The Crofter’s Daughter by Eileen Ramsay: Superbly drawn characters, and wonderful storytelling, this is the ideal curl-up-and-relax book for long winter nights - book review -
Raised on a farm in rural Scotland, Mairi McGloughlin has loved the land almost since the day she was born.
Her dream would be to inherit her father’s tenanted croft, but the laws of the land and ages-old tradition says it’s her scholarly brother who will one day be in charge of Windydyke Farm overlooking the Firth of Tay.
Eileen Ramsay, who grew up in Dumfriesshire, and whose 2004 novel, Someday, Somewhere, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year award, sweeps us away to the hardships and uncertainty of the First World War in a moving saga of love, conflict and new beginnings.
Previously published as Harvest of Courage, this is a beautiful story of wartime set amidst the breathtaking landscape of eastern Scotland and stars a remarkable young woman who must keep the farm running and the home fires burning while her menfolk join the war raging across Europe.
Ever since she was nine years old, Mairi McGloughlin has known she wants to be a farmer but she is also very aware that her brother Ian, who would far rather be reading a book and scribbling in his secret notebook than working on the land, will inherit the tenancy from their widowed father Colin.
As a girl, her destiny is to keep house for her father until Ian marries and then, unless she finds a husband for herself, to share chores with her sister-in-law.
Her father hopes she will marry handsome and charming Jack Black, son of the farmer with the biggest croft in the district, and it’s a marriage in which Mairi can see the sense, but she has always dreamed of marrying for love.
And then there is Robin Morrison, the schoolteacher’s son and her brother’s best friend. Robin, who is also a born scholar, has been a thorn in her side since they were children… and yet there’s something about him that Mairi cannot help but like.
But with the outbreak of the Great War, their choices change completely and neither Mairi, Ian nor Robin can hope to escape unscathed.
As the young men are caught up in the struggle, Mairi remains on the farm, watching the circle of the seasons, and coming to grips with a changing world where now only the land and love are constant. But will it be enough to see them through?
Ramsay’s love of this stunning corner of Scotland shines through in an emotional story that explores a small farming community caught up in the rigours of war, and the difficult choices that must inevitably be made when men are called away to the battle front.
Mairi proves to be an inspirational young woman, born into an age when women had little expectation of moving beyond their domestic role, but discovering that sometimes a changing world can reap an unexpected harvest.
Full of Ramsay’s natural warmth, superbly drawn characters, and wonderful storytelling, this is the ideal curl-up-and-relax book for long winter nights.
(Zaffre, paperback, £6.99)