The Island House. Location hunting in Scotland

 

Location hunting NW Scotland for The Island House

Here I am where the Isle of Lewis meets the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland. Location hunting for The Island House

Before I started writing The Island House, I had a big decision to make. At that time, I was the Director of Drama for the Nine Network in Australia and also still involved in the running of two television series. Week to week, I was the Executive Producer of the series I had created, “McLeods Daughters” – produced through my production company, Millennium Pictures – and also, (as co creator and part-owner of the brand), a presence on the daytime-Emmy nominated “Hi-5”.

This image of wild horses running past the McLeods windmill against a flaming sunset was shot during the first week of the first series. It became indelibly associated with the series

The brumbies run on Drovers Run

It was all getting too much, plus the need to write full time was becoming stronger and stronger. And, politics at the Network were becoming pretty much intolerable (if you want to see a funny and true – I think – picture of that time, read Gerald Stone’s “Who Killed Channel Nine”. “McLeods Daughters” and me, we’re a whole chapter! )

 

The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans, US cover

The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans. US Cover

 

I really, really needed to get away to clear my head and get some perspective on what I was doing with my life. Plus, I had an idea for a new book, the book that would become “The Island House” (though it was then called “Freya Dane”)

To help the characters come out of the mist at the back of my head, I needed to breathe the air they would have breathed, take in the landscape they would have seen and listen, and taste and learn… Scotland. I always knew that would be the setting.

 

 

Evening light, Isle of Harris Western Isles of Scotland

The last of the evening light, Isle of Harris, Western Isles of Scotland

 

And so Andrew and I set off to Scotland via a bit of a side trip to the New York Film and TV festival (Andrew Blaxland is my husband, and co-principal of Millennium. He’s a producer also)

Before I wrote a word, I knew I needed to see Standing Stones. These enigmatic monuments, mostly built in Neolithic times as long ago as 3,000 BCE or earlier, can be found all over mainland Scotland and the outer Isles. Our travels would take us to the Ring of Brodgar, on Orkney, and the great standing stones at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis. Both places influenced me deeply, and influenced, too, the standing stones on Signy’s island of Findnar in The Island House.

 

 

Callanish standing stones, Isle of Lewis, NW Scotland

The great standing stones at Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Western Isles of Scotland

 

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands NE Scotland

The mighty ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands, NE Scotland; undaunted by the rain, as it has always been.

 

And I needed to understand more about Viking longships. The Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde in Denmark was also a must see. How extraordinary to stand amongst those beautiful, sleek, deadly weapons of war (though, at that museum, there are also Knars – ships used for trading; wider in the beam to accomodate cattle and trade goods.)

 

Roskilde Viking Museum, trading vessel

One of the trading vessels at the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark

 

Neolithic tombs, too, took us to New Grange and the Burren in Ireland, and to see Maes Howe on Orkney.

 

Maes Howe in the distance

Maes Howe, the Neolithic tomb with Viking grafitti, on Orkney

 

This last is a passage tomb with Viking graffiti on the walls – that was splendidly evocative. New Grange, of course, is deeply deeply enigmatic. And I got such a strong sense, there, that if I would just reach out my hand in the dark, another hand would grasp mine. Someone from the deep past.

And that feeling gave me a jumping off point for Freya’s part of the story in “The Island House”, believe me! A strange but profound experience.  I’ve always been interested in thinking about time. For me, the straight-ahead, linear version of existence just doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

And then there was Skara Brae, again on Orkney. An actual house from all that time ago…

 

Neolithic house at Maes Howe, NE Scotland

Exterior of a Neolithic House at Skara Brae, Orkney, NE Scotland on rainy October day

 

To think that human dwellings have survived here for thousands and thousands of years in the teeth of the great gales. That moved me. And helped me visualise how Signy’s parents’ house must have looked (inside, at least.)

 

Maes Howe, Orkney Islands

Interior of Neolithic house at Skara Brae, NE Scotland. Just like Signy’s house?

 

But The Island House took me a loooong time to write. I ran into sand at the end of the second draft and had to stop for a while – during which time I wrote “The Dressmaker” (but that’s another story) – so location hunting for this book came about in three bursts during which Andrew and I ranged around the far North East and the far North West of Scotland.

For, as well as the standing stones, I needed to find locations for my town, Portsolly. I found it in bits.

Pennan, in NE Scotland, and Cullen also and Portree on the Island of Skye, all gave me places and houses and harbours to evoke.

 

Seafront cottages at Pennan in NE Scotland

Tough little cottages facing away from the sea at Pennan in NE Scotland

 

A harbour in NE Scotland

A harbour in NE Scotland. Part of what I saw in my head for Portsolly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, of course, there was just the landscape. Just. Such a simple word for something so grand.

The light, the mountains, the sweep of the valleys, the sea.

Sunset NW Isles of Scotland

Sunset on the Isle of Harris, NW Scotland

 

 

Glorious coast of NE Scotland, close to Pennan

A cool autumn day and a view of the glorious coast not far from Pennan. I could live here!

 

 

A croft on a loch, Isle of Lewis

Late afternoon on the Isle of Lewis, on our way back to our hotel, and we saw this. A croft on a Loch. What could be more Scottish?

 

And then, I saw this house…

A Scottish croft in the Western Isles of Scotland

Turning a corner of the winding road and here it was. A croft beside a loch on the Isle of Harris. An island house…

 

To think of what I saw is to run away back there, in my head and   I hope that these images help transport you into the world of “The Island House” . I’d go back there in a heartbeat!

 

Posie

 

A fine, free sheep on the Isle of Harris, Scotland

Proud and free and nimble as a goat! A sheet stares back on the isle of Harris