Category Archives: Elemental

Happy Anniversary, Meggie!

What a shock to realise that Meggie Duthie Tulloch, red-haired gutting girl of the North Sea, came into the world, bookishly speaking, 10 years ago today.

It just doesn’t seem so long ago to me. I still have my Elemental corkboard on the wall of the studio, with its herring and puffins and girls elbow-deep in farlins of icy fish; its shawls and creels and fishing boats; its sea-boots and gannets. They are as real to me now as ever they were, as alive as Kate’s studio in Montparnasse, as Little Jock’s family in the slums of Glasgow, as the world of the novel I’m writing now. (Which is a good deal hotter than any I’ve ever lived in, in words or in life.)

Thank you to anyone who has ever listened to Meggie’s voice on the page, to those who took her into their hearts. And to Terri-ann White and UWA Publishing, who believed in her enough to publish Elemental.

Meggie, recalling the place of her birth:

I am seeing with the eye of a bird. There’s a coastline, there are canvas sails, wee boats painted blue. Coming in closer, the boatie shore, the long stony sweep of it, and the soles of my feet are tingling. Everywhere, skinny children, barefoot on the shingle. I am blown from the shore, up the slope to a grid of four streets. Tiller Street—my street—crosses through them, rows of stone houses with their backs to the North Sea. The wind is a howl the likes of which I have never heard since. And in the air, a sea tang, fresh and sharp and rotten all at once, spiced up with old bait, fish guts, plumes from chimneys where the fish are hung to dry and smoke. I can see the stiff striped aprons of the women, the wifies. My mother’s face.

If I spoke these words to you now, lambsie, they would sound shivery-strange, all shirred up on invisible threads, clipped of the Aussie vowels my voice began to grow when I came down here to this place from the top of the world. My ink is turning to water, briny and blue. I look at her, that girl I was, at all those people with her, and I see how easily it breaks, my will to walk away from them lean and free. Because when it comes to family, you can walk from the top of the world to the bottom and still not be free.


Filed under Elemental

Remembrance Day

He told me once that the army doctor’s orders were plain: he must push everything he’d seen, everything he’d done, from his mind.

Just don’t ever ask, Meggie. They said it’s best if ye just never ask and things don’t ever get said.

It made sense to him. He had no wish to bring unsayable things from the dark to live with us in the weatherboard cottage in Martha Street. But they did, anyway. Of course they did. I had learned for myself that things like that had to live somewhere.

—Meggie Tulloch, Elemental

Lest we forget the sacrifice of lives in all wars—on the battlefields, and long after…


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A podcast and some good news…

I was delighted when Will Yeoman, from The West Australian, invited me to talk about Scotland in this episode of ‘The Pod Well Travelled. It was hard to choose one place among the many in Scotland I love, but in the end it had to be Shetland, where part 2 of Elemental is set. You can also listen to discussions about Finland and Arles in this episode.


And for the good news…

In a year that has been, and continues to be, so difficult and unnerving, it is a singular pleasure to be shortlisted for the WA Writer’s Fellowship, part of the WA Premier’s Book Awards.


The full shortlists are here. Congratulations and good luck to everyone!

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Filed under Elemental, research, Writing

Candles at dawn…

It’s just before 6am. A light, warm drizzle, not enough to extinguish the candles flickering all along the street. Dark shapes at the tops of driveways. Radio blur, and then the bugles, near and far, the long notes of ‘The Last Post’ overlapping, out of sync…

I never know how to feel about Anzac Day. I don’t want to glorify war; I don’t want to fly flags. I do want to honour the sacrifice of lives. And as someone who spends much of her life digging around in the past, I want to acknowledge the way every war (including the one we’re living through now) leaves indelible marks on individuals and families, societies, nations, on who we are and how we live our lives.

This is Meggie Tulloch, in Elemental, remembering…

In 1921, Anzac Day was not a national day of mourning, not in the way we know it these days. The newspapers retold the story of heroism, and there were parades and services. It was a day for grieving, aye, but a kind of mourning closer to the heart. Wounds still fresh.

A Monday, it was—what silly details you remember. Magnus was on the day shift.

Go if ye want, an’ whenever ye want. I’ll not be going with ye.

I put my hand on his shoulder but he shrugged it off.

What’s the point, Meggie? Whatever’s the point of any of it. Tell me that. 

He shouldered his way through the kitchen, grabbed his bicycle and left for Castlemaine, long before he needed to.

Around midday, we took the children up to the stone we’d laid in the dunes for Stivvy and looked out across the sea. Home is the sailor… But Stivvy—he was not home, was he. Magnus was right: whatever was the point? But then I looked across at Clementina, looked for bitterness in her face, and it wasn’t there any more; it had not been there for a long time now. While Hal and Jessie ran barefoot, chasing wavelets back to the ocean, she brushed her fingers across the words we’d scratched on the stone and what I saw was a kind of soothing I didn’t understand. But I was glad for it, aye, so glad.

That was the point, the only point, and I wished Magnus could have seen it too.

Lest we forget.

Summer floral background of nature - flowers of red poppies. Summer landscape with red poppies . A big plan is summer flowers.

Photo: iStock


Filed under Elemental

7 weeks in 20 photos…


National Art Library, V&A Museum (London)


George Orwell and Dylan Thomas drank there… (London)


On top of the world… (Lerwick, Shetland)


The lovely Jeena McNab, McNab’s Kippers (Lerwick, Shetland)


and Jeena’s mother, former herring girl Rita McNab


The youngest reader I’ve ever signed a book for… (Shetland Library, Lerwick)


and the first ladder I’ve ever signed (Edinburgh Book Shop)



You can find a story anywhere… (Lower Slaughter)


The Madhatter Bookshop (Burford)


Bath Records Office


Toppings & Co., Bath


The closest I get to a selfie… (Brighton)


When you look up, there might be wings… (Tours, France)


or a wingless horse… (Tours)


or lions… (Pont-Aven)


Unforgettable… (Chateau Chenonceaux, Loire Valley)


Forest art, looking down… (Concarneau)



Don’t forget to read the plaques… (Quai Voltaire, Paris)


and listen to what the birds tell you… (Paris)


And always, always remember to visit the books… (Paris)


Filed under Elemental, Photo-reminders looking up/looking down, Writing

French fishing girls…


In a French coastal town in Brittany, where I was recently, researching something completely unrelated to fishing or fishing girls, I often found myself thinking of Elemental’s  Meggie Tulloch and the herring girls of north-east Scotland.

I hadn’t known much about the rich fishing heritage of Concarneau, but when I went on a walking tour around the harbour and listened to the guide speak about the prominent role played by women and young girls in the fishing industry I began to experience a sense of déjà vu. In Concarneau, the focus was sardines rather than herring, and the girls worked in confiseries (canning factories) dotted around the port.



They wore aprons and Breton bonnets that were different to those worn by other women of the town, and when they were not preparing and packing sardines in oil, they were knitting, or cleaning fishing nets, while waiting for the return of the fleet. And praying that their men would not be lost at sea, pulled to the ocean floor by the weight of their wooden-soled leather seaboots.


Sounding familiar?

And then I discovered that the name of the oldest canning factory in Concarneau, established in 1893, is Maison Courtin. A French version of Curtin? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.




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New edition of Elemental

UWA Publishing is releasing a new edition of Elemental for the Australia/New Zealand territory, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. It’s a new size and a new price—with a new cover, too. I confess I will miss the original image of my wee reid-heid, with her arresting stare, but I love this new, atmospheric vision for the novel…

Elemental front cover

I’m told the new edition will be in stores on 1 December but is available for ordering via the UWA Publishing website next week.


Filed under Elemental, Publishing news


I will be setting off soon, bound for a northern autumn—some familiar places and some I’ve never been to. The trip will be a combination of book promotion (for Elemental in the UK) and book research (for a work of creative non-fiction coming out in 2018, and my fiction-in-progress which is still, well, in progress).

As well as visiting various bookshops in Scotland and England, I’ll be doing a couple of author talks. One is at the Shetland Library, Lerwick, on 14 September, where I spent some time researching in 2007. As you can see, I still have my library bag!


The other is at the delightfully named Madhatter Bookshop, Burford, on 19 September. How could anyone resist a shop that sells books and hats?


Details and links are on the Events page.

In the meantime, here’s one of my favourite photos of the autumnal north…

DSCN2384 around monmattan


Filed under Elemental, Writing

Creating a sense of place

I was recently invited to contribute a piece to the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Five Things’ blog. The Scottish Book Trust is a fabulous organisation that promotes reading and writing as having the power to change lives—and that’s my kind of ‘mission statement’!

My piece is on creating a sense of place in fiction, and you can read it here.


scottish book trust


Filed under Elemental, Tips for writers

Elemental on air

Kate Evans from Radio National is a lovely interviewer and I was delighted to talk to her about Elemental. If you didn’t catch it on Books Plus or Books and Arts this week, the podcast is here.


Filed under Elemental