Stories that bring the world together


I have a bright red hand-written postcard on my desk. It reads: “Dear Merryn, How lovely to write, write, write! Everything is online at the moment, which is so fantastically useful, of course, and also rather dull! I was so amazed at the wonderful three way coincidence that Askival created. What a lovely thing. Wishing you a happy day. Speak soon, Love, Kat”

The coincidence was one of those joyous, surprising gifts that arrive just when you need a boost. It began when Kat, a perfect stranger, ordered A House Called Askival via Amazon. I sent the book, enclosing a personal note, and was delighted to get a message of thanks and a request for another copy for her friend, Dave, who had connections with Nepal and Scotland. I sent it to her, inscribed to him, and Kat and I struck up an email exchange about life in lockdown with two sons. Mine are home from Uni and entertaining themselves making music and mess in equal measure, while hers are still primary age. I admired her cheerfulness and creativity with home-schooling and how she makes time for reading in the midst of extra-busy motherhood. I shared with her the anthology Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown and was chuffed when her boys’ Head Teacher used it in her Google classroom to inspire creative writing.

Cover of Stay at Home! anthology

It turns out that Kat’s book group in the south of England are reading Askival. It was suggested by a member of the group who is the mother of the partner of a former colleague of mine from Kingussie High School! Word does get around. That in itself was a happy coincidence and plans are afoot for me to meet the group via video when they’ve finished it. (I’ve already met with a US book group via Facebook Messenger video, and it was easy and fun. Do get in touch if you’d like me to meet with yours. Lots of platforms and formats possible and completely free!)

A few days later, I dropped an email about a Society of Authors question to a writer contact whom I’ve only met online and got an immediate reply: “How strange that you should write today! Last night a friend gave me a signed copy of Askival inscribed ‘For Dave, enjoy this journey to India’. I don’t think she knows I know you. I can’t wait to read it.” As I said in my reply to him, what a weird and wonderful circle; what a small and beautiful world.

Woman & child with A House Called Askival book

Kat & son sharing Askival smiles

It still gives me a thrill every time a new reader discovers A House Called Askival. Eight years in the making, it was originally published in hardback in 2014 by Freight Books with the paperback coming out the following year. I have so many happy memories of those two years and the book events which started at the Cup Tea Lounge in Glasgow, which had once been the Bank of India – how fitting! And to celebrate the paperback launch in 2015, we climbed Askival on the island of Rum, left a copy on top registered with BookCrossing and enjoyed what happened next:


Then in July of 2015 I had a two-week, Do-it-Yourself book tour of North America, sparked by an invitation to speak at my Indian high school’s reunion in Minnesota. Arriving in Boston on US Independence Day, I went on to Chicago, St Paul and Toronto, re-connecting with dear friends from many eras of my life and making so many new ones. You can read the story of that very special time here.

Author Merryn Glover outside SubText Books, St Paul, Minnesota

Before my event at SubText Books, St Paul

Even better than a new reader is when they tell me what the book has meant to them. Here’s a message from a teenager right after launch:

I just finished reading Askival.Yes, it’s 12:30, I stayed up to finish it because I couldn’t put it down… I don’t think I have an adequate vocabulary to describe how I feel about it, I just love it a whole lot. I just needed to tell you that I hate you for making me so sad but also congratulations because it’s a beautiful kind of sadness.

And here’s another from last month, from a man in his 60s:

Dear Merryn, it’s midnight, my wife is asleep, I’ve just reached the end of Askival and I’m lying here howling—well, not out loud, but certainly requiring a large handkerchief. So, so beautiful, I can almost feel that dawn breaking. Thank you.

Sunrise in Mussoorie by Steve Alter

Sunrise in Mussoorie, where A House Called Askival is set. Photo: Steve Alter

And there have been many in between. I treasure every single response, keep as many as possible and reply to everyone who writes to me. There are also a goodly stack of reviews online including from India, such as the blogger BookstopCorner: “This heart-touching story provides a stunning outlook as well as the most remarkable view on my very own country and it’s enriching history.” Amazon and Goodreads give a wide range of reaction and if you haven’t already, adding yours there is a huge help to me. Even a short sentence makes a big difference.

This feels like a good time to celebrate A House Called Askival. It’s fifteen years since the summer I started writing it, seven years since I signed that first exciting book contract and five years since the paperback tours. More significantly, September 5th marks 100 years since Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in his first campaign to move India towards self-governance. The struggle took 27 years but at midnight on August 14th & 15th 1947, the newly-formed Pakistan and India gained independence. These events are a key thread in Askival, which explores issues of religious conflict on political, family and individual levels and draws from the stories that eye-witnesses shared with me. Following three generations of an American family and their close Indian ties, the book is ultimately about reconciliation.

Kavi Singh

Kavi Singh, one of my informants who was in Mussoorie in 1947

To mark Independence celebrations, and South Asian Heritage Month in the UK, I’m making the e-book available on Kindle from 9th to 15th of August at the discount price of 99p UK / 99c US (and equivalent in other locations). For anyone who still prefers a paper copy, I have almost run out of Freight’s original edition, which I bought when the company went under, but I am setting up an account with a printer who supplies online retailers, bookstores and libraries. You can get a personally signed copy from me and any orders received by 15th August will get the special discount rate of £6.99 + postage – while stocks last! Drop me a note if you’re keen.

Till then, thank you again to everyone who has bought or borrowed A House Called Askival, read, recommended, reviewed and written to me about it. And if you haven’t already, I would love for you to discover it. A story only exists in the telling, and for that there must be a listener. I am honoured each time a new listener lends me their ear, and even more when they tell me something of their story in return. Do join in.

Man Reading A House Called Askival

Thank you for reading this post. To stay in touch with upcoming book and event news, I’d love you to sign up for my newsletter here and/or meet me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And hopefully, one day, in person!

John Anderson

The view from Goldenacre looks out across Loch Insh to the Feshie hills beyond. John Anderson, who is nearly 80, serves me tea and Victoria sponge beneath the window as he tells me the story of his family. He has discovered an unexpected connection between us, which is why he asked me over. I went to boarding school in the hill-station of Mussoorie in North India and the school – Woodstock, named for a Sir Walter Scott novel – was in the Raj-era cantonment of Landour. John’s mother had been born in India while her doctor father, David Wilson Scotland, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Medical Service. He shows me a sepia postcard sent from Glasgow to the Scotlands at ‘Church View, Mussoorie, India’ and another addressed to their home back in Colinton, Edinburgh, where they had named the house, ‘Landour’. He knows nothing more about their time in the hill station, but I speculate that Dr Scotland may have served in the British army sanatorium established in Landour in 1827.

Mussoorie postcard


Mussoorie, India 1860s

It’s a small world. A particularly small world in the village of Kincraig where both John and I live, though I am a relative newcomer, having been here for a mere twelve years. He has been in the area on and off through his youth and for the twenty years since retirement, but laughingly tells me he’ll never be considered ‘local’. When he was born in 1939, his parents were tenant farmers at Banchor Mains, 10 miles south-west of here by Newtonmore, and they moved from there through Lochiel, Loch Rannoch, Invereshie and Strathmashie, graduating at Loch Rannoch from tenancy to landowning.

Years later, when sheep from the local estate were ravaging the Goldenacre garden, John contacted the shepherd, who was the late Donnie Ross, legendary in these parts for his outspoken views on crofting, the environment and anything else to do with land management, but also for treating others with respect. He sent one of his strapping sons to deal with the sheep, but the young man also saw fit to berate the ‘English incomers’ for always complaining. John did not argue, but when the son reported to his father, Donnie told him, in no uncertain terms, “John Anderson’s father gave all his tenants at Strathmashie the right to buy. You go straight back down and apologise.” He did.

sheep Merryn Glover

John himself never followed in the landowning or farming walk of life, to his father’s disappointment, but did study agriculture in London and joined what was then the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Agricultural College, now part of Scottish Rural College. His chief role was monitoring farm incomes in South East Scotland and covering the fortunes of the potato sector for which he was perhaps better known, having contributed a monthly commentary on it for 23 years without missing a single edition. He challenges me to match that writing record, which shames me into scuttling straight home afterwards to type up my notes.

John’s story, like so many in this area, is one of deep history with the land. I ask him how he feels about it. “I’ve lived in beautiful places all my life,” he says. “At Fassiefern House we had a view of Ben Nevis. But I never climbed it then. People ask me why, but when you had sheep and hill cattle, you only went up the hills if you had to.” When I ask his views about tensions between farming and conservation interests he says, “It’s complicated.” And that’s about the simplest way of putting it. What is clear is John’s own quiet dedication to caring for the landscape as he goes out regularly clearing litter from the village. “I fill a wheelie bin a month from one kilometre of road – can you believe it? Why? Why do people do it?” “Laziness,” I suggest. “Some people just don’t care and can’t be bothered.”

Feshie hills Merryn Glover

The view from Goldenacre

We agree it reflects a loss of connection. A loss of connection with the land, with the animals who are dependent upon it and with the people who call it home. Ultimately, littering also seems to me a loss of connection with a deeper part of ourselves; a part that dwells fully present in our environment, that does not experience it as just a backdrop, or a playground, or indeed a workplace, but as much a part of us as our breath and bones.

The light from the window dies softly in John’s living room, where my feet rest on a one-hundred year old rug from India. (The Asian in me has left my shoes at the door.) Long and lean as a stork, with hair as white as the scant snow on the Feshie hills, John holds his mug in gnarled hands as he tells me of a walk with his late wife, Frances. “We climbed to the pictish fort of Dun da Lahm above Laggan and we could hear the stags roaring in the woods below and the echoes of it across the valley. And she turned to me and said, ‘This would be a good place. You can lay me to rest here.’”

John Anderson

He looks up and smiles, a pattern of light and shadows on his face, and I know why I have come. It is not so much to talk about historic links to India or the local land, but to share time and presence on this passing day; to experience something at the root of what our environment and people so badly need: connection.