Writing is a Great Way to Travel

The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She’s the award-winning author of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries and the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries. Molly’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. After twenty years in northeast Tennessee, Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois. http://www.mollymacrae.com

Why did I choose a bookshop in the Scottish Highlands as the setting for my new mystery series? For some of the same reasons my main characters buy the shop and uproot their lives to move there and run it. It’s Scotland! The Highlands! A bookshop!


A long time ago—back in the mid-70s—I was lucky enough to spend a year in Scotland studying British Prehistory at Edinburgh University. I loved my studies and I loved Edinburgh (The castle! Arthur’s Seat! The closes, wynds, bridges, cemeteries, and cobbles! Haggis! Cheese! The smell of ale brewing!). If you’ve never been to Edinburgh, I encourage you to go.

My Friend the Highland Cow

While I was there, I was also lucky enough to travel around the country—from Inverness to Jedburgh, from Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh. By train, bus, bicycle, ferry, and foot to Oban, Iona, Loch Lomond, and Loch Ness. I skied in the winter and in the spring wandered down green lanes to watch new lambs leaping straight up in the air for the joy of it. I’ve been back to Scotland since, but not nearly often enough.

Then, one day, I saw a real estate listing for a bookshop in the Highlands, and I started wondering what if? What if I threw caution to the winds, bought that shop, and just moved over there? I’d managed an independent bookstore, so I had some idea of what I’d be getting into. It was such a nice dream. Reality is kind of a wet blanket, though, don’t you think?

View from my Window in Edinburgh

But did I let reality get me down? No. Writing is my antidote for reality.

I couldn’t pick up and move to the Highlands to run a bookshop, so I dreamed up characters who could. I researched UK laws on Americans buying businesses and moving over there, and gave my characters the knowledge and wherewithal to do it. That’s how Janet Marsh and her three business partners bought Yon Bonnie Books in Inversgail, a thriving tourist town, on the west coast. They see the move as a great retirement/change of career scheme. Sounds good to me.

So now Janet and her friends are enjoying their new lives, despite the age-old problem of characters in mystery novels—stumbling over dead bodies—and I’m enjoying spending time in a place I love. You won’t find Inversgail on a real map, but you’ll find it in the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, and you’ll find it in my head and in my heart. Writing is a great way to travel.

Eilean Castle


13 thoughts on “Writing is a Great Way to Travel

  1. Thanks, Molly, for another glimpse of the land that I love–the Highlands. I too wish I could go there every year. Hmmm–maybe a small town with a good pub needs a kitchen store?


    • That’s a great idea, Judy! Wouldn’t that be fun? I love kitchen stores (and good pubs). Thanks for stopping by today. Maybe we’ll bump into each other in the Highlands. 🙂


  2. It’s because of writers like you that I do get to travel! You draw me into a world I wouldn’t know with characters that are fun to get to know. I’d love to visit Scotland someday, especially since I have close family that are from there.


  3. Nice glimpse of EDI. But about ‘traveling’ in books. Be a bit leery, too many travels are based on researching and not on experiencing and that can lead the reader to wrong ideas about a place. I once read a story that took place in PDX and she had all the streets wrong. :/


    • Thank you! Some of the photographs are old and some are new. And, as it turns out, one is borrowed, and there’s a lot of really nice blue. Thanks for stopping by the blog today!


  4. Right on! I am definitely a travel by reading reader–as well as writer. (All my books are set at tourist-friendly Arkansas locations and are “real down to the last blade of grass and doorknob.” ) As far as others ‘ real locations being exactly real? Well, since I’ll probably never be there “real,” something sorta like is okay by me.


    • Good for you for getting the “real” into your Arkansas books, Radine. That’s a talent and takes a good eye, ear, nose, etc. I had fun inventing my town of Inversgail and working out the history and backstory to go with it. I like walking around the town (in my head) and feeling the weather and smelling this and that. I’m also glad to have Scottish friends willing to read drafts and catch some of my bloopers.


  5. I’ve traveled a lot in my time, but not near as much as I wanted to and I never got out of the States. Books are great for taking you other places. They are like magically having been to where you have not. They are an inexpensive way to see the world. When someone says books are expensive, I think we can all consider the other benefits.


    • Really good points, Linda. Books are one of the tremendous bargains of the ages. The whole universe, past and present, can be found in books. True, a hardback at $25.95 is a chunk of change, but it’s a much bigger chunk of life that you get to keep and disappear into over and over and as often as you want.


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