I’ve mentioned here my friend and neighbour, Fiona Ritchie, before. Fiona is an authority on the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland. From her tiny studio in Dunkeld she presents the most-listened-to Celtic music programme on US radio, the weekly Thistle & Shamrock.
Nine years ago, when my novel The Witness came out, she generously devoted a whole programme to an interview with me about the book and the musical thread that runs through it. She put the programme together with great care, weaving in music that related directly to the story and the mood surrounding it. The result was a beautifully crafted piece of radio.
Last week, to my great delight, she re-broadcast the programme. ‘It sounds as fresh as when we made it,’ she told me. I’ve just listened to it again and I have to agree, despite the fact that when I first came up with the story’s backdrop of a land war in a future, self-governing Scotland, the independence referendum wasn’t even a glint in anyone’s eye.
Following the re-broadcast I received an email from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It came from someone I was at boarding school with when I was nine or ten years old – more than half a century ago. Since then we’ve had no contact, but he listens to Fiona’s show, remembered my name, pieced things together, and wrote to ask if it was indeed me.
I haven’t yet discovered how he ended up in Jackson Hole – a ski resort close to Yellowstone National Park – but he tells me that like the main character in The Witness, his son has been a fiddle player since childhood, having had tuition along the way from the late Ian Hardie, one of the great contemporary Scottish fiddlers.
As Fiona remarks in the programme, one of the themes in my book is the connecting power of music, which is also the underlying theme of the Thistle & Shamrock itself, connecting many thousands of Americans with an important strand of their cultural heritage (not to mention me with an old schoolfellow).
Sadly The Witness has been out of print for a few years now, and although I put it up on Kindle, where it is still available, I quickly realised that keeping it in people’s minds there took just as much effort as publicising it first time around – in other words, the need to keep promoting a book never ceases, at least until it’s established itself as a perennial. I also realised that with a young adult audience that was never going to happen on Kindle (although the book has also had an adult following).
But a couple of weeks ago I happened to see on Facebook a link to a list of the best young adult novels set in Scotland. I followed it and, blow me down, there was The Witness. There was even better to follow. On the same site, belonging to Scottish Book Trust, was a list recommending nine novels set in the Highlands. There it was again, keeping company with Robert Louis Stevenson, Ali Smith, DK Broster, Compton Mackenzie, even Virginia Woolf.
All of which leaves me thinking that it’s high time I got it back into print. I’m spurred on by my fellow Dark Angel, John Simmons, who is in the process of having his excellent trilogy about writing for business, The Writer’s Materials, republished. But I’m also in the middle of some further re-writing of Jaguar, the current novel which was doing the rounds last year, and when that does find a publisher, if it does, perhaps we can get them to take The Witness too. Then there’s the putative movie, though all is currently quiet on that front …
I’m starting to ramble. Really I have nothing else to say except that right now the business of writing fiction seems awfully complicated. And it’s not even as if I’ve ever made any money to speak of from it. Sound familiar to anyone?
The re-broadcast of The Witness will be available on the Thistle & Shamrock here from some time on Friday – I’m not quite sure when, so if you don’t see it at first, come back a little later. It should be at the top of the list, above ‘Chansons’.