The full title...

An Abridged History
of the Construction of the Railway Line Between Garve, Ullapool and Lochinver.
And Other Pertinent Matters.
Being the Professional Journal and Regular Chronicle
With a Foreword by Alured Marjoribanks.

This book was short-listed for the 2004 Saltire Prize for First Book of the Year.

So, what's it about?

Abridged 2 - the coverIt is August 1893 and the eternally optimistic railway engineer, Alexander Auchmuty Seth Kininmonth, is beginning work on the construction of what will surely turn out to be Scotland's greatest-ever railway, a magnificent line between Garve and Ullapool. Knowing that such an achievement will transform the economy of that lonely, empty corner of Scotland, Kininmonth awaits the inevitable glory, riches and personal comfort this undertaking will undoubtedly bring him.

But all does not go according to plan.

Wild Scottish weather, midges and financial incompetence all conspire against him and his dreams slowly fade; a chance encounter with two survivors of a community abandoned on a sub-Antarctic island brings about an extraordinary sequence of events, which necessitate a rapid escape by all three to the remote island of Jura. Struggling to keep his hopes for the railway alive, Kininmonth is caught up in the revolutionary events in Ullapool of 1897, where a "Citadel of the Elect" has been founded by a millennarian preacher. Historical events - factual or fictional - threaten to overwhelm his schemes, but Kininmonth refuses to accept defeat, always believing, as the worst of scenarios persistently unfold before him, that social justice and sound engineering principles will triumph.

But is it true?

Yes and no. A railway line was indeed proposed in 1890, to branch off from the Dingwall to Strome Ferry line at Garve, and run the 33 miles to Ullapool. Rather optimistically, there was even a proposal to extend it to Lochinver, further up the coast. Parliamentary approval was granted to the scheme. The family of Sir John Fowler, engineer-in-chief on the Forth Railway Bridge, was heavily involved in the plans, as were the Mathesons who owned Lewis and Ullapool But the project failed to find any reliable financial backers, and foundered on the opposition of the Highland Railway Company. Instead, the Highland's railway-line to Skye won the day, and Parliament passed an Act abandoning the Ullapool scheme in 1893. The project was actually revived, briefly, in 1919 - but again never got anywhere. Perhaps some other time, in some idyllic future?
The Auchmuty and Kininmonth families, incidentally, are my ancestors on my mother's side. The bearded young man whose face appears on the cover is John Kininmonth, vintage 1842, a distant great-great-great-uncle (or similar).


To read these, and other reviews, in detail click here...
  • The Scotsman 'This is a clever book. And that is meant as a compliment... From the sepia cover to the mock advertisements at the back of the book, the joke is carried out with style and the writing never falters.'
  • The Sunday Herald 'I thoroughly enjoyed this rich admixture of social history, 19th-century engineering and fantasy...'
  • Times Literary Supplement 'Kininmonth is an attractive creation, for all his faults.'
  • Bratach 'I cannot recommend this book too highly: it is hugely entertaining, very funny; satirical and intelligently written... It ought to be a best-seller.'


On my first live radio interview for BBC Radio Scotland, the very first thing I was asked was 'what is the full title of the book?'
Since I had not thought to bring a copy into the studio (and my interviewer did not know this, she being in Glasgow, me in Edinburgh), there was a very long pause indeed... Both interviewee and interviewer were rather twitchy after that.