Published: 24/02/2016 14:35 - Updated: 24/02/2016 17:15

New publishing venture brings tales from the north

Rab and Merrill MacWilliams launching their books.
Rab and Merrill MacWilliams launching their books.

A NEW publishing venture in the Highlands is keeping things in the family with its latest releases.

Kessock Books, founded by a group of friends to produce books of local interest, has already enjoyed success with Highland readers with Rab MacWilliam’s light-hearted look at north life in Snow On The Ben.

This was the second biggest selling book in Waterstones’ Inverness store in 2014, beaten only by the latest edition in the Inverness Courier’s nostalgic series Inverness Remembered.

Now Kessock Books has followed with more books from the MacWilliam family.

Alongside Views From The Ben, Rab’s follow up to his debut, Kessock Books has also issued Moments In Time: Sketches Around Inverness by his sister-in-law Merrill.

Artist Merrill, who is married to Rab’s brother George, was asked to create a book of local illustrations, with Rab providing the accompanying text.

In turn, she has also provided illustrations for Rab’s book.

"It wasn’t easy picking just 40 places," said Merrill, who staged an exhibition of her paintings at the Greig Street Studio and Art Gallery in the autumn.

"I think there’s another book in there. Obviously, surrounding this area there are an awful lot of picturesque things to depict.

"Rab has put little snippets in there that are fascinating. It’s not your usual tourist commentary. It’s quite quirky in lots of ways. I think the books will make great gifts, especially at this time of year."

Originally from Glasgow and a former student of the city’s School of Art, she has lived in the Inverness area for 35 years.

Rab went the other way, having been brought up in Inverness, but moving to London some 40 years ago.

While Merrill finds it hard to pick a favourite sketch from the book, Rab is quicker with an answer.

"The Town House is a great one because most people look at the front, they don’t look at the top," he said.

Kessock Books began when Rab decided to set down Invernessian words and phrases unheard outside the Highlands.

"Eventually I was at 30,000 words, so we decided to publish it as Snow On the Ben and it was a surprise success," Rab said.

"We’re now building up a list of books and not just humorous books. We’re doing a book about the Far North Line by David Spaven, who is an old friend of mine and a very big name in railway circles."

Described as "clarty wee boorach of a book" Views From The Ben takes a tongue in cheek look at Highland history, culture and characters with spoof quizzes and cartoons provided by Merrill and humorous tales.

Among the questions asked by Rab include definitions of the word "boorach", where or what is Dores and the origin of the placename Beauly.

Each question is multiple choice and alternative answers to the Dores question might be "entrances to houses" and "an annual Inverness event where everyone called Jim (‘Jeemuck’) Morrison gathers to sing Light My Fire.

"In my experience, some people take the history a wee bit too seriously. A lot of it is not even true and I just thought we could get something that was funny and a bit daft," Rab explained.

"Then I thought I could put in a few of the Highlanders that nobody knows about, but essentially it’s 100 quiz questions. I’d like to do something like that every so often."

First, however, he is planning a book with former BBC Scotland reporter Iain MacDonald about places in the Highlands that everyone should visit.

"It’s a sort of tourist book, but it’s also for locals," Rab said.

"It’s trying to get away from all that stag on the hillside and Bonnie Prince Charlie stuff and get it into perspective. There are oil rigs up there and Brora even had a coal mine. The diversity is quite extraordinary and people don’t know that."

Views From The Ben by Rab MacWilliam (£7.95) and Moments In Time: Sketches Around Inverness by Merrill MacWilliam (£14.95) are both published by Kessock Books and available at local bookshops.

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