My life began on Lochee Road, Dundee.
I was not born there but my earliest memories are of living in a two-room ground-floor flat on Lochee Road. It was at the bottom of an extinct volcano known as The Dundee Law and my father and I would take my teddy bear up the long path to the top to look at the view across the River Tay to Fife.
Aged 35, I found myself back in Lochee Road. My marriage had broken up and now I was living in a one-room bedsit on the ground floor. In between, I had gone to school in Arbroath and then gone to university in Stirling and then, later, in Aberdeen. I had lived and worked in Montrose.
What was I doing in Dundee? I had no idea. I had taken a part-time job in Dundee so I would have time to take my 5-year-old son to school, go to work, and then pick him up on the way back home. But my marriage had broken up and there I was on my own again, almost back in the place where my life had started.
I remember walking up that path to the top of the Law and being amazed at how little had changed. Memories coming back to me: hanging onto the metal handrail as I climbed the stone steps and following the earthen path through the allotments. Standing next to the war memorial at the summit, the sprawling city before me.
From my schooldays when I had spent my evenings alone in my bedroom, writing adventure stories that no one would ever read, I had always wanted to be a writer. I had published articles in magazines and newspapers and had been interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland and on Grampian Television (as it then was). But commercial success was always something that had eluded me.
This is where it had all led to: a sparsely-furnished rented flat and broken marriage. What did I have? The draft of a book about Jack the Ripper that a publisher had picked up enthusiastically and then cast aside. There was an idea I had submitted to a television company that they had gratefully used – and then denied I sent it in to them. And then there was half an idea in my head that I might like to write a novel about Anne Mackintosh.
Years before, I had been writing for Highlander Magazine – a publication which is read by the Scottish ex-patriot community in North America. I had been asked for more stories about women so I gave them a story about Anne Mackintosh – the woman who raised a regiment of 500 men for Bonnie Prince Charlie.
I had written a 2,000 word article, sketching out the facts. But a short article does not allow us to empathise with Anne, to feel her pain as she realises she must choose between her husband and her king. It does not allow our hearts to race with hers as the men she recruited lined up against cannons and muskets on the Hill of Falkirk with the rain and snow battering into their frozen faces.
I was 35 years old but perhaps I was that young boy again, amusing himself by writing stories in his bedroom without the distractions of family. The sensible thing would have been to get a regular job and start rebuilding my career before it was too late. But I was never good at doing the sensible thing.
I had left behind a furnished house: a television, cooker, washing machine, bed, suite, carpets…. But I had a notebook and a pen. Was it coincidence that I found myself on Lochee Road once more? I had taken the only rented property that was available on a dark night on New Year’s Eve after possibly the worst Christmas of my life. It was not by choice that I found myself there.
But there seemed to be something symbolic about it. This is where my life had begun, many years before. And here it was beginning all over again.