Tuesday 4 December 2018

As The Women Lay Dreaming by Donald S Murray @DonaldMurray56 BLOG TOUR @SarabandBooks @WriterForster @RKBookPublicist #iolaire

A novel of the Iolaire disaster
In the small hours of January 1st, 1919, the cruellest twist of fate changed at a stroke the lives of an entire community.
Tormod Morrison was there that terrible night. He was on board HMY Iolaire when it smashed into rocks and sank, killing some 200 servicemen on the very last leg of their long journey home from war. For Tormod – a man unlike others, with artistry in his fingertips – the disaster would mark him indelibly.
Two decades later, Alasdair and Rachel are sent to the windswept Isle of Lewis to live with Tormod in his traditional blackhouse home, a world away from the Glasgow of their earliest years. Their grandfather is kind, compassionate, but still deeply affected by the remarkable true story of the Iolaireshipwreck – by the selfless heroism and desperate tragedy he witnessed.
A deeply moving novel about passion constrained, coping with loss and a changing world, As the Women Lay Dreaming explores how a single event can so dramatically impact communities, individuals and, indeed, our very souls. 

As the Women Lay Dreaming by Donald S Murray was published in paperback by Saraband on 8 November 2018.

As part of the Blog Tour, I'd delighted to share an exclusive extract from the book here on Random Things today.


My early life was an explosion of languages. Glaswegian. Doric. Gaelic. All jostling in my head. At no moment, though, was the mixture as heated as that day in Partick when my dad was caught with his fingers in an old tea caddy by Aunt Peg, the old woman blasting him in her rage. ‘Hey, min! Fit div ye think ye’re deein’? Tak yer han’ oot o’ there! Ma ain kin, a bloody thief.’
And then his response, angry and defiant. ‘Ach, Ma, hit’s jist twa shullins. Ah’m jist needin’ tae win oot fir a wee whilie…’
Her voice sharp and loud, finger wagging and poking. ‘Aye, so ye can ging doon tae ’e pub an get bleezin’. Jist like last nicht an’ ivvery ither nicht! Ah’m jist scunnert wi’ ye. Fit kine o’ example are ye fir yer bairns? They need a da fa can look aifter him, nae een at’s aye fou’ an’ lifts ither fowk’s money.’
After that, there was a flurry of movement. Doors slamming, echoing down the tenement stairs. Dad packing our bags, turfing us from our beds in the early hours of the
morning, making sandwiches, tying labels to our clothes and hurrying us down to Queen Street station where he kept yelling out in his best Scottish accent, ‘Is there anyone travelling to Mallaig? Is there anyone going to Stornoway? If so, could you let me know?’ And he was also panicking a little, whispering, ‘See if there’s anyone around here talking
in that Gaelic yer mam used to spik. See if they’re heading up north.’
Somehow, someone going on that train caught a hold of his words. ‘Aye. We’re going in that direction. Going on the steamer to Lewis.’
And him asking the question, varying his voice all polite and sweet, as he often did to match the company. ‘Would ye mind takin’ these bairns along with ye? Their grandfolks will meet them on the pier in Stornoway. There’ll be some siller for yer boather. Something to feed both them and you when the train stops in Crianlarich. On the steamer too.’
And then he’d tell his story: how our mother had just died a wee while before and how his sister, too, had turned ill and was not fit to look after us. (‘Look sad. Look mournful,’ he kept saying to us as he told that last lie – as if we could contemplate any other kind of face.) After that, there was that long journey in the train; and the generosity of those we had never met before, all that kindness they showed through
places with strange, outlandish names. Ardlui. Crianlarich. Bridge of Orchy. Glenfinnan. Lochailort. Mallaig.
An explosion, too, of memories. Of a giant signal gantry. Lochs and mountains. The shunting of the front engine at Fort William. (‘Come out and see this,’ some stranger said. ‘They don’t need that other engine any more once they’ve hauled the train over Corrour.’) The men in tweeds with angling rods and rifles. The viaduct at Glenfinnan. The couple in the carriage giving us odd sips of tea and water. ‘You poor wee lambs.’ The harbour at Mallaig when we arrived. The waves of sickness that swept over my sister as we sailed on the SS Lochness…

* * *

Their hands. That’s what I remember. The breadth of his knuckles. The smell of smoke – both peat and coal – that pervaded every pore. The blue scars on the back of wrists and hands, the ones that matched the dark star on his cheek. The mat of short white hair spreading out from his wrist to his fingers. And her hands too. The way they looked chafed and rubbed almost to the bone. The pattern of her veins visible through the
thinness of her skin. The manner in which they seemed always to be clasped in prayer. The tight ring she wore.
And, of course, the way he hoisted me up in his grip, almost from the instant the steamer arrived at the harbour, before I had even stepped down the gangway from the Lochness. I looked down at the rough cloth of the old man’s jacket, noting the dark cap tightly wedged on his grey head, the black gabardine trousers he wore.
‘Alasdair... You’ve the same name as my own grandfather,’ my grandad said.
I could see my sister, Rachel, clutching our grandma’s hand, her black curly hair whipped by the wind. She was shivering, partly because she had been sick on the voyage
over from Mallaig, partly due to the chill of the early afternoon. I remembered how I had looked at her again and again on the steamer, fingering the label that my father had fastened to my jacket before leaving us with the people going on the boat, telling me – ‘at the risk of your life’ – not to take it off. The upset and upheaval seemed to have surged and rippled through her stomach, vomit spilling through her throat. One of the adults on board, a minister’s wife, had tried to help her, daubing her mouth clean, holding up the long locks of her hair. She was the one who spoke to our grandma for a long time on the pier, telling her of the horrors of the voyage, how the pitch and roll of the boat had made Rachel sick.
‘Wheesht. Wheesht. She’ll be all right now.’
The entire scene seemed to affect my grandma, Catriona, in a different way. The heavy layers of clothing wrapped around her thin, frail frame appeared to make her shake –
her long blustering skirt, thick black coat, the dark shawl wrapped around her head, all trembling in the breeze. It was as if she were a stalk of grass wavering in the wind, barely upright in the storms that life had sent to whirl around her. Occasionally she sighed. Her eyes, a shade of amber, closing. Taking in huge breathfuls of air, seeking to brace herself for the ordeal that lay ahead, the length of the journey to Ness that still stretched before us.
‘Siuthadaibh,’ the old woman said. ‘Things will be all right now.’
It didn’t feel that way. Not at that moment. Not after those long hours at sea, the difference between rain and waves blurring as they lashed against the portholes of that boat.
Not on that pier with its salt scents and smells, the stink of oil and coal in the wind. The noises, too, were strange and alien to me. The screech of gulls. The swish of the sea on the
pierhead. The rattle of cartwheels across cobblestones. Boat whistles and the clatter of chains as fish were carried between vessel and pier. (It was all such a different world from the
one we had left behind in Glasgow, even though that one, too, had pitched rough and fierce since the afternoon my mother had been taken to hospital, that ratcheting cough of hers echoing in the entrance of the tenement as she was carried out on a stretcher.) Even the accents and the sound of the words people spoke as they sidled up to our grandparents
were peculiar to my ears…

A son of the Hebrides, Donald S. Murray is a writer and poet whose work has been shortlisted for both the Saltire Literary Awards and the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award. His critically acclaimed books bring to life the culture and nature of the Scottish islands, and he appears regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland. 
Praise for Donald S Murray:
“Deeply moving.” Will Self, Telegraph
“He writes with an inherent understanding of Highland culture, language and way of life.” Herald
“The story is told with great charm, and tinged with a spirit of loss and yearning.” Philip Marsden, Spectator
“Mr Murray is a gregarious and engaging raconteur.” The Economist
“Donald S. Murray is one of the most accomplished and original writers to have emerged from Lewis in modern times, and there is stiff competition.” Roger Hutchinson, West Highland Free Press
“Outstanding.” Highland News 

“A classic bildungsroman… It is that rarity: a work of imagination which reads like experienced truth. It’s the kind of book you want to read again as soon as you finish it, because you know there is so much that will be revealed on that second reading: the kind of novel which can enrich your life.” Allan Massie, Scotsman
“Murray is an evocative painter of landscapes and a deeply sympathetic writer… This diligently researched book exists principally as a space for forgotten voices to sound, bearing witness not just to this tragedy, but to the terrible cost of World War I itself.” Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
“Beautifully and sensitively told, by one of the great lyrical writers of our time, D S Murray ... [A] brutal reminder of how resilient and tangled are the tentacles of tragedy.” Cathy MacDonald
“[A] tightly structured, time-hopping memoir-but-not-a-memoir… A story spanning 74 years whittled meticulously into shape… Murray pulls off the perfect combination of fact and fiction… [His] assured journey through the disruption, trauma, love and loss threaded unspoken through one Lewis family, with barely a word of the shipwreck, is on every page a novel of the Iolaire disaster.“ Catriona Black, Herald and National
“A very special book… a poignant tale of family, love and relationships lived out in the hardest of places… Donald S Murray is superb in bringing his characters to life and making the incidents they encounter feel utterly real.” Undiscovered Scotland
“A powerful book…which reveals new layers with every reading. It is history brought to life through fiction, and when it is done in a manner as moving and beautiful as this it is invaluable.” Alistair Braidwood, Scots Whay Hae.

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