Her father was doing a PhD at Edinburgh university and had brought his family with him for the duration. Revital and I quickly became friends. So much so that after she and her family returned home we kept in touch and in 1975 during my long summer holidays from university I travelled to Israel to visit her. As she was doing her national service at the time we could only meet up at certain times, so I worked on a kibbutz for a bit and did a bit of travelling. The kibbutz was on the Golan Heights – something I didn’t tell my mother who was worried enough about me visiting what she saw as a very dangerous country. I wasn’t worried though; I had the invincibility of youth. And I was smitten by the place – its beauty, its ancient landscape and its vitality.

I’ve revisited since then. One trip was in 1993 and coincided with the optimism which followed the signing of the Oslo Accord. The Palestinian flag flew from balconies, houses and cars – something that would have been illegal before the Accord. The atmosphere was relaxed, peace seemed to have been established. Revital and her husband were activists for the peace settlement and knew there was still a lot of work to be done, but were hopeful that they could now live and bring up their children in a new, constructive and co-operative society with all their neighbours regardless of background, religion, or race. Fast forward to my most recent visit in 2012 and the situation had deteriorated to worse than before 1993. All optimism for a peaceful and fair settlement was gone. Revital and her husband continued to work for a peaceful solution, trying to raise awareness amongst their Israeli friends of the true plight of the Palestinians. Her husband, an academic has written several books on the subject and speaks on it all over the world. You can view one of his many talks here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qblO4u0pF9M And Revital is part of Machsom Watch – who in their own words are

a volunteer organization of Israeli women who are peace activists from all sectors of society. We oppose the Israeli occupation in the area known as the West Bank, we oppose the appropriation of Palestinian land and the denial of Palestinian human rights.  We support the right of Palestinians to move freely in their land and oppose the checkpoints which severely restrict Palestinian daily life.

 And amongst other things they, ‘conduct daily observations of Israel Defense Force checkpoints in the West Bank and the hamlets in the Jordan Valley.’ (taken from the Machsom website at http://www.machsomwatch.org/en/about-us)

When I visited in 2012 I accompanied Revital on one of these checkpoint observations. It was a bit scary – I’ve not been that close to a soldier on active duty before or to an automatic weapon – but it was an interesting and enlightening experience. Palestinians, including the elderly, the sick, and the pregnant are given a lot of hassle while just trying to go about their ordinary daily business such as visiting family or attending hospital appointments.

So all of the above was in my head as I wrote the novel and I incorporated some of my own experiences into the story – from Rachel’s life as a crofter to the realities of life in the Middle East.

Footnote re current refugees:

I’m not a historian, a politician or an activist, so I wrote simply as a human being reflecting on the plight of other human beings and on the injustices of enforced displacement inflicted by some of us on those we perceive as ‘other’.

But, as I mentioned above, I’m only too aware of the plight of refugees from Syria right now as they try to get Europe. I’ve donated to charities and written to my MP – as I’m sure many of you will have – and I will continue to do whatever else I can to help, albeit in a small way. I’m particularly proud that my relatively small and remote community is, as I write this, collecting desperately needed items for those refugees and as soon as there’s enough to fill the articulated lorry that is on standby, these items will be driven to Greece for delivery to those who need them.

So by way of acknowledging displacement as an ever-present and often devastating fact in human life, I thought I’d end by including the cartoon below. It has been shared a lot on social media recently in relation to the recent deaths in the Mediterranean and to the refugee crisis in general. (The cartoon is actually from 2014 and was created Australian cartoonist and fellow wordpress blogger Simon Kneebone, in response to the time when boatloads of people were trying to reach Australia from Indonesia.)

Refugees-pic-edited

 

Bully birds, dozy tourists and long, long days…

Group of sparrows.
Group of sparrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Tuesday of the month – so it’s time for a glimpse of island life.

A brisk north wind has been blowing across the island for the last week. It has kept temperatures well below the thirty-plus degrees that we experienced a couple of weekends ago. But the start to June has been pleasant enough with blue skies and sunny days. The quality of the light is superb, making the Cuillin mountain ridge seem very close to the village.

And, of course, we’re enjoying the very long days. It is light until around eleven p.m. at this time of year and doesn’t ever get properly dark – with dawn at around four-thirty a.m. For all the crofters with sheep on the hills and in the fields these extra hours of daylight are precious.

The whole island is bustling with tourists, which is great for all those whose businesses depend on the visitors. But one of the single track roads on the south of the island got so jammed on Sunday that the police had to go and show the tourists how to use passing places properly. It can be very frustrating for the residents, who are not on holiday, and who need to get to work, school and appointments on time.

The medieval 'Queen Mary harp' Clàrsach na Ban...
The medieval ‘Queen Mary harp’ Clàrsach na Banrìgh Màiri preserved in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This month is a busy cultural one for the locals as it’s when we have our Mod. This is a festival of Gaelic culture. It includes – recitation, drama, singing, precenting ( a form of unaccompanied Gaelic singing) and fiddle, accordion and clarsach (Gaelic harp) playing. Rehearsals and practices are in full swing.

Our garden is a busy place too. We’ve been adopted by an extended family of sparrows. There seem to be parents, aunties, uncles and kids – and who knows – maybe the odd grandparent – as well as the young ones. The grown-ups are all over the feeders and trays – as well as hoovering up the spilt seed from the grass. Meanwhile, the fat fledglings sit on the fence, or clamour on the path. They wait – beaks a-gape and wings a-flutter – for some poor overworked adult bird to feed them. Cheeky wee beggars – they’ve managed to fly into the garden – surely they can feed themselves. You want to shout, ‘Get a job!’ as you watch them take, take, taking.

We also have chaffinches, bluetits and siskins among our regulars – but it’s the sparrows who rule the roost.

There’s a lovely collared dove who visits the garden. She seems very genteel and gentle and keeps her distance from the small birds – but the sparrows are having none of it and regularly scare her off. Even the local rooks and crows don’t dare fly down from the fence when this mob is around. The sparrows also regard next-door’s cat with complete disdain as he sits in the corner watching them. He ends up getting bored and slinking away.

It’s only four weeks now until the school summer holidays and I’m very much looking forward to my six weeks off. I love living on the island – but at times it can get a bit claustrophobic – and it’s nice to get away to the mainland and beyond. I’ll be getting a ‘city fix’ at the start of the holidays with a week in Edinburgh visiting friends and family – and then at the end of July, I’m off to Israel to visit an old school friend. This will be my third visit to the country and I’m really looking forward to it. It will certainly be a big change from Hebridean life!

May the force of the darling buds be with you

Another month has ended. My real life, my writing life and my working life have all been very busy throughout April and May doesn’t look as if it will be any quieter.

In real life, the Easter holidays were enjoyable and fun. The husband recovered from his lurgy and we got over the disappointment of our cancelled holiday. This was made easier when our daughter, son-in-law and our gorgeous granddaughter, Eva, came to stay. The wee one is four months old now and smiles and babbles away at anyone who pays her any attention. She also developed a liking for one of our floor-lamps and it got the most enthusiastic chatter of any of us – especially when lit.

And then it was back to school. It was lovely comparing notes with the granny colleagues as several of us had been able to spend time with our grandbabies during the break. It’s hard to believe that it’s term four already and that the school year will end in eight weeks time. We’re already preparing for the new intake of five-year-olds in August and it only feels like yesterday that our present Primary Ones arrived. The school is already going Olympics crazy and there is an absolute extravaganza of stuff planned for the next few weeks – all related to the Games.

As for the writing – it can be hard going after a busy day at school but I usually make it to my desk after dinner – and I always get a bit done at the weekends. Novel number two is coming along nicely. I’m two-thirds of the way through the first draft and I’m at that stage where the characters are always with me – and I half expect to meet them at the co-op they are so real to me.

I was very chuffed to be mentioned on the cover of April’s issue of Words with Jam, http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk/  the writers’ magazine that I’m a ‘staffer’ on. I’ve been with the magazine from the start but never had billing on the front page before. The founding editor, Jane Dixon-Smith, is amazing and has taken WWJ from solely free online editions to e-format and print versions. It is now a well-established, high circulation and entertaining and informative journal. The staff is even getting paid now!

I was also very pleased with the results of offering my novel ‘Change of Life’ as a free download for Kindle on one weekend in April. Hundreds of copies were downloaded and paid sales also experienced a boost afterwards. The book made it to number 3 on the Kindle paid Women’s Fiction chart on Amazon and to number 63 in the paid general fiction Kindle chart. I did enjoy my fifteen minutes of fame.

And still on the subject of writing I have also joined The Alliance of Independent Authors http://allianceindependentauthors.org/ . This is a new body started by Orna Ross and it aims to support, represent and advise independent authors and looks well worth being a member of if you’re a ‘struggling’ indie author.

As for island life – well – lambing is over. The weather has been amazingly good and the lambing snow has been confined to the hilltops. Foxes are proving to be a pest as always and a colleague lost a lamb the other night to Mr Fox. I know they have to eat but it’s the way they just take the head that gives me the shivers – and they leave behind these wee headless corpses. On a happier note, there’s already a healthy number of tourists enjoying our beautiful surroundings.

The days are lengthening and the beautiful sunny days are ending with spectacular sunsets and magnificent displays of the Northern Lights. For some amazing photos of the Aurora over Skye go here: http://www.glendaleskye.com/sightings.htm#aurora .  Skye is truly Hebridean heaven at the moment.

Slainte Mhath to all my readers and tioraidh for now.

Out Like A Frisky Lamb

And so March is coming to an end and it seems set to live up to its old reputation for coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. In common with most of the rest of the United Kingdom our little island has been having the most gorgeous weather for the last week. Apparently the Hebrides were hotter than the Balearics at the weekend. Daffodils are out in their hosts and my walk to work is scented by the coconut waft of yellow gorse flowers from the hedgerows and verges.

We’re trying not to get too comfortable without our vests and our cardis though. April often sees a fall of ‘lambing snow’ – but for now we’re soaking up the full spectrum light and giving the central heating a rest.

As for my end of month round up of my March reading and writing – well – it was tough but I’ve now got properly back into the writing groove. My second novel is back on track and I aim to have the first draft complete by mid July. Then after a bit of a break I intend to get on with the rewriting and redrafting of my novel for children.

I’ve always found that listening to music helps me get in the writing zone. All three of my books are associated with particular playlists. And playing the ‘Novel 2’ tunes definitely retuned my brain to the correct writing frequency.

My current read is the book I received as a Mothers’ Day present. It’s Mary Quant’s autobiography. I dropped heavy hints about it – i.e. said to the husband that I’d like it and to tell the kids if they asked for ideas of what to give me.

I’m a child of the sixties so Mary Quant – fashion designer, trendsetter and  feminist was a role model, heroine and figurehead for lassies of my vintage. I’m whizzing through the book. Quant is no great writer, and the book might annoy some by being a bit haphazard in its organisation and a mite repetitive here and there, but i find that to be part of its charm. There’s no airbrushing or ghost-writing. It’s honest and I’m gripped by it. It’s really like sitting down and having a right good blether – or rather, listening to anecdote after anecdote – in no particular order – but all lively, interesting and full of insight. It shows Quant’s take on her life as a wife, mother and woman as well as a grounded and highly successful businesswoman. The book is an original and refreshingly female take on an amazing era. The hardback is available now and the paperback (cover above) will be out in September.

So the first quarter of 2012 is almost gone. I began the year with a new motto – ‘NOW’ – 2012 is to be, for me a year of ‘Carpe Diem’, of less procrastination, of feeling the fear and doing stuff anyway… And so far I’m doing not a bad job of sticking to it. My main focus is on the ‘now’ – only the odd glance backwards – and no worrying about futures that only exist in my over-anxious brain.

On that chilled note, I’m off on holiday on Saturday for a week. Yes – it’s the school holidays – yes again!  The husband and I are going to Ireland with the son and his lovely lass. And when we get back the daughter, her wonderful husband and our gorgeous wee granddaughter are coming to stay for a week. Totally gle mhath (very good)

Whatever your Spring festival of choice or conviction – Enjoy and be in the moment!

Tioraidh for now…

Island Life – February – Reasons to be Cheerful…

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
Image via Wikipedia

As planned, on the first Tuesday of every month, the blog post will be about life here on the island.

Weather
Weather (Photo credit: Jen SFO-BCN)

Weather is an obsession when you live in the Hebrides. We have a maritime climate and therefore our weather tends to be very changeable. The island also has its own micro-climates and so the weather at locations only a few miles apart can be very different. But for the last week or so (with only last Saturday as an exception), we’ve had a spell  of lovely relatively settled weather. It has been bitterly, eye-wateringly cold, but very bright and sunny. There have been deep, sharp frosts overnight and beautiful pink and purple dawns.

English: Looking along the main Cuillin Ridge ...
Image via Wikipedia

The Cuillin mountain range has been doing its Alps impression – snow-covered, sparkly and quite stunning. Walking to and from work with the ridge dominating the skyline is wonderful. Lifting your eyes to the summits does seem to raise the spirits.

English: House Sparrows at a bird feeder
Image via Wikipedia

And the birds are back along with their various songs and calls. All winter we’ve only had the robins, who never stop twittering in defence of their territories, and, of course, the ravens and crows. But now the finches, tits, blackbirds, thrushes and starlings have returned. I can’t wait to get moved into our new house (next week) and to set up the bird feeders in the garden and to watch the frenzy of nest-building that must be imminent.

A wider view of Jupiter and the Great Red Spot...
Image via Wikipedia

Night time too, on this dark island, is always interesting for sky-watching. At the moment we have Venus and Jupiter watching us from just below the moon – and the recent, clear, cloudless skies have meant a spectacular show of stars.

English: The Co-operative Store Newtown Cooper...
Image via Wikipedia

The talk of the town at the moment is the possible arrival of one of the big four supermarkets in the island’s main town. At present there is only the Co-op and a love-hate relationship seems to exist between it and the islanders. The possible opening of a Tesco store has been talked about off and on for about a decade and it seems to be back on the agenda once more. But this time the Co-op are taking the threat to their monopoly seriously and have put up big display boards at the front of the store with their outline plans to extend both store and range of stock, to add a filling station and to build units for other retailers. Some people are all for this – seeing it as marginally less threatening than a Tesco superstore for the shops in the heart of the town – in a ‘better the devil you know’ sort of way. While others think it’s the kick up the bahookey that the Co-op deserves. I’ve no strong feelings either way – interesting times…

English: Delivery Van at Digby Fen
Image via Wikipedia

One of the nicest things (and occasionally most difficult things) about living on the island and in a relatively small community  is that degrees of separation are small. A small example of a positive aspect of this fact happened to me recently. I ordered a couple of things online but when the courier arrived to deliver, I was at work. The driver was a local and knew where my husband works so went there to drop off the parcel. But my husband was out. However, someone at my husband’s workplace told him where I worked, so he set off again and brought it to me. Great service!

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula), Austin's Fer...
Image via Wikipedia

And finally – as I mentioned above – we move into our new, permanent, house after a peripatetic seven months of temporary lets. It will be good to get settled again. I’ll not be posting here for a couple of weeks as I’ll be unpacking and setting up – it’s not just the garden birds who’ll be nesting. So bye for now…

 

 

A Woman for All Seasons

An animation
Image via Wikipedia

Autumn is my favourite season. I don’t think you can beat a
cold, crisp, golden autumn day. Unfortunately, here in the Hebrides, it has
mainly been mild, soggy and grey. However, there have been other signs that
winter is approaching.

Geese In Flight
Image by Corey Leopold via Flickr

The migrant wild geese have been arriving from Canada and
Greenland. They arrive every year and seem to co-exist quite happily with their
native cousins. One skein was particularly noisy according to Skye naturalist,
Chris Mitchell, writing in our local paper, the West Highland Free Press. He
looked up on hearing the loud honking overhead and saw what he thought at first
was a young goose flying alongside the main group. Then he realised it was a
peregrine falcon chasing and harrying them. Must have been an incredible sight.

Northern lights over Kulusuk, Greenland
Image via Wikipedia

The Aurora Borealis was visible on a couple of clear nights
here at the beginning of October. This is apparently going to be a good winter
for Northern Lights spotting. It is an amazing spectacle and not one you can
see too often.

And the clocks have gone back. By December, it won’t be
light until nine a.m. this far north – and dusk will have fallen by three p.m.
The forecasters keep telling us that the snow is on its way – and there have
been flurries settling on the mountain tops. I’m all set – I think – I’ve got ice-grippers
for the soles of my boots, a lovely cosy new coat and a funky hat. The
emergency lights are charged, there are batteries for the radio and alternative
heating sources are primed.

At school, with Halloween over, the buzz is all about
Bonfire night, the Children-in-Need fundraiser – and, even (whisper it)
Christmas.

Venus reflected in the Pacific Ocean
Image via Wikipedia

I love the anticipation of it all. I like the dark – the
big, starry skies – Venus clearly visible as both night and morning star – and Jupiter
in the west as darkness falls. I like wrapping up warm for a visibly breathy
walk and then drawing the curtains and battening down. I love a snowy
landscape. And I love being at my desk writing as the wind and rain batter on
the window – no guilt that I should be gardening or out on a hike. Come to
think of it –  maybe winter’s my favourite.

But then after the Solstice, and as the days slowly eke out
again, I get excited about the arrival of spring – followed by those very long,
twenty hour days of summer daylight…

No – it’s true – my favourite season always seems to be the
one we’re in currently – in other words no favourite. It’s the existence of the
seasons that I enjoy. I can’t imagine living in the tropics and not
experiencing the chapters of the year and all of nature’s facets.

So – let it snow. I’m a woman for all seasons.

Makeover

The view from our croft

I decided it was time for a revamp of the blog as I want to broaden its appeal.

I hope you like the new look. I’ve updated the ‘about me’ page as well.

 I’ll still be posting about how my writing’s going but I’ll be posting about lots of other things too.

I live on the Inner Hebridean island of Skye – which is off the north-west coast of Scotland – and I want to record what  life is like living in such a beautiful place. And along the way I’ll look beyond my island home and reflect on’life, death and the whole damn thing…