My novel The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean is set on the Isle of Cumbrae, partly because Cumbrae is one of my favourite places in the entire world, but also because I love small islands and find them fantastically inspiring.
My obsession with islands started when I was eight and in bed with hepatitis A. Yuck! I was a hideous yellow colour and feeling vile, but there was a definite upside to being ill. Hepatitis meant six weeks off school and for the only time in my childhood I was actually encouraged to lie in bed and read, instead of being forced out of the house into the fresh air for healthy walks. The teetering pile of books by my bedside grew like a beanstalk as I devoured every one of Enid Blyton’s books (except the Noddy books. I couldn’t stand those.)
My favourites, the two which I kept going back to, were The Secret Island and Five On a Treasure Island. I loved those books, particularly The Secret Island, and my childhood games from then on involved survival skills and den building, though I never managed to construct a willow house, obtain a cow or hens of my own, smell wild thyme or hear the grunt of a hedgehog. Blyton created such a desirable miniature world and I would have loved to have been part of that along with Jack, Nora, Peggy and Mike. According to the Enid Blyton Society website Blyton was inspired to set so many of her stories on islands by her favourite childhood book The Coral Island by RM Ballantyne, which I also read and loved as a child.
Luckily for me, my parents were keen on islands too. Well, one island. They met for the first time 60 years ago at a dance in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae and fell madly in love. My mum had another boyfriend, a soldier, and she didn’t want to write the soldier a Dear John letter so she told my dad they couldn’t see each other again. The following year, having finally dumped the soldier boyfriend, she came back to Millport, hoping she might see my dad again. Obviously, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here to tell their story, my Dad happened to be on the island, holidaying with his parents. Mum and Dad were thrilled to bits to meet again. They got married and had five kids! Every holiday of my childhood was spent on Cumbrae with my parents and four siblings; building sandcastles on Kames Sands, eating ice-cream at the Ritz Cafe, buying fishing nets in Mapes Toy Shop.
I loved those holidays and the thing I enjoyed most about writing The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean was returning in my imagination to the island of my childhood.