Margaret Elphinstone is the author of eight novels as well as poetry and short stories. She is a graduate of Durham University and an Emeritus Professor of Strathclyde University where she was a member of the English Studies Department from 1990-2008. Apart from spells of academic work in the USA, she has spent her working life in various parts of Scotland including Shetland, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Moray. She has two daughters and five grandchildren and lives with her partner in Galloway where she was working as a gardener when her first novel was published in 1987.
About writer's work
My fiction is mostly historical and I usually write about people living ‘on the edge’. This can refer to the geographical edge – islands, coastlines and frontiers –or to their status as outsiders to society. Major themes of my writing are the relationship between people and their environment and journeys or places where ideas and cultures meet.
My most recent novel, The Gathering Night, is set among Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived in what is now Scotland some 8000 years ago. The catalyst for the novel is the only known event of the Mesolithic era, a tsunami which swept down the east coast of Scotland around 6150 BC.
The Sea Road, which appears in List Magazine’s ‘100 best Scottish books of all time’ and won a Scottish Arts Council book award, re-tells the Viking exploration of the North Atlantic from the viewpoint of Gudrid, an extraordinary woman who is recorded in the sagas and was probably the first white woman to land in North America. Taking the accidental discovery of North America as its focal point, the book is a voyage into the unknown – personal, geographical and spiritual.
Similarly, Voyageurs follows the journey of a Cumbrian Quaker caught up in the North American war of 1812 and addresses issues of pacifism and exploration through encounters between European and indigenous peoples. Cultural contrasts of a different kind are explored in Light, set on a fictional island off the Isle of Man in the 1830s, when the self-confident forces of the Edinburgh enlightenment arrive in the form of Stevenson’s surveyors, preparing to build a new lighthouse. They encounter the traditional rhythms and values of a remote island society when they meet the sisters-in-law who run the original lighthouse.
If you think the reality of an island’s existence can readily be determined, consider that the totally fictitious island of Hy Brasil appeared in Admiralty charts until the mid-19th century. My novel, Hy Brasil, is a multi-layered narrative which can be read simply as a political thriller set on an island which might have been but also explores the myths surrounding real and imagined islands which have enriched our literature since ancient times.
I was particularly pleased to contribute a novella – Gato – to the Vista series for emergent adult readers, an inspired initiative by the Dingwall-based publisher. My early novels have been republished by Kennedy & Boyd.
Current events and projects
Margaret Elphinstone undertakes readings, lectures and writing workshops for adults and schoolchildren. She frequently works as a tutor for the Scottish Writing Centre at Moniack Mhor, near Inverness and delivers regular workshops (some residential) in Dumfries and Galloway. She has appeared at leading international festivals in Scotland - Edinburgh International Book Festival - and Canada - Harbourfront Toronto. She has contributed to a range of Scottish writing events and festivals including Aberdeen, Glasgow (Aye Write), Wigtown and Ullapool. She has a particular interest in nature and wilderness writing and has participated in the Lismore Hunter Gatherer Festival and island festivals including Islay, Shetland and Colonsay. She regularly contributes to Dark Mountain events and publications.