Traumatic story of the Hebridean Clearances retold

An abandoned cottage on North Uist. Picture: Contributed
An abandoned cottage on North Uist. Picture: Contributed
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A BOOK based on the true story of the daughter of a North Uist landowner during the Highland Clearances is to detail the brutal episode for Hebridean crofters in the 19th century.

Based on the story of islander Jessie MacDonald, The False Men is a fictionalised account of period which saw the huge swathes of the Highland crofters cleared from the land to make way for more profitable sheep farming by rich landlords.

The False Men is written by Mhairead MacLeod who lived on the Isle of South Uist and in Inverness, before emigrating to Australia. It will be released on 14 September.

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The False Men shines a light on the personal stories of those impacted by the violence perpetrated on families by their landlords and neighbours in a period of Scottish history that devastated communities, split families and depopulated huge swathes of the country.

Mhairead MacLeod tells a story of a community split by status, privilege and power, and the personal story of one woman’s courageous struggle to resist social pressure and choose her own path.

Mhairead said: “The Uists are distinct and evocative islands, with a sometimes dark history that is linked to the stark beauty of the wide open spaces and depopulated vistas.

“The False Men is one story of many that reveal the personal impact that the power and influence of the landlords who implemented The Clearances had on all aspects of society.”

Seonaid Francis, director of publisher ThunderPoint Publishing, said: “The False Men is set in violent times, but Mhairead MacLeod conveys the compassion, love and friendship between individuals who fought for survival despite the divisions, trauma and devastation of The Clearances.”

The story centres on Jess MacKay, based on Jessie MacDonald, in 1848 who had led a privileged life as the daughter of a local landowner, sheltered from the harsher aspects of life.

Courted by the eligible Patrick Cooper, the Laird’s new commissioner, Jess’s future is mapped out, until Lachlan Macdonald arrives on North Uist, amid rumours of forced evictions on islands just to the south.

As the uncompromising brutality of The Clearances reaches the islands, and Jess sees her friends ripped from their homes, she must decide where her heart, and her loyalties, truly lie.

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Set against the evocative backdrop of the Hebrides and inspired by the true story, The False Men aims to show a compelling tale of love in a turbulent past that resonates with the upheavals of the modern world.

Mhairead MacLeod was born in Inverness, Scotland and spent her early childhood on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

She now lives in Brisbane, Australia, where she worked as an ethics lawyer, investigator and university lecturer. She holds a Masters degrees in both Law and in Creative Writing.

An earlier draft of The False Men was short-listed for a HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development and also won a Hachette Manuscript Development Award.

ThunderPoint Publishing was established in 2012 and has a strong list of fiction titles.

Seonaid Francis is from Glasgow and a graduate of Strathclyde University and UHI. She has worked around the world in China, Hong Kong, Turkey and France.