Below is the introduction to Kilea. Above is the plantation forest which provided inspiration for part of the novel’s setting. When I was a little girl, living on the island, my parents had various strategies for preventing me from wandering off. One of them was to say that there were bears living in the woods. Now, I knew on one level this was not true, as bears have been extinct in Scotland since some time in the dark ages. But on another level, the level of a child’s imagination, my parents could not lie. I believed then that the bears in the woods of Aros were weird creatures indeed. They took on the qualities of fairy-tale bears, half human, watchful. You can be certain I did not stray from the paths, not into the pine-needle littered dimness. Even when I came back to visit as an adult, I was aware of the taboo, even if I did step a little way in to take the above picture. Kilea, the lead character, is far braver than I, despite the strange things she encounters:
The girl sat on the second step, tap-tapping her heels. She had been a long while there, but she didn’t mind; the colours had come to rest, the world no longer swaying. Above her was the house – the manse – with heavy oak door, painted black. The washwhite stone was stark against the cliffs, the roof touched the pale sky. It hurt to see too far. The man had said he liked her eyes though. How the outcircle was the same colour as the in. But she didn’t like them. They looked like cut-out holes. Because of this, because of brightness, she held her head in a downward tilt. She took a sip from her milk-flask. The milk was a chalky taste at first, then sharp and warm at the back of her throat.
Her velvet dress, coffee-bean brown, had been zipped and unzipped too many times, and wouldn’t sit well any more. She tugged at the crumples, trying to pull the material straighter at her knee but her fingers wouldn’t do what she wanted them to. She would try to be better. Down at her toes, spongy plants were coming up dense and bright green between the step-stones. When she poked them with the tip of her foot, the shoe turned dark and wet. The chill hardly bothering her at all.