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Highland-set novel is a tasty slice of heaven

By Margaret Chrystall

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This week’s Star Read is Liz Treacher’s almost irresistibly titled Vegan Recipes For New Age Men which is 186 pages of fun, insight, wisdom and Highland magic cooked up in a satisfying plot.

Liz Treacher's fourth and latest novel.
Liz Treacher's fourth and latest novel.

Lauren has a Highland cottage to rent out – happy with her proofreading job in London and handsome boyfriend Patrick – when she encounters the next client for her cottage Fois which the book tells us means 'peace' in Geelic.

Like Lauren, we become mildly obsessed with Nash’s hairy toes, nice teeth and vow to write his book during his stay in the Highlands, near 'Door Knock' – Dornoch – and Loch Fleet.

Inevitably, Lauren ends up heading home, having found Nash’s new age presence popping up in her thoughts, with things she would rather not think too much about – such as the mysterious death of her mother Esther who left her the idyllic cottage.

But always expect the unexpected in this treasure of a novel – Liz Treacher is usually two steps ahead of you, if not three.

And there are not many good reads that come with their own selection of vegan recipes (as we get the occasional insight into what Nash is writing) – and cooking. Though there is a disclaimer at the start of the book: "Nash is not as good a chef as he thinks he is. Readers should approach his recipes with extreme caution!"

And Nash? You are never likely to have come across a love interest so full of surprising life.

"...Nash is standing in a T-shirt, hugging the plants. Well, not literally hugging. HIs arms are stretched out in a sort of socially-distanced hug, in the way a conductor embraces an orchestra. His eyes are closed and his lips are vibrating in a strange, continuous hum. But what is even stranger is that the plants are vibrating too, their leaves quivering in response

'Reiki,' he says, without opening his eyes. At first Lauren thinks he is talking to the plants, then she realises he has heard her approach.

'Why?' It's a genuine question.

Nash lowers his arms and opens his eyes. 'They needed it.'

... Lauren glances at the plants. They look both exhausted and revitalised, as if they have had a deep tissue massage.... Then suddenly Lauren starts to giggle. It's too surreal. Getting up at dawn to discover that Nash is turning the house plants into triffids ... And once she starts, she can't stop..."

Loch Fleet. Picture: Alan Hendry
Loch Fleet. Picture: Alan Hendry

The descriptions of the Highlands are masterfully executed – you will smell them, see them, hear them – just like Patrick, long after.

"The beach seems to have been taken over by birds. Arctic terns run past leaving tiny footprints in the sand. Eider ducks fly along the shoreline, their long wings like floppy ears. They land on the loch and start making cooing calls, oohing and aahing like gossipig ladies ... Marram grasses swish against her legs and she has to watch her step over the uneven, boggy ground. Small Blue butterflies race ahead. Yellow Rockrose flowers light the way. In the distance, a Highland cow calls to her calf..."

But maybe the best description of this book and its top quality, like Nash’s ‘sexy scone’ recipe, is it is: “ ...as light and fluffy as the clouds above Glastonbury”.

Yet this original romance is also a wise and a satisfying look at how humans really cope with the tough stuff.

Characters such as feisty Granny Amelia and Lauren’s social circle add meat to the bones of this skilfully planned story, the writer never giving in to the temptation to overwrite or over-egg the pudding.

A chameleon of a novel, light on its toes.

Vegan Recipes For New Age Men by Liz Treacher (Skelbo, £8.99).

INTERVIEW: Liz Treacher

With latest title Vegan Recipes For New Age Men, novelist Liz Treacher has come up with a constrasting subject from the three published before – and it is not a cookbook!

Liz Treacher, working on a book set in a mining community.
Liz Treacher, working on a book set in a mining community.

The new book which is published on the Skelbo imprint for £8.99 is a rom-com with many twists, original characters and incorporates some beautiful descriptions of local landscapes.

And though there are recipes in the book, Liz points out in a disclaimer near the front of the book that her character Nash is: “… not as good a chef as he thinks he is!”

Originally from Devon, Liz revealed that her first interest in writing came when she received some letters from First World War soldiers.

“A few years ago my mother handed me a little almost dolls’ suitcase and in it were letters that her mother – my grandmother – had been sent during the Second World War. They were beautifully written in longhand writing from two soldiers in 1914/15. Then, young girls like my grandmother, about 14 or 15 were encouraged to write to soldiers at the front. I read all the letters and was really fascinated by them and one of the writers was a very confident fellow and I felt there were a lot of things he wasn’t saying but was hiding and that just sort of got me.

“I don’t know if a character formed in my head, but before I knew it I was writing a novel called The Wrong Envelope, about a flamboyant artist set just after the First World War and it’s a romance between him and the post lady.

“I think it came out of these letters. I had always wanted to write but I had never really known what to write about.

“But somehow the voices in the letters were so strong that I could almost see the characters before me. So I borrowed them – I didn’t use what was in the letters but I imagined this character I brought into life and then wrote a book in which he was a hero.”

Then a second book followed …

She said that while she was editing the book, the characters started whispering in her ear, telling me what happened next and, before she knew it, she was writing a second novel, The Wrong Direction. A darke, third novel, Unravelling, followed in 2020.

At the moment, Liz has returned to writing a book that inspired her a few years ago.

“My grandfather was a coalminer down in Northumberland and he used to tell me lots of stories when I was young and they permeated into my life.

“I had written a novel about a lockout in 1921 when it was very difficult for the miners after the First World War and it was very difficult for coal mines

“So they tried to get all the coalminers to work more hours for less and they were locked out of all the pits in Britain for three months – 13 weeks. Then when they just couldn’t hold on any more, they all went back for less than the offer they rejected. My grandfather remembers it though he was a very young man, miners went down the pit really early. He used to talk to me about it and I thought it was a very good premise for a story.

“What happened during the last lockout, it was a romance. I wrote it and sent it off to agents last year, but nothing happened. So I put it on the backburner and wrote the Vegan Recipes For New Age Men. I could independently publish it.

“Now that book is out, I am returning to the mining book and trying to get an agent again.

“Because it is historical fiction, I would love to have a publisher for that. But I would need to have an agent first. I had an agent before but she couldn’t place the book at the time it was written – it’s so difficult!”

Liz spent some years working in adult education as a tutor in both Brora Learning Zone and Lairg Learning Centre.

“Now I don’t do it any more, but it was a lovely job, we used to use poems and photographs to inspire people to write poems. I took a year out to do a masters and then I came back as an adult education coordinator for Sutherland and did that for a couple of years, then started writing.

“It has been very gradual.”

It also looks as if there might be another romance coming soon to follow Vegan Recipes For New Age Men.

“There is another idea for another rom-com,” Lia said. “Again, with a slightly darker side, about an angel.

“I have a few more books in me!”

Liz Treacher’s Vegan Recipes For New Age Men is out now (Skelbo, £8.99) in Dornoch Bookshop.

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