Ghost story takes root

Amazon, books, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, paranormal fiction, Suilven, Sutherland, The Ghost Tree

Ghost Tree sepia

Finding inspiration as a writer comes easily when you live in an inspiring place, rich in scenery, culture, heritage and lore … lots of lore.

My second novel, The Ghost Tree, is due to be published on October 1 this year by Urbane Publications.

Staying true to my unhealthy dislike of genre compartmentalisation, this is a paranormal romance, thriller, crime fiction with its roots firmly planted in a ‘true’ poltergeist account that allegedly took place in the Parish of Rerrick, Auchencairn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 1695.

You can read the published account by Alexander Telfair, the minister who performed the two-week-long exorcism, here:

The old gnarled tree in the picture is all that remains of the haunted plantation in Telfair’s account, then called The Ringcroft of Stocking, where stone mason and farmer Andrew MacKie contended with a violent noisy spirit that pestered his family for a few months at the turn of the 17th century.

There were three trees in living memory. The locals call them ‘The Ghost Trees’. The two beeches died some time ago. This enduring oak was more resilient to the sweeping winds of the Solway hills and has survived both the ravages of time and, if Telfair’s account is to be believed, the poltergeist.

Legend has it that, when the last of the Ghost Trees dies, the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist will return.

My work of contemporary fiction took me to surprising places, from the realms of the dead to quantum physics, and my research on the subject came up with more unanswered questions than solutions to the phenomena of the paranormal and supernatural.

I’m still unsure whether I believe that “a ghost” can be described as a visitation from the dead, a symptom of a vivid imagination or a piece of observable data from a scientific equation. What is evident from all the theories and accounts I have read and all the ‘experts’ I have spoken to, is that many people truly believe that the dead can in some way return from the grave and interact with the living. It is also worrying to note that it seems to take a ritual involving God to remove it.

The Ghost Tree follows the misfortunes of a young man, MacAoidh Armstrong, who unwittingly buys a smallholding on the former subjects of the MacKie plantation. The ghost tree has died and the poltergeist has returned, but the pragmatic and stubborn Highlander does not believe in ghosts.

As the story unfolded during its construction, I found there was far more than the paranormal to contend with when a violent spirit haunts a 21st century home.

The result was a terrifying but fascinating journey for me, especially when I was writing it in the middle of the night with my back to a draughty door.

Whether I believe in ghosts or not, I am still uncomfortable with the inexplicable and, until science proves one way or another that death is merely a transition into another form of existence, I will still need the light on at night when I face the reality of going to the loo.

Call of the wild

Assynt, Canisp, countryside, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, geology, hill walking, Monroes, mountains, Scotland, Scottish Highlands, Suilven, Sutherland, tourism, travel, VisitScotland








‘We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 

Henry David ThoreauWalden: Or, Life in the Woods

I HAVE indulged in an illicit love affair with north west Scotland for decades.
Every year, when family and friends are taking planes to far-off sunny climes, living lavish temporary all-inclusive lifestyles on a tropical beach, the solitary voice of the cold wilderness calls me to return.
In response, I pack the tent or, more lately, the camper van, and head north to reunite with my soul.
There is nowhere in the world like the north-west Highlands of Scotland, where deer and eagles are more profuse than people; where humankind has learned to endure rather than prosper; and where contemporary society is a condition that other people are forced to live with.

Bothy in Drumbeg, looking
out to Eddrachillis Bay

When I was a child, I believed the Highlands began at Dumbarton Rock in the Clyde: the giant sentinel stone marking the gateway to the snow-powdered peaks of the Trossachs.
The further north I travel, however, the further the perspective of remoteness moves. The brooding mountains of Glencoe and sweeping Caledonian forests of Glen Garry no longer hold the same heart-thumping thrill.
The Highlands, for me, begins on the sun-bleached rocky shores of Loch Lochy: this is where I get that surge of excitement that I have actually reached that ‘somewhere’. It carries on through Ross and Cromarty and ends in the most spectacular landscapes in the United Kingdom and, to me, the world: Assynt – a magnificent wilderness of rock and water and one of the oldest places in the world.
The mountains in the picture – from left, Canisp, Suilven, Cul Mor and Cul Beag – were squeezed out of the earth in, what geologists call, the Moine Thrust and some of the rocks that have carved this spectacular landscape are over 800 million years old.

Eight hundred million years ago, the world was just ocean and one big super-continent called Rodina. It was five hundred and fifty years later that the continent broke up, drifted apart and formed the world as we know it today.
Although Glaciation and warming have further sculpted the mountains around Planet Earth, the hard bedrock of Sutherland is as thrawn and inclement as its climate. This is a place that, over the millennia, has refused to be sullied. Although this land has been frequently studied, surveyed and explored, it remains unfathomable; its impact on the soul, immeasurable.