Thursday, 29 May 2008

A favourite island artist

Seeing some lovely photos of Loch Linnhe (which lies between Glencoe and Fort William in western Scotland) while surfing around some photography sites has inspired me to extract another book from the TBR Mountain (the height of which is reaching Highland proportions itself). And this is what I have chosen: Sea Change: The Summer Voyage from East to West Scotland of the "Anassa", by Mairi Hedderwick.

I bought this three years ago while saying on Mull but have never got round to reading it. At the same time, I bought Eye on the Hebrides - a personal record in words and sketches of Mairi Hedderwick's six-month solitary journey of the Western Isles of Scotland - and Highland Journey: Sketching Tour of Scotland Retracing the Footsteps of Victorian Artist John T. Reid , both of which I did read at the time.

Sea Change slipped through the net, but I'm really looking forward to snuggling down with it. The back-cover blurb is promising:

'What possessed Mairi Hedderwick to undertake a six-week voyage with the Captain down the Caledonian Canal and out to sea in a small, antiquated sailing boat? . . . The names of the places she visited ring out like an old Gaelic song: Lock Linnhe, Loch Etive, Lochs Ailort and Moidart,Loch Nevis, Loch na Droma Buidhe, Loch a'Choire and Loch Leven. And finally, mysteriously, to the "island", her old home, her pilgrimage complete and the purpose of the journey fulfilled.'

There are hand-drawn maps and pull-out watercolour panoramas. I'll post a review here as soon as I've finished it. It seems that it's out of print, but there is a plentiful supply of new and used copies on offer via Amazon and Abe Books.

Mairi Hedderwick is one of my family's top favourite artist-writers. It all started when SD# was a toddler and I used to take her down to Colchester library every week, and it was there that we first discovered Katie Morag.

Katie Morag McColl lives on the tiny fictional Hebridean island of Struay , where her mother is the postmistress. Her father runs the island shop (and in later stories the island Bistro), and her 'Grannie Island' has a croft at the other side of the bay. Grannie Island drives a tractor and wears wellies and doesn't suffer fools gladly - especially Katie's other grandmother, Grandma Mainland, a city-dwelling confection of frothy pink clothes, feathery hats, wafting perfume and bouffant silvery hair.

Struay is populated by a delightful collection of characters of all ages, and Katie's adventures are homely but significant for small children, and filled with love, laughter and the sound of the sea. When a new baby arrives in the family, Katie gets in a grump and hurls her beloved teddy in the tea - but luckily, he survives a few submarine adventures of his own and the tide washes him up on the beach. Katie gets into scrapes with her visiting Boy Cousins, shampoos a sheep ready for the Island Show, makes a point of visiting her neighbours on Baking Day, and takes a starring role in Grandma Mainland's wedding to a local fisherman (spoiler alert!!).

The stories are amusing and realistic, and the illustrations are sheer delight. Hedderwick performs a wonderfully reassuring service to harassed, imperfect mothers who juggle work and family, by portraying a domestic life of general untidiness and sometimes utter chaos. No picture of Katie's bed is complete without a discarded apple core beneath it, and Mrs McColl struggles with breastfeeding and teething babies and burns the cakes on the day an important guest is coming for tea.

If you're new to Katie Morag, I recommend a quick look at her very own web page and suggest that the best book to start with is The Big Katie Morag Storybook, which collects together a selection of stories and poems.

Here's a quick biog of Hedderwick which I've lifted from her publisher's site:

Mairi was born in Gourock, Scotland in 1939. At the age of 17 she took a job as a mother's help on the Island of Coll in the Hebrides and there began a life-long love affair with islands and small communities bounded by sea. After attending the Edinburgh College of Art, Mairi married and had two children, Mark and Tamara. In 1962 she decided to opt out of the rat race, and the family moved to Coll where they lived in a house three miles from the nearest neighbour with no road or electricity, with the only water available from a well. The Isle of Struay, setting for Katie Morag, is loosely based on Coll, and some of the content reflects Mairi's own experiences: Katie's toys are those of her own children, Granny Island's Rayburn stove was Mairi's own, and Mairi admits she has thrown her own teddy bear into the sea - twice!. As an adult! As well as writing and illustrating children's books Mairi writes and illustrates travel books for adults. She spend a lot of time visiting schools and is always accompanied by Katie Morag's teddy that travels with her in a black bag.

And she featured in Scotland on Sunday's 'Welcome to My World' series last weekend, which you can read here here. I certainly like the sound of her 'perfect weekend'!

You can download and print this Katie Morag bookplate absolutely free, as many times as you wish, from Anne Fine's wonderful My Home Library website (there are loads of other bookplates here and printable bookmarks here - altogether a bit of a must for parents and teachers, this one).

And finally, while this Hebridean Desk Address Book sits on my desk (where else?), I do rather hanker after some other spin-offs in the Hedderwick range. There's a Hebridean Desk Diary, a Hebridean Visitors Book and a Hebridean Birthday Book.


monix said...

We spent a wonderful month in a log cabin on the side of Loch Linnhe a few years ago. Walking, sailing, climbing and just sitting watching the sun set or rise, each day was different. I would happily move there but the midgies seem to like the flavour of my blood. This is a lovely selection of books to carry me back - Book Rabbit here I come again!

Cath said...

Another new author to add to my 'keep an eye out for' list. Those illustrations look wonderful and I have this peculiar fascination with Scottish islands. Lovely post.

Juliet said...

M - I think the midgies like the flavour if everyone's blood! One tends to forget them until the next visit and then one thinks 'arrgh [scratch] - how could I have forgotten [swat] just how bad [itch] these damned things are?!'

C - Scottish islands fascination - know *exactly* what you mean (despite the midgies). My younger daughter's named Iona. Q.E.D.!