Recent Reviews

From The Scottish Farmer July 29 2022:

This is a fascinating study of life how it used to be on Islay’s crofts and farms, told through the eyes and voice of Mary McGregor and her childhood friends, Cindy (a pet lamb) and Lucy (an orphan Highland pony foal).
From feeding the livestock to harvest, to school time, the story unfolds of a hard but cheery life on the croft with, she remembers, her dad having his ‘nose poked’ in The Scottish Farmer.
It is a book for all ages. The older generation will find many memory nuggets in between the pages, while children will be taken back to a time when crofting people of their age would be expected to be very much part of the ‘work force’ and usually willingly too.
It chronicles, too, many of the local characters who helped shape Mary’s life when she eventually took on helping out her brother Donald on the croft of Gartacharra, as well as working first selling Islay cheese and butter (now long since gone unfortunately) before becoming the ‘Queen bee’ for Bruichladdich Distillery as the private client manager for whisky cask owners.
A book not just for Ileachs, but one which resonates throughout the West Coast of Scotland and its islands.

The following review of The Seasons with Cindy and Lucy, Old Farming Ways on Islay, by Mary McGregor, appeared in the issue of the Ileach on 2 July, 2022

Even if you have no specific connection with farming, on Islay or elsewhere, it’s hard not to notice that it’s an industry that has changed quite considerably in recent years. However, it may be that the tractors and trailers have become substantially larger, but the seasons have scarcely changed at all. Traditions may have altered through the years, but the need to carry out certain tasks at particular times of year, still impinge on daily farming life.
Mary McGregor, who currently works at Bruichladdich Distillery, was brought up on Gartacharra Farm, situated on the land behind the distillery and village. Her family have farmed there for three generations. This book, as stated in Mary’s brief biography at the back, fulfils a particular purpose.

“Now that the old ways are dying out, she would like to share the stories she has collected over the years.”
Mary introduces herself in chapter one of ‘Cindy’, “I was a wee girl of six and I already considered myself a very important farm worker.”
The reason for this childhood boast was her job of tending to newborn lambs rejected by their mothers, which were brought up to the farmhouse to be “ … cared for and fed.”
This is how Mary met Cindy, a lamb with which she subsequently spent many a happy year. Cindy earned her name from a disturbing habit of pressing her nose against the guard rails of the peat fire in the kitchen (cinders).
Through her childhood and early school years, Mary and Cindy were almost inseparable, but the author has cleverly used this to enlighten the reader as to farming life on Islay at that time.
Collecting the eggs on a daily basis, planting potatoes while preventing Cindy from eating the seedlings, harvesting the hay and building hay-ricks.
The book’s second part is entitled, ‘Lucy’, the name of a Highland pony which arrived on the farm several years after tractors had replaced the Clydesdale workhorses.
“When the Clydesdales were no longer needed to help unload the puffers at the pier, or hoist the sacks into the bare loft there ended an era of majestic, mighty, horsepower. [ … ] My Dad called them his gentle giants. How I wish I had known them!”
Lucy forms a major part of Mary’s narrative, from their timorous introduction to each other, to getting her used to the bridle and saddle, to being prepared for and entering the annual Islay Show, to which Lucy had to be walked five miles from the farm.
The book ends on a slightly despondent note, enlightening us that Lucy passed away in her stall at the grand old age of thirty. However, after being told that Cindy the sheep chewed the end of Lucy’s tail the day before Show Day, Cindy is mentioned no more.
Whatever happened to her?
A delightful book, well-written and a joy to read.

Interview with Author Catherine Wilson

Here is a link to a podcast interview by Bethany Brownlee of North Bay Public Library Ontario with author Catherine Wilson. We are grateful to North Bay Public Library (NBPL Podcasts) for permission to provide the link on our website.
Visit here:

Two Reviews for Emily Carr and Raven – In the Darkness of Her Dreams

This presentation of the life and art of Emily Carr, with an intergenerational appeal, is like an album.  A captivating storyteller’s voice is enriched with drawings and accompanied by beautiful collage representations of the paintings themselves.

Carr’s is a poignant, persistent struggle through the proprieties of era and culture in early Victoria, British Columbia, in a search for direction and acceptance.  Observations, reflections, the day-to-day, are glimpsed in passages from her writings.  The immersive power of the landscape, woven with indigenous myth, brings her inner universal consciousness into the human inhabited world and breakthrough to recognition and acclamation.

The book is a joy.

Elizabeth Bazeley

This moving book on the life of the Canadian artist Emily Carr weaves together migration history, First Nations lore, original sketches, recreations of Emily’s artwork by the artist Ruth MacLean, and quotes from Emily’s own writings to create a story that captivates from beginning to end. I was inspired by Emily’s rich life; her deep connection with nature, her strong will and determination, and her ability to search inward and push upward, like a tree spreading its branches to draw in the light. The author, Catherine Wilson, begins with a homage to trees; Grandfather Cedar refers to Emily as one of their own: a “little rebel”, a “walking tree”, who is allied with the cheeky trickster Raven. Through their collaboration, Catherine Wilson and Ruth MacLean have truly captured Emily’s essence, and distilled it into a form that is accessible and enjoyable for readers and art-lovers of all ages.

Review of A Table

A review by Whisky Speller “A perfect gift for under the Christmas tree!”

à table whisky from glass to plateSurprising hard core experienced professionals in the food and spirits industry with her pairings, Martine clearly explains the reasoning behind the seasons, moods, senses, flavours and the recognition of the elements she is known for using to bring dishes together. She explains that a knowledge of ingredients and their aromas is key and that through trial and error you can learn to build up layers in the dish and create a sensory experience. . . . The sixty recipes in this book are constructed in such a way that you don’t have to have a chef degree, a whole kitchen staff, expensive ingredients and fancy equipment to pull these dishes off. Just some creativity, experimenting, thinking outside of the box and having a little fun in the kitchen should do it. . . . A perfect gift for under the Christmas tree for a whisky lover who also enjoys cooking, or as an early Christmas gift to yourself to give you some more encouragement for that sensory Christmas dinner that will wow your guests for sure!

Review of Little Terry Tiddlemouse

Vicky Allan in the Sunday Herald Children’s Round-up “The best picture books for younger readers” wrote:

There’s a heartening tale of discovery behind two delightful new books, Little Terry Tiddlemouse And His Countryside Friends and Little Terry Tiddlemouse: Time For Tea And Dressing Up (both Ailsa Press, £6.99). They were written decades ago by Joan Porter, an 85-year-old great grandmother now suffering from Alzheimer’s, but recently discovered by her daughter in a cupboard. Teamed with illustrations by Jessica Excell, these rhyming tales revolve around the enchanting, surreal world of some countryside animal friends. Most charming, perhaps, is Porter’s Halloween tale, in which the creatures get dressed-up, in pumpkin-mask, troll-hair, witches’ hat, and other accessories and give each other a quaint fright.

Review of Little Terry Tiddlemouse by brian palmer

Little Terry Tiddlemouse and his countryside friends.

Little Terry Tiddlemouse, perhaps not unsurprisingly, lives in a small thatched cottage with his two brothers, Snitch and Snatch. As with any rural community, no matter the relative sizes of its occupants, there is a decent level of interaction, some of which centres around games of ‘Tig and Run’, ‘Climb the Wall’ and ‘Hide and Seek’. Such harmless jollity frequently involves the local slugs, snails, Mollie Mole, Fergus Frog and the occasional vole.
This first volume in a series of tales about Little Terry Tiddlemouse introduces the reader, whether young or old, to the myriad of creatures that form the basis of Terry’s local community. But rather than emulate my rather bald prose, author Joan Porter describes each twist and turn in carefully crafted rhyme, beautifully illustrated by Jessica Excell.
Joan, now in her mid-eighties, was born in Kilberry, but currently lives in Bearsden with all four daughters nearby. Throughout her life she related many of the stories she’d learned as a youngster, frequently adding to them with characters of her own and now published for the first time.

This first volume, beautifully presented and published by Islay’s Ailsapress, follows the delightful introduction with a tale of Terry’s camping trip, during which a somewhat abortive fishing trip (due to a forgotten fishing rod) leaves them famished and tired.
“Their yacht was half a date-box, a leaf became their sail,
They couldn’t find a rudder, so Terry used his tail.”
It is frequently the case with illustrated children’s books that one aspect tends to overshadow the other. Either the prose or rhyme makes mincemeat of the illustrations or vice versa.
In ‘Terry Tiddlemouse and his Countryside Friends’ both components are superbly matched, making it a real pleasure for both adult readers and intrigued children. There’s also the tempting delight of discovering previously unseen features in Jessica’s illustrations, resulting in a book that should endure across the generations.
‘Little Terry Tiddlemouse and his Countryside Friends’ is published by Ailsapress at a cost of £6.99 and available from C & E Roy and all good bookshops.

Review of Little Terry Tiddlemouse by the Ileach

Little Terry Tiddlemouse. Time for Tea and Dressing Up.

I introduced you in the last issue to Little Terry Tiddlemouse and his brothers Snitch and Snatch, they’re the guys who happily live in their house built of thatch; surely you remember?
At any length, the first volume introducing their friends and describing an expeditionary camping trip during which they sailed along the river has a companion volume. This is entitled ‘Time for tea and Dressing Up’. This is a particularly appropriate book for the season as the opening illustrated narrative concerns the upcoming Halloween celebrations. And just like all kids, the dressing up gives rise to a bout of indecision.
“Cousin Vole cannot decide what he’s going to be,
A policeman or a postman or a tiny jumping flea.”
Once again, the episodes are beautifully illustrated by Jessica Excell, the perfect accompaniment to Joan Porter’s rhyming storylines. Aside from Terry and his brothers, this second volume of stories allows Mollie Mole a chapter all to herself, preceding a bout of excessive gluttony at ‘The Tea Party’ at Robbie Rat’s after which the doctor had to be called.
“He gave them tea and biscuits, jam tarts and strawberry cake,
They ate and ate and ate so much they all had tummy ache.”
If you’ve already acquired a copy of the first compendium of Terry Tiddlemouse tales and I can think of no excuse not to this will delight children and adults every bit as much.
Little Terry Tiddlemouse: Time for Tea and Dressing Up is published by Islay based Ailsapress at a cost of £6.99 and available from C& E Roy in Bowmore and all good bookshops.

Review of Little Terry Tiddlemouse!

Sheila Campbell Retired Head Primary Teacher and grandmother
What a joy and delight for young children to share the rhythm of these Joan Porter verses as they meet the alliteratively named characters Little Terry Tiddlemouse And His Countryside Friends in Book 1. Their enjoyment continues as the friends appealingly illustrated by Jessica Excell have tea and fun dressing up, in Book 2.
Congratulations to Ailsapress for recognising the potential of these verses.

More reviews of earlier books here