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Letter to My Young Readers

When I was a child I built a boat, a simple craft much like the one that Annie made and discarded. I sailed it in the rock pools, probably losing it after a time, but it stayed in my memory.

My parents bought a house by the sea and turned it into a summer hotel. My mother, father and I all slept in whatever parts of the big house had not been booked for guests; a work shed in the back garden, a storage area off the kitchen. My mother, ever strong in time of hardship, turned it into a sort of camping adventure.

I did leave the private school I attended with my “well to do friends” and I did go instead to one filled with the children of the fisher folk and local merchants. I was very unhappy in that school, not because of my classmates but because the headmaster who was my teacher did not like children and he was unkind and his lessons were some of the dullest I could imagine. The only good thing about being in his class was it drove me to read everything I could get my hands on to escape the tedium of his classes.

Tam Dewart has a different name in my story but he was real. We used to see his tiny fishing boat out on the bay in any weather and wondered at the chances he took to fill his lobster traps.

The moon on the sea a night was a glory. The bay was like a gigantic bowl holding a treasure just for us. My mother and I would stand on the roadway, or the front garden, or by the window and gaze “till we lost our senses”.

And pipe bands were magic too, like a whole throng of Pied Pipers they were. Any child, and especially me, would follow wherever they led, over streets or braes or sands, completely enthralled by the heavenly din they made.

Like Annie I was a lonely child, my friends always miles away re-grouped by their parents in distant places. My two brothers, 10 and 12 years older, were away at boarding school, and my parents, like many in the years following the war struggling to make ends meet, worked long hours and had little time to amuse their young daughter. Instead they gave me freedom. And I confess I was a night wanderer. I have no crisp recollections of this, just a general feeling of delight at the darkness and the starlight and pull of the beach where my steps were taking me. I believe I was very young when I did this and it terrified my mother.

You see, in Scotland, the sun sets very late in the summertime. It was hard lying in bed in total daylight hearing the world going on around me and not be part of it. So once darkness came it was marvelous. It held secrets and possibilities and I wanted to know them all. And the sailing? It never happened in Crail, where my story is set, but rather years later when I married a man crazy about the sea. He taught me all about the boats he loved. We sailed the Great Lakes and the Eastern seaboard of the United States and places in the Caribbean too. Then once, when on holiday in Scotland and in the company of a dear friend, Sandy, we sailed where “Annie” did. Maybe that was the connection.

Anyway fiction is a funny thing. It picks its way through all sorts of memories and imaginings until it comes up with a story. It is a journey for the writer as much as for the reader and Shire Summer is mine. I really hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the writing.

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