The Ghost of Helen Addison is set within the fictional village of Loch Dhonn at the fictional loch of the same name.
Loch Dhonn stands in for Loch Awe in Argyll. I fictionalised it in order that I could move or change certain locations and geological features to fit with the narrative. In order to come up with replacement place names that had authenticity, I borrowed several from the Isle of Bute, where I spent many happy childhood holidays. I did the same with the second Leo Moran book, 'The Shadow of the Black Earl' which I have almost finished rewriting.
I first spent time at the northern reaches of Loch Awe in November 2010, when my cousin and her husband kindly lent me the lovely house they had just had built there. That was one of several coinciding instances that winter which combined as the inspiration for what became The Ghost of Helen Addison.
The Scots are often referred to a Jekyll and Hyde people (aka the ‘Caledonian Antisyzygy’ for all you clever clogs; try saying that after a few whiskies!). It is a country influenced by the light of reason – quite literally enlightened – which produced much of the philosophy, science and engineering that shaped the modern world. Conversely, the Scottish soul is also romantic, superstitious and subject to often self-destructive passions. This split could once have been considered roughly geographic; the gentler country of the south inhabited by the staid, better-educated, English-speaking (inasmuch as Scots is a dialect of English), Presbyterian population who typified the values of the Enlightenment, the Union and the Industrial Revolution. While the rugged, forested Highland country of the west and north was inhabited by the Gaels, the people of poetry and song and doomed causes and ancient honour codes and blood loyalties and uisge-beatha.
I reckon the Highlands reflect a further dualism. It is is an uncommonly beautiful realm, an inspiration to artists and a backdrop for tales of heroism, romance and adventure. When the sun shines on a Highland landscape it lifts the spirits. Yet in the winter’s dark, in the rain or beneath a scowling sky, the very same terrain can – often very quickly – take on a melancholy and even sinister aspect. Within such shadow it is not hard to comprehend why ours is a country rich in a darker romance, in tales of ghosts and witchcraft.
Loch Awe – or in my case Loch Dhonn – typifies this alternation, and the novel takes place at the hinterland between winter and the beginning of spring. Therefore both versions of Scotland are present in the novel, the pretty and romantic/the dark and foreboding. It would have seemed a missed opportunity for me not to have added a hefty dash of the supernatural into the brew!