Talking literary locations of Winter Island with Jo Thomas
Coming Home to Winter Island on the Scottish Highlands
Have you been to Winter Island? It might be fictional yet is very real in many ways. There’s a lot to discover AND there’s a strong tradition of gin..so if that’s your tipple, come on over..and even if not…come on over too as there is MUCH more to find out and discover in this story…
Talking to Jo Thomas about the inspiration for Winter Island today…and those research trips to distilleries…
When I start writing a book it’s a bit like walking into my pantry of an evening and wondering what I’m going to cook for dinner. I chose a country first and then decide what my main ingredient is going to be. I’ve always felt that once you discover the food of place it takes you by the hand and introduces you to the community, culture and history of a place.
Winter Island was an interesting one. I’d actually visited Scotland on another research trip for different book. When I was writing The Oyster Catcher set in Galway, I wanted some hands on oyster farming experience. As it happens, I was at a wedding in Puglia in Italy (where I set The Olive Branch) and I happened to be sitting next to an oyster farmer. I got in touch after the wedding and went to visit his oyster farm with my friend and fellow writer Katie Fforde.
The oyster farm was on a small island, with a big ‘hoose’, a small friendly pub and community. I have never known rain like it! Apart maybe, the time I first moved to Galway in Ireland! We arrived at the oyster farm and it poured down. Katie and I went out into the water to help load the sacks of oysters onto the tractor trailer, watching out beyond the bay for seals to make an appearance and then rode back to shore balancing on the back of tractor trailer with the oyster sacks!! By lunchtime, despite our waterproofs and wellies, we were soaked through!
We went to the local pub and contemplated running back to our hotel. But, the landlady stoked the fire, took our wet clothes from us and hung them to dry around the roaring fire. After a home cooked lunch and a glass of wine we were ready for our afternoon’s work and back to the oyster farm we went. That afternoon we sorted oysters into sizes in the shed there and finally, wet through we returned to our small friendly hotel…to discover the hot water wasn’t working!! As the staff got to work getting the water working, we ordered up large gin and tonics to our rooms.
Finally, after hot showers that night, we sat in front of a roaring fire, in the big dining room, with dark panelled walls with our friend the oyster farmer, drinking another chilled gin and tonic and eating oysters we had picked that afternoon. They were absolutely gorgeous! And, although I’d gone there to research oyster farming, for my Galway book, I knew that I had to use that setting, a small island on the west coast of Scotland, for a book of it’s own one day.
And that’s how Winter Island was born.
I wanted a small island and community and at the heart of it, an artisan gin. Gin has had such a rise in popularity over recent years and Scottish gins in particular. I started following some of Scottish island gins on Twitter and fell in love with the stories on their websites. The island gin producers are living in really rural and often harsh conditions but their love for their islands and their pride in their product shines through on their websites and I want to visit them all!
Visit the BookTrail locations of Coming Home to Winter Island
I began by talking to the gin makers at The Botanist Gin on the island of Islay, a gin made with 22 botanicals. I spoke to their forager and started to think about the ingredients I would put into Winter Island gin, using the ingredients as a map of the island and the most important ingredient at the heart of it. They run Botanist tours there. Other wonderful island gins include Lussa gin from ‘the wilderness of the Isle of Jura’ according to their website. Their website is wonderful and shows their ingredients and where they are grown and foraged. Isle of Skye distillers take you on a journey of their story to distilling their gin and the Isle of Harris gin has a wonderful welcome waiting in the café and put up daily pictures of island life on their twitter feed.
So, whilst Winter Island is a fictional place, there are many gin producers in the islands and highlands of Scotland, reflecting the beauty of landscape and the warmth of their community spirit. Go on a gin tour and taste island and highland life for yourself!
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Jo Thomas