The tree graveyards of the Flow Country

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I was excited to contribute an essay to Granta: a long piece of reportage in which I travelled to the far north of Scotland to wander in the vast peatlands of the Flow Country.

North of Helmsdale, the land opens up. It is a rare and unusual landscape, stripped back and open to the sky … what strikes you first is the utter absence of the picturesque. A single sweeping line demarcates the heavens and the earth: God’s rough draft, the Earth formless and empty still. The cow-brown flats tussocked and pockmarked by puddles and pools. Slow gradients slope off in every direction; in the distance a few low hills poke their noses into the air.

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At home in the Highlands with Michel Faber

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I had an interview in this weekend’s Sunday Times with Michel Faber, the author of Under The Skin, The Crimson Petal and the White, and the recently announced Saltire book of the year The Book of Strange New Things.

We spoke about the grieving process after the death of his wife Eva last year, his pacifist beliefs and his growing sense of belonging in Scotland thanks to the Saltire win. Not before time – he has lived in the Highlands, near Tain, for more than 20 years, but has always felt something of an “alien” he says, and has never really integrated.

The Sunday Times piece can be found here, or a slightly longer version is also available after the fold.

It didn’t make the piece, but he also spoke very interestingly on the writing process – particularly the no-nonsense approach he took to his first book The Crimson Petal and the White (he wrote the first version as a student, although it was not published until after his critically-acclaimed ‘debut’ with Under The Skin). Having started, but not completed, many novels, he decided to very carefully structure his next attempt, taking inspiration from the Victorian novels he was studying for his literature degree (particularly, Middlemarch) – down to the paragraph, even. After which he could work through the plan very diligently, marking off his progress as he went.

The book went through two or three redrafts, but the back of the work had been broken. It was published in 2002 and received rave reviews, later being adapted as a TV series for the BBC starring Romola Garai. He has retained this highly structured process through his later books, although he has spoken elsewhere of making efforts to allow his latest novel more space to grow “organically”.

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Country diary: sunlight on snowfall

adrian hopkins - view from Sgurr MorI wrote a short entry for the Guardian’s Country Diary section this week following a fantastic hillwalking trip to the west coast, on the edge of Knoydart, stopping off at the Kinbreak bothy.

Full text can be found here, or after the break

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Covers for Thicker Than Water revealed

cover UK  Cover Aus

I’m so excited to be able to show you these: the covers (left – UK, right – Australia) of my first book, Thicker Than Water, which will be published next year by Harper Collins’ non-fiction strand William Collins. I hope you like them!

The book is currently available for pre-order at Waterstones and Amazon, with the following summary from the publisher:

A compelling and beautifully written memoir about dark and shameful family secrets, and one young Scottish woman’s pilgrimage to Australia to attempt to lay the past to rest. Cal Flyn was holidaying in her childhood home in the Scottish Highlands when she stumbled upon a dark family secret. To her horror, she discovered that her great-great-great uncle Angus McMillan, who had been mythologized as a great explorer and pioneer of early Australia, was in fact also the leader of a number of gruesome massacres of indigenous people.

In 1843 he led a loosely formed ‘Highland brigade’ which were responsible for a series of assaults so ferocious that the sites would ever after be synonymous with bloodshed: Butchers Creek, Boney Point, Skull Creek, Slaughterhouse Gully. Angus McMillan, she learns, is known by another name: the Butcher of Gippsland. Driven to piece together his story and to confront her own history, Flyn decided to retrace McMillan’s journey, looking for answers: How could a man lauded for his generosity and integrity commit such terrible acts? How could a man who had witnessed the misery of Highlanders cleared from their lands travel to the other side of the world to massacre and ‘clear’ the indigenous people he encountered? What have been the long-term consequences of his actions? And has today’s generation inherited a responsibility to atone for its ancestors’ sins?

THICKER THAN WATER, like THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES, is part family memoir, part travelogue, part history – and an intimate, revealing and fascinating journey into the past. Her book evokes the startlingly beautiful wilderness of the Highlands, the seemingly empty bush of Victoria and the echoes and reverberations on one from the other. Delving into a dark period in history with a novel’s immediate style, this book asks how whole societies can come to be overlooked, forgotten and shamed. Cal Flyn has written a wholly compelling and clear-eyed examination of the burden of intergenerational grief and inherited guilt that we all carry with us.

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 9780008126605

 

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Australia’s first female Black Panther

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I interviewed Marlene Cummins, Australia’s first female Black Panther, for the New Statesman about her background in the movement and the shocking allegations she made in a recent documentary about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her political idols.

Full text can be found here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Access to abortion: safe in Holyrood’s hands?

Last week I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about the decision to devolve powers of abortion law to the Scottish parliament at Holyrood. Labour and women’s rights groups have voiced fears that doing so could endanger access to abortions north of the border, but are their fears unfounded?

Full article can be read here, or after the break.

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Facing the past: acknowledging the dark sides of history

Recently I contributed a piece to the new online women’s magazine The Pool, launched last week by Lauren Laverne and former Red editor Sam Baker.

My article focused on how to acknowledge unpalatable elements of family heritage – a topic I deal with in my upcoming book Thicker Than Water (Harper Collins, 2016) – following the revelation that the actor Ben Affleck attempted to hush up his family history of slave ownership during the production of US genealogy show Finding Your Roots.

Full text can be found here, or after the fold

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Wallung Githa Unsettled: gallery opening

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While travelling in Gippsland researching my book Thicker Than Water (to be published Spring 2016, by HarperCollins, plug plug), I fell in with the aboriginal artist Steaphan Paton and the photographer Cam Cope, both born and bred in the area.

Together we collaborated on a project riffing on the myth of the captive white woman of Gippsland, a strange and disturbing episode in Australian colonial history in which my relative Angus McMillan is inextricably tangled.

An exhibition of the series of photographs produced by us during a road trip through historically significant Gippsland sites – as well as a solo installation by Steaphan – is now on show at the Anna Pappas Gallery in Prahran, Melbourne, on until 9 May 2015.

A glossy zine containing images from the project as well as writing on the subject of the white woman and the frontier violence of 1840s Gippsland has also been produced. It will be on sale at the art book fair at the National Gallery of Victoria; any remaining copies I imagine will soon appear for sale on Cam’s handy web-shop here.

Images from the project have been featured in Art Collector magazine in Australia.

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EQy: Scotland’s new equestrian magazine

EQY cover

I was very excited to have joined the launch team for EQy, the new luxury equestrian magazine from the same stable as the Scottish Field.

The first issue came out earlier this month. I have four features in the mag, including an in-depth interview with Olympian eventer Zara Phillips, who I met in a very snowy Blair Castle. I also interviewed the showjumper and coach David Harland; had a good nose around at the Solaris Sports Horses stud in Dunblane, home of the incredible Kambarbay, a perlino Akhal Teke; and scoped out the friendly rivalry between top young eventers Emily Ryder and Stephanie O’Neill.

EQy will be on newsstands for around 6 months; after that I’ll post versions of my articles online. If you would like to get your hands on a copy, you can order it here.

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HarperCollins acquires Thicker Than Water

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I had some great news last month: HarperCollins’ non-fiction strand William Collins acquired the rights to my book, working title Thicker Than Water, and it is currently scheduled for publication in spring 2016.

For more information about the book, including an overview, please click here. Questions and queries about foreign rights/publication should be directed to my agent, Sophie Lambert of Conville & Walsh.

Bookbrunch, a magazine for the publishing industry, published a short piece about the acquisition, which you can read after the fold: Continue reading

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