Untying the Knot
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"Everyone makes mistakes, but I sometimes think I've made more than most. Marrying Magnus was one of them. But the biggest mistake I ever made was divorcing him."
A wife is meant to stand by her man. Especially an army wife. But Fay didn't. She walked away - from Magnus, her traumatised war hero husband and from the home he was restoring: Tullibardine Tower, a ruinous 16th century tower house on a Perthshire hillside.
Now their daughter Emily is marrying someone she shouldn't.
And so is Magnus...
UNTYING THE KNOT was awarded an IndieBRAG Medallion by the Book Readers Appreciation Group. A panel of readers selects the best indie books which are then honoured with a BRAG Medallion.
"The single most important criterion that we ask our readers to use in judging a book is whether or not they would recommend it to their best friend."
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL meets THE HURT LOCKER
UNTYING THE KNOT is my fifth novel and I wrote it after STAR GAZING had won a book award and been short-listed for two more. I wanted to follow up the success of STAR GAZING as a romantic novel, but I didn't want to repeat myself. My aim was to write another unusual love story that would make readers laugh and cry, as STAR GAZING had done, but I needed an "angle".
I'd written about all kinds of love over the years but realised I'd never written much about marriage and nothing about about divorce. So I decided my romantic leads would be a divorced couple. The twist would be, they never should have divorced, because five years on, they're still in love with each other and can't move on. That seemed a promising scenario, but I still had to find an interesting hero and heroine (and my readers have very high expectations of my heroes!)
Sometimes these things just fall into your lap. Driving through the Glasgow suburbs one day, I saw a white van parked on the drive of an ordinary house. The lettering on the side of the van said "Bomb Disposal Unit". My ever-curious brain immediately started asking questions... Was this where a bomb disposal technician lived?... What sort of a man does that kind of job? Then my novelist's brain kicked in with more questions - interesting ones. What sort of boy grows up to become a man who will dedicate his life to the most dangerous job in the world? And what sort of woman would marry a man like that? And what would their marriage be like?
The answers to those questions became a novel, UNTYING THE KNOT.
I hadn't done much research into bomb disposal before learning that the extraordinary men (and a few women) who do this job don't use the layman's term "bomb squad". They refer to working in "Explosive Ordnance Disposal" or EOD. In the trade, this also stands for "Everyone's divorced" because of the toll the job takes on marriage.
None of my novels has ever come together as a concept more quickly or easily than UNTYING THE KNOT, but strangely, none has been more demanding to write. I abandoned the book twice as just too difficult to write, but when I did eventually complete the novel, I was proud of what I'd achieved. It's now one of my favourites, mainly thanks to the appealing, yet exasperating hero, "mad Magnus McGillivray"
I wrote an Undercover Soundtrack piece for author Roz Morris' blog, My Memories of a Future Life, explaining how the structure of the novel owes a lot to the second movement of Philip Glass' First Violin Concerto.
Here's an extract:
"I always use music to support and enrich my writing and I usually have a playlist for each novel. I'd been looking for a piece of music to represent what's known as 'the long walk' - the bomb disposal technician's lonely approach to an explosive device he's about to disarm. I remembered the Glass Violin Concerto, with its descending ground bass pattern that repeats for the whole of the second movement. It sounded like someone walking, but it also had an edgy, disturbing quality, created by oscillating broken chords. This wasn't just a slow walk, this was a walk towards something ominous, even dangerous.
As I 'auditioned' the Glass, it triggered an almost overwhelming cascade of ideas and I suddenly saw - almost completely - how I could structure my novel by emulating the structure of this eight-minute piece of music."
To read the whole article and listen to the music that inspired me, visit Roz Morris' blog.
Restoring Kinkell Castle
Jenny McBain wrote about the restoration of Kinkell Castle on the Black Isle in The Sunday Times,
Oct 29th, 2006.
When, in the late 1960s, Gerald Laing (British pop artist and sculptor) first came across Kinkell Castle, north of Inverness, it had been abandoned for decades. That would have put off most potential buyers but, as an artist, Laing had a strong sense of the aesthetic potential of the 16th-century building.
He discovered it belonged to a distant cousin of his, negotiated a price of £5,000, to include a couple of acres of ground, and spent a year working alongside local artisans making it habitable.
...(Laing said) "The point of rebuilding Kinkell Castle was to savour the 16th-century architecture and, by so doing, to understand more of the past and its similarities to - rather than its differences from - the present." He believes the architecture of the time focused on the vertical rather than the horizontal because of the need for fortification and defence against marauders. The original gun loops that pepper the walls would appear to support his theory.
Doing up such an old building involved much historical detective work. In the course of discovering how the building had been constructed, Laing unearthed information about the circumstances of those involved. For example, the walls of Kinkell were formed using any stone that came to hand. This sort of construction is known as "the random rubble" method and indicates that the clan chief, John Roy Mackenzie - who had the castle built as a family home - was on a tight budget.
... With developers more willing to take on large schemes, suitable projects for individual restorers are few and far between. You'll need money, time, energy and plenty of patience - dealing with statutory bodies can take ages.
But anyone who has ever stood in a room that was first inhabited hundreds of years ago will know the impulse that drives on the would-be castle builder. Certainly anyone stepping into the great hall at Kinkell Castle, where the television is snuggled in a corner next to an original fireplace marked 1594, will feel their heart yearn to live somewhere similar. There will always be prospectors inspecting piles of stones in Scotland's remote fields, dreaming of how they can bring them back to life, wondering whether they are looking at their own castle in the air.
PTSD, THE FALKLANDS WAR & VIETNAM
More veterans of the Falklands War have killed themselves in the years since the conflict ended (1982) than died during hostilities, according to a veterans support group.
The South Atlantic Medal Association say they are "almost certain" the suicide toll is greater than 255 - the number of men killed in the war. The association estimates the total could be 264, according to a report in The Mail on Sunday. Co-founder Denzil Connick blamed the suicide rate on the "stiff upper lip brigade" and a lack of resources to tackle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. [See MENTAL HEALTH section for more info about PTSD.]
The ex-paratrooper, who lost a leg in the Falklands, said: "Nobody knows the official figures for suicides - that is one of the problems. But we know for sure we have lost an average of 10 veterans per year since the conflict ended. That makes 200 veterans who have committed suicide and that is bound to be a conservative estimate. I am almost certain there will be dozens more that we do not know about and the figure is likely to be more than 255." [Source: BBC news item, 13th January, 2002]
Penny Coleman, author of FLASHBACK, is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who killed himself after coming home. She interviewed dozens of other women who had also lost husbands, sons or fathers to PTSD and suicide in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.
She writes: "CBS News contacted the governments of all 50 states requesting their official records of death by suicide going back 12 years. They heard back from 45 of the 50. From the mountains of gathered information, they sifted out the suicides of those Americans who had served in the armed forces. What they discovered is that in 2005 alone - and remember, this is just in 45 states - there were at least 6,256 veteran suicides, 120 every week for a year and an average of 17 every day."