Real ghostly experiences are catalyst for new supernatural Highland novel
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Have a look at our brand new digital subscription packages!
A honeymoon-conceived novel is published today (July 8) that came about through what the author calls a "strange series of coincidences".
The Fall of the House of Thomas Weir is released through Burning Chair Publishing and is the first of a three book series entitled The Casebook of Johnson and Boswell by author Andrew Neil MacLeod.
Andrew was on a Highland honeymoon with his wife Amber and found himself following in the footsteps of his literary heroes Samuel Johnson and James Boswell who in 1773 made their celebrated journey through the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebrides.
"Amber is a Lovat-Fraser from Beauly on her late mother Mary Fraser’s side, and I am a MacLeod of Raasay," Andrew told the Inverness Courier.
"Both clans have a history of intermarriage, most famously Thomas Fraser, 10th Lord Lovatt to Sybilla MacLeod, daughter of the chief, whose offspring Simon Fraser went on to become the Old Fox of the ‘45."
To commemorate this shared history, Andrew and Amber set off on a tour of the Highlands – just like Johnson and Boswell – from Edinburgh's Witchery Hotel, which just happens to be adjacent to Boswell’s former residence on High Street. They travelled on to Beauly in Invernesshire, then finally to Raasay in the Western Isles.
"My grandfather was born on Raasay," said Andrew, "and brought up in the same house as his first cousin Calum MacLeod, who famously built the road there, using only a pickaxe, a shovel, a wheelbarrow, and his bare hands."
The newlyweds stayed seven nights in Raasay House Hotel, former home to the chief of that island, where Johnson and Boswell found nothing but "elegance, grace, and plenty". It was in the library that Andrew discovered a mildewed copy of Johnson and Boswell’s Journey to the Hebrides, and after a ghostly encounter in their honeymoon suite, the idea for his book was born.
"The Laird of Raasay had 10 beautiful daughters who used to sleep in the room we were staying in," said Andrew "A drunken Boswell danced with each one of them, and was upbraided by Johnson for his intemperance. As I lay sleeping, my wife turned to look out of the window at the stunning view of the Cuillins, when she felt the stroking of many fingers on her hair."
The next morning Amber brought it up to hotel manager Sue Lawrence, who told her she was not the only one to experience something amiss in the honeymoon suite – a room which had also been the source of mysterious fires.
"Johnson and Boswell themselves had a keen interest in the occult and supernatural, so it was no great leap of imagination to reinvent them as paranormal investigators for my series of books."
While part one takes place in Enlightenment-era Edinburgh, parts two and three follow the titular heroes up the east coast of Scotland to Inverness, then through the Great Glen to the Western Isles, as they investigate matters of an occult or supernatural nature.
"Doctor Johnson, who rarely conceded anything to Scotland, once claimed that the only reason the Invernessians spoke superior English was due to the influence of Cromwell’s troops, who bred into the area.
"I wanted to express some of this antipathy for Scotland in my dialogue between Johnson and Boswell, who were great friends despite their nationalist rivalry. In fact, I see their odd-couple interplay as a microcosm for relations between Scotland and England, which are never less than cordial, despite appearances to the contrary."
After the couple moved into their new house on Rothesay, they found themselves with no furniture, no internet, no hot water and a leaky roof to boot.
"So I picked up the stub of a pencil and started to write. I fed myself on a diet of fish suppers, wine, walks by the pier and visits to the local library, while I mentally planned out the whole series."
The Fall of the House of Thomas Weir is 220pp and available on Amazon as a Kindle edition (£2.99) or paperback (£8.99) at this link www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0961XH8RY