Steps on the Road to Recovery

If you know Bute, you’ll know the long, steep, twisting road that’s very appropriately called the Serpentine. It’s a favourite challenge with cycling enthusiasts, who test their mettle tackling the 13 hairpin bends to get to the top. Today we’re sitting in a flat halfway up this precipitous road with a spectacular view right over Rothesay Bay and beyond. From here we can see the Calmac ferry making its final turn to berth at the pier, bringing both residents and visitors to this popular island in the Firth of Clyde. With its gleaming white superstructure and red and black funnels, emblazoned with the company’s insignia, the ferry is a vivid and welcome sight – no matter how often you may have seen it before.

We’re here for a few days holiday – though rest and recuperation would be a more accurate description. My husband almost lost his life a short while ago and even though he’s recovering well, and so very grateful to be alive, it still takes time to come to terms with an event that could have changed our lives forever.

Karen Latto of PrintPoint and author Richard Smith

It felt like more than a coincidence when we discovered that Print Point, the island’s fine bookshop, was hosting a visit from eminent gynaecological surgeon and cancer specialist J Richard Smith. Richard’s new book – The Journey – is an account of the author’s own brush with ‘the reality of mortality’, as well as examining the physical and psychological challenges faced by recovering patients. You might think that recovery from a life-threatening illness, or accident, would leave you ready to carry on with life as before, but in fact, he told us, people often fall into one of two categories. There are  those who recover and have a heightened sense of being given a second chance and endeavour to live each day to the full. But, sadly, there are others who find themselves sinking into a state of dread, so anxious are they that the illness might recur that they become unable to live life meaningfully, and become prisoners of their own fears.

Like most people, I’d heard it said that, if you fall off a horse you should get back on one again as soon as possible before you find yourself too scared to do so. But I hadn’t thought of this in connection with major illnesses and accidents.

I do now.

Unbidden and unwelcome comes the thought that if it could happen once it could happen again. And how do you deal with that?

Richard Smith’s book suggests one way. With his many years experience working with patients who are at their most vulnerable, physically as well as psychologically, The Journey (subtitled Spirituality, Pilgrimage and Chant) maps Richard’s own ‘pilgrimage’, his journeys of discovery. He writes of the road he has travelled towards physical and spiritual wellbeing; “of the challenges and wonders of pilgrim paths to ancient sites such as Jerusalem, Assisi, Iona, Patmos and Mount Athos… The Journey is a book about being whole and is for anyone on the pathway to physical healing after illness, or seeking greater spiritual fulfillment.”

Old Man’s Beard lichen – sign of healthy, clean air

Right now we feel such gratitude that we’ve been given that second chance and are learning to overcome the fears that inevitably accompany it. I hope the path we chose is the one where we continue to live life with relish and make the most of each day as it comes.

Reading Richard’s book, being back on Bute, having the support of friends; these all contribute to the ongoing process of recovery. And I’m grateful for all of them.

The Journey by J Richard Smith

“There’s been a murder…!” Bute Noir Investigated

Mass murders approach the unsuspecting citizens of Bute!Last weekend the Isle of Bute basked in sunshine, its worthy citizens little realising that a ferry-load of mass murderers, psychopaths and serial killers (both male and female) were about to set foot on their beloved island: unaware that a gang of killers was about to hit the streets of Rothesay, the capital of this peaceful west coast island.

From California to Govan they came, each with their own unique and perfected methods of murder. Each with their own preferences for death and carnage. But thankfully on this occasion no blood would be spilt, for these desperadoes kill not with daggers or guns, but with the pen!

Californian Alexandra Sokoloff and Glaswegian Chris Brookmyre get to grips with hard questions from the audience in Rothesay Library

Thus it was that journalist-turned-crime-writier Craig Robertson and his band of Tartan Noir friends arrived on the island for the first ever Bute Noir crime writing festival and what a success it was!

Organised jointly by Craig, along with Karen Latto of Print Point (Rothesay’s wonderful bookshop) and the library’s Patricia MacArthur, the talks were hosted across three venues: by Karen at Print Point, by Kevin Baker at Rothesay Library and by Anne Spiers at Bute Museum.

Library staff kept us all fed and watered!

The topics ranged from the serious to the comic – from the grim reality that lies behind much of crime writing, to “squirrels on steroids, heads in fridges and the perfect writing paper…!” to quote the island’s newspaper, The Buteman.

The visiting authors looked at what lies behind the personalities of serial killers; discussed the way different women approach crime writing (‘Deadlier than the Male?’);  debated the extent to which locations add to the realism of a novel; talked about the writing of the ‘cosy’ crime novels that many readers also appreciate; then brought the festival to a hilarious finale with a ‘Question of Court’, when Chris Brookmyre, Luca Veste and Michael J. Malone pitted their wits and literary knowledge against the sharp minds of Caro Ramsay, Douglas Skelton and G.J.Brown.

Prepare to be afraid, very afraid!

Prepare to be afraid, very afraid!

The island played its part too as the Bute Noir programmes and posters all featured the atmospheric and eerie photograph of the road to the Dhu Loch, taken by talented Bute photographer John Williams. The evocative image of a dark and winding road through trees, leading to an unknown and mysterious destination, was just the thing to get your imagination going and send a shiver or two down your spine!

This inaugural Bute Noir was a good mix of gentler crime, alongside police procedurals and the darker Tartan Noir: with a slice of the mysterious and the supernatural thrown in as well. The turnout for all the events showed just how much interest there is in all aspects of the process of writing – from the original spark of an idea to the final published book.

Chris Brookmyre, Luca Veste, Michael J. Malone, quizmaster Craig Robertson, Caro Ramsay and Douglas Skelton get reay for a trial of wits in a 'Question of Court'

Chris Brookmyre, Luca Veste, Michael J. Malone, quizmaster Craig Robertson, Caro Ramsay and Douglas Skelton get ready for a trial of wits in a ‘Question of Court’

All in all, a great success and if you missed meeting these dealers in death this time round: fear not – They’ll be back!!


Find out more at:

How unique is Scottish Crime Fiction by Allan Martin

Bute Museum

Scalpsie Bay – A Walk through Time

Looking across to Arran from Scalpsie Bay

The Isle of Bute, although lying in the Firth of Clyde and close to the main centre of population in Scotland, is often called ‘The Undiscovered Isle’.  Many people think of it only in terms of the main town, Rothesay, once a thriving summer coastal resort, now rather run-down and tired.  But beyond the town lies beautiful countryside, magnificent bays and a wealth of history – just waiting to be discovered!

Scalpsie Bay, on the south-west of Bute, is home to a populous seal colony, as well as having magnificent views over to Arran.  It also holds thousands of years of history – from a Bronze Age barrow and Iron Age dun, to the water channels built by the 19th century engineer Robert Thom to power the islands then flourishing cotton mills and the “Russian Cottage” used during the Cold War to listen for possible Soviet submarines in the Firth of Clyde.  But there is much, much more to this beautiful bay than this, so go and discover it for yourself!

Fragments of Bronze Age pottery found in the Scalpsie Barrow in 2010