Published: 09/01/2016 13:01 - Updated: 08/01/2016 13:29

Highlands gives fantasy its magic


THE Highlands can be an inspiring location for an author.

That is certainly the view of Jennifer M. Calder, who, after a career as a teacher and copywriter in England, returned to her home town of Dornoch with the aim of becoming an author.

It is an aim she has achieved with the publication of The Secret of Skara Vhore, a magical adventure about a troubled teenager, Katie, who comes to a remote island in search of a new life and finds herself caught up in a supernatural battle against the forces of evil.

The north of Scottish setting reflects the impact of the Highland landscape on Calder’s own imagination.

"I spent a lot of my childhood wandering around Dornoch and the beaches around Embo. My family had a croft at the back of Bonar Bridge, so it’s in my blood really," she explained.

"You can go out and let your mind wander and soak it in and draw on it when you are writing. You didn’t even know it was happening. It’s a good environment for writing, I think."

The tales she heard in her childhood also fed into The Secret of Skara Vhore.

"I was brought up with tales about kelpies and mermaids and mermen and that leaves an impression on you, as the landscape does," she said.

"As a child I would think of the hills as sleeping giants. I quite like a sense of the uncanny about things."

Calder, who began writing the book before she moved back to the Highlands, has invented the book’s island setting which, despite a name that references one of Orkney’s most famous archaeological sites, she sees as somewhere in the Hebrides.

"We just liked the sound of the name. It does seem to have a nice resonance to it and ‘Vhore’ is from the Gaelic, so that ties in with the Gaelic elements of the story," Calder said.

It may be fictional, but Calder has a clear picture of the island in her mind and now her readers can also have a good idea of its geography thanks to the map included at the front of the book.

"I was very careful with the map because I had to make sure that everything on it did actually accord with what’s in the book. It’s not a real island, but it could be," she said.

"There’s something romantic about islands that draws people in. That’s why I set it there rather than on the coast, and I wanted to isolate the main character, Katie, as far as possible from the world she knew so she could start afresh. It’s like a closed set – mobile phones don’t work, so that’s quite useful!

Jennifer M. Calder
Jennifer M. Calder

"I’ve also got a few characters I quite like, but you never know who is going to be a goody and which ones you can trust and which ones you can’t."

And being a Highlander itself, she also hopes she brings an authenticity to her imaginary setting.

"I have trodden those paths, not exactly on an island, but in very similar places," she said.

The book has already picked up several glowing reviews from both adult and younger readers, with Anne Zouroudi, author of the Hermes Diaktoros Greek detective series, calling Calder "a writer of real promise".

"Somebody said it was an excellent novel with enormous currency and I think that’s because Katie starts off as a very troubled child," she said.

"She comes to the island and has a new chance of life, which she doesn’t accept. For quite a while I taught in an inner city school in Nottingham and there were children I came across there who had a very nasty start in life. You wanted to let them have a fresh start and by writing a novel I could do it with one child and give them hope again.

"But I do like the adventure in it and quite a few adults have enjoyed reading it, so although it’s for teenagers from 11 up, anyone who is into that dark supernatural can enjoy it."

Calder is already working on a sequel, but 2016 will also see her publish a novel for younger readers she originally wrote for her own children.

The Secret of Skara Vhore by Jennifer M. Calder is published by Matador Books in both print and electronic form.

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