Jennifer T. Doherty is the author of several children’s books set in the Scottish Borders and North Berwick. “The Lion of St Andrews”, was launched at J & G Innes Bookshop in St Andrews, and copies are available there. The book was illustrated by Katherine Coulson, whose images are used here.
I came to St Andrews late, and perhaps it is all the more special to me for that.
Beyond one single day trip (aged 10, my main memory is of rain soaking into our sandwiches in the cathedral grounds) I had not visited the town until I came as a (decidedly non-golfing) guest on a golf weekend in 2010.
Deep late winter, ice in front of our hotel on the Scores, and a view of the West Sands that reached right in and dazzled me (in a wholesome sort of Scottish way of dazzling). Within moments of arriving, I knew I wanted to set a book here.
My books all begin with a place. Then a character, or maybe a question. After that, the story unfolds. But that beginning – the grip of the spirit of the place – is the most important for me.
So what was the spirit of St Andrews for me?
Well, the town had history, natural beauty, and a terrific visual contrast between seascape, landscape and townscape. But there was something else as well – some layered quality about it – dark and light, salt and stone… It seemed like a place where any story could happen – where the stories were already there, waiting to be written. It moved me, and even as I left, I was longing to get back to the town.
When it was time to make the book happen, I was several visits to the good – every one opening the town a little more to me. I was met with friendliness and help at every turn. A lunchtime concert in the Cathedral grounds, listening to Simon Chadwick’s harp music made me decide that a harp would be in the book.
Details lodged in my memory and brought the place to life when I looked back at my photographs. The ironwork. The layout of the streets. Swans in the harbour. The contrast between the light and the wind as they touched the East and West beaches.
Above all, I noticed the walls. The way they marked and shaped the town. The way that every stone looked as though it had been used and reused. I already had the idea that a lion would be in the story, and, gradually, I realised that the lion – and much of the whole story – were already in the walls.
Some things about St Andrews still puzzle me. So much painful violent history, and yet such a clear good feeling about the place now. But perhaps we need that contrast. Maybe the shadows render the place whole, keep it fascinating?
Well, the Lion is out in the world now, and he will make his own way from here. On an early visit, I had spotted the J&G Innes bookshop, and very much wanted to sell the book there, so it was a real joy to see South Street window full of my Lion back in July. The book has been selling well, and already, I am working on a new book set in the East Neuk. Every excuse to come back to St Andrews is welcome.