by this author
Ruaridh on writing White Male Heart:
White Male Heart was written in one of the most isolated
spots in Europe. Each morning, for 13 months, I would walk
down to the shore of Loch'a'chroisg in Scotland's Wester Ross
and gaze over the slate-grey waters to the great mountains
of Torridon. I would take a photograph, charting the slow
passage of the seasons.
Although born in Arbroath, a town on the coast of Angus
famous for its smoked mackerel, I was raised in the Highland
county of Sutherland. My first memory of life is of a snowstorm,
of standing on the top of a mountain, my father shouting from
within the blizzard for me to "get on." Yet my childhood
seemed populated compared my solitary stint at the edge of
Still, it's very easy to see the roots of the novel. I always
had a vivid imagination, getting into trouble by looking up
at passing jets and telling teachers: "I was on that
plane, I just got back from Australia." There were so
few children in Sutherland that my best friend was a stick.
Until I was old enough to exchange it for a gun, I'd roam
the wide-open landscape and hit things, usually anthills.
I liked words. At a sheepdog trial, I was approached by
a group of children, who accused me of not knowing any dirty
words. I asked them it they knew what "hermaphrodite"
meant. They didn't and I quietly thanked the UK Subs Fan Club
(a punk band) who had just sent me a picture with "I
crave to be a hermaphrodite" inscribed below it. It would
be years before I found out that it wasn't pronounced "hermarodick."
I was given my first gun at the age of seven, and disciplined
shortly afterwards for shooting birds off the bird-table.
It was an idyllic, privileged, childhood, spoilt only by regular
periods away at school. I've tried to wipe my memory of life
in the middle of that Perthshire bog, but the cruel tenor
of the place remains. I left while still young, following
the theft of two cases of Newcastle Brown Ale from the school
There was no television at home, the signal could not penetrate
the glen's high walls and so I spent the hours of darkness
reading. If I devour fancy literature now, it's only because
it sits contentedly on the plump belly of all the Desmond
Bagley, Wilbur Smith, Sven Hassel, George Macdonald Fraser,
Dick Francis and Gerald Seymour novels I consumed as a boy.
While hunting deer, foxes and woodcock in the birchwoods,
and salmon, trout and eels in the river my thoughts were away
with Guy Sajer, Herman Wouk and Nicholas Monsarrat.
I arrived in London at the age of 17, navigating Marble
Arch in a car my father had bought cheap because its previous
owner had used it to gas himself. It was 1986 and within two
weeks I had a job in the City, so utterly soulless that I
quickly drank myself down to seven stone (about 98 pounds).
The 80s passed and with them my mother, my father fast following
from grief. Before he died, he asked me to give up my job,
accept a one-way ticket around the world, and disappear so
as not to see him go. We said goodbye on the platform of Inverness
train station knowing we would never see each other again.
As we shook hands, he told me not to come back. He meant for
He died while I was prospecting for copper, lead, zinc and
gold in the deserts of North West Queensland. I had fallen
for a geologist who was, at the time, weighing up the pros
and cons of marrying her Sydney-based boyfriend. We explored
the wilderness together in a specially equipped landcruiser
and I only moved on when the company found out about the affair
and reassigned me to the uranium prospects in the swamps around
I arrived in Honolulu on my 21st birthday, and instantly
adored America. On that trip I would drive from Los Angeles
to New York. In 1993 I would spend six months driving the
long way round from Seattle to New York, and end up signing
a lease on a brownstone in Brooklyn. In 1995 I would be given
the job of US Correspondent by The Observer.
It was while living in Brooklyn that I first thought of White Male Heart. I was walking down a side-street with a friend,
a native of the borough, when a gunfight broke out just in
front of us. "What the hell was that?" I shouted.
"A .38," my friend said. After laughing, I wondered
how different places affected people as they grew up. The
title of the novel I found scrawled on the wall of a bar.
I existed on the little cash I could make writing Americana
for Scotland on Sunday during the week and running
a hole-in-the-wall bar (the Italian owners had forgotten to
name it) on a Saturday night. My journalistic career accelerated
when, in 1994, a smashed-up leg forced me home and into the
job of environment and science correspondent for Scotland
on Sunday. I hobbled over the landscape, fascinated by
the different systems of land-ownership that existed in the
Highlands. I picked up several awards which led to my appointment
to Washington for The Observer.
The idea for White Male Heart had matured during
my time in Scotland but with the new job I had to put off
writing the book and concentrate on my opportunity to view
human nature from such a rare perspective. I covered everything
from the O.J. Simpson trial to the fallout from the Oklahoma
bombing, from the freemen in Montana to the return of the
martini in New York. The Guardian then sent me to
Johannesburg as Southern Africa Correspondent and I saw Zaire
at war, Princess Diana pursuing peace, and some of the most
beautiful corners of the world in between.
I left The Guardian on Independence Day 1998, travelling
north to Edinburgh and then on to the village of Achnasheen
in Wester Ross, the name meaning "plain of the rains."
I had signed, site-unseen, a yearlong lease for a house on
the shores of Loch'a'chroisg. There was no shop and I arrived
to find the local pub had burnt down. Outside my house stood
an eagle's cage, thirty foot across and almost as high. The
bars threw sinister shadows on moonlit nights and the cage,
like many other discoveries, would become a leitmotiv in my
I spent my weeks alone, writing. I talked only to the travelling
butcher and the postmistress. On the weekends, I would invite
friends to visit and then make them pose for photographs in
the cage. The only major disruption (and it was spectacularly
intrusive) was a five week court case in London in which The
Guardian successfully defended itself against Keith Schellenberg,
a Scottish landowner, who had sued over an article I had written
in July 1996.
White Male Heart was completed by early 2000, by
which time I had returned to Edinburgh, watching as my agent,
Antony Harwood, sold the manuscript to Simon Taylor at Transworld
and then, later, to Stephen Hull at Justin, Charles &
Co. in Boston. Yet the benefits of writing in the place where
a novel is set, of immersing myself within the landscape,
of seeing where my characters walk, seemed so great that I
decided to do it all again. I moved to a place called Bogrie
in the hills north of Dunfries, an isolated house with six
white doves, a hive of bees, two fine cats and a very spooky
glen, to write a Borders novel. That second novel is approaching
completion, has been accepted by Transworld, and I am back