The Book According to…Mark Douglas-Home

PART OF THE Making Memories ISSUE

‘“Have you,” he said after consideration, as if proposing a soloution “ever had a crazy, stupid dream that, one day, someone will take you from here, will ask you to run away?”’

BooksfromScotland enjoyed the Q & A with Tom Mole, author of The Secret Life of Books, in the Making Mischief Issue, so much that we have decided to make it a regular feature. This month we speak to Mark Douglas-Home, whose next instalment of The Sea Detective series, The Driftwood Girls, was published this month.


The Driftwood Girls
By Mark Douglas-Home
Published by Penguin


The book as . . . memory. What is your first memory of books and reading?

I loved comics – The Beano and The Dandy – and adventures. My favourite books in childhood were The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis and A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. I enjoyed stories about children in danger in faraway or strange places!


The book as . . . your work. Tell us about your latest book The Driftwood Girls. Is there something in particular you’re setting out to explore?

The Driftwood Girls, the fourth in the Sea Detective series, is a story about two missing women, a mother, then twenty three years later, her daughter, and how unexplained absence keeps in agonised suspension those left behind. My interest in ‘the missing’ stems from when I was a newspaper reporter. I interviewed women whose husbands had gone out for ‘five minutes’ to buy cigarettes or a newspaper and had never returned and, in one tragic case, a woman whose husband died in a North Sea disaster but whose body hadn’t been recovered. Until it was, she was paralysed. She couldn’t be certain he was dead, nor did she dare to believe he was alive. More than six months later she still hadn’t been able to empty the basket of washing she had filled the day of the accident. Nor had she worn make-up.


The book as . . . object. What is your favourite beautiful book?

The book which is always a pleasure to hold and to open is The Birds of Scotland which was published in two volumes by the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club in 2007. It’s an astonishing undertaking and a wonderful reference book: 1,632 illustrated pages containing everything you’ll ever need to know about 509 bird species.


The book as . . . inspiration. What is your favourite book that has informed how you see yourself?

I’ve never had that favourite book, no inspiring secular bible, if you like. However, there are many books which I associate with different stages and times in my life. These include Narziss and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by JP Donleavy and The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway.


The book as . . . a relationship. What is your favourite book that bonded you to someone else?

There are two, involving the same people: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard which I read to my two children when they were young; also Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson which I read in my twenties and, many years later, that same copy was borrowed in turn by my daughter and son until, finally, the binding disintegrated from love!


The book as . . . influence. What is your favourite book that made you see the world in a different way?

I Didn’t Do It For You: How the World Used and Abused a Small African Nation by Michela Wrong is as memorable as it is shocking, required reading for anyone still harbouring a misty-eyed view of colonialism or the consequences of big power meddling. Eritrea was abused by its first colonial master, Italy, asset-stripped by its next, Britain, then ravaged and wrecked by American and Russian rivalry and armaments. This book’s lesson: big powers crush little people without even being aware of their effect and leave suffering as their legacy.


The book as . . . entertainment. What is your favourite rattling good read?

There are many (any book by Sarah Waters, for example) though I’ve chosen An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris because it’s a masterclass in how to construct an involving, page-turning novel from historical fact, in this case the Dreyfus Affair. I didn’t want it to end!


The book as . . . technology. What are your favourite audiobooks or eBooks?

I listen to audiobooks only on long car journeys. A favourite recently was The Dry by Jane Harper; another was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I don’t read eBooks because writing books on screen is more than sufficient screen-time for me!


The book as . . . a destination. What is your favourite book set in a place unknown to you?

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg is a novel set on St Kilda, based on real historical events. It tells of the arrival in 1830 of Rev Neil MacKenzie and his wife Lizzie. His mission was to introduce the superstitious and ill-educated St Kildans to God; hers to be his support and mother to his offspring. Isolation, both emotional and social, as well as cruelty – three of Lizzie’s children die – changed them, as did a God who was every bit as unyielding as the conditions on St Kilda itself. It’s a compelling, beautifully written story about a marriage under stress and the harshness of 19th century island life.      


The book as . . . the future. What are you looking forward to reading next?

Two novels by the American writer Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again; also, with great anticipation, the concluding part of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, to be published in March.


The Driftwood Girls by Mark Douglas-Home is published by Penguin, priced £8.99

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