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The Highland Clearances - Peter May

Having brought his Lewis Trilogy to a close this time last year, Peter May has turned to the story of the Highland Clearances as the inspiration for his next novel Entry Island...

Posted on 9th January 2014 by Guest contributor

Entry IslandPicture this – the entire populations of villages being evicted from their homes, which were often set alight to prevent them returning.  People being driven to the coastal fringes where there were no settlements and they starved or froze without shelter.  Others being forced, sometimes in chains, aboard boats bound for unknown destinations thousands of miles away.  They had no possessions and no money, and faced the most appalling conditions as human ballast aboard sailing ships designed to carry cargo, not people.  Many of them did not survive the voyages.

This was the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries.

It became known as The Clearances and it followed the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746.  Most of those who fought in the Jacobite rebellion were Highland crofters and farmers called to arms by their clan chiefs and were mostly Gaelic speakers.

The British government was determined to dismantle the clan system and banned all things Highland - the playing of the bagpipes, the wearing of the kilt - and they began a persecution of Gaelic speakers.

Many clan chiefs were dispossessed of their land and a new generation of landowner took over their vast Highland estates.  The land, which had been worked by crofters for centuries, provided subsistence only, and tenants were unable to pay rent.  So, with financial incentives from the government, the new breed of landowner systematically began to replace people with sheep, which were regarded as more economically viable.

Fuelled by the injustice of The Clearances, I decided to make this the focus of the book that would follow The Lewis Trilogy.  But I didn’t want to write a historical novel, and as a crime writer I obviously had to find a way of bringing the criminal, the contemporary and the historical, all together in one story.

I decided to set the historical element of the story on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, creating a fictitious estate and township that would serve as a typical example of some of the more violent clearances.

But for the contemporary element of the story, I went to Canada where many Highlanders ended up - specifically the Eastern Townships of Quebec where large communities of “cleared” Hebrideans had established themselves.

My story also required an island setting, and I chose the the Magdalen Islands (Les Îles de la Madeleine), which are situated in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and totally isolated from the North American mainland.

These islands, which comprise part of the province of Quebec, are French speaking.  One tiny island, however, is resolutely English-speaking.  It is called Entry Island, and many of its inhabitants are of Scots origin, descended from emigrants who were shipwrecked on their way to Quebec City.

During my research in Canada, I also visited the quarantine island of Grosse Île, where thousands died in the 19th century, suffering from the diseases they had brought with them from the old world.

My central character, Sime Mackenzie, is a homicide detective with the Montreal police.  His family, too, were of Hebridean descent, and he grew up in an English-speaking household in the Eastern Townships at a time when only French was spoken at school.  Fluently bilingual, he is chosen to travel with the French-speaking investigation team to Entry Island when a brutal murder is committed there.

But when Sime arrives, it is only to discover that the wife of the victim, and prime suspect in his murder, is unaccountably familiar to him, even although they have never met...

Peter May, for Waterstones.com/blog


Peter is touring Waterstones bookshops across the country this month - find out if he's coming to a town near you on our events page


You can Reserve & Collect Entry Island from your local Waterstones bookshop (http://bit.ly/1eiiXmO), buy it online at Waterstones.com (http://bit.ly/1eii39N) or download it in ePub format (http://bit.ly/1eij41N)


Win a signed set of The Lewis Trilogy

We have three signed sets of Peter May's Lewis Trilogy and a copy of Entry Island to give away - all you have to do is answer the question below.




Competition terms and conditions

1. No purchase necessary. Please enter your name and email address. Only one entry per person allowed. Proof of entering is not proof of receipt of entry.

2. To be eligible, entries must be received on or before the closing date of 15/01/14 at 11:59 PM. All entries shall become the property of Waterstones.com, and their directors, officers, representatives, advertising and promotional agencies are not responsible for contacting or forwarding prizes to entrants who provide unclear or incomplete information or for entries lost, misdirected, delayed or destroyed.

3. Entrants must be over 16 years old and residents of the UK or Ireland.

4. There will be 3 winners of a signed set of the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May in paperback.

5. The promoter reserves the right to amend the specification of the prize or offer an alternative prize of equal or greater value.

6. Subject to availability.

7. No cash alternative will be offered. Travel and other expenses are not included. The prize is non-transferable.

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