Blàs of the Highlands – Ceitidh Hutton
Blàs of the Highlands is set on the stunning North Coast 500 in the Scottish Highlands. It follows Stroma and her friends throughout the year of the return of Auntie Lottie. The story follows their inter-generation friendships, their cultures, laughter, tears and quirky life.
Ceitidh says “I hope it leaves readers with a love of their community and a smile on their faces.”
Ceitidh kindly did an author Q&A for us. If you have any more questions, comment here or get in touch on my Facebook page feature.
What inspired/why did you write Blàs of the Highlands?
Blàs is set in the Scottish Highlands, so it wouldn’t surprise you to know that is was the weather and the scenery that instigated my first thoughts. We had a really freezing winter two years on the trot. I found myself sitting in a lonely layby eating my lunch surrounded by this amazing spectacle of mountain, loch and moors. My company was the wildlife flying around or searching for food. No other cars or humans in sight for miles around. The sky was brilliant blue and the mountains were like multi-coloured diamonds, as the sun sparkled on the hard snow and deep ice. You know what it is like; you take that deep breath and realise you are so lucky to be alive and be part of all that. Then it dawned on me in actual fact I was in a unique position. I drove around this landscape almost daily and watched it change depending on the elements. So I started a sort of diary about the weather and how the scenery changed on a constant basis. The story, characters and everything else developed much later but that was the inspiration to start. It is probably why on the first run over my manuscript my editor said ‘it’s funny a lot of your chapters start with the weather?” I had to do a lot of editing after that.
Tell me what is special about Blàs of the Highlands?
Apart from that unique position I was talking about. Well I dipped into communities and worked with them very intently for periods of time. On top of which Gaelic is a very emotive subject even today. I wanted to tell a story that would reflect all of this but nothing nonfiction. I don’t have the discipline for that. I also wanted to tell the story of women’s friendships. How strong we are. How great our many invisible bonds are. There are great stories out there about woman but not many are about this inter-generational friendships based on who we are regardless of age that many of us have with family and friends. We don’t have that many books for women by women that reflect this unless it’s to do with romance or hardship. There are many good writers already doing this. I wanted to write something fun and that would make people laugh.
What did you learn whilst writing Blàs of the Highlands?
I hyper-bolt a lot in my writing; truthfully when communing in general. I didn’t even know I did this until the editor commented a few times on the first pass. It got worse; when I mentioned this to family members they all fell about laughing “really we never noticed.” Sarcasm is a way of endearment in the Scots. I was fairly disciplined at writing as I have worked from home most of my working life. My timescales however were not the same as every bodies else’s. I leant to be more patience and had to be flexible as I relied on others such as editors and proof readers who had other writers to deal with as well.
What surprised you about your writing most?
I was used to writing children’s books which are way shorter. So finally finishing Blàs was a great surprise so was the fact that people liked it. At each stage I kept waiting to be told no this isn’t good enough. Also one of the characters stories changed as I wrote the book. That surprised me. It didn’t go in the direction that I had intended at the start. But it was the right way to go. When you hear other writers saying the character took over it used to make me feel a little uneasy especially if they wrote a crime story…. But I totally understand now what they mean. It is actually really fulfilling as a writer when that happens.
What does the title mean?
Blàs,not to be confused with Blas (no à which means taste, flavour) is Gaelic for affection, kindness warmth (as well as warmth regarding temperature. I wanted a Gaelic name for a village and the warmth of the highlands which is what the translation of the book would mean just sounded right. I also wanted to reflect the warmth of the relationship between the women and the community in general and the kindness in how they treat each other.
What do you think the characters would make of their story?
Auntie Lottie would probably have proposed a big party to celebrate, Ellen would have organised the food and Mary would have brought along some potent home brew. Maureen would definitely have added a few more quirky and funny stories about everybody. And Stroma would have gone along to enjoy a great evening out with an eye on how they could raise money through this for the development trust.
What are your characters doing now do you think?
Well it would appear that they are coming together for another adventure. This time though it won’t be done over a year in the same way Blàs of the Highlands was done. This time it will be more like a flow through the seasons as the story develops.
Did the characters act more or less how you had anticipated at the start of your writing?
I think I was pretty clued up on the characters before I started as it was a long journey between the weather diary and the start of the story. Although Maureen developed much more that I thought to the extent that she is going to play a bigger part both in the community and story next time. Gossips are not often liked but Maureen in actual fact developed more into a local genealogist wrapped around the latest news in the community.
Were any of the characters inspired by real people?
Like all characters in any story they are a mixture of various traits found in everyone. Obviously Stroma’s job was inspired by mine but not her character. She is younger and more independent than me. Angus has certain traits that can be found in quite a few old characters around in towns and villages and I hope we can continue to find characters like these in years to come. They add so much colour to life in general. Angus’s leg I know that sounds strange to anyone that hasn’t yet read the book but his leg was inspired by an old world war two pilot who was quite some character.
What happened to the characters after the book was finished?
They definitely would have continued to look out for each other. Stroma would still be encouraging the use of Gaelic and the work of the trust. Mary would still be sitting there quietly but in reality leading everyone astray. Ellen would still be organising and Lottie and Maureen vying to be the first to find out any new happenings in the area.
Blàs of the Highlands is available as an ebook on Amazon:
Here is the ebook link to Kobo:
Ceitidh can be found at her website: