It's time for the third of our competition questions - answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can now reveal that the prizes will also include a Lexie Conyngham mug and an Audible credit for Tomb for an Eagle!
Tuesday, 20 April 2021
Sunday, 18 April 2021
Today Mrs. Kynoch has found time in her busy life to tell us a little about herself.
You’re sure it’s me you’d like to talk to? There are certainly more interesting people in Ballater! Well, then, if you will just allow me to make sure the girls are all usefully engaged – I’m in two minds about the new Portuguese tutor, for she can be a little vague about how many girls are in her class and they are quite capable of taking advantage …
There, they are all settled. Not everyone wants to learn Portuguese, you know, and so there is also an accountancy class in the dining room until six. Girls learning accountancy? What, would you rather they were unable to run their households in a way that will not bankrupt themselves or their husbands? And some, bless them, will need to make their own way in the world. Not every family that works in the West Indies and sends their children home to Scotland to be educated is a wealthy, slave-owning business.
Do I take on the daughters of slave-owners? Indeed I do. Did I found my school on money derived from plantations? Yes, I did - after much soul-searching. The money existed, and it had been left to me. To my mind, at once, it was tainted money, earned by poor Africans to support those who believed that one human being is entitled to own another. This is of course wrong – how could it be anything else? I wanted to fling all the money to some worthy charity, and forget the bequest had ever occurred.
Then it struck me that I would be passing on the taint, and that if I wished to wash that money clean, I should do something more direct with it. I was not in a position to buy slaves and set them free, which was my first idea – and even that appalled me. I sat back and considered where my talents lay and how I might use them.
Since I had come to Ballater with my late husband, who had been the minister here, I had used the time which might have been taken up with a family, had we been so blessed, in educating a few village girls who showed promise and who might have need of particular skills. Motherless ones came to learn how to cook and sew, for example, but others might come for languages, or music, or, as we noted before, accountancy. I have always been a little dilettante in my interests, and I found that I was able at least to start the girls off on poetry, piano, Latin and Greek, embroidery and plain sewing … all the things, to tell the truth, that they envied their brothers learning from an ordinary school and a few extra, feminine skills besides. I suppose that is how the breadth of my interests began, anyway, if you will permit a further digression. My brothers were educated by a tutor – that sounds so grand! But really, he was a relative who had had to retire through ill health, and came to live with us, though he had been a Professor of Natural Philosophy – I shall not say at which of the universities. He was an inspiring teacher, when his health permitted, and I, the only sister and the youngest, would be permitted to tag along if I behaved myself and pick up any trifles of knowledge that might come my way. I was so fortunate! And of course my mother saw to it that I learned sewing, and though we had a maid who cooked I found that process most interesting, too. In fact, I think I may safely say that I have never been bored a day in my life, for there is very little indeed that does not arouse in me some curiosity and I have been delighted to be able to gratify much of that curiosity.
When my beloved husband died, really very young, I was glad of my little school for the clergy widows’ fund is unfortunately not generous. I was able to rent a cottage in the village, and carry on with more pupils than before. Still mostly local girls, of course, for who would take the trouble to travel to Ballater for one poor teacher in a cottage?
But when the money came my way I saw an opportunity. I knew that many families in the West Indies, fearing the dangers of the climate, sent their children home to Scotland to be educated. I knew a clergyman who could provide me with contacts. I had enough money to purchase a lease on Dinnet House, which had stood empty for a little while: I was able to furnish it appropriately and employ assistants. It was large enough to accommodate not only a number of girls, but also the nurses who often accompany them on the long voyage, and are, like the girls, far from home and baffled by a strange country. I can easily look after them until they are ready to return – if they choose to return.
And of course, when I have the girls under my influence, these daughters of plantation owners, these young ladies so used to having a native person at their beck and call, purchased sometimes on a whim or born into degradation – I can begin to persuade them to a more proper way of thinking about their fellow human beings. I know that several of the girls have returned to Tobago, or Guyana, or wherever, and had some considerable influence in their own families. I know that pride is sinful, but to hear of slaves not only freed, but properly employed, paid and nurtured and their children educated, gives me a great deal of satisfaction.
Have I done wrong? I have only made a small impression on a much greater problem, I know. Have I gone about it the right way? Sometimes I feel guilty that I have perhaps, very occasionally, used a little of the money to purchase a new gown, or a book for my own enjoyment – should I have done so? I am only a small woman in a small village, far from those plantations and their masters. Could I have done better with my legacy – converted it all to treasury notes and burned them at the church door? But I was always brought up not to be wasteful, and people suffered to make that money – why should it not be used to try to ensure that others in a similar position did not suffer? I have been so fortunate in my life: I have known many good people who have influenced my thinking, my faith and my behaviour. I hope, in my plans to influence others, I have not let them down.
Friday, 16 April 2021
Thursday, 15 April 2021
Miss Ada Strong has been kind enough to contribute a short account for this morning's blog post.
Well, now, here’s a thing! Someone who’s actually telling me they’re interested in the opinions of Miss Ada Strong, spinster of the three parishes? Mind, that sounds as if I spread myself about a bit, and Annie wouldna like that at all. I tell you, my ribs are black and blue from the dunts she gives me – I have only to open my mouth and there she is with her ‘Ada!’ Och well, she doesna have much fun in life, I suppose.
Aye, we were born and bred in the three parishes, my two sisters and my brother Sandy and I. A well kent family, respectable – men of law, my father and my brother both. And my brother-in-law and all. We moved away from Ballater for a whilie and lived in a town – I needn’t tell you its name just the now – and my elder sister Mary came out into what passed for its society. Well, in truth, to be fair my mother took the three of us up to Edinburgh for the season to see if she could find us husbands. My elder sister, she was quick off the mark, and just as well, for my mother was strict and the eldest had to be married off, or at least engaged, before the next could come out. Competition, see. Of course, I was the youngest and the bonniest – dinna make that face! – so they had no wish for me to be out the same time.
Anyway, Mary was the eldest, and she’d barely been five minutes in the new Assembly Rooms on George Street when up steps a fine young gentleman with his foot in a law business up on the Lawnmarket. Well, you ken what it was like in Edinburgh yon days – likely still is – when the nobility and the high heidyins headed for London to make up to the King after the Act of Union, the lawyers stepped in to be the top rank of society, the noblesse de la robe, ken? Aye, I do speak French, as it happens, and German forbye. My sister tells me speaking Scots makes me sound ignorant, but if a’body thinks I’m ignorant they can think again. My mother was a gey intelligent woman and saw no need to bring her daughters up as fools. Mind, I’d have liked fine to study the law like my brother: I often read bits of his books and I think I’d have done a grand job, standing up in the court like the Queen of the May and telling folk what to think. Maybe I’d have been a judge one day – could you see that? Och, I’d have liked that fine!
Where was I? Oh, aye, the Assembly.
Dod MacQueen, he was cried, and he was a good lawyer and a good husband, for all I can tell. Their son Edmund, now, he’s the grand wee man, and a lawyer himself. And Dod and my sister met that evening and I dinna ken why either of them even bothered dancing with a’body else, for they only had eyes for each other. And within a week it was all arranged, and Mother let Annie come out.
Aye, poor Annie: I think my mother reckoned it’d be another week for her and away to a state of married bliss. But of course Mary was the exception. And I dinna ken what it was about Annie – she was pretty enough, and we were rich enough, and respectable enough, and I canna think that my mother thought she’d have a moment’s bother finding her a match, but it just didna happen.
It was maybe something to do with Annie’s attitude, though: she was there but her heart wasna in it. For back in the town we were living in, she had met a young clergyman, assistant to the parish. He wasna much to look at, to my mind, for he was on the skinny side and his teeth had minds of their own, but each to their own. And he had no money, and the living, which was likely to come to him when the old minister died or retired, was not a rich one. He was a bright lad, aye writing religious poetry and Biblical exegesis, and it was good work, too – I think we still have a few of them in the house, if you’re interested. Aye, he was the loon for my sister, she was set on it. No man in Edinburgh, however handsome or wealthy, could match him, in her eyes. The trouble was, he had no interest in her whatsoever.
She hung on and she hung on, and all through that Edinburgh season and the next one, hoping he might finally notice her in the pews on the Sabbath when we were at home, but he never gave her more of a look than he did the minister’s dog, not once.
Then my mother fell ill, and we never went back to an Edinburgh season: my sister and I nursed her, and when she died we stayed at home to look after my father and my brother – mind, they needed some looking after, the pair of them! All the law in the land in their heads, and no notion how to line up a column of figures and send out a bill. We’d have starved altogether if it hadn’t been for Annie and me. There wasna much time for courting, but in any case however devotedly my sister gazed up at the young minister on a Sunday, his gaze went higher still, up to the rafters, and never anywhere near her. And no one else would do her.
When my father died, we came back to Ballater to our old house and my brother set up his law practice here. Oh, it was gey comfortable, like pulling on an old shawl where you know every pluck and thread, but that was the end of any hope for my sister marrying. And somehow she thinks that means I’ll never marry, either. Aye, but I still have an eye for a fine head of hair, or a good pair of legs in tight breeches – that Dr. Napier, though he’s spoken for, he’s bonnie to look at. Or Mr. Durris – I wouldna mind a walk in the moonlight with him! So I’ve no lost hope, ken: one of these days I’ll find a mannie to call my own, and show my sister the way!
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
Hippolyta acquired the white cats in A Knife in Darkness when she was first given a kitten from a litter at Dinnet House. The mother, Bella, was made homeless shortly afterwards and Hippolyta, being Hippolyta, adopted her and all six of her white kittens, now called Franklin, Arctic, Parry, Spot, Snowball and Polar. By 1829, when the Napiers acquired the cats, Sir John Franklin was already a noted explorer of the Canadian Arctic, having led expeditions in 1819 and 1825. Arctic, Snowball and Polar are quite obvious! Sir William Parry was also an Arctic explorer and one of the hunters for the North-West Passage – he too made a successful expedition in 1819. As for Spot – well, as they are all pure white cats I can only assume this is an example of Patrick’s odd sense of humour. The arrival of the white cats was inspired by the arrival of our own rescue cat, No.3 Cat, who, being from Elgin, might easily have been called Marble and was very nearly called Shimi Dawa, Moon Cat (well, Cat Moon, but we're not going to make comments on his figure). But he isn’t! He was originally called Smudge, and had two white sisters who bullied him, so we liberated him.
Tuesday, 13 April 2021
The second book came out at the same time as the first in a bit of a marathon writing effort to hit a launch date that would help the Ballater Flood Fund. These were the first two books, I think, where I brought in a professional cover artist, Helen Braid, to work on making the books look more professional - since then she has done the Orkneyinga covers and each new Murray book since Death of an Officer's Lady, and is now working back through the Murray catalogue.
Pannanich Wells was the reason for the existence of Ballater as a village – it really was founded as a spa town. The wells still flow today, with the water bottled as Deeside Mineral Water – great if you need to up your iron levels. I wanted to see more of Hippolyta’s family, and challenge Patrick a bit with a competitor whose scruples fell rather short of what they should be …
Now for competition time!
Monday, 12 April 2021
Can someone remind me who this painting is by? I should know!
Last Saturday was apparently Siblings Day, a day my siblings and I treat (when we’re even aware of it) with deep irony. I’m not sure it’s a celebration that Hippolyta would cherish.
Hippolyta is the youngest of six children, with three brothers and two sisters. Like her, the sisters have unusual names – Galatea and Sophronia – but we’ve only so far met Marcus, the youngest brother. The boys have all followed their father into the legal profession, while Galatea has also married a man of law. Sophronia is also married, and both sisters have provided Hippolyta with nieces and nephews, though as she was a late arrival the nieces and nephews are quite close to her own age. We’ve seen in Death of a False Physician how Galatea – and by implication Sophronia too – treats Hippolyta as an ignorant schoolgirl, following the example of their mother. This is, for Hippolyta, one very good reason to live in Ballater and not back in Edinburgh with the rest of the family.
None of the brothers is married, and Marcus, who actually quite enjoys visiting his little sister on Deeside, is a little too feckless to settle down just yet. His interests flit about from day to day, and Hippolyta often feels like his big sister instead of his younger sibling.
Hippolyta is, if she had to admit it, very fond of all her siblings, sometimes in a slightly desperate, youngest wanting to be noticed, way. But it is much easier for her to feel like a proper grown-up wife and mother when none of them is around – not, I would suggest, an uncommon feeling!
Thursday, 8 April 2021
Wednesday, 7 April 2021
Good day to you! I trust you are well? Quite well? Yes, you look very healthy, I must say. A pain in your left leg? Well, of course, I’ll take a look at it – perhaps if I visit tomorrow morning?
Oh, yes, I’m fully qualified, and quite experienced. I am a graduate of Marischal College, Aberdeen, and I studied medicine at Edinburgh. Two years there, and I was apprenticed to Dr. Louden and Dr. Snow, whose reputation you’ll know, no doubt.
Well, things are not too bad in Ballater. It’s not like a town practice: not so much contagious disease, and those illnesses connected with poverty, such as you might see in the Old Town tenements of Edinburgh, are rare here. The village is regular and clean. The factors of the various estates here see to it that pensioners are paid reasonably and the estate houses are mostly well kept, and while I hear that the poors’ fund is barely adequate there are some other trusts and so on that help those in need. Of course there is a good deal of damp down by the river, where some houses – including, I might say, the manse – have been built using clay and are examples of very poor workmanship. But the air is remarkably healthy and of course there are the spa waters. Chalybeate, yes – really quite rusty looking as they come out of the earth, but they are very fine to drink, not like some of the more sulphurous springs. And yes, it makes for a very varied and, at least in the summer, quite prosperous practice. Just about enough for me to handle on my own. It’s tempting to think of taking on a student, but of course that is not so easily come about as it would be in a town with a university. I’d need to find some young lad already in the parish, with ambitions, perhaps, to become a physician, and the money to pay me until he goes to do some formal study. And could we house him? I’m not sure we could fit him in. After all, we seem to have developed quite a household staff! Not to mention the animals: I am sure all kinds of creatures follow my wife Hippolyta about the village, waiting for a moment when they can look neglected and she will take them in. Of course there are the benefits of eggs and pork, and I have always been fond of a cat or two about the place … and I have grown attached, I suppose, to the hen that favours my study … It would have been helpful, perhaps, if we could have adopted a pony that would listen to anyone apart from Hippolyta: I feel sometimes it detracts from the dignity people seek in their physician to have his wife deliver him to their houses. But then, the pony needs its exercise, and Hippolyta needs fresh air, and it’s useful that she can drive safely to places to paint.
I’m prodigiously proud of her painting, you know. To think that people want to buy pictures made by my wife! I know some men – and women, too – think that a woman going into business is not fitting, particularly a respectable gentlewoman like Hippolyta – like the wife of most physicians. But painting is not quite business, after all: she is very talented, and it is quite right that others should enjoy that and that she should benefit from their enjoyment. And it does help, financially. I worry lest some other doctor finds Ballater as congenial as I and sets up in competition – would there be enough business for two medical men? It would be so easy to be outdone. And medicine is such a chancy business, anyway: just one mistake, or even one perceived mistake, and one’s reputation can be ruined. What if I were to mis-set someone’s broken leg, and then find that no one trusts me to tackle their gall stones? It’s a great worry.
If there is one lack in the village, it is another professional man to talk with. The minister is a pleasant fellow, but rather older than I and looking forward to the quiet life of retirement more than keeping up to date with changes in the church. There is no Episcopal clergyman, and those who fly in and take our services are so often in a rush to go on to the next congregation. Since poor Mr. Strong’s death there is no man of law, either. But when there is the opportunity, I find working with Mr. Durris, the sheriff’s man, very interesting – he is clearly educated even if he is not very forthcoming about his background - and after all, the patients he presents me with are usually dead. I wonder if I should have stayed in Edinburgh and tried for an anatomy instructor? Though pharmacy is fascinating, too: I do relish having my own little workshop. But then what if one makes a mistake with that? The consequences could be disastrous.
I shouldn’t like anyone to think that I was anxious about my work. An anxious doctor does not give a patient confidence. And I don’t like to think that Hippolyta thinks I worry overmuch: after all, a woman should be able to rely on her husband to be strong and to support her and the household. And really, it is only sometimes that I think ‘What if?’ or ‘I pray I may not …’ And if it is not the middle of the night (and I generally do sleep very well), then I can go and play my violin or the box piano, just softly, and somehow my worries take the shape of the notes and seep gently into the air. Mistakes barely matter there, with no one listening but the cats (though sometimes one of them will give me a critical look if the bow slips), and I can ease out of the heavy cloak of my anxieties and escape, free and content. Until the next time.
is Dark Sky Week, and I’ve very happy memories of spending it over on the west
coast where every night is Dark Sky night – and the Serengeti and the Himalayas
were pretty astounding, too. Actually establishing a week for it would have
seemed very odd to Hippolyta, whose outdoor activities at night would have been
governed by moonlight and starlight much more than we ever see in our towns and
cities today. We look up and pick out Orion’s Belt and say that we can see the
stars, but there are just so many more to be seen when the background light is
Tuesday, 6 April 2021
You can't control when audiobooks are going to be approved, and suddenly it was!
Tomb for an Eagle narrated by Ulf Bjorklund is now available on Audible! I think he’s done a great job, and it was strangely exciting to hear someone else read my book! Here are the links for the US, UK, France and Germany:
Hippolyta Napier was hoping for good tenants for her new cottage, but the first resident is already dead. Who was he? Why was he there? And will the disappearance of a fitness instructor and the strange activities of a new bride offer any clue to the mystery?
The Corrupted Blood - out soon!
And here we are at the first competition day.
The prize (today and for the next three competitions, too) will include a signed copy of A Knife in Darkness, the first Hippolyta book, the chance to have your name (or a modified version of it if it’s very modern!) in a future Hippolyta book, and a few other goodies. The closing date for all entries is midnight British Summer Time on 1st. May, and winners will be informed, and asked for their postal details, the following week.
And the first question …
Monday, 5 April 2021
An early Episcopal congregation in Glenmuick came to grief, like so many, in 1698, and thereafter Episcopalians in the area kept their heads down during years of religious strife. The nineteenth century saw more tolerant times, as well as an influx of English tourists looking for a familiar church in which to worship. After several decades of occasional services held at a private chapel in Glenmuick, a mission was established at Ballater in 1897 – this was in an iron church, dedicated to St. Saviour. The current Episcopal church in Ballater was finally built in 1907, and when a full time clergyman was at last appointed in 1945 the church was rededicated to St. Kentigern, more usually a saint associated with Glasgow (it’s another name for St. Mungo - coincidence?).
Bishop William Skinner, who is mentioned in A Lochgorm Lament, was a very prominent figure in Episcopal history though not quite so much as his father, John Skinner of Longside (where Patrick was born), who had also been Bishop of Aberdeen. Both bishops are commemorated at this, the Moir of Stoneywood burial site, in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Aberdeen – you might remember the Moir family from The Slaughter of Leith Hall!