The setting of the book

Transcript of a filmed talk with author Christopher Rush about setting.

I'm Christopher Rush and we're standing in front of the old Kirk at St Monans. It's where I was born in 1944 and here I am standing above the graveyard to prove I'm still not yet dead.

It's not hard to see how this is said to be the church that stands closest to the sea of all the churches not just in Scotland but in the UK. I can tell you that, in southeast gales when there is a high tide, the waves come lashing over here, wetting the tombstones of my forebears. Some of my ancestors are buried here, so it was a marvellous kind of lesson to me in just how literally closely my people lived to the sea.

The motto, I think, of St Monans, the borough motto, is: 'Mare vivimus' — 'We live by the sea'. That can be taken in two senses. We live by the sea in the sense that they made their living from the sea but also geographically we're so close.

And here it was, the connection between the sea which was the symbol of work and the graveyard which is death. There's life and death right next to each other. It's terribly impressive when you think about it and it struck me that way when I was a boy.

I was attracted by the dramatic spectacle of the funerals. I make something of them in the book 'A twelvemonth and a day', but they really were pretty dramatic.

Seeing the long, slow, cortege tramping through the street, the sound of boots on gravel and those black clad figures against the sun. I followed them rather warily because I was aware that something very dramatic was happening.

Children weren't kept away from death in those days — in those less squeamish days. I saw my great-aunt in her coffin when I was about two-and-a-half and we saw them going into a hole in the ground. The women didn't [go], they stayed behind and cut the sandwiches and poured the sherry until later things loosened up.

The old rituals vanished, but, yes, I was attracted to this in all sorts of ways. And also by the setting — the sea, the fishing boats going in and out. So yeah, this was a home from home for me. And I didn't find the graveyard upsetting or frightening at all.

I think I said that many of the first stories I read were carved on these stones. Little stories about people's lives, just a sentence or two, but, yeah, it was a great place, and it still is.


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