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About the author:
Emmanuelle writes the wry, the Gothic, the erotic and the bittersweet, exploring the themes of madness and imprisonment, and our desire for freedom.
What inspired you to write your book?
Inspired by the classic Gothic novels of Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart and Susan Howatch.
Here is a short sample from the book:
What was I hoping for? To escape? From the young curate, simpering love poetry as he held my hand limply in his? From the butcher’s son, smelling of blood? He’d taken me to the pictures once, pushing his hand under my skirt. All I could think of was the old meat lingering under his nails.
My mother had been an only child and my father not an Inverary-man. There was no-one to dispute my claim upon our house. A desirable property, looking across the harbour. It would bring a tidy sum.
‘You shouldna be so picky,’ my neighbour said. ‘There’s few enough men to choose from and plenty enough widows. All those soldiers lost in the war; you’ll have to take what ye can get, or you’ll end up a spinster.’
Even in church there was no peace. Too many eyes, watching, judging, waiting for me to marry. My father was barely in his grave. He was unwell for so long I can hardly remember the man who daily saluted the calendar print of King George VI, framed upon the wall, and who took my mother dancing on a Saturday evening.
So many months of nursing him. Waking, he’d cry out for her.
‘Don’t worry, Da, she’s resting next door,’ I’d say. ‘You’ll see her soon.’
He’d whimper, from the pain, and I’d hold his hand.
‘I’m here, Da.’
When he slept, I’d stand at the window, looking out. I made cups of tea that were cold by the time I thought to drink them. A shadow crept over me, and I’d think about the poison in the pantry cupboard. A spoonful in a dram of whisky would do it. He need drink only half. I felt the temptation, saw the danger, fought the compulsion that threatened to overtake me.
I told the doctor that he must have passed in the night; I’d found him cold, taking up his kipper that last morning.
Whatever guilt I felt, I tempered it with knowledge of my many months of care. He’d been forced into intimacies with me that no man should endure from a woman not his wife. It had shamed him at first, and he’d clutched at the covers when I came to wash him. By the end, he barely knew what I did for him.
In the days that followed, I looked for grief to arrive, for tears, or anger. I loved him, didn’t I? Instead, I was relieved. I’d been set free.
Inverary is a pretty place, with its white-washed town houses looking down the loch, but I could think only of leaving. To go where, I couldn’t say. I took out the map and looked at the names. I’d never been to Glasgow. I wondered how I might like to live there. The anonymity of a city appealed to me, but I doubted I could bear the noise, or the dirt, or the crowds upon the street.
It was in that mood, of indecisive determination, that I saw the advertisement in the Hebridean Chronicle.
Personal assistant sought to help in the running of Dorchadas House, on the island of Eirig: a retreat for women of an independent mind.
Eirig. It’s sheep the place is known for, mostly, out on the hills. There would be space to think. In going where I was unknown, I might discover who it was I wanted to be. I took up my pen to apply, and Mrs McInnes replied within the fortnight.
Dorchadas House is quite grand. A sheltered spot, with a walled garden. Twenty bedrooms, though only a handful in use. We envisage attracting women writers and artists, and those who enjoy the outdoor life, who will take pleasure in exploring Eirig’s remote, natural beauty.
Beyond that provided by the house’s oil-fuelled generator, Mrs McInnes’ letter explained, Eirig had no electricity. The postal office had the telegraph, but no telephone line. The packet boat came once a week with deliveries.
I was to begin on the first of the new month, with accommodation and meals provided, and a modest wage. My duties were reasonable. Only occasional cooking, and no cleaning. There were women from the village for that, and men for the heavy work. I’d oversee the decoration of the bedrooms. New wallpapers had been ordered. There were several hand-weavers on the island, making cloth for bedspreads and curtains. One thing they were not short of was wool. The old crafts might be dying on the mainland, but the peddle looms still had their place on Eirig.
The main part of my work would come later: placing invitations in the relevant periodicals, to entice suitable guests, organizing the boat to take them to and fro, from Oban. I’d manage the bookings, and see that our visitors had everything to ensure their comfort. I’d be an assistant to Mrs McInnes, in running the house.
If I found myself unsuited to island life, she assured me I’d be free to leave with a month’s notice.
There was little I regretted leaving behind. My clothes fitted into two small cases and I wore the heaviest: a green sweater and good quality skirt of brown tweed, which had been my mother’s. My winter coat had been hers too. With my stoutest shoes, and my beret, scarf and gloves, I was ready to face whatever the Western Isles had in store for me.
The boat met me as agreed, at Inverary Harbour, smelling strongly of fish. It was, like its captain, salt-ravaged by the waves and wind. Buchanan introduced himself, tying to the pier only long enough for me to step on board. There was no one to see me off, but he said nothing of it, nodding to the stern as he took my bag.
‘Sit ye inside. The sea’s a wee bit rough, but we’ll manage. Ye’ll not be sick I hope.’
I’d not travelled beyond the loch before, never into the open sea. No matter if I were to be sick, I was heading to Eirig and I thrilled to the thought of it. As Inverary grew smaller behind us, the burden of so much I’d carried eased, blown by the breeze pushing us out with the tide. From the boat, the hills were more magnificent, and the birds’ cries more piercing, as if my ears and eyes had come alive, and wished to take in everything anew.
Leaving behind the mouth of the loch, the boat heaved and rolled, but it was not as bad as I’d feared.
‘Look at the horizon, lassie,’ Captain Buchanan had advised. ‘There’s a blanket there for ye, and a flask. It’ll be some four hours to reach Eirig, and I’ll drop the creels as we go. The crab are good this season.’
He said little more on the journey, only pointing out the jagged tops of the Cuillins, on the distant Isle of Skye, as we travelled south-west. Once we were on the wildest expanse of the Minch, I did my best to hold on, and not be sent sprawling.
I was glad of the blanket and the sweet cocoa, for the damp of the sea air penetrated my coat too easily. By the time the outline of Eirig appeared, the chill was in my bones.
Nevertheless, my heart leapt to see Eirig’s cliffs come into sight, violet dark, with the sun sinking to touch them. The past was a distant land and this, my new home.