“Quiet children. Granny’s holding a séance”
It is my mother’s voice. We are living with my granny in her flat in Edinburgh.
I have Irish citizenship. My father was born in Dublin.
So how did my grandmother, a girl from the Scottish Highlands, come to be living in Dublin, married to a man thirty years her senior?
Granny had a professionally taken sepia photo of her as a young woman in her living room in Edinburgh.
“Granny, you are so beautiful!” I said to her when I was a young boy. She loved that. I was her ‘wee woofie’, her favourite grandchild.
Years later, after her death, when I was in my twenties, the photo passed into my hands and I looked at it again.
This time I saw a beautiful, sensuous, confident young woman about the same age as me. A bonny Highland lassie!
Twenty years or so later, when we were moving house, the photo surfaced again. This time, I saw a young woman who had been posed by the photographer. I looked over his shoulder as he instructed her how to angle her body and coaxed a provocative smile to her lips.
Recently I looked at the photo again. This time, it was as though I was at the back of the studio and my great grandfather and other relatives stood between me and the photographer. Eventually they had the expression and pose they wanted.
The photograph was sent to Ireland for approval by an elderly gentleman to pave the way for an arranged marriage.
My grandmother did not return to the Highlands after my grandfather’s death. She sold up and had enough money to buy a flat in Edinburgh. She did not marry again. She brought up her three boys by herself: my father, my father’s older half-brother and her nephew.
She became a fortune-teller. She believed she had ‘the second sight’. She organised guided ghost tours of central Edinburgh.
As I set out on my new career as a writer of folktales and fantasy, I realise that I could not have picked a more magical and romantic person to help form my early world.