One of the highlights of 2009 for me was being involved in the cover design for Donald S. Murray’s new book, Small Expectations’. The book is now available for pre-order from the Two Ravens Press website. Copies ordered from the purchase link below (at a discounted price of £7.99) will be sent out from the 1st of February. Click on the book cover below to order your copy.
‘Small Expectations is a collection of linked short prose pieces and poetry. Digressively and figuratively, it tells the story of a character born on the Outer Hebrides, steeped in myth, history and Gaelic, who is then educated for work on the mainland. The character’s life thereafter has two poles, and Murray cleverly juxtaposes these strange attractors, bringing the power of ancient myth into the modern world with imagination and great humour.’
Praise for Small Expectations
This is an edgy, unsettling, fragmented collection of poems and prose – satires, twisted myths, darkly humorous fictions, poignant reflections on language loss – through which Donald S. Murray explores the uneasy space between Gaelic and English, between the strengths of an island community and its limitations, between the lives we have and the possible lives that escape us. It’s fine, assured writing, full of contradictions, dichotomies and ironies, and we should cherish its courage and honesty.’
– James Robertson
‘This is a very fine collection of stories and poems full of imagination and humour – the humour ranging from the hilarious to the sardonic. There is a finesse and craft to the prose and poetry which rings true to many an islander’s experience. This is a writer who has been and seen. The collection is a tour de force, a distillation, arising from a living imagination of Hebrideans’ experience at home and as émigré. The reader will never look at porridge or mackerel in quite the same way again!’
– Maoilios Caimbeul
Short extract from ‘Small Expectations’
Scenes from a Hebridean Boyhood
My parents fed me with so many fish that, when I was around eight, I began to grow gills. These first revealed themselves in the shape of miniature double chins forming on either side of my throat. They were the same shade of silver as much of the rest of my skin, the tiny fins that had appeared one morning to replace my hands, and the oddly shaped head with eyes peering out from the forehead that formed above my neck and shoulders. Later, I began to have trouble walking, tumbling each day under the weight of scales. Mum and Dad grew alarmed at this and decided to starve me, in an attempt to restore me to my normal size and shape. However, their diet went too far. I became a sprat, a sliver of fish, not much larger than plankton. My parents looked at me with dejection and dismay. Eventually, they decided that there was nothing for it but to use me as bait. They thrust a tiny steel hook down my throat and cast a long, nylon line far and deep into the ocean, hoping that I might bring more worthwhile spawn to shore.
It was when I reached the age of ten that my parents decided I was such an embarrassment to them that there was little alternative but to hide me in a peatbank. I remember watching them as they stripped away a patch of turf from the moorland, digging through heather with the sharp blade of a spade. Later, they both grinned as they cut deep into moist, dark peat, working till they laid bare the layer of rock and stone hidden by its depths. They lifted me then, lowering me into the great and empty hollow they had made. ‘You’ll be alright,’ they kept saying as they packed me in its chill and black decay, burying me below its surface. ‘You’ll be alright.’ I lay there till the following summer when they took me out again, drying the peat which had crusted around my flesh. After they had turned me round a few times, ensuring that every inch of my body had been burnished brown by the sun, they hoisted me on their shoulders and carried me home. It was there that they performed the final act of my existence – tossing me on the household fire.
I realised how much my parents cared the day they kept urging me to rest instead of helping them, sparing me from all the hard effort of trying to scratch some pathetic excuse for life from the thin soil on our croft. ‘Go and lie on the beach,’ they said, shaking their heads when I suggested I should join them. I was still resting there some four hours later when the tide rolled in, washing all around me a vast counterpane of kelp that wrapped around my flesh and bones, binding me to the foreshore. Later, the sea began to rumble, pounding my skull, cracking my limbs, transforming my long curly hair into fronds of dabblelock, my arms and hands into oarweed, my legs into brown stipes of cuvie. A jewel of anemone became fixed to my chest where my heart had been; bladderwrack trailed around my groin. And when all that happened, my mother and father gathered their broken son on their backs and carried me to the field that had defeated all their strength and labour, casting all that remained of my once strong and youthful body onto the field they had ploughed and dug over, preparing my corpse to fertilise their land.
My parents were delighted the morning I began to possess hooves. They took me down to the village blacksmith, providing me with the first gift I ever received from them: a pair of golden horseshoes. ‘Run,’ they told me. ‘Show me how quickly you can race.’ And they boasted of my speed to their neighbours, sent me on errands across the moor to warn the people who lived there of thunderstorms or strong tides that had affected our side of the island. Eventually I grew tired of this, and headed in the direction of a sea-loch a mile or two away. I concealed myself in its depths, allowing the water to roll over my mane, waves to tumble across my flanks. I hid there for years, only emerging when the local miller came to the loch-shore, asking for help to turn the mill-wheel that he owned. It might have been his loose talk that brought my parents to the loch. They called my name aloud as they stood on its banks. After a while, I decided to answer them, stirring the dust of the earth as I towered above their heads. ‘How handsome you are,’ they declared. ‘Will you give us a ride on your back?’ I did as I was told, going faster when they urged me to do so, slowing down, too, when their heels dug into my flesh. And so I went on for hours, racing across the moor like they had asked me to do in my youth, my hooves thundering, tail flashing back and forth. Eventually, I decided I had done it long enough. I turned in the direction of the loch and drowned my parents in its depths.
Extract published by kind permission of Two Ravens Press