First, I’d like to wish you all a very happy, healthy, and prosperous year in 2016!
And I’d like to thank my readers around the world for their continued – and growing – support. I met many hundreds of you in person at book events all over the UK, in France and in Italy, but I was very disappointed to have to cancel the US and Canada tour in 2015 because of unexpectedly having to go into hospital for surgery. The good news is that I’m fully recovered and I hope to make it over to North America later in 2016.
In January 2016 I will be on tour in the UK (details below) and in February/March I will be visiting Australia and New Zealand.
Bright Points of 2015
Looking back at 2015, Entry Island was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, The Lewis Man was shortlisted for the US Macavity award for Best Mystery Novel of the Year, I was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library, and the French version of Entry Island (L’Ile du Serment) won the Trophée 813 for Best Foreign Crime Novel awarded by the French magazine Review 813.
New Book – Coffin Road
In the Spring, I found myself back in one of my favourite places on earth, the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, researching my latest book, Coffin Road which will be published in the UK on January 14th, 2016.
I know a lot of people are pleased that I’m making a return to the Western Isles, and readers of the Lewis Trilogy will be happy to know that there will be at least one familiar face. Detective Sergeant George Gunn’s services are required when the dead body of a man is found near the lighthouse on the Flannan Isles.
The Flannan Isles are famous for their real-life hundred-year-old mystery of the three lighthouse keepers who went missing without trace. It’s a story that still captures the imagination, but the main draw for today’s tourist trips to the islands is bird-spotting. And in Coffin Road, on one such outing, the corpse in question is found and DS George Gunn is called in to investigate.
George was a much-loved personality in the Lewis Trilogy, with his humour, his compassion and his strong moral code. A warm-hearted and decent man, he always felt the need to do the right thing, even if that meant he had to interpret the rules in a very flexible way to accommodate his actions.
I was pleased to have the chance to spend time with him again, and this was a good opportunity for us to get to know him a little better.
I felt that I was back in the company of an old friend. And in a way, I was. It’s no secret that George Gunn bears more than a passing resemblance to the actual island policeman who guided me through procedure on the Hebrides when I first began my researches for The Blackhouse. That policeman – let’s just call him “George” for the moment – first welcomed me into his workplace and his home more than ten years ago, and he has been there for me, patiently answering my questions, and keeping me on the right track ever since.
“George”, with all his warmth and wisdom and wry wit, was a pleasure to be with, and I’m sure that readers will enjoy catching up once more with the character that he inspired.
This time, the action is concentrated on the Isle of Harris, where ice-age glaciers carved mountains and valleys out of the rock and there are some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world.
The Real Coffin Road
The Coffin Road of the title is four kilometres of rough track across the hills where, in centuries gone by, men from villages on the east side of the island carried their dead to the west where they could lay their loved ones to rest.
On the east coast, the bedrock lies only inches beneath the skin of the soil and digging a grave is impossible. And so the dead were carried from Loch Airigh on the east side, high up over the rough, rocky hills, past lochans, before descending through salt marsh to the stunningly beautiful Luskentyre beach on the west coast, where they could be laid to rest in the deep machair soil.
It was a difficult journey for those men, carrying the bodies of their loved ones across the island, at the mercy of the elements. But it was a necessity, a practicality, a fact of life – or death – for those folk who carved out their existence on the island.
But the genesis of Coffin Road, the book, came from a vision which has haunted me for a long time. I saw the vast expanse of Luskentyre beach on the Isle of Harris with dunes and mountains rising up all around and the clear turquoise ocean stretching into the distance. And in the midst of this breathtaking natural beauty a man dragging himself out of the water and staggering to his feet on the beach. Apparently the survivor of a boating accident, he remembers nothing about who he is, how he got there or what has happened.
Then, with the development of my story, came his only clue – a map with the coffin road traced in marker pen. Filled with a deep sense of dread, he knows that following in the footsteps of the dead is the only chance he has to restore meaning to his life, and that his only hope is that the coffin road will lead him to revelation.
It’s an inspiring beginning for the stuff of fiction, but the real inspiration for my story is rooted firmly in fact. It too, has been in my thoughts for a number of years. One of my expert advisors, Professor Joe Cummins, who has been providing scientific guidance for my books since the late 1990s, is professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He is one of the foremost scientists involved in the campaign to protect agriculture and the environment from the contamination of genetically modified crops and the blanket use of pesticides.
Several years ago he alerted me to the potential disaster that was looming due to our dwindling bee population, and the repercussions for the world if no action was taken. Along with other insect pollinators, the bee is responsible for the production of one mouthful of food in every three that we eat. Without bees there would be widespread famine.
He was one of the first scientists to address the European parliament on the dangers. Little was known about the reasons for dwindling bee populations back then, and research was needed.
A few years down the line and bee colonies have been disappearing in greater numbers all over the world. There are many reasons: changes in farming methods which have destroyed their natural foraging habitat; disease, often spread by unregulated transportation of bees around the world; the changing climate. But above all, a body of scientific evidence that points towards the use of a new breed of pesticides called neonicotinoids.
The problem is – as I found out when I tracked some of them down – that the scientists who are bringing this information to light are finding themselves in direct conflict with the billion-dollar agro-chemical industry.
Further research revealed that the setting I required for my story had very specific requirements. It needed to be a location that was free from large-scale farming. Somewhere pure – uncontaminated by pesticides and agricultural chemicals. Somewhere remote – well off the beaten track, wild and untamed.
The Isle of Harris was calling me. It was the perfect place. And what better opportunity would I have to realise my vision for that opening scene of the man staggering to his feet, drenched an confused, than in one of the most dramatic and beautiful locations in the world?
And so we return to Luskentyre beach on the Isle of Harris, and a to man who is washed up without memory or reason…
To whet your appetite here is a video with images from Luskentye and the coffin road, set to music by the Darkside Owls and their song “Gone but not Forgotten” which was inspired by the book (available from itunes now).
COFFIN ROAD (January 2016, UK)
Thursday 14th January 7pm
Glasgow – centre
The Mitchell Library
Monday 18th January 1pm
The Mitchell Library, North St, Glasgow G3 7DN
Book Online – http://tickets.glasgowconcerthalls.com/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=4908Or buy tickets from box office on 0141 353 8000
Glasgow – Newton Mearns
Waterstones, The Avenue Shopping Centre
Monday 18th January 7pm
Tuesday 19th January at 7pm
Edinburgh Central Library,
Wed 20 Jan 2016, 7pm
Thursday 21st January 7pm
Monday, January 25th at 7pm
Tickets: call 01865 333623 for more information or email events.oxford@Blackwell.co.uk
London – Piccadilly
Tuesday 26th January 6.30pm