Had we never loved so blindly.... A report of last Tuesday's HighlandLIT meeting
Fourteen of us met on Zoom on Tuesday evening for a fascinating author event with Skye-based Liz Macrae Shaw who spoke about her latest novel Had we never loved so blindly. The evening was introduced by HighlandLIT’s new Chair Mark Williams. John Dempster then interviewed Liz, and finally there was a chance for those attending to ask Liz questions.
Liz’s mother, who was Skye-born, met and married a young man from Kent who was based at Kyle during WW2. They settled in the south of England, which is where Liz was born. As a child and teenager however, she spent every summer on Skye with her grandparents and the lore and culture of the island helped form her identity.
Liz studied history at Oxford, and then had two careers – as a history lecturer at an FE College, and later as a counsellor and therapist, both of which yield insights which shape her novels. It was only after she retired and settled on Skye with her husband that she had time to write. Had we never loved so blindly is her third novel.
It is perhaps the most personal of her books, she told us. A major theme of the work is the impact of the Scottish island communities of the 2nd World War. It has two main characters: John Norman a young Skye fisherman, and Felicity, a privileged English girl whose father has a holiday house and some acres of ground near Portree. Liz sees these characters as representing different cultures, different social classes, and also two elements – Hebridean and Home Counties – of her own identity.
Both Felicity and John Norman are keen to serve in the war – Felicity works initially at Bletchley Park, while John Norman, rejected for the navy through having poor eye-sight, signs up for the merchant navy. And as the war unfolds these two mismatched characters who first encountered one another as teenagers meet up from time to time, and a tenuous link draws them together. No Mills-and-Boon romance this, says Liz. There is sadness and tragedy, and as the book ends the shadow of what has gone before looms over a subsequent generation.
It’s a great piece of writing. We saw from the passages Liz read on Tuesday who well she writes – her use of language, her attention to small details. She hooks us and draws into the story so that we are with the characters living every second of their experience.
Liz spoke about the challenges she faced in writing Had we never loved so blindly – the need for research in Skye history, Bletchley Park and life in the merchant navy, the need to get the timescales correct when interspersing the stories of John Norman and Felicity in parallel sections, the need to capture the men-only ambiance of a cargo ship at sea.
And she also spoke about the method of publishing her work, under John Hunt’s Top Hat imprint. John Hunt offers authors a co-operative approach to publishing, whereby other members of the co-operative provide services, and some of the cost of publishing is met by the author. Liz found this approach worked well for her second novel No Safe Anchorage, and she recommends it.
We were grateful to Liz for taking the time to introduce us to her writing and her latest book