I have written six novels, of
which three are historical. My latest novel, Voyageurs (2003), is about a
young English Quaker who gets caught up in the War of 1812 in North America.
Islanders (1994) is set in twelfth century Shetland and The Sea
Road (2000) in Iceland, Greenland and Vinland in the tenth century. Hy
Brasil (2001) is about the legendary islands in the Atlantic which appear in
so many European maps and stories. In my novel Hy Brasil is a real place with
problems of corrupt politics, drug smuggling and frustrated love, but the
islands, in a contemporary way, are still enchanted. My two earliest novels (The
Incomer, 1987 and a Sparrow’s Flight, 1989) are futuristic fantasies.
Journeys and exploration are a
main theme in my work, as they are in my life. My favourite ploy is to be on the
road researching a novel, writing as I travel. I’m interested in wilderness and
places that are perceived by most of us as marginal and remote. I like to turn
the concept of remoteness on its head. The years I spent in Shetland have left
me with an enduring interest in islands, and the sea – or the
Great Lakes – features in all my books. I teach writing and Scottish
literature at Strathclyde
and I write because I have enjoyed reading and writing more than almost anything
else ever since I learned how to do them.
[ Margaret was one
of the authors at the Highland Reader's Day on the 5th June, 2004
At the Celebration of Learning in Inverness on 2nd December authors Des
Dillon and Suhayl Saadi took time to speak to two readers about their
work. As well as talking about the influences on their writing Des spoke
about his new novel from the forthcoming Vista series: “The Blue Hen”.
This was launched at the Highland Readers Day event on 5th June
2004, together with two other Vista books: “The White Cliffs” by Suhayl and
“The Cherry Sundae Company” by Isla Dewar.
When did you start writing?
Des: When I was about 17. I tried to write
songs – but I couldn't sing.
Suhayl: Like Des, I wanted to be involved with music but
I wasn't able to play. Music is one of the first principles.
Creating things like music has a child-like quality. But I only
began to write in my late twenties.
When did you write your first
Des: In 1982. I sent it to about fifty
publishers and they all rejected it.
Suhayl: Ten years ago. An early effort. I
sent it to fifty-one!
Can you remember what made you
want to start writing?
Des: always realised I could write. I
liked the feeling. My sister says that even when I was a wean I
wrote. I come from a story telling culture.
Suhayl: I love to play with words and tell stories, like
creating music through writing. I would go insane if I couldn't
Do you think writing is a gift?
Des: No. It’s not a gift. 90% of people
should be able to write.
Suhayl: People don't exploit their potential until they
realise, or somebody tells them, they can do it. I'm very happy
that even if I can't do some things, like play music, I can write.
Do you only write fiction?
Des: No, although I mostly write prose. I’ve
written Ken Buchanan’s biography. Also poetry and screenplays
for TV. I love writing. If someone were to ask me to go to
Chechnya to write, I’d go! But if I won the lottery I’d write
Suhayl: I mostly write novels and stories but I also do a
bit of poetry and stage and radio drama.
How would you encourage other
people to start writing?
Des: Try joining a creative writing class.
Everyone has a story to tell. You have to try to find your own
voice. I almost had a voice and then I went to Uni and it
knocked me for six. I’m not saying I didn’t learn there – I did
loads of reading – but it took me a long time to find my voice again
Suhayl: Read. Read books or listen to audio
tapes of books. I agree with Des. Join a group of
like-minded people but go with a thick skin and be prepared to change.
Who or what has been the
biggest influence on your writing?
Des: Jim Gallagher – my next door neighbour when I was growing
Suhayl: Everything I’ve ever read, every film I’ve ever
watched – and the music to which I listen
We both really liked “The Blue
Hen”. Would you consider writing more for this series – or even a sequel to
“The Blue Hen”?
Des: “The Blue Hen” is based on truth. I
liked writing it and I’m glad you enjoyed it – that I left you wanting more.
Suhayl: I'm really interested in the Vista project too.
Ten thousand words is just the right length to get into something.
Thanks to L and M for interviewing Des and Suhayl.