ELEMENTAL BY AMANDA CURTIN
FIRST LINE: "That boy, Bruce's Sandy, he was a one for plucking the world from the sea."
"Nearing the end of her life, Maggie Tulloch takes up her pen to write a story for her granddaughter. It begins in the first years of the twentieth century, in a place where howling winds spin salt and sleet suck from ice floes.
A place where lives are ruled by men, and men by the witchy sea. A place where the only thing lower than a girl in the order of things is a clever girl with accursed red hair. A place schooled in keeping secrets.
Moving from the north-east of Scotland, to the Shetland Isles, to Fremantle, Australia, Elemental is a novel about the life you make from the life you are given."
It's been a while since my last post due to being incredibly busy with everything PGCE related, but today I have something a little different and really exciting! I can share with you an extract from a fantastic book that I am currently reading (and enjoying so much). The book is Amanda Curtin's latest release - Elemental. I have to admit, I've not finished reading the book yet but I started reading it a few days ago and I am well and truly invested in this book. It's taken priority over the other three I'm currently reading, too! Elemental is written by Australian author Amanda Curtin and is based in Scotland, the Shetland Isles and Australia. The book is based around a grandmother writing her memoir for her granddaughter to read. Her memoir tells the story of her growing up surrounded by a family of fishermen in a world where a woman's job was to look after the men around you, and the years that follow. I am thoroughly enjoying Elemental and I am sure I will post a full review when I have finished reading the book. Anyway, read the extract below, and enjoy.
I was born in a village as far north-east as you can go on the Scottish mainland, closer to Norway than London. Roanhaven was only two miles from the town of Gadlehead, and I’m told they’re all the one place now. But back then, oh, we were a folk apart, we thought Gadlehead as much a stranger-place as Fraserburgh to the north, Collieston to the south, and all those inland villages where Ma would sell fish from the creel on her back.
Our house was a but-and-ben – a wee two-room cottage, that is – like the others in Tiller Street, squat and polished smooth by the wind. That wind! Ach, a force, it was, a furious spinning of salt and grit and sleet sucked up from icefloes, ashpits, the spume of the ocean. It could scour the hairs off your arms, freeze the mud on your boots. Every year it took a little more of the houses in Tiller Street, wearing them away grain by grain. Not the frames, no, for the pink granite of Gadlehead will survive more generations than ever I’ll know, but the soft matter between that yields to the elements.
I was the youngest at number 8 Tiller Street. The others – well, there was Da and Ma, Granda Jeemsie, my brothers, Archie, Jamie and Will, and my sister, Kitta. If you had asked Granda, Da or Ma which of them was head of the household, each would have owned the name and looked at you as though it was the feeblest of questions, too plain to need an answer. Although my mother would not have been telling you this in words. No, Ma had Looks for that.
In the smallest but-and-ben in Tiller Street were Da’s sister Unty Jinna, and her daughter, Liza. And next to us, Sailor Wattie, who had his own boat and a share in ours, the Lily Maud, Ma’s sister Unty Leebie, and their children, Andrew and Elspet. Liza, Elspet and I were about the same age, so it was like having two more sisters. They could never come close to Kitta in my heart, though. No-one could.
We were sea people. We lived by its moods and rhythms as much as the fish and birds that were part of the order of things. From the time we could stumble along the boatie shore on our own feet, we’d be working – collecting whelks and limpets for bait, pitching stones at gulls pecking at the fish on our mothers’ drying racks. Later, boys were expected to go to sea on the family boat or a neighbour’s, while girls were put to service in the large estates thereabouts, or married young to another fisher family and made useful that way. A fisher canna be in want of a wife – that was the common wisdom and no-one quarrelled with it back then. When we children stood with our bare toes in the icy sand, gazing out to sea, I fancied there was freedom in what Archie, Jamie and Will saw, a ticket to the wide world, beyond the life I would know. To catch a glimpse of my future, I’d to turn in the other direction, to the land. There I would see the labour of the mending sheds, the worn tracks between the peat country and our fireplaces. Tubs of grey, soapy water where woollens were scrubbed on wooden boards. Roadways leading to the farms and estates where my mother and aunties walked to sell fish. For me and Kitta, for Elspet and Liza, the pattern of the years ahead would be plain and safe and all the dreary same.
It didn’t stop me from yearning, mind. Even my earliest memory ...
I was a wee bairn when I tottered into the winter sea. Straight in, clothes and all. Folk said later I was blessed to be alive, that my heart didn’t stop, nor my blood turn white. Jockel Buchan, an old fisherman, strode through the shallows to reach me. Waded in, he did, almost to the knees of his great seaboots. I remember this, aye, but I don’t remember feeling frightened, or cold, though how could I not have been? Nor the sound of Kitta and Liza squealing like piglets all the while he was hauling me ashore. Nor Unty Jinna shaking my shoulders and calling me a raickless bairn. These things they told me later. What I remember –aye, even now, I remember – is struggling to be free of the arms holding me safe, twisting round to the water again, searching the sea for another glimpse of the huge white wings that had lifted from the waveslick and flown far away into the sky. The most beautiful thing, lambsie! Ma used to say my pretty birdie was a kittiwake or a solan goose that had strayed too close to the shore, and what a foolish bairnikie who would droon herself for that! But I knew it was something miraculous, and I cried to fly away with it.
Granda Jeemsie took on a rage about my little rush into the sea. He muttered for weeks and shook his head. He spat on the ground and marked a cross on the sand with the blade of his gullie knife. He gave a sixpence to the widow of Jockel Buchan when the old man and his yawl were taken by a storm that same winter. Jeemsie Neish giving away a sixpence! Now, that was a thing to remark on.
Doesn't it just make you want to read on?! Let me know what you thought of the extract, and make sure to check out the other blogs on the blog tour - there's a giveaway, reviews and Amanda Curtin herself has written a guest post!
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