September always hits me like a brick – a brick wrapped in a few pretty scarves and one or two bits of rough sacking. There is never a hope of going to Bloody Scotland, and though there is sometimes a hope of fitting in a visit to one of the NEOS participants (North East Open Studios) it hasn’t happened often yet.
My September house, then, is an escape. I like Dick Francis’ books, always feeling that I learn something from them, but they are often based in quite urban settings even where stables are concerned: there’s a feeling of buildings and industry and organisation. In To the Hilt, though, we start where I am happier.
‘I drove my wheels northwards, at first along a recognisable road, then a roughly gravelled stretch, then up a long, rutted and indistinct track which led nowhere but to my unnamed house in the Monadhliath Mountains. “Between Loch Ness and Aviemore”, I usually explained, and no, I hadn’t seen the monster.
‘Whoever in the mists of time had first built my bothy had chosen its position well: it backed straight into an elbowed granite outcrop that sheltered it from the north and east, so that winter blizzards mostly leapfrogged over the top. In front lay a sort of small stony plateau that on the far side dropped away steeply, giving me long views of valleys and rocky hills and of a main road far below.’
(As this is a Dick Francis book, description breaks off here for a mighty scuffle between the hero and a bunch of passing recreands. It’s only when it’s time to tend to the cuts and bruises that we get to see more of the dwelling.)
‘About fifteen feet by nine, my room had been given a businesslike new roof, a large double-glazed window, and a host of anti-damp preservation measures in its rebuilt walls and flooring… Running water came from a small clear burn trickling through nearby rocks, and for a bathroom I had a weathered privy a short walk away. I’d meant at first to stay on the mountain only during the long northern summer days, but in the end had left my departure later and later that first year until suddenly the everlasting December nights were shortening again, and I’d stayed snug through a freezing January and February and had never since considered leaving.’
Oh, peace and quiet! But September is nearly over, October is shaping up to be busy too, and the third Hippolyta book, A Murderous Game, is almost at the end of its first draft. I’d better get on!