Venture Scotland and the inspiration for ‘Black Snow Falling’

The spark for my debut novel, Black Snow Falling, came to me during a walk through the dramatic valley of Glen Etive in North West Scotland. I was there volunteering for Venture Scotland, a charity that helps young people who are struggling with life.

As we jumped streams and hiked through the heather, one young man, a participant, fell into step beside me and we started chatting. He had clearly experienced many painful things yet shared with me that he wanted to do something with his life and try and become a gardener – and asked me if I thought they had jobs in forests. As we talked, I was struck by his strength. Despite all he had been through, he still had hope. There was a visceral quality to it. I found myself quietly wishing that nothing else would happen to him that could snatch his hope away. A chilling creative What If? struck me…

What if our hopes and dreams were not just deeply felt, but actual physical entities that could be snatched away?

What if evil creatures were at work, systematically stealing these hopes and dreams? They would be dream thieves. When things in life are really tough, isn’t that how it feels?

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The bothy at Glen Etive

In the minibus on the way back to the city, the manager at the time, Fiona, mentioned in passing that the poet William Wordsworth called Glen Etive “the valley of rainbows”. Many waterfalls crash down those steep-sided mountains behind the iconic Glen Coe, creating a light show when the conditions are just right. I kept thinking about how rainbows are an ancient symbol of hope showing that all is not lost, how rainbows brighten us, how white light is comprised of all the colours of the rainbow. I imagined, if dreams existed as physical entities, they would spin around the forehead – closest to where we think. Mythologising this further, I thought if hopes and dreams were material objects they could hold the purest essence of us, and so might resemble halos in old religious paintings. These halo-dreams could first appear as mini circular rainbows around the head, then start spinning and whirl into white as they start working. It made sense. This concept came together in a matter of minutes and it all felt so simple, clear and strong:I knew it was the idea for a novel, my first. 

My protagonist, Ruth, and her story – her fight against monstrous sexism – emerged in the months after this walk through Glen Etive. It took twelve years to write, in the margins of the day, as a single mum working full-time. 

Halos in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

The heart of the story in Black Snow Falling is about fighting to hold on to your hopes and dreams. With its multi-layered structure working on several levels, it’s a crossover adult/ YA novel.

Black Snow Falling was published by Scotland Street Press in 2018 and launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The novel was nominated for three awards including the prestigious international prize for literary fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2019, as well as the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award. See Reviews here. Available in hardback and paperback from all good booksellers.

Update February 2021: I donated 10% of my royalties to Venture Scotland together with five copies of Black Snow Falling to support their work with vulnerable young people. Hope this blesses and inspires them back.

Novel Black Snow Falling by author L.J. MacWhirter
Black Snow Falling by L.J. MacWhirter. Shot and cover design by Tim Byrne.

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