Corran Ferry journey inspires tartan noir novel

Alan Gillespie, author of The Mash House. Photograph with thanks to Bob McDevitt..

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Travelling from Fort William to Ardnamurchan as a probationary teacher 10 years ago inspired author Alan Gillespie so much that he based his first novel around it.

The Mash House by Alan Gillespie.

The Marsh House is set in the fictional village of Cullrothes, in the Scottish Highlands, where Innes hides a terrible secret from his girlfriend Alice, a gorgeous, cheating, lying school teacher.

In the same village, Donald is the aggressive distillery owner, who floods the country with narcotics alongside his single malt. When his son goes missing, he becomes haunted by an anonymous American investor intent on buying the Cullrothes Distillery by any means necessary. Schoolgirl Jessie is trying to get the grades to escape to the mainland, while Grandpa counts the days left in his life.

This is a place where mountains are immense and the loch freezes in winter. A place with only one road in and out, with long storms and furious midges and a terrible phone signal. The police are compromised, the journalists are scum and the innocent folk of Cullrothes tangle themselves in a fermenting barrel of suspicion, malice and lies.

Alan Gillespie is a writer and teacher from Fife, Scotland. He has studied at Stirling, Glasgow and Strathclyde universities. His articles and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Herald, Northwords Now, New Writing Scotland and elsewhere. In 2011, he was awarded the Scottish Emerging Writer’s residency at Cove Park. The Mash House is his first novel.

​Alan said: ‘I lived in Fort William about ten years ago, renting a flat up the hill near the Spar with incredible views over the water.

‘I was completing my probationary teaching year at Ardnamurchan High School, so travelled across on the Corran Ferry every day. That was incredible and quite strange for someone who had not grown up near water.

‘My novel is loosely set in these locations and definitely inspired by the landscape.

‘It is a tartan noir. I was interested in exploring the secrets and hidden lives of the villagers in my imaginary village of Cullrothes. Everyone knows how beautiful Highland communities are at the height of summer, but there are dark and hard times in the midst of a Scottish February.’

​The Mash House uses multiple narratives to weave together the parallel lives of individuals in the village, each fractured by the fears and uncertainty in their own minds.