You couldn’t make it up

In the latest review, the Daily Mail critic said I should have included more gossip. So here’s some.  

I have never met Roger Hutchinson who reviewed the book for The Scotsman. But I admire his work, both on the West Highland Free Press, which he edited for many years, and his books, including the inspirational Calum’s Road, which has sold 40,000 copies. His biography of Fr Allan Macdonald is coming out in a couple of months. In my book I quote from Roger’s obituary of John, but he also played another part in the story.

I first went to Canna in 1977 to write an article on ferry policy for North Seven, the magazine of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. John was fighting against the Small Boat Scheme, promoted by his neighbouring proprietor Keith Schellenberg on Eigg, who had the support of the HIDB. The board refused to publish my article, so I sent it to Roger at the Free Press. The cutting is still in John’s files on Canna House. Rereading it I am amazed at how balanced it is and how mild the criticism of the board was – they must have had very thin skins.

I am also amazed to discover a copy of my indignant letter to the board, returning their cheque. I must have been mad. Fay and I had our first baby at the time and were struggling to renovate an old house – and £50 was real money in those days.

Incidentally, the editor who commissioned me was Catherine Macleod, most recently Alistair Darling’s press secretary at the Treasury. But she had left North Seven by the time my piece was rejected. I met her at a dinner recently and she told me of another JLC connection. Her father had been the policeman in Mallaig and John used to send his sheep dip returns to him – written in Gaelic of course.

Not quite the Daily Mail line of gossip perhaps, but I didn’t make any of it up.

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