We are delighted to welcome Emily Richards as this issue’s Featured Writer. Emily recently spent two years in a castle on the Island of Rum and is writing a book about the experience. Though she contacted me in response to my request for members living on Scottish islands to contribute to the At My Writing Desk feature I asked her to send an excerpt from the book because it sounded so intriguing! You can read both below and am sure you will agree with me that Emily has a real gift for evoking place and atmosphere – a most enjoyable read.
My Desk and How I Came to Be There
Until a short while ago, my writing desk was hidden away in the warmest room in the castle. In summer, I moved to the brightest. I could choose; we had ten rooms just in our flat, after all.
My window looked out over a landscape that never changes but is perpetually in motion. In summer, the blue waves of Loch Scresort ripple gently against the Shore Road as a line of tourists passes, moving in single file along the road beyond the decaying castle walls, their hats just visible above the ramshackle battlements, and so tiny that I can only guess at what they are saying. But it’s not difficult; in summer, tourists are as repetitive as the curlews that flit from shore to shore. How lucky you are! they say. What an idyllic spot!
In winter, my window looks out over lashing trees and a loch that turns invisible in the rain, as the sea spray tears across the horizon and no ferry appears to console us. Darkness falls at three o’clock, and my window soon shows nothing but a reflection of myself. The wind howls in a structureless, contourless dark; only the occasional headlight from an ancient Landrover illuminates the red castle walls, shining in through the stained glass windows as it passes. If you were outside, you would catch a brief glimpse of the lit-up dining room, its mahogany table set for fourteen guests long since gone. You would long to be inside, safe from the island storms.
This is Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum, where I was lucky enough to live for a brief two years. My wife got a job looking after the castle, and I followed. And although we’ve now gone, I still see this view when I write; it changed my life.
Excerpt from Twelve Months with Lady Monica: A Beginner’s Life on the Isle of Rum
I am lying awake in the stifling semi-dark of the hotel room. Light from the back of the bar shines through the thin curtains, and an extractor fan hums out loudly into the artificially-lit yard. The scrubby bushes and crushed cigarette ends, the shiny hired cars and the chef standing smoking by the back door, are bathed in a theatrical orange hue. From inside the bar, the faint sounds of laughter and conversation occasionally surge up, startlingly loud, as someone bangs a door shut and footsteps hurry past our window. My body, unused to noise, jerks awake from its semi-doze in a sudden panic. The window is preying on my mind. It’s fastened tightly shut, enclosing me in a hot, chokingly airless world. But I need to shut out the noise. Maybe I should get some water. But the door into the bathroom squeaks, so I stay where I am. I don’t want to wake Mel, who is sleeping peacefully, exhausted from driving.
I contemplate the world around me. Just a few nights ago, the cool, silent dark enclosed us in the depths of a huge, airy room, while outside the moon rose over a rippling sea and stags wandered through the lush meadow in front of our open window. What have I done? I think.
Then I remember that I thought the same thing two years ago, when I first arrived at the castle, when the darkness at night pressed on my eyes like earth. And with this thought, I begin to drift back and down after all, into memory upon memory of a time that’s now past. Our time on Rum.
© Emily Richards 2015