The Isle of Coll & the Isle of Struay: The Fact & the Fiction
Mairi Hedderwick, author and illustrator of the Katie Morag picture storybooks explains all. Well, nearly all.
“Discover Coll and you will find a hint of Struay, the island home of the redoubtable Katie Morag; a house here, a beach there and, most definitely, the row of whitewashed cottages by the old jetty of ferryboat days. Nowadays the word `ferry’ translates into floating cafeteria and car park. Katie Morag and her Grannie Island would find the concept most disturbing.
Katie Morag is, after all, 30 years old and her long ago birth in 'Katie Morag Delivers the Mail', a nostalgic self-indulgence on my part, celebrated our young family times on Coll in the ’60’s. With the passage of time and 17 stories more, electricity and a deep water pier have come to both islands. But in the school on Struay the one and only computer has ‘out of order’ taped across its screen. I have to resist some benchmarks.
Study the map of the Isle of Struay (The Big Katie Morag Storybook) and you will find that the indent of Village Bay is the only geographic similarity to Coll. Scattered about are a few local place names but further study will show that the majority are stolen from neighbouring islands and mainland locations personal to me. There are several references to Powell and Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going, filmed on Mull in ’45. The mountain range called the Five Sisters of Struay have their mainland counterpart in Kintail. In fact their illustration is inspired by Rum.
Before disillusionment sets in, and you decide to take the boat to Mull or Rum instead of Coll, I can assure Katie Morag aficionados that the first clutch of Struay characters in the first books did have Collach forbears, old friends. Granma Mainland, however, is my mother visiting Coll in the ’60s, handbag and all.
Those early inspirational islanders are long dead. Not many on Coll today would know who they were. Yet their familiar Hebridean identity as individuals still lives on, albeit with new accents and new ways, because, then and now, we are all islanded, bound by the sea. And CalMac. Some things never change.
The land and seascape of Coll are still my resource but I have to stress that additional characters over the years are entirely fictional. I have to live on both islands, after all. Oh! Except one islander but only I know where he is and in which book. But then I have made the whole thing up from beginning to end, haven’t I ….? ”
Katie Morag book information.. Penguin Books
A full selection of Katie Morag books and merchandise is available at the gift shop An Acarsaid at the Post Office on Coll.