Sunday Sojourn – The Ashentilly Letters
Happy Sunday everyone! Today, Yvonne Marjot is talking us through The Ashentilly Letters, and the ‘wonderful’ Scottish weather, in particular… Over to you, Yvonne.
Oceans and Worlds Apart
In The Ashentilly Letters, the third book in the sequence that began with The Calgary Chessman, my two main protagonists find themselves half the world apart. Cas jets off to New Zealand to take care of her elderly, and very ill, grandparents, little knowing that this long-delayed return home will bring new friends into her life. Her son, Sam ends his first year at university with his relationship in crisis, as older lover Niall struggles with feelings of jealousy and fear. Still, that doesn’t stop the two of them from discovering a two-thousand-year-old mystery that will change the archaeological map of Scotland.
The name Ashentilly probably comes from a Scots Gaelic phrase, Eas an Tulaidh, the waterfall on the green hill. I’m fascinated by the names of things, and what they tell you about places, and about the people who named them. Living in Scotland, I can’t help but pick up local words and phrases, be they Scots, Gaelic, or just the variations in language that mark one place out from another. Our human sense of place is inextricably wound up with language.
I often find, when I’m writing about a place, it’s the weather as much as the scenery that helps me to paint the picture. Isn’t that a stereotypically British way of looking at things? But the Scots have an amazing number of words to describe the weather, which is a pretty good measure of how varied and changeable it can be.
Early in the The Ashentilly Letters I talk about the ‘summerdim’ – a northern word, describing the long summer days which blend into the brief never-quite-darkness of the summer night. Later on, when the archaeologists are working against the clock to raise their find before the really bad weather blows in, it’s all about wind, rain and storm. The weather on the east coast of Scotland can be dreich and dour (dark, cold and wet), or the wind can bring in a smirr (a light rain that hangs in the air), or a haar (a thick sea mist). You can be drookit (soaked) when the rain is stoating (pouring so hard it bounces off the ground) after which your hair will be cat-sookins, but there’s nothing to be done. You’ll just have to thole it.
The landscape of Scotland is old, both in geological and human terms. There are Neolithic standing stones in Aberdeenshire, the Picts, the Gaels and the Norse came, built and named, and the landscape bears their words to this day. Aberdeenshire (where The Ashentilly Letters is partly set) is a green, fertile landscape, which owes its character to the local weather.
Today on the east coast they use words that come from Doric, the local Scots language, from Gaelic, and from the many loan words that have come into English from all over the worlds. But whether you say the weather is drochit, tha e garbh (bad), or that it’s drizzling (from Old English dreosan, to fall), you can pretty much guarantee that the weather will be an unavoidable part of your description of Scotland.
Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). Her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and her novels are published by Crooked Cat.
You can follow her work via the Facebook page The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the WordPress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet. Links to where you can buy her books are below: