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My Favourite Holiday: Magical Hebrides are just what the doctor ordered, says Jane Shemilt

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GP Jane Shemilt turned to writing alongside her medical career and had instant success, with her first novel, Daughter, selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club.

Her new book, How Far We Fall, is published in hardback by Michael Joseph on June 28.

Jane and her neurosurgeon husband have five children and live in Bristol.


WE first discovered the white beaches and dive-bombing terns of the Hebrides when, as young medical students, my boyfriend and I biked around the coast of Lewis and Harris.

We stayed in the post office opposite Scarista beach, climbed the hills, swam in the icy sea and fished by the midnight sun.

We returned years later with our five children, and the post office lady remembered us.

The gorgeous beaches were as unspoilt as before, the water as cold and the terns still swooped above our heads.

It was as perfect as it had been and we voted it our best family holiday ever.

Place is a big character in any novel. When I began writing How Far We Fall, a modern Macbeth fable, I wanted to set it partly in Scotland and my thoughts turned to Jura in the Inner Hebrides.

I was lucky, the island is as atmospheric as its western neighbours, the landscape as wild.

Jane Shemilt

Deer outnumber the inhabitants by thousands. Stags strut over empty roads and the clear air smells of salt and grass, tinged with whisky near the famous distillery.

There was a sense of deep peace about the untrodden moorland and cliffs – the kind of place where I could imagine my neurosurgeon protagonist growing up, influenced by his mother’s island stories which wove fate and destiny together.

We walked to the north to visit the Corryvreckan whirlpool, second largest in the world.

We walked past the house where George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, sheltered by a curve of hills, facing the sea, sunlit yet brooding. I knew I’d found the place I needed for my protagonist’s childhood home and the setting for a later crime.

I’m not sure if Shakespeare visited Scotland but the haunting grandeur of the landscape found its way into Macbeth and was the starting point for my reinterpretation.

We’ll return. The Hebrides are magical. They will always be a favourite holiday destination.