Robinsheugh by Eileen Dunlop

Robinsheugh by Eileen Dunlop was first published in 1975.  The setting is the Scottish Border Country, but it begins in London’s King’s Cross Station where Elizabeth has just boarded a train bound for Scotland. She’s not at all happy, her parents are going to America for months and Elizabeth had been desperate to go with them, but it couldn’t be afforded and Elizabeth is having to go to stay with her aunt, a historian who usually lives in Oxford but at the moment she’s doing research at Robinsheugh into the family that lived there during the 18th century.

When Elizabeth reaches her destination she’s absolutely miserable, it’s evident that her aunt has very little time for her and she’s more interested in the past. But when Elizabeth finds an old hand mirror which by coincidence has her own initials on it strange things begin to happen and she finds herself being drawn back into the past to become part of the 18th century family.

I liked this one although I was almost rolling my eyes at what at first seemed to be the usual cliche of the old mirror and a time slip, admittedly there is something strange about really old mirrors. It’s the thought of all the people who have looked at their reflection in the glass that you’ll never know, and what were they thinking, what did they look like?

Anyway, it turned out to be not such a cliche. Apparently this was the first book by Eileen Dunlop who was born in Alloa and was  a teacher at Dollar Academy.

Music in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson

Music in the Hills cover

Music in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1950 and it’s the sequel to Vittoria Cottage. The setting is the Scottish Borders, not any specific town apparently but I imagine the countryside as being like that around Stevenson’s beloved Moffat.

James Dering has been in Malaya, chasing bandits for some years and he’s glad to get back to Scotland. He has made his way to Mureth where his Aunt Mamie and Uncle Jock have a farm. James is thinking about becoming a farmer too, he loves the countryside and animals but he’s not sure if he’ll be good at farming.

James had spent some time in London before making his way to Murath, but his romance with Rhoda an aspiring artist had ended badly and he is nursing a broken heart. Will the change of air heal him, or at least help him to discover what he wants to do in the future?

With a cast of couthie characters this is a bit of a comfort read although not everyone or everything in the neighbourhoods of Murath and Drumburly is sweetness and light. Aunt Mamie is perfect though, although she wouldn’t agree with me about that. She envies the way others can talk with ease to strangers and acquaintances, she feels too shy and knows that she’s often seen as being a bit snooty. A lot of readers know that feeling I suspect!

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

My thanks go to Peggy Ann for pointing me in the direction of this book. I really enjoyed it. Again, it’s set in Scotland so it’s not exactly exotic for me, but although Susanna Kearsley is actually Canadian she did very well at getting the correct speech patterns and of course the book is sprinkled with a plethora of Scots words.

Verity Grey is a young, ambitious English archaeologist who is travelling to a dig near Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders. Peter Quinnell is in charge of the dig, he’s getting on in years and the archaelogical world sees him as a bit of a nutter, but Peter is determined to be taken seriously and he has the money to pay for plenty of assistants.

Peter is looking for the lost Ninth Roman Legion. Although there is no evidence of any Roman camp in the area, Peter is sure there is one because young Robbie, a local 8 year old who has the ‘second sight’ has seen a Roman soldier walking around in the fields.

This book did remind me of Mary Stewart and Rosemary Sutcliff, which can’t be bad. It’s a mixture of mystery, history and the supernatural and has romance thrown in for good measure. I could quite happily do without the romance but I understand that for a lot of people the romance will be the most important aspect of the book. I must admit that I think I have a 10 year old boy stuck in me somehow as my reaction to romance is generally yeuch – but it’s probably something to do with me having been married for a very long time indeed!

You might know that I never see anything as being perfect – in fact I don’t think perfection is possible or even desirable, so here are my few gripes.

I could have been doing with a bit more description of scenery, but that goes for nearly every book which I read. The other thing is my bugbear because although the author says that she had the book checked to make sure that there were no mistakes in her Scots I have to report that one did get through the checkers – and it was on page 300. It’s not the first time that I’ve found this mistake in Scots and in fact the word might have been ‘corrected’ by an English editor. That has happened before I know, and I happen to know that the author involved had words with his editor who realised that he had been wrong and it was put back to the original version. I am of course speaking about – amn’t I, because there are not only Scots words but also Scots grammar and there is just no way that a Scottish lad from Eyemouth would be saying – ‘I’m a finds assistant, aren’t I, Miss Grey?’ Of course he should have said amn’t I.

What’s she making a fuss about? I hear you say. But it is important that we don’t lose the correct way to speak Scots and it is in danger of being wiped out because from time to time Scottish actors do occasionally say aren’t I on TV, obviously because they aren’t confident enough to say to the director that it’s wrong. They should because it sounds awful in a Scots accent, but more than that we will get Scottish youngsters speaking like that because someone on the telly did, and I happen to think that the Scots language is every bit as important as the Gaelic language, so we have to be vigilant otherwise it will disappear and we will be left with just an accent rather than a dialect and language.

As my m-i-l grew up in Eyemouth I know for sure that it isn’t some kind of weird anomaly that they speak in an English way there. She definitely said amn’t I despite the fact that she was a daughter of the rectory, meaning that her father was the minister of the Scottish Episcopal Church there, and they were always seen as being a bit posh/snooty/English!

Of course the same goes for all languages, they are mobile to an extent but it can be taken too far. Another of my pet hates is the English word fulsome – well I don’t hate the word but I hate the fact that people use it completely wrongly. We’re always hearing people on TV speaking about ‘fulsome praise’ – when they mean that someone or something has been praised a lot. However the word fulsome means – cloying, excessive, disgusting by excess, which is a very different meaning altogether. Honestly, look it up if you don’t believe me. Call me Mrs Pedantic if you like, I don’t mind!

Anyway that’s my rant over, to get back to the book, I’ll be looking for more books by Susanna Kearsley in the future and if you are doing a Canadian reading challenge, which I’m not, remember that she is a Canadian author.

Pink Sugar by O. Douglas (Anna Buchan)

I had no intention of reading this book any time soon but it sort of jumped out at me when I went up to the library to snaffle The Slaves of Solitude last week before anyone else got to it. I thought I might as well give it a go, I’m sure I saw it mentioned favourably on a blog quite recently. The book was first published in 1924 and it runs along similar lines to her earlier book Penny Plain.

Kirsty Gilmour is just 30 years old and is quite well off but for most of her life she has had to travel around with her very demanding and selfish step-mother who liked to live her life just moving from hotel to hotel. The hotels were never in Scotland because the step-mother hated that country so Kirsty hadn’t been home for 22 years. In all that time Kirsty longed to go back to Scotland, her place of birth so when her step-mother died Kirsty rented a lodge house in Muirburn, a small village in her beloved Scottish border country. It’s the first real home which she has ever had and the house goes by what I think is a wonderful name – Little Phantasy.

Kirsty’s whole life has revolved around her step-mother and she finds it difficult to live just for herself so when her elderly Aunt Fanny suddenly finds that she has to give up her own home Kirsty is delighted to offer her a room at Little Phantasy. Then Kirsty hears about three motherless Scottish children who are relatives of a friend and the poor wee things are having to spend the summer in London. Before you know it they are at Little Phantasy too and the usual servants of that time complete the household.

The children provide the humour and it’s almost exactly the same as Penny Plain really. It’s a sort of Mapp and Lucia meets Just William at a Scottish Cranford. Quite enjoyable in a way and something that you can safely recommend to any delicate souls of your acquaintance. If you enjoy Scottish settings of the early 20th century then you’ll probably like this one. The landscape is painted with real affection and becomes as important as any characters, which is usual in most fiction by Celtic writers, I think.

The title Pink Sugar comes from the pink sugar hearts which Kirsty wanted to eat as a child but she was never allowed to because it wasn’t wholesome. Ever since she has had a weakness for pink sugar.

“Surely we want every crumb of pink sugar that we can get in this world. I do hate people who sneer at sentiment. What is sentiment after all? It’s only a word, for all that is decent and kind and loving in these warped little lives of ours…”

I think from that that O. Douglas must have been condemned by reviewers for being too sentimental and she was determined to have her right of reply.

O. Douglas was John Buchan’s sister but she didn’t want to use the family name in case people thought that she was trading on his name as he was already very successfull as a writer.