Sitting looking out at mist and frost, I was listening to john Denver singing ‘let me always be with you’, and thought of my wife, wondered if her spirit stayed with me after her death, or if I imagined it. Then I remembered a few words from Ben Okri writing about a man going back to his home, the City of Dreams and hearing, ‘the voices of his father and mother, but also of the illustrious ancestors and the ever-watchful masters.’ The combination turned my thoughts to how historical incidents trigger a desire to write a story round them. I think what happens is that, as I read about something, a character begins to tell the story. When I read of the Spanish landing at Eilean Donan Castle, then leaving the sick lame and lazy behind as they went to look for the Jacobites, the chap left in charge started to walk back and forward, muttering. When the Navy arrived and started to bombard the castle, he became very excited, throwing his arms in the air. He managed to take his charges off to join his compatriots, but then got involved in the debacle at Glen Sheil and taken prisoner, his squawks have told me I need to write his story.
With Bubbles in the Cauldron, it was different. As I read about Wilson, who was executed after the 1820 uprising in Southern Scotland, he shared his first excitement, then the gloom of his despair at finding they had been deceived by Government agents, and no other group had risen to the call. Another layer was added when I watched a protest being taken over by extremists and become violent, as happened with the French revolution, and so many since then, including some recently in London and America and the tale grew.
A devious route from thinking of happy family days, but do the spirits of our ancestors talk to us, chide us when we deviate from our culture, break ancient rules of hospitality and honour? Does King Arthur mutter to us when we are uncivil? Does the Unknown Warrior niggle from his grave when we reject friendship, refuse to help, or put others at risk? Does Florence Nightingale encourage those treating patients sick from Covid 19?