Interview with a travelling writer

December 20, 2022

In this blog, I interview Marg Greenwood, who I mentored while she worked on her travel memoir, Return to Muck, about her solo travels to the Outer Hebrides after retirement.

Text: 'Return to Muck: A journey among some lesser-known Scottish Islands.' A view of an island across a stretch of sea. A field, dry stone wall and shore line in foreground.

Return to Muck cover

What inspired you to visit the places that inspired your book, ‘Return to Muck’?

I was lucky enough to take very early retirement from teaching. I had a history of travelling solo (I went to Africa in the late 60s). In the late 90s I had a lovely holiday on Coll with a friend, and that made me want to explore more of this part of the world. I was happy to do it alone.

What makes you keep coming back?

I have always loved maps and walking and it is so easy to find my way. The environment, particularly the fantastic beaches, and hills, and the fact that islanders I met were always very friendly, made me want to go back.  

When my great nephew asked me why I returned to the islands every year, I told him  ‘Because there’s a surprise is around every corner!’. – an off-the-cuff remark, but it became an incentive to travel and share what I learned, to not be held back by prejudices and to trust in the kindness of people.

Most of your trips were solo and made after retirement. Do you have any tips or words of warning for older women who might be considering travelling alone?

I’d say take a car, or campervan. It’s good to spend nights in hostels so as not to feel lonely, but be prepared for disturbed nights for one reason or another!

What was your process while working on the book?

Haphazard! I travelled to lots of other Scottish islands and to the mainland of Scotland so I needed to decide which islands to write about. I stopped short, in my book, half-way up the Outer Hebrides, having decided not to write about my travels further north. I had to stop somewhere! 

What did the mentoring process involve?

I’d send an excerpt which I needed help with and went to Becky’s house where she gave me feedback – e.g. where I could condense my work and how to show not tell. We’d talk about elements like the structure and genre. Becky being my mentor was vital in the whole process.

Return to Muck blends different genres. Why did you decide to approach the project this way rather than producing a traditional travel narrative?

I like to write about my life and always write a diary of some kind – hence prose is natural to me. There are some experiences which are better expressed in poems than in prose and I don’t think you can produce a book about the islands without photos because the visuals are mega important!

Before Return to Muck was released you published a few travel articles about the isles, didn’t you?

That’s right. I’ve had a number of travel articles published in Scottish magazines. The latest one is about Margaret Fay Shaw, a folklorist who married the owner of Canna (an island which isn’t included in the book) who, while listening to women fulling cloth, transcribed their ‘waulking’ songs. This piece is in the Jan/Feb 2023 edition of Scotland magazine.  Another article from a long time ago, was about a hostel called Sleeperzzz, off the mainline train station, Rogart, in the Highlands, where ‘my’ carriage was called ‘the Portillo Suite’!

What made you decide to self-publish and what is involved in self-publishing?

I tried for over a year or so to get a publisher but no go, so I asked around about self-publishing. The main difference from conventional publishing is that you pay the money upfront but take more of the profit from book sales.

You had a couple of near misses, didn’t you?

I did, a couple of publishers were interested initially but it never came to me signing a contract. In the end, one or two friends recommended Matador/Troubadour. I’ve found them very friendly and helpful.

What have you learned through writing this book?

I have learnt how bad I am at filing on the computer! My main problem is not beginning able to delete files. Photo management is a nightmare. My old age may be an excuse.

What are people saying about your book?

One comment I like that I’ve had about my writing style is that it reads as if it’s me talking.

Who might be interested in reading the book?

People are often curious about the Scottish islands but some have only heard of, or visited, Skye and Mull. People, particularly women who have wondered about travelling solo, might be inspired by my book to go to different islands.

So this could increase their knowledge of other islands?

Yes, and people generally like looking at photos of wonderful sunny beaches with an azure sea.

Do you have any readings coming up?

I’ve done quite a few readings and Powerpoint presentations. I have had two radio interviews, and am up for ideas from anyone who might be able to let me come to speak to their group. I don’t have any readings for the near future in my diary, except perhaps an open-mic or two.  A piece about my book is currently in The People’s Friend blog.

You have almost sold out of books and Troubadour have recently done a second print run of the books. Where can readers buy Return to Muck?

1) Either ask for it in a bookshop and they’ll order it if they haven’t got a copy.

2) Direct from publisher – https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/autobiography/return-to-muck/

3) Amazon

I enthusiastically recommend buying Return to Muck if you haven’t already got a copy. Delving into Marg’s fascinating book would be a great way to finish 2022.

Headshot of Marg, a young-looking woman in her 70s with white skin and glasses, dark hair in a straight bob just above her neck line. There is the edge of a Christmas tree to the left of her and fake snow on the peach-coloured background.
Marg Greenwood

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