My first glimpse of Margaret Kerr was from a train heading north

On a warm summer day in the late ’90’s, I was staring out the window of the train from York to Edinburgh when I first encountered the young woman who would become Maggie Kerr.

This was the last leg of a book tour and I was worrying about my wounded kitty back home who was facing delicate surgery. Nothing had worked against an infection in a bone over his eye. The only recourse was to remove the bone. He might still lose the eye, but he should recover his health.*

To distract myself as the train crossed the border into Scotland, I began a game I played as a child on long car trips, staring out the window and imagining someone journeying through the countryside, someone on an urgent mission. I caught a flash of red hair, a dark gown, a muted plaid cloak swirling in the wind (though it was a sunny summer day in the present, my imagined Maggie fought against a stiff breeze beneath a sky threatening rain). A woman followed close on Maggie’s heels, keeping up a steady patter of complaint. I meant to be a lady’s maid and look at me, slogging through mud, sleeping in the open…. At some point they met a young man who had a way with animals, but was terribly shy with people. Maggie welcomed his company.

Before I knew it, Arthur’s Seat appeared and we pulled into Waverly Station in Edinburgh. I was once more an author on tour, Maggie and her two companions were forgotten.

And then, a few years later, a letter stirred my memory of the red-haired woman running through the Lothian countryside trailed by the petulant maidservant and the shy lad. The letter was from Brian Moffatt, PhD, who had read The Riddle of St Leonard’s (Owen Archer #5) and wanted to know more about the burning of juniper to ward off the pestilence. He was researching the ruins of the great medieval hospital of the Trinity on Soutra Hill in Lothian. The waste from the hospital was still in the great drain and buried in the soil; careful examination had revealed a wealth of information about the herbs and roots used in medicines. He had been puzzled by remnants of burnt juniper branches. His query began a correspondence which led to his giving me a tour of the site on a cold, crisp Easter Monday. After our meeting, as I sat in my car having a cup of tea before heading back to Edinburgh, Maggie showed up with a priest, her brother. They were being welcomed by the abbot, who remembered her brother. She was older now, sure of herself, calmer, less desperate. I’d begun to sketch out the story of A Trust Betrayed, but as soon as I returned home I fiddled with the idea to include Andrew, and his story. Finally I was ready to write the book.

*Puck came through the surgery and lived a long life with two eyes. When he died Puck in the garden 001in 2008, I wasn’t ready to say good-bye, but so grateful to have shared his life.

2 Comments on “My first glimpse of Margaret Kerr was from a train heading north

  1. Thanks for that insight into a great writer’s mind. Very inspiring. I’ve had only a few experiences that seem to be similar, but they did result in poems.


    • My pleasure, Clark! I wish I were more at ease with poetry. It seems so immediate.


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