on 4 March 2010
Flick through Still on the Sound and you'll keep stopping at the colour photos on virtually every page - birds, people, skies & water, animals, boats, dogs, seals, flowers, cloudscapes, more people, trees, stormy waters, happy children, snow, landscapes in all weathers, brilliant light-effects, close-ups of lanterns, shells, painted eggs, seafood, candle-light, lots of smiles, friends, family, happy people. There are over 200 pictures, all but one by the author and his wife, who is one of Scotland's leading artists, the distinguished painter Lynn McGregor RSW. Two of her 'semi-abstracted' landscapes are included. The colour illustrations alone are well-worth the price of the book.
Alternatively, start reading the first chapter, called "George". It's about a very young baby seal the author almost literally stumbled over on the foreshore as he returned to his home on an island late one dark December night. The account of what then happened and the human-animal interrelationship which developed and persisted is as compelling & enthralling a page-turner as anything about otters by Gavin Maxwell. Intrigued, you try the next chapter as well. "Rescuing Kevin" is an equally compelling, enthralling page-turner - this time a chance encounter with a crab fisherman in a boat with jammed steering and the "rescue" that ended in hysterical near-disaster. It ends with the most unexpected & brilliantly written page you'll meet in a long time: after the masterly qualities of p.33, I defy anybody not to be tempted into buying the book to read and re-read at leisure.
The author is a born story-teller. He writes simply and clearly but to great effect - a classic example of the art that conceals art. He can capture a scene or situation in only a few words, with controlled precision & vivid immediacy. His economy of language, wonderful turns of phrase and eye for telling detail are the marks of a first-class writer. There's a kaleidoscopic variety of interest and emotional tone as the book progresses through the four seasons of the year, beginning with winter - and George! Wit and good humour abound. Most importantly, everything he writes about (and reflects upon) radiates great generosity of spirit, humane concern for all living things & the world we merely share, not own. To read this book is a heart-warming, life-affirming experience.
This then is the beautifully written sequel to The Blue Cabin (2006), now in its 4th reprint, clear evidence of the steady acclaim which gave it the status of a minor masterpiece. The setting of its successor is the same, near century-old wooden cabin on an otherwise uninhabited island in Northern Ireland's largest sea-lough. But this is no luxuriously-equipped holiday-hideaway on some exotic island-paradise. A mixture of dire misfortune, desperation & good luck drove the author and his wife to make their home in a place with, as he puts it, "... boat-only access, no mains electricity and a building with the insulation values of a tent" - and originally built on the Isle of Man as two separate POW huts for WWI enemy aliens! The Blue Cabin tells the whole story. The new sequel has a different focus and is fully self-contained, but the reader is still keenly aware of the difficulties and hazards as well as the rewards of island-life, totally dependent on the weather, the state of the tide, a trip in two open boats and then by car for several miles to buy a bottle of milk & a paper, see a neighbour or doctor or dentist or vet... Not a life-style many of us could endure, but will admire & envy from Michael Faulkner's description of the way he and his wife live & act.
Still on the Sound is not, finally, of merely local Northern Irish appeal. It will appeal to people who like birds, small boats, wildlife & the Great Outdoors, whatever the weather: to people who love dogs (especially Westies), fishing & fishermen, islands and the-fascinating-&-useful-things-to-do-with-visiting-children-on-an island-with-no-TV-or-shops-or-friends-next-door: to those who believe in family values, the importance of friendship and concern for others: to lovers of good, simple living and the rewards it brings: to all who admire & respect determination against all odds, adaptability, multi-tasking and resolute strength of mind & spirit. And those who want to know what it really takes to be a successful painter. In short its appeal is universal. In the most seductively gentle and witty language together with a rich variety of colour photographs, the author gives inspirational proof, in the words of his Introduction "that there is more to life than balance sheets". And bankers' bonuses & all that stuff. Much, much more.
It's a great book to have and give to others: a sure-fire winner.