Shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Scottish Book of the Year Award 2010.
To visit Donald's author page, please click here.
Rona McPherson, a newly divorced woman in present-day Aberdeen, uncovers in her attic the dusty old diary of a young man, Hugh Ross. Through the beautifully crafted changes in Hugh’s language and view of the world as his life expands into new experiences and new continents, the diary allows us an unusually intense and intimate insight into the world of an emigrant crofter in the late nineteenth century.
Hugh’s story begins on a croft in the far north of Scotland. Inspired by the arrival of a new, modern-thinking minister, Hugh and his two best friends make the fateful decision to cross to the other side of the world and begin a new life in America. His life lurches from crisis to crisis: the shocking voyage on the Lady Grey; his arrival in the Canadian port town of Pictou; his grim, dark days in Chicago; his journey west to the ruthless thriving Californian gold-mining town where he loses what innocence he had left. And then Hugh joins the American army in Fort Tejon – where he hopes, finally, to be reunited with the girl he was in love with before he left home so many years before. At the final turn of the page, we discover just how Hugh and Rona’s stories are so inextricably linked, how we can never escape our past, and how our ancestors are as much a part of us as those who people our daily lives.
Praise for Homecomings
'Donald Paterson is a writer of litheness, humanity, wisdom and ambition, and a truly great storyteller, whose take on life is artful and whose take on art is marvellously alive. You won't want this novel to end.’ – Ali Smith
'As first novels go Homecomings triumphs. It is subtle, moving and smart in its shifts of tone and mood and pace. It paints a picture of modern America in its birth pangs, and of humanity's imperfections ... Ross's story, told at first falteringly, in naïf prose with rudimentary punctuation, and later with limberness and assurance, is an adventure tale, a history, a confessional and a love story. It is the tale of Hugh's two loves – of the woman Rachael, born like Ross on the Moray coast, and of Ian, the Church of Scotland minister, a misfit and a catalyst, who along with Hugh and his friends departs for Quebec... Donald Paterson, the author, keeps his eye on all his flock, retrieving loose ends, yet leaving us tantalised and dangling at the conclusion.' – The Scotsman
(For the complete review, click here)
'This compelling story, artfully and truthfully crafted, plunges the reader into the harsh realities of life, not only for post-eviction crofters in Scotland, but also for impoverished emigrants in the Americas. The writing is vivid and the characters diverse and engaging.' – The Scots Magazine
'A promising debut by a fine author.' – Scottish Review of Books
About Donald Paterson
Donald Paterson was born in Motherwell, but grew up in Tain in the Scottish Highlands. After studying at Aberdeen University, he taught for many years in Aberlour and, more recently, in Inverness. Donald lives with his wife Val in Fortrose, on the Black Isle, where the dolphins swim only a short evening walk away. This is his first novel.
An extract from Homecomings
So this morning there it was, a line of dark at the edge of the water, a new country. One of the sailors told me this was an island called Cape Breton just nearly joined on to the place we were going, which is Pictou on a piece of land called New Scotland, which is Canada, which is America. The man was speaking to me while he was polishing away at some brass bits on the side of the wall at the edge of the deck. It was a man Id spoken to a few times over the journey and he was quite friendly, about forty years old, small and thin but strong, with a funny voice that Ian told me was an English accent. This man was saying names that sounded strange, the words coming off his lips as if they were normal, words hed to spell for me. Amherst, Onslow, Guysborough, Cobequid Bay, Chedabucto, Lunenburg, Kennetcook. Pictou. And names that were from the Gaelic, like the names of places away on the islands to the west of Scotland that Id heard MacPhee talking about. Antigonish, Merigomish.
All the time the line of land was getting closer and seagulls drifted round the boat, as hungry as us.
Thats where youre going, said the man, pointing. Thats your new home.
What about you? I asked him. Do you ever think about moving on, trying somewhere new?
Maybe, he said. Thats what everyone wants isnt it?
So will you just get off one day and stay here?
Might do. Theres a Liverpool here too, you know.
I didnt really understand that but he explained that there was a big town called Liverpool in England, bigger than Inverness, and that was where he stayed, when he wasnt on the sea.
I asked, What about your family back in England? Would you miss them if you came and stayed over here?
Im just asking.
He shrugged and went away off to do some other job that needed done. I thought about this Liverpool and how Id never ever be there to see it, to get an idea of what sort of place it was. And I thought that if this sailor didnt decide to stay here in New Scotland one day then Id probably never see him again and even if he did, well I probably still wouldnt. I felt I wanted to go after him and talk to him again but I didnt and the next thing I knew there was Ian at my shoulder gazing out across the water at the land that was growing in front of us.
Here it is, Hugh, says Ian. This is it. What are you thinking?
I waited for a minute then said, Im thinking about how far behind us Croval is.
Always best to face forwards, he said.
Thats what Im doing, I replied, but I could hear a kind of catch in my voice.
This is what God wants for us.
Why is it?
Think about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, says Ian.
I thought about them for a wee while. I say, Wasnt that bad, though? The way they wanted what they couldnt have?
Bad and good, Ian says. Disobedient, yes, but on the other hand that act of leaving the Garden of Eden gets to the heart of our natures, does it not?
Really? So doing something wrong isnt so bad sometimes. Do you think that?
Not in front of the elders at Croval, no. But here with the coast of our new lives ahead of us, yes, I think I do.
So do I, I said, and I looked over at the side of his face, the old skin wrinkling around his eyes as he peered ahead at the land. The wind was whispering on his white hair. The voyage has really thinned him down. I am glad he is with us.
Yes, I do, I said again and he turned and smiled at me.
Down below our feet there are bodies laid out and others are at the bottom of the sea in between Croval and Pictou. But we are alive, hungry and unwell maybe, but alive and looking ahead. My mind is full of getting to this other world and finally catching up with my dreams and shaking off what has happened in the past.
We are grateful to the Scottish Arts Council for a grant towards the publication of Homecomings.