19 March 2018

My new novel is now published! (You can buy your copy here). This is a big thrill, after years of research and writing, and it could not have come about without the help of dozens of people. I'd like to acknowledge them all here, in public.

It all began with Clachtoll broch, so my first thanks must be to the Iron Age architectural genius who worked out how to build a 15 metre high, double walled, dry stone tower. John Barber, of AOC Archaeology, calls him Ug, so thank you Ug. You not only left a remarkable legacy on the shore of my home parish, but you sparked in me a fascination with your period and with the people who built, inhabited and visited your implausibly wonderful building. Along with John, I must also thank Graeme, Andy, Alan, Charlotte and all the other dedicated members of the AOC team who have helped to bring the Iron Age (and indeed other periods) to life through their work in Assynt and indulged my wonderings about what Pytheas may have found here when he came, way back in 320BC.

Huge gratitude also to Gordon Sleight, who has repeatedly hired me to hang out with this brilliant team on their various digs, and to pick their brains while ostensibly writing blogs and media releases for them. Gordon has also read the books with a meticulous care and pointed out the many mistakes, anachronisms and pieces of wishful but implausible thinking that I wove into earlier drafts.

Professor Barry Cunliffe was also very helpful in his insights about Pytheas and in encouraging my ideas about what he might have been getting up to in this neck of the woods. Professor Donna Heddle was similarly key in helping me imagine the cultural world Pytheas would have found here. Staff of several museums, including the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Kilmartin, Stromness, Kirkwall, Wick, Inverness, Pendeen, Penzance, Copenhagen, Oslo, Krakow and Longyearbyen, helped me in my research over the years. Particular thanks to Neil Burridge for showing me his bronze-smithing magic, to the captains and crews of the Ortelius and the Noorderlicht, for amazing adventures in the pack ice and northern ocean, and to Ian Stephen for sailing wisdom and stories about the sea-past. And thanks to everyone else who has talked to me about the Iron Age and helped me to time-travel back to when Pytheas made his amazing journey. All remaining historical inaccuracy is entirely my fault.

The book could not have been written without the chance to take some time out of the day job, and this was made possible by a generous bursary from Creative Scotland, for which I remain hugely grateful. It came about as a result of urging from staff at Moniack Mhor, who also gave me retreat space and moral support by simply believing in the project.

Margaret Elphinstone was my first reader, critical friend and mentor, and the long conversations and convivial times with her and Mike were priceless waypoints on the journey to the finished books. Jane Alexander and John Bolland were crucial readers of early drafts, so thank you both for the encouragement and vastly helpful suggestions about story and characters. Thanks also to all my other writing buddies: Romany, Jorine, Anna, Maggie, Becks, Anita, Graham, Kate, Alastair, Phil and everyone else who has come to join in writing events in Assynt, not forgetting Ed Group, Helen Sedgwick, Peter Urpeth and Janet Paisley.  I’m grateful to Lesley McDowell for editorial advice, and to all at Saraband, especially Sara Hunt, for bringing it to fruition.

My Mum sadly didn’t get to read this book, but her pride in me lives on and I’m grateful for it every day. Thankfully I have my Dad and my uniquely wonderful sister, Alison, offering endless support. Thanks to you both and to all the rest of our far-flung tribe.

The book was largely written at sea, thanks to the crew of Each Mara, the most precious of whom is Bill, my patient mate and co-skipper, to whom buckets of love and hugs, onshore and off.

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