Maggie McKinley comes from a high-rise flat in one of Glasgow’s overspill estates. James Fraser is from a town house in the Georgian New Town of Edinburgh. They meet in the neutral space of Inverness-shire one long hot summer. She is visiting her Granny in her unimproved cottage; he and his family are staying in their holiday home nearby. It’s scarcely Across the Barricades but their burgeoning relationship is threatened by their backgrounds and families.
Joan Lingard is rightly best-known for her Kevin and Sadie series that begins with The Twelfth Day of July but the Maggie quartet, set predominantly in Scotland, deserves a wider readership. It came to my attention back in the early 1980s when it was televised. My memory (which could be well be faulty) is that it was shown on BBC2 around 6pm and that I stumbled across it inadvertently. (Its theme tune was by BA Robertson and some of it is still in my head.) I know it is true that as soon as the first episode I saw ended, I rushed to Lossiemouth Library to see if I could find the books upon which the TV programme was based.
Thematically, the books are structured using the history of the Highland Clearances. Their titles nod to this: The Clearance, The Resettling, The Pilgrimage, The Reunion. Only The Pilgrimage was on the shelves that evening so my introduction to the books was a bit of a game of catch-up. I loved The Pilgrimage though, which sees James and Maggie in the Highlands searching for her family history.
The truth is that I loved these books so much that I wrote to Joan Lingard, partly to tell her that and partly to remonstrate with her over the fourth book. It offended my romantic sensibilities although, objectively I know – and probably even knew then – that Joan had written the right story.
An interesting footnote: when I took my copy of The Pilgrimage off my shelves to photograph it, I discovered that it had been signed by Kirsty Miller who played Maggie in the BBC serial. I don’t remember how that came to happen. I do remember writing to the BBC though and being sent some stills from the show!