Jill McGown (1947-2007)1 wrote eighteen crime novels over twenty-two years: the thirteen which form the highly regarded Lloyd and Hill series have recently been reissued.2 She is not perhaps widely recognised as a writer with strong Campbeltown connections, but she was born and spent her childhood in the town. She was the third daughter of the Campbeltown fisherman Peter ('P.K.') McGown, co-owner and skipper of the ring-netter Felicia.
In 1958, with the decline of the herring fishing, the family, like many other Scots, moved to Corby in Northamptonshire, which Jill's fictional town of Stansfield closely resembles.3 She became a secretary with the British Steel Corporation, but in a further economic downturn in the early 1980s she was made redundant. As she writes, she had a choice. 'I could look for another job in a town that at that time had twenty-five per cent unemployment, or I could take the opportunity to write a novel.'
That novel, A Perfect Match, was published by Macmillan in 1983 and was well received. Jill tells us that it started as a straight novel but turned into a whodunit. As such, it is recognisably in the tradition of the 'golden age' of British detective fiction, which flourished roughly from the 1920s to the 1950s: authors often cited are Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, though there are numerous others, both male and female. The classic Golden Age whodunit has a small, tight-knit group of suspects in a 'closed' location: a house-party, a village, an island, a cruise ship, a train. Red herrings abound and there's cunning misdirection, but clues are scrupulously provided: it should be possible to go back over the novel and spot them where they hide. Jill's first few books follow these conventions, though it should be noted that in characterisation and emotion they already go well beyond the mere puzzle-picture effect which can be a blemish on some of the Golden Age productions.
A Perfect Match was never meant to be the start of a series. The investigators, Detective Inspector Lloyd and Detective Sergeant Judy Hill, were attractive characters, and refreshing at that time in being a male-female police duo, but that was all. In fact three non-series novels followed between 1985 and 1987; they are worth tracking down - particularly the brooding The Stalking Horse (1987) - but they will not be considered here. However, Jill felt, as writers do, that she hadn't quite finished with Lloyd and Hill, nor they with her. 'I began to realise,' she writes with commendable restraint, 'that the advice I had been given - that the· premise [the Lloyd/Hill relationship] wouldn't sustain a series might be wrong.'
Redemption (1988) proves that. It is set in and around a snowbound vicarage at Christmas, in intentional homage to Agatha Christie. (Jill was somewhat annoyed when the American edition was retitled Murder at the Old Vicarage. Not as subtle as one might wish.) Alibis are involved, clues are delicately provided, and there's a satisfying, economically presented solution. Lloyd and Hill are back in action, and their partnership continues through Death of a Dancer (1989) - set in a minor public school, with perhaps the most sublimely placed clue of all - to The Murders of Mrs Austin and Mrs Beale (1991), probably the high point of Jill's purely Golden Age novels.
Here, as the title scrupulously tells us, there are two murders, committed in different divisions of the county police force, but linked by an unfinished telephone call which the victims appear to be making, and thus plausibly part of the same investigation. That's handy, since Judy Hill has been promoted away from Stansfield but by this device can still work with Lloyd. The group of victims and suspects is small but beautifully complex, motives intertwine, and everybody's lying. One of the murderers is the person you rather hope it is though of course for most of the book that appears to be impossible - but you're very clever indeed if you spot the second before the last half-dozen pages.
Lloyd and Hill are not the only male-female detective duo in fiction, but they are unusual in being a couple, in the personal sense, who are both police officers, and as they negotiate job and relationship they certainly contrast with their solitary and misanthropic contemporaries like Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse and Ian Rankin's John Rebus. The back story is that Lloyd and Judy met fifteen years before the series begins, but he was already married and she wouldn't consider an affair. By A Perfect Match, he is divorced and her unwise marriage is breaking up: now read on. (Lloyd, by the way, hates his first name and, like Morse, never uses it. It has to be revealed for marriage purposes in the second-last novel, but the attentive reader can work it out sooner, even as early as Mrs Austin and Mrs Beale.)
In A Perfect Match, published in 1983, Judy is 35 and Lloyd about 45. By the last novels, published in the twenty-first century, Lloyd would be long retired if the time scheme followed real life, and Judy's eventual pregnancy would be gynaecologically somewhat improbable. This is a very usual problem for writers of what turn out to be long detective series: Ruth Rendell, for instance, has said that her Inspector Wexford should have been much younger to start with. Wexford does age, but slowly, and so do Judy and Lloyd at their own pace and in the time scheme of the series. (Jill remarks wryly that poor Judy had to be pregnant for about three years.)
Their working method stays much the same throughout the series. Lloyd builds great speculative theories, while Judy works away logically at the details and then makes an intuitive leap. What is particularly noticeable is the development of the characters as a couple. Judy is steady and loving but very wary of change: a final commitment, like moving in with Lloyd, is all but impossible for her. That annoys the mercurial Lloyd with his sudden short-lived rages and unguarded tongue. In the job, Judy catches up with Lloyd in rank, which brings its own problems. But over the series they come to accommodate each another, and their relationship is finally as secure as they have always felt it should be.
One element of the books as crime novels remains to be mentioned, and it is both important and unusual, at least in its application over a whole series, from first to last. Jill has explained: 'Each Lloyd and Hill that I write is written from a number of viewpoints. Each viewpoint is used once in each chapter, and one of the viewpoint characters must be the murderer.'
So if we open Redemption at the first chapter, we have the viewpoints of four characters: George the vicar, Marion his wife, Joanna their daughter (married to Gordon the victim), and Eleanor, whose attraction to George is shyly reciprocated. One of these persons is the murderer: that is Jill's rule. Nobody lies to you, though somebody isn't telling the whole truth. '[These rules] can make life very difficult,' Jill mildly observes. 'It's like writing [Agatha Christie classic] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd every time.' And this is what she calmly proceeds to do.
So much for the first four novels. The next time Lloyd and Hill appear, in The Other Woman (1992), something has changed. From now on Jill's books bear no relation to the formulas of the Golden Age. In truth, distinctions between the good guy and the bad guy had never been rigidly drawn: see for instance, in Death of a Dancer, the wounded hero Philip with his raging erotic fantasies about an attractive colleague. It should perhaps be no surprise to find, later, such ambiguous characters as the charming rascal Patrick in A Shred of Evidence (1995) and beautiful Rachel in Picture of Innocence (1998).
But the later novels - most of them considerably longer than the early ones are darker over the whole spectrum. (Even the dust-jackets of their first editions are different, their moody blues surely indicating the publisher's recognition of the change in their author's style.) The plots are even more complex, and we enter more fully into the personal lives of victims, suspects and detectives alike. The fictional world of Stansfield and nearby Malworth is distinctly darker. Sex workers are part of the streetscape, and are depicted with much sensitivity and sympathy. The Other Woman and its sequel Verdict Unsafe (1997) turns on a series of rapes, and the long-lasting effects of that crime are made very clear. Over these two novels, also, Judy, now a detective inspector at Malworth, unintentionally exposes corruption in the local force, and from then on there's hate and blame in what we may have imagined as the cosy cop-shop.
If Mrs Austin and Mrs Beale was the high point of Jill's early phase, perhaps Births, Deaths and Marriages (2002), the penultimate Lloyd and Hill novel, is the peak of her later books. Jill found this an unusually difficult book to write: '[It] was all but impossible ... it had alternative chapters from chapter five onwards, and it was four months over deadline.'4 Certainly these problems don't show in the published book. Perhaps the struggle has even made it stronger.
We are drawn in emotionally: Judy is a new mother and so the abduction of a baby comes particularly near home for her. But in case you think we've gone soft, there is one of the most complex and demanding plots yet. The knot of suspects couldn't be tighter. There's Kayleigh, a teenage mother whose own adoptive mother is the victim; Dean, who fathered Kayleigh's baby; Phil, Kayleigh's mother's husband; Ian, Kayleigh's mother's new boyfriend; and Theresa, Ian's ex-partner. As always, we have all their viewpoints with subtle misdirection, and there's a double-twist ending, perfectly prepared for but practically impossible to second-guess.
After the last Lloyd and Hill novel, Unlucky for Some (2005), where would the series have gone? Judy has finally overtaken Lloyd in rank, and retirement age is closing in on him even in Stansfield time, but it's hard to imagine him in a pipe and slippers role. We can never know what happened next. But the thirteen books remain, the work of a distinguished writer of whom Campbeltown can be proud.
SourcesAmazon web page list of her books.
- I. See obituary Kintyre Magazine 62, pp. 28-29.
- 2. Published in 2014 by Bello, an imprint of Pan Macmillan.
- 3. See the website www.jillmcgown.co.uk Unattributed quotes throughout this article are from the website and I am grateful to Jill's literary executor for permission to quote.
- 4. Letter, 9 November 2001.
As readers of the Campbeltown Courier (29 Aug 2014) may have noticed, a gold and-pearl locket containing authenticated hair from 'Highland' Mary Campbell, Robert Burns's tragic fiancée, was sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for £1,875. Mary was born in Cowal in 1763, but brought up in Dalintober, where she had relatives. This Society, having noted the absence of a memorial of any kind to the inspiration of such poems as 'To Mary in Heaven', 'The Highland Lassie' and 'Highland Mary', commissioned a commemorative plaque, which was mounted on the wall of Glen Scotia Distillery in 2011. It was tom off the wall in a gale the following winter, but was recovered and fixed back in place by distillery manager, lain McAlister.
Readers interested in Burns's affair with Mary Campbell should read A. I. 8. Stewart's 'Highland Mary: Saint or Sinner?' published in issue 31 of this magazine, and Professor Gerard Carruthers's 'Fresh Light on Robert Burns's Note on "Highland Mary"', in issue 68. Professor Carruthers, who is head of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow and general editor of the new Oxford University Press edition of the works of Robert Bums, gave a well received talk to the Society in April 2011.
A Summer in Kintyre, Angus Martin, The Grimsay Press, 2014, 292 pp., £14.95.
In this account, Angus travels in Kintyre in the summer of 2013 and recalls previous journeys he has made. He invites us to share his memories of people, places and events in this landscape he loves so much. Before he was a published author, he kept for many years diaries and detailed notes of his observations. These recorded not only events and encounters of the day, but his reflections on the changing pattern of life around him. The records became valuable sources of information for this book and for previous publications, and, as he reminds us more than once, they provided a reality check for 'misremembered' times. By dint of practice and self-discipline, Angus has become both historian and social commentator. For him, 'the devil is in the detail', and his memory of events is constantly checked against recorded fact, both his own and the records of others. His self-editing reaches a level seldom equalled by many similar commentators today.
All the journeys in the book start and end in Campbeltown, which becomes the hub of a wheel whose spokes stretch out to Ben Gullion, Largiebaan, Southend, Cara, the Largieside; to abandoned farms and cottages, to quarries and standing stones, to beaches and freshwater lochs; and, importantly, to people, past and present. For an author who professes to love solitude, Angus is often in the company of others, valuing them and learning from them in a way that allows them to live for us through the pages of this book.
The search for the meanings of place-names he pursued with dedication in Kintyre Places and Place-Names (2013), and the energy and effort required to produce that work surely eased his way into the completion of that element of his work for this book.
The reader quickly becomes aware that Angus's journeys are not only the physical ones - on foot, by bicycle and boat - but journeys of the written word, from his own notebooks, his many published studies and his poetry. Of the many published books, this is the most self-revealing to date and in this respect is closer to the sentiment of his poems. In his latest work, Angus imbues his records of people, places, flora and fauna in a way that is reminiscent of the seannachies who, in their tales, mundane as well as remarkable, sought to pass on the spirit of the place they lived in.
Many future readers will smile in recognition of long walks, wet clothes and unexpected encounters. Trials and tribulations fade to nothing with sudden sights of a golden eagle, a rare flower, a damselfly. Friends past and present appear throughout the book and are always welcome and add a new dimension. The photographs help us to get a closer feel for the places and people that are described on its pages. We're used to photography in books today, and it would have been of value to see some of the more contemporary pictures in colour ... a small point in a work which is full of vivid prose.
For those who love the quiet and less well explored parts of Kintyre, or who ponder on the empty ruins in its glens, or who share the author's wonder about the world they live in, this is a book to enjoy on a first reading and to return to on many occasions later. This is a book which will bring much pleasure.
When we established the MacNeil DNA Project 10 years ago we had no idea how the McNeills and MacNeils of western Scotland would sort themselves out into related or unrelated groups. Two facts soon became clear: There is no male-line relationship with the O'Neills of Northern Ireland, nor between the MacNeils of Barra and the McNeills of Argyll.
It soon became apparent that many of the McNeills who have known ancestral origins in Kintyre, or neighbouring parts of Argyll, closely match each other and belong to a distinctive part of the Y-DNA I1 Haplogroup (I-L22) of northern European origin. Thus it became apparent that these closely matching I1 McNeills are descendants of the Norse Vikings who claimed the Kintyre peninsula and, in time, became the landed gentry, and their tenants, of Kintyre. In later generations, some established new family branches in County Antrim and many emigrated to the new settlements in North Carolina.
These conclusions were based on the known places of origin of a handful of the I1 McNeill participants together with recorded clan history, but we needed better evidence than that. We were fortunate in obtaining the help of two McNeill men with well established genealogies in the region. One goes back at least to Lachlan of Tirferus (1611-1694) in the days when the MacNeills (various spellings) of Kintyre were among the leading families in the area. The other is a McNeill of Colonsay, descending from John McNeill of Gallochoille and branching off two generations before Lachlan of Tirfergus. Back beyond Lachlan and John, the pedigree is less clear because of the paucity of records, but all indications are that these McNeills were descendants of Torquil McNeill of Castle Sween (c 1310-c 1380) who was recognised as the head of the Clan in his time. The main line of these McNeills was styled 'of Gigha and Taynish'.
The test-results of the above two men placed them firmly in Haplogroup I1 (I-L22), but their marker values differed slightly to other participants, showing that they descend from a different branch of the family from almost all the others who had tested. At first this seemed surprising, but, on reflection, we can say that their closer families were probably not represented in the mass migrations to North Carolina, the home-state of many of the McNeill participants in the project. We are most grateful for their contribution.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the I1 McNeillsare not the only McNeills of western Argyll. The offshore islands (including Gigha, Islay and Arran) and the valleys to the north of Kintyre were homes of McNeills whose Y-DNA places them in the old Scots and Irish 'Celtic' Haplogroup R1b. Their story is still emerging.
In order to better understand McNeill history, it would be helpful if other McNeills from these well-recorded Kintyre families would donate a sample for testing. A simple mouth-swab is all that is required.
Alex Buchanan and Vincent MacNeil are the administrators of this Y-DNA project. I can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Story of an Australian Shipwreck: an appeal for information
In November 1797, the Sydney Cove, under the command of Captain Gavin Hamilton from Arran, left Calcutta for Sydney, Australia, then a small town of fewer than 2000 inhabitants. The ship, loaded with, rum and Chinese porcelain, was wrecked in Bass Strait before she reached Sydney. Captain Hamilton waited on a small island in Bass Strait while the ship's 'supercargo' (superintendent or supervisor of cargo), William Clark from Campbeltown, sailed in a longboat with 14 others for Sydney in an attempt to arrange the rescue of the survivors in Bass Strait.
The longboat was also wrecked, some 700 kilometers from Sydney, and William Clark and 14 others then set out to walk to Sydney. Only Clark and two others survived the walk, which was surely one of the epic journeys in the history of Australia.
Captain Hamilton was eventually rescued, but died shortly afterwards in Sydney. William Clark returned to Calcutta and continued to trade in partnership with his brother John Clark, also of Campbeltown. William, who kept a journal on his 700-kilometre trek in Australia (some of which was published in The Calcutta Gazette in 1798), died in Calcutta in 1800.
John Clark inherited his brother's possessions and returned to Campbeltown where he too died, in 1804. No trace of William Clark's journal of his walk has ever been found, and no trace of Captain Hamilton's log has been found. Captain Gavin Hamilton wrote letters home to his family in Arran, as did William Clark to his family in Campbeltown. John Clark also wrote letters home from Calcutta. Any infonnation regarding the possible existence of thesc letters or of William Clark's journal would be greatly appreciated.Mark McKenna, Associate-Professor, Sydney University.
Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.
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