It was dark when I arrived, but warm. Wind blew in from the east without even the hint of a chill. Palms swayed and whispered loudly, like they were trying to tell a secret in a crowded bar. A few of the houses we drove by wore more Christmas lights than entire neighbourhoods back in London. It seemed the garishness of the winter wonderland stood in inverse proportion to the existence of actual winter here. Key West doesn't get cold. It is the only frost-free city in the continental United States.
It's far away, geographically and emotionally, from winter in St Andrews. The sea smell here is not chill and crisp, but instead like opening a pot of steamed shellfish. Fresh, but warm. Fife seems another world, but another world in remarkable detail. Drawing forth memories of the crashing waves and gales that sliced like ice between bone and flesh, details previously unnoticed come into sharp focus. The smell of the bar at the Central just after a beer line's been cleaned and the ale pulled is clear. How soft the sand gets as you head further down West Sands towards the Eden estuary, consuming your feet to the ankle if you aren't careful. The tea shack down the harbour, its blackboard proudly boasting that today's special is tattie soup, as it has been every day for the last 25 years.
These memories weren't missing. But distance and difference, and a touch of longing, can bring such beautiful clarity. In Cathedral's Shadow is a work of fiction, but the town it's set in is real, and it is so important to me that the town lives as much as any of the characters; that the town is a character as well. Even if no one goes down to that tea shack in the pouring rain in the book, you can be sure that if they did, the special would be tattie soup. From a small island off the coast of Florida, I still worry and amend, fretting these details and memories as they surface.
Unbound are offering £10 off all pledges and purchases with the voucher code "festivereading" - this is a great time to pledge for any project - perhaps get the name of a loved one in the back of a book as well. Also, the hardback for my first book, Salt & Old Vines, is reduced to £15 for a short time. Check it out here if you haven't already.
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