Author drew on history of Glasgow's Pollok House for first novel

Geologists and geographers tell us that a long time back a little part of North America broke away and attached itself to another landmass which ended up in Northern Europe. Today, this piece of the world is called Scotland.

Author Ri Adam
Author Ri Adam

From rolling countryside in the south to the granite majesty of the highlands, from vibrant and sophisticated modern cities to a land of lochs and waterfalls, Scotland has it all.

So how could I, a Scot, resist setting my novel, Lochdarnock – The Kiss and The Curse, here?

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The family saga begins in 1911 at the Glasgow Exhibition of Art and Industry and continues against the backdrop of the First World War – but the book starts in modern times with the arrival of Jenny Munroe at Lochdarnock House, as she takes up her new post as Marketing and Promotions Director of the Lochdarnock Estates. I based the house on Pollok House in Glasgow where I had worked as a volunteer but the piece has nothing to do with the family who owned Pollok House back then. The Lochdarnock family is a creation of my own.

Pollok House in Glasgow

I also place some of the story at The Lochdarnock Hunting Lodge in the north, which I have fabricated completely, though I have noticed that places such as The Lodge do exist and can be seen in Scotland today. However, The Hunting Lodge written of in Lochdarnock – The Kiss and The Curse is a fiction.

I’ve been lucky in having an account of my own family story left to me in an unpublished novel A Good Place by my mother – a piece she had written before her death in 2001. As a result of a question that work gave rise to, I decided to write Lochdarnock – The Kiss and The Curse which explores Jenny Munroe’s search for her own true and complex identity.

My mother had often told the tale of how a great aunt (who was in service) had invited my mother to join her in England as she was taking up a new job as a servant to a recently widowed doctor who was moving south with his daughter to start a new life. My mother was to be the girl’s companion. I never understood why my mother had been offered this opportunity as there were other girls in her family who might have been invited to do so. My nana absolutely vetoed such a move. I think my mother felt proud to have been asked to join the aunt and a little disappointed that the chance of a new and different life was never given to her. I am very grateful that my nana had her way or I may never have been here today.

Jenny Munroe, who comes from a working class background (like my own), is asked on arrival at the house to unveil the newly restored 1907 portrait of Lady Isabelle Lochdarnock, only to find that she bears a remarkable resemblance to the lady. Along with four other modern day characters, Jenny takes up the chase and eventually finds from whom and where she came.

I have tried to find great-great Aunt Mary, to no avail. This failure led me to incorporate an explanation for such an event in the denouement of the book. Again, the explanation comes from my imagination. Needless to say, I would love to know what really happened to the auntie.

Writing novels is a strange habit. Lochdarnock was work I picked up and put down again and again, sidelining it as I wrote plays, sketches and the ‘book’ for a musical which were performed. Oddly and persistently, I kept being drawn back to the tale, somehow enticed in order to complete this novel.

The truth is that it wasn’t so much that I could not let ‘it’ (the story) go as ‘it’ was not willing to let me go until the tale was told.

I was always intrigued by the aunt’s offer. Why such an offer? Why my mother? What was so special about her? These questions nagged me into completing the piece.

From the geographic to the personal, from Scotland as a whole to Pollok House in particular, along with my mother’s family history – the material to produce a novel was there and, as I say, that material could not (would not) be ignored.

Following the adventure that Jenny embarks on, the information she finds and follows along with her son, Jaz Marteneau, Bill Johnson – a volunteer at The House, his wife Hetty, and Gil Delaney (an American visitor to Scotland whose family, like Jenny’s had originated in Glasgow) we find where Ms Munroe fits into the picture (quite literally.)

My research led me to explore The Quintinshill Rail Disaster (the worst such calamity in British history) which occurred in Scotland during the First World War. Through Bill Johnson’s character this piece of history is commented upon. I also look at what might have happened for Scots soldiers during that cruel and savage war and how life in general was impacted by the events of that terrible time.

Having completed the book, I am prouder than ever of my family – their resilience which is (I think) particularly indicative of a Scottish personality, their kindness (which too is very Scottish) and their keenness for a better future (not only for their own children but for all children here and to come.)

I was asked by a friend who has read the book which character I had based on myself. Having given the question a lot of thought, I decided that a part of each of the modern day characters is me (sounds like I have a split personality) and that they are all, regardless of age, in a state of development.

I plan to continue on the Lochdarnock theme – with two more books biting to be let out. It seems that a lot of research will be undertaken and I really do feel drawn to look into my father’s family history next time around – they look like an interesting lot.

Again, the Adam family was very working class Glasgow. My father’s grandfather was an inventor responsible for many works (I would love to know what he was all about and exactly what patents he lodged with various authorities – I know he did). He was a mariner, as a lot of Scots did and do. That part of family history seems delightfully poised to be researched.

A family member told me some time back that there may be a link between the Adams and Glamis Castle. As I said at the time, we probably only went along to dig the drains. But who knows?

Research beckons and, as I say, a second and perhaps a third Lochdarnock book awaits.

I think that in reading Lochdarnock – The Kiss and The Curse – the reader will understand all about ‘The Kiss’. The cause and the nature of ‘The Curse’ I intend making known at the end of book three, along with what might be the antidote to that hex.

The truth is, exploring family history is rather like exploring Scotland. It is full of gems to be found and examined, commented upon and treasured.

Lochdarnock – The Kiss and The Curse by Ri Adam is out now, published by The Book Guild at £8.99