Published: 24/04/2014 10:38 - Updated: 29/04/2014 14:13

Plockton writer's sunny novel tackles French war secrets

From Plockton to Collioure, the setting for Jane MacKenzie’s first novel, Daughter Of Catalonia.
From Plockton to Collioure, the setting for Jane MacKenzie’s first novel, Daughter Of Catalonia.

THE sun’s been out for Jane MacKenzie’s big week – launching her debut novel and introducing her Nobel Prize-winning friend to Plockton.

But it’s unlikely to have shone as brightly as it does in the Catalan town Jane’s modelled on her own French dream home.

An early review calls novel Daughter Of Catalonia "the perfect holiday read".

And the writer said: "I think what people seem to like is that it’s a sunshine book."

The golden light of the South of France shines out of the pages of her story set not far from the French-Spanish border.

But the story uncovers dark wartime secrets for heroine Madeleine returning to the French village she left as a child – and where her father, Resistance hero Luis, died.

There’s more darkness to come in the follow-up book set in Franco’s Spain – now almost completed and with a third to follow which will return to France in the late 60s.

But it was in Geneva that much of the book was written when MacKenzie worked for CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.

It was there that she met Nobel-prize winning physicist Professor Peter Higgs who she invited to speak to Highland Higher physics pupils on Tuesday at Plockton High School.

They became friends in July 2012 when MacKenzie’s job involved looking after him while he was at CERN to announce the ground-breaking Higgs boson (or ‘God particle’) had been found using the Hadron particle collider.

Geneva and Collioure are just two of the many places the writer has lived and worked.

Her career – first as a language teacher – has also taken her to the Gambia, Papua New Guinea and the Persian Gulf.

"My father was an airline pilot and we always travelled away for holidays – it was free.

"I’ve always had wanderlust and I think I’d have struggled to take on one job in the UK and done that for 40 years.

"I wanted to travel and have adventure!"

Jane MacKenzie at Waterstones tonight (Thursday) at 6pm.
Jane MacKenzie at Waterstones tonight (Thursday) at 6pm.

Having taught in France after university, MacKenzie headed for the Gambia where she knew fellow teachers. She recently discovered the man who is currently president, Yahya Jammeh, was among her pupils.

After Gambia, the writer followed her dad out to Bahrain where he was working and she ended up as director of a language school.

"That’s also where I met my husband which is how I ended up here in the Highlands," MacKenzie explained.

They were briefly in Papua New Guinea before a revolution made staying with a young family too nerve-wracking.

She developed her existing consultancy work between UK universities and schools and colleges around the Gulf into a business.

"My husband very sadly passed away in 2003 and once the children and I had recovered and they had grown up and left home, I was a little at a loose end," said MacKenzie.

"I was running my own business, I was busy, but I was asking myself what direction I wanted my life to go in.

"One thing I really wanted to do was go back and reconnect with France.

"I’d spent a year in the south in Aix en Provence during my French degree. When a plot of land came up in the village where I wanted my dream home – it was a rare opportunity."

The seeds of Daughter Of Catalonia were planted when MacKenzie read a book about the area during the Second World War and then also became friends with a 91-year-old Catalan fisherman.

Called Petit Louis, the local character has many stories of local life in the 30s and 40s.

"I asked him to tell me about those times and the more he talked, the more I thought ‘I want to write about this’."

Signed up by respected literary agent Jenny Brown and publisher Allison & Busby, the writer has waited a couple of years for her title to hit the bookshop shelves.

And the time may have brought a change of heart.

"I’d never thought before about writing a book set in the Highlands, possibly because I’m too close to it, but I’m coming round to the idea," she admitted. "It’s a beautiful setting, with so many characters – and wonderful things happen.

"But I’ve got another to write in the sunshine of France first!"

Jane’s novel Daughter Of Catalonia (Allison & Busby, £7.99) is out in paperback and is also available as an ebook. For more on the book, go to:

For more about Jane, go to: and you can also follow her on Twitter: @JaneFMackenzie

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