So there I am, reading this rather good book, by a well-regarded author, a contemporary story with a bizarre twist in the tale. And I'm enjoying it.

Then I come to the part where two of the characters are running away and need to disappear. What do they do? They go off and live in a 'remote Scottish village' and even though their names and faces have been emblazoned all over the media, nobody spots them for the best part of two years.


If you happen to live in a remote Scottish village, or even a not-so-remote Scottish village, in fact if you live in any kind of village except perhaps those places in the home counties which consist largely of empty holiday homes, you will have encountered the 'flight to the country' in fiction, in film and television, more times than you can shake a stick at. And you will, like me, have become increasingly irritated by the idiocy of it. Recently, Corrie's accidental murderer, the hapless Stape, planned to flee to the remote Highlands with his lovely but credulous wife, Fizz. I have deep suspicions that the writers have sent him there anyway, since in the current storyline, he too has disappeared.

I can only assume that the perpetrators of these bits of nonsense have never spent any length of time living in a small rural village. But I can illustrate my objections with a tale of my own. Some years ago, my husband's car, parked on the village street, outside our cottage, caught fire in the middle of the night. It was a slow-burning electrical fault and about three in the morning, the vehicle started to emit a few flames. We were woken by an elderly neighbour who emerged from the next house-but-one in her nightie, and hammered on our door shouting, 'Alan, Alan, your car's on fire!'

Simultaneously, the neighbour over the street rushed out with a fire extinguisher and doused the flames. By the time the fire brigade got there, the fire was out and the car was smoking slightly. Even now, I find myself relating this story with a certain amount of disbelief. But it happened.

The fact is that, in small villages, people still notice everything. They notice the delivery men who come and go, they notice the cyclists and motorists who pass through; above all, they notice the people who don't belong. And almost everyone is deeply, passionately curious about 'incomers'. I have friends who I swear would obviate all need for torture were MI5 to employ them, so adept are they at worming life histories out of strangers, albeit in the nicest possible way. So whether you are writing a novel or a piece of television drama, for pity's sake don't make your characters attempt to hide in a 'remote Scottish village', unless you want them to be discovered that very same day. Because, strange as it may seem, people in Scotland actually read newspapers and watch television. They don't hide out in their crofts with the occasional foray to the trading post to exchange furs for pemmican.

Instead, why not send them to London, Birmingham, or Manchester? Try Glasgow or Edinburgh, if you're dead set on Scotland. Send them somewhere where people regularly ignore their neighbours. Let them hide in a crowd. But please don't send them to a remote Scottish village where – believe me – there will be nowhere to run, and definitely nowhere to hide.

Return to SR Monthly contents page
Return to SR homepage

'My sisters were murdered'
Jimmy Reid in conversation
with Kenneth Roy

A smell of burning
Ian Mackenzie

Fathers of the nation (I)
The bourgeois bohemian
Arnold Kemp

Dancing with a stranger
The Bible John case
Magnus Linklater

Outside my window
A personal account of 9/11
Rosalind Galt

Arrested in Israel
Alan Fisher

Running away? Where not to go
Catherine Czerkawska

Life in prison
George Chalmers

In praise of smoking
Jack McLean

A rottweiler in first class
Walter Humes

The man with the minneola
A profile of Jock Stein
Kevin McCarra

Tales of the supernatural
James Shaw Grant

Islay McLeod's Scotland
Twelve islands