Please see below some reviews and media discussing the novel, and a preview of the book's opening scene.
If you've already read the book, or would like some further insights into the places where the action takes place, click on the "PEOPLE AND PLACES" button below
If you’re ready to ask yourself and try to answer these kinds of questions and if you like being grabbed by the scruff of the neck by a narrator and dragged into the most intimate and painful corners of their private life, then this is a book for you. If you like a high-class whisky, even more so. And if you’re into TV drama and know your Justified from your Breaking Bad, you’re probably going to love it.
Here's a record of the event held on 2nd August 2021, hosted by Matt Wood, in which Dennis Tardan and I explore the plot, themes and characters of THE BROCH. I also read a couple of extracts from the early part of the book, and participate in a short 'Q&A' session about the writing of the novel.
I’ve never been a big fan of Forewords.
Even now, I harbour resentment for those ponderous Penguin Classic introductions of my adolescence. Intimidated, or simply bored by them, I’d close many a book before the tales they lionised even uttered their well-crafted openings.
But I recommend you read this one.
I can’t make you, of course. But I owe it to Martin (he will make his own request soon enough) to try.
It’s true that his story will not be seriously flawed if you skip these pages, or those of my similarly presumptuous Afterword.
But I’d appreciate it if you’ll give me just these few extra minutes to explain.
I first met Martin at a creative writing course, high up on the Scottish moors above Loch Ness.
He told his fellow students that he’d taken an early exit from the world of work in order to test himself against the driving ambition of his youth. To be a writer. He’d been a reader since his youngest days, taken on the train every two weeks by his mother to the local public library. On his initial ownership of an Adult Lender card, his habit grew at pace. “A true ’seventies bookworm”, he said. “It was like being given a Day Pass to Everywhere.”
Feeling, at the end of his college years that he might after all chance his hand at composition, he instead grasped tightly onto a series of accumulating excuses not to do so. Work. Marriage. Mortgage. Children. Each one more legitimising than the last.
Then, he told the group, the chance to “call my own bluff” had presented itself in the form of a severance package from his employer. One by one, thirty years of alibis washed away.
His enthusiasm and curiosity during that course, and the excited support he offered his peers during that week, are what I remember about him the most, that first time. The short pieces he brought with him were of some merit, though lacking in any real direction or craft. But he was desperate to learn (and oh, so easy to encourage).
Over the next two or three years, I learned of his progress through evenings shared in Inverness at the local writing salon (a lot less exclusive than it sounds), or by virtue of pieces circulated under that initial course mailing list.
He then began to attend the monthly writer’s group I still host back on the moors. His enthusiasm was, if anything, even greater than I’d first encountered. His writing, while still often uneven, had grown in confidence.
And he had a voice. A style and a way of seeing things that I felt, and still feel, uniquely his.
We explored how he might bring his first novel, The Quarant, into the world.
Over the months, his conviction that he could successfully court a major publishing house diminished, but his productivity remained impressive. At that first course, my fellow tutor had told the group that the only way to learn to write is to write. That Margaret Atwood’s professed goal, to “fail better” with each attempt, was both noble and useful. Martin, with more time than many of his peers, took this fully to heart.
He took the plunge and self-published. The Quarant, and his second novel, The Puppet Masters.
Then we lost touch. He remained on the distribution list for our monthly meet-ups, but stopped circulating work.
He simply stopped coming.
It was almost a year later that Caitlin turned up at my door.
She’d called me from Martin’s home, and then driven over the Kessock Bridge to my own home in Fortrose. We walked together the short distance to the local café bar, where she passed me an iPad and a folder of papers taken from Martin’s writing desk. Over the course of three lattés, I learned how they had met on Harris, and the events she had stumbled (yes, she used that word) into.
She seemed nervous. Worried she would fail to grab my interest, or perhaps simply let him down.
Before the end of that evening, back at home by the fire, I felt my shift from intrigued listener to full co-conspirator. The next morning, I’d begun to move things around in my mind. Bend and twist plans to make space for whatever this new project might be.
I’ll say more in the Afterword about the events that followed, but allow me a few more moments to explain how this book took shape.
Firstly, Martin’s experiences on Harris are pretty much as he records them. It’s true, I parsed some passages through a more sober, less hurried lens than that at his own disposal. His intensity rarely falters, but inebriate pace, in life as much as in prose, requires the odd benevolent intervention to keep the ball from spinning off into the gutter. The tone, I hope, remains his own; Caitlin’s recollections have helped considerably.
The short pieces punctuating each chapter are drawn from older files and papers. If their selection or sequencing disrupts or disappoints, that’s down to me. To my mind, they offer some insight into how he came to leave home that first Saturday. An origin story, of sorts.
I’ve honoured Martin’s choices concerning the sequencing of his reminiscences of earlier times. They feel too strongly tied to his frame of mind at key points that week to warrant any editorial interference. And as for his own Introduction, I’ve left it untouched. It’s so suggestive of the man I knew, humble and self-deprecating, and I wish to offer you the same opportunity I had to react to his early request. And to make your own choice on whether to take his journey with him.
I take full responsibility for the Prologue and Chapter 8. It will be obvious to you that Martin was in no position to conclude his story himself. Having spoken of that last day with Caitlin several times, I have chosen to tell it in my own words.
On a final, personal note, I confess to have not yet fully worked through my thoughts and feelings about how this book, in contrast to his first two, has been the one to sail onto the bookshelves.
The angel’s share of Martin’s memories continue to hover and swirl in the air above me. I hope their tang somehow mellows his sons’ feelings for him and, by extension, your own.
© Graham Bullen, June 2021
I had just completed the first draft of THE QUARANT, in December 2018, when my wife and I booked a holiday for the following autumn on the Isle of Harris, in the building now featured on THE BROCH's front cover.
I think it says something about my state of mind, having temporarily shelved work on THE QUARANT, that I began to wonder what it might be like if, having booked a holiday as a couple so far in advance, something happened to one or the other? Would the remaining member of the couple still go ahead with the trip? If so, what would it feel like? What would they do?
THE BROCH is published by Matador.
You can find a lot more background about the locations in the book, by clicking the following: