Finding the Island

People often ask me how I ended up here -- on a Hebridean island three hours by boat from the Scottish mainland. I've wanted to live on a Scottish island since I was a young teenagerand read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, then THE SINGING SANDS by Josephine Tey, and THE CROFTER AND THE LAIRD by John McPhee.....I imagined a sunny, windswept island near the top of the world. Whenever I thought that, I told myself that if it was in Scotland, it wouldn't be sunny. But that's how I always pictured it -- and that's how it was (well, sometimes) when in 2011 I saw my first Hebridean island, Barra.

The plane landed on the beach, at low tide.

The way to the hotel had the sea on one side, the machair --

a flower-filled meadow found only on the West coast of some hebridean islands-- on the other. It was so beautiful (or something) that I started to cry. I've been to every continent except Antarctica and nothing like that has ever happened to me. There was, is, just something about that light, landscape, silence, space -- I don't know what -- that felt like home.


About a week later, I spent a night on another island (chosen almost entirely by chance--there are 50 inhabited Scottish islands). There it was sunny, both days. On the first, I went for a three hour walk and didn't see anyone -- only wind and sea and sky; wildflowers and grass and sand, and, once, a large brown hare.

When my b and b hostess brought me to the ferry the next morning, she looked at me and said:"This is going to sound really strange, but I feel like you're part of our family."That's how I felt, too.

Back in America, I looked on the island's Web site to see about renting acottage and emailed the owner of one that seemed promising. She emailed back:

"...I think I have one of your books."

She did -- the IRELAND book I did for Scholastic; she'd bought it thinking it was a book about Connemara ponies. But still. How many published books are there in the world -- ten million? What are the chances of her having mine?

I rented the cottage for five months.