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Hampshire-based Scot William Nicoll's Highland 'romp' features an ordinary person having an extraordinary adventure

By Margaret Chrystall

FOR new writer William Nicoll his two-hour commute into London every day has turned into a Highland adventure that he can now hold in his hands.

William has published his first novel set in Scotland – which he never wanted to leave.

But work in property has taken him to London. And though his background is Scottish, he went to university in Aberdeen and worked on the west side of Scotland, his career means he is now based in the south where he lives with his wife and children.

But as the miles rolled by on his daily commute into London, William’s imagination was flying back to Scotland to concoct a ‘romp’ across the hills for his slightly eccentric hero Ranald Milngavie who must rescue a long-lost Cubist painting called En Canot.

William said: “I wanted to write a light-hearted and amusing adventure and it just seemed a natural fit to set this in the Highlands. Not only is it easier to write about an area which I know, but Scotland is a wonderful, romantic country and the Highlands, with towering mountains, clear lochs and wonderful scenery, is the perfect backdrop for my tale.

“Whatever becomes of my book the one thing I am convinced about is that I couldn’t have picked a better setting!”

William’s first book was memoirs as a ski guide, a “ski club kiss and tell”. En Canot And The Accidental Artist came next, his own interest in painting coming out on the cover which he painted himself and features hero Ranald on his Highland adventure, near Glen Etive.

En Canot And The Accidental Artist.
En Canot And The Accidental Artist.

“I live in Hampshire which is an hour’s train journey every day up to London and back and I suppose I tend to read quite a lot of books on the train. Eventually I thought ‘I ought to try writing one!’ Fundamentally I wrote it in two hours at either end of the day. I get up at five in the morning and don’t get back home till 7pm and you look at this unproductive two-hour commute and make it a creative time. I do something quite enjoyable, rather than just sitting and thinking ‘I wish I wasn’t just sitting on the train’!

William said he wanted to have an ordinary person having an extraordinary adventure. Ranald is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, doesn’t really have to work, but is not particularly successful and William describes him as “a bit hopeless and haphazard”. But he has a promising platonic friendship with gallery-owner Elspeth who sometimes buys his paintings, always of the Glasgow skyline from his home.

Now a sequel is planned for Ranald whose adventures have been likened to a cross between PG Wodehouse meets Ian Fleming. But the mystery of the whereabouts of the real En Canot painting continues.

William said: “It was looted by the Nazis and has not been seen since it appeared in Hitler’s Degenerate Art Exhibition in 1937 – the painting appeared on the BBC’s Fake Or Fortune series last autumn in black and white film of that exhibition.

“Though the book is wholly fictional I quite liked having a grain of truth running through the middle of it.”

En Canot And The Accidental Artist is available in Waterstones Inverness (£10) and is also online at Amazon, Waterstones, Blackwells etc

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