AFTER Sylvie Harrington swapped her native Tain for Texas, she put her homesickness to good use by starting work on a Young Adult novel set in her home patch of Easter Ross.
Now back in the Highlands, Sylvie has published the first book in her Eye Stone fantasy trilogy, which begins when American teenager Brucie discovers a strange stone in Loch Ussie – a site long associated with the legendary Highland prophet, the Brahan Seer.
The Eye Stone Trilogy obviously draws on the legend of the Brahn Seer and other aspects of Highland folklore. Is this a longstanding interest of yours, or did the story come first and then the research?
I’ve been fascinated with the Brahan Seer since I was a child. Around age six, I recall being told about a prophecy attributed to the Brahan Seer, concerning the ‘town hall’ in Tain.According to my memory, a stream of water ran beneath this building, and so the ‘town hall’ of the prophecy was presumed to be the old picture house, the town hall prior to a later one known as the Duthac Centre. It related to the month of November and a gathering of 300 people, all packed inside this building. Due to subsidence the roof would cave in, killing all but one red head.
This churned through my mind a lot over the years. However, even though I’ve done much research, I’ve never been able to actually link that prophecy to the Brahan Seer. Even more weirdly, as an adult, I’ve asked many local people if they recall this prophesy but nobody seems to remember it. Perhaps one of your readers might remember. I’d be keen to hear.
Your heroine, Brucie, is an American teenager who finds herself living in small town Highland Scotland. Did you draw on your own experiences of coming home after living in America for this aspect of Brucie’s story?
Brucie came to life during a character-building assignment for a college course that I did while in Texas. I’d sit in the park and study the way that families interacted. One day I saw this awkward teenage girl with reddish hair so I took notes, gave her an imaginary name and tried to visualise what went on in her head from the way that she behaved and spoke to people. I built upon these notes at home, I suppose adding small bits of my own personality traits and that of others until I felt that I knew this girl, Brucie. The idea for Eye Stone had already been born. I needed a protagonist and she fitted the bill perfectly. As for Brucie’s experiences in Scotland and the locality in which she found herself, I drew upon my own experiences as a teenager growing up in the Easter Ross and East Sutherland area.
How did you take to America yourself? What were the best and worst or downright strangest things for a Highland lass who finds herself living in Texas?
My late husband, a native Texan, was a gentle but colourful character. He detested Country music, Evangelist preachers, sunshine, American sports, gun culture and Southern accents. My integration into the heat of the guitar-twanging Bible Belt was therefore completely free from Stetsons, American football and ‘y’alls’. Perhaps I rebelled against this through Brucie, making her prone to Southern-accented outbursts when rattled.
My biggest gaff was probably my enthusiasm when calling one woman ‘very homely’ in order to praise her delightful home cooking, not knowing that ‘homely’ Texas women were considered plain ugly and, therefore, unlikely to get a husband.
I loved the sunshine there. I built a large Koi pond in my yard (back garden) from scratch and spent many an hour constructing my own water filtering systems and small waterfalls. As eating out was cheap there, I enjoyed a wide range of eclectic foods several times a week. There were great music venues and I saw so many great artists play concerts.
Apart from experiencing some terrifying thunderstorms and tornado scares, the worst part of being in Texas was homesickness, which I eventually succumbed to and returned home to Scotland.
You are obviously a very gifted photographer. When did your interest in photography begin and what subjects are you particularly excited about capturing on film?
My dad, Forbie Urquhart, a retired local shopkeeper in Tain, was a keen amateur photographer. I think I realised that I’d inherited his eye for composition.
I bought my first bridging camera for returning to home Scotland on my first holiday from Texas. It was through photography that I suddenly realized how absolutely beautiful Scotland is. Upon return to Texas, however, when I began to look through my photos, a deep seated homesickness started. I suddenly realized that my Texan surrounding consisted mostly of modern concrete structures; angular buildings built upon flat clay soil. You can drive for almost a hundred miles from north to south in the Dallas metroplex and just hit one city, or one freeway, after another. I began to crave more colours, nature, undulating hills and the freedom to roam safely with my camera. Landscape photography became such a yearning.
How did you find the writing process? And what of your parth to publication? Did you always intend to self publish or did you explore a more traditional publishing route?
The bones of my novel were written during a diploma course in writing novels for children. It took me a few years thereafter to perfect my manuscript, editing it and leaving it, and then editing again.
I initially explored the traditional route to publishing, submitting to established agents and publishers. I received some great feedback and constructive advice there, which I acted on. I intended to resubmit my work but then I realized that publishers, especially smaller establishments, expect you do a lot of self-promotion nowadays. It seems to me that today’s publishers are so financially squeezed; two for one deals, and discounted book prices in stores, force them to pare back their businesses. Simultaneously, indie publishing has really taken off. Large multi-national printers are now offering great facilities to assist the independent book publishers. I joined a group of local writers, committed to publishing their own work. The help that I got there proved invaluable and so I decided to form my own publishing company and self publish.
I suppose the danger of self-publishing is that people may doubt your credibility as a writer, especially with novice authors like me. However, you just have to think positively and believe in your work.
The hardest thing for me is marketing myself because I err on the side of shyness.
And what of the future? Are there plans to continue writing beyond the trilogy?
I intend to publish book two of the trilogy, entitled Distaff, later this year, followed by the third book, with a working title of Raven.
It would be nice to make some profit from my writing to allow me to donate a portion toward research into Parkinson’s, a condition from which I now suffer. Beyond the trilogy, and despite Parkinson’s, I have a couple of projects in mind but I will definitely keep writing. It’s a great form of therapy and relaxation.
• Eye Stone by Sylvie Harrington can be bought at www.amazon.co.uk in both print and for Kindle download.
It can be bought locally at Picaresque Books, High Street, Dingwall; The Seaboard Hall, Balintore; Made in Tain, Tower Street, Tain; and The Caley Café, Bonar Bridge.
Copies can also be bought direct from the author at her website at www.eyestone.co.uk
The day that 15-year-old Brucie caught a pike in Loch Ussie her young life changed completely. Inside the belly of the fish she found a strange stone.
If only she had known it was a Seer’s stone, once owned by Coinneach Odhar in the 17th century, Brucie might have understood the gradual onset of her prophetic visions. She might have understood her destiny.
Brucie is the new kid in a small Scottish town, though: a feisty American, challenged by the sadness of her parents’ divorce and eager to make friends. With unexplained voices now interrupting her daily thoughts, Brucie’s biggest fear is that potential friends might think she’s crazy. Her second biggest fear is that she actually might BE crazy.
Will she overcome her struggles and fears, seek knowledge to understand the voices and visions and fulfill her destiny as the next Highland Seer?
Before she can predict the future, Brucie must first overcome her troubled past and learn to live successfully in the present.
Sylvie's book is steeped in Highland mystery and folklore