1 July 2023 Susannah

An Island of Dreams

Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby

I love memoirs which entwine someone’s life with that of a great writer. Rebecca Mead’s book The Road to Middlemarch, Ruth Wilson’s The Jane Austen Remedy, Christopher Rush’s To Travel Hopefully, and Olivia Laing’s To the River are some excellent examples.

I recently really enjoyed reading Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby. As a boy, he read a book by Gavin Maxwell and was instantly intrigued. As a teenager he went camping in Scotland in places described by Maxwell, and in 2005 he got the opportunity to go and live in Maxwell’s former home on the tiny island of Eilean Bàn, now tucked in under the road bridge to the Isle of Skye. In return for some gardening and repair work, he was able to live on the island for about 2 years, watching out for otters, delving deeper into the troubled personality of Gavin Maxwell, getting to know some of the people mentioned in Maxwell’s classic book Ring of Bright Water, and coming to understand himself better in the process.

This is Boothby’s first published book, and I hope he writes more. I loved his descriptions of the changing seasons on the island, his observations about what sort of man Maxwell was, and his comments about his own challenging childhood and adolescence. It’s a beautifully written, evocative book, made especially memorable by the fact that I visited Gavin Maxwell’s house (now a museum) just before finishing the book.

I even had a glimpse of an otter frolicking in the water nearby. Here’s the video evidence, don’t blink!

It is possible to rent a small cottage on the island – you might like to consider a holiday there? It’s a stunning part of the world, a place where you can jump off the treadmill of modern life for a while and rejoice in natural beauty, the cry of birds, and the miracle of nature. Also on the island is a lighthouse designed by R.L. Stevenson’s father and uncle, so literary connections abound.

Do you remember Ring of Bright Water from the 1960s? Have you read Dan Boothby’s book? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Comments (6)

  1. Glynda Andrews

    Thanks for the recommendation, Susannah. I remember the movie vividly from my extreme youth. Look forward to getting hold of the book….

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I really enjoyed it, and just loved visiting the Gavin Maxwell lighthouse on my recent Scottish tour.

  2. Belinda Coates

    “Ring of Bright Water” was a set English text when I was in 4th Form (now Year 10) of a since demolished NSW high school, way back in the mid 1970s. Reading it was akin to a light bulb moment. My head, and heart, exploded. I still have my own copy, a Christmas present from my mother that year, and over the ensuing years have collected all the other (I think) Gavin Maxwell books about otters and Cumusfearna, none of which I will part with. “Ring of Bright Water” is one of those books (like “A Lion Called Christian”) than has become part of my soul. Otters (like lions) are amongst my most revered animals. I look foward to tracking down “Island of Dreams”. Thank you Susannah!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it wonderful how certain books come into our lives at just the right time and are so meaningful. You will love Island of Dreams, as he reacted just as you did to Gavin Maxwell and visits Camusfearna and other places associated with him. It was beautifully written, as any tribute to Maxwell ought to be.

  3. Jane Todd

    I loved Ring of Bright Water and also Tarka the Otter. When I lived in England I was lucky enough to live near the Norfolk Otter Trust which was begun by Philip Wayre. He wrote a fascinating book entitled The Private Life of the Otter. Definitely my favourite wild animal.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That is a place I must include in my itinerary next time I get to Norfolk. Thanks for letting me know about it. They are wonderful creatures.

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