The first time I got married it was in a working barn and I was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange. Outside, the rain was torrential. Inside, we had wooden cutlery, roaring fires, and the guests had drunk all the wine by the end of the first course.
I always like to thoroughly research my novels, so the second time I married I wore traditional cream lace – teamed with yellow wellies. We were married by a vicar who, the first time we met, cheerfully told me that he too was divorced. And as the organ played, the congregation spontaneously stood and began to sing, ‘All You Need is Love.’
That second wedding undoubtedly created the best day of my life. (The first was also fantastic, but I was heavily pregnant and a bit too tired to fully enjoy it.) We were surrounded by nearly all of our best friends – who’d stood the test of time. I knew which values were most important to me in a marriage. And my children were both there to enjoy it.
One of the reasons I wanted to marry again was in order to thank my parents for everything they’d done for me in a previously rocky decade. “You have been the most incredible support to me, in ways both practical and emotional. I genuinely cannot thank you enough. And I love you,” I was able to say, publicly.
As I sit writing this, I look out at two Prunus mume Omoi-no-mama blossom trees that we planted a year after the wedding, in memory of my mother. My vibrant, beautiful mother – who’d wandered around on the day, taking the most wonderful photos. And who, in the book she subsequently created, said, ‘Goodbye’ at the end of it, in a way that at the time felt quirky, but turned out to be hideously prophetic.
The eight months she spent, painfully fading away in hospital, was when I wrote the bulk of Shoot the Moon. And I’m so glad that I was able to share it with her. And write about weddings – having just experienced the most perfect one myself.
Four years previously, a friend had shown me a magazine called Rock n Roll Bride. And this became a kernel of thought: to write a story based around alternative weddings, with a wedding photographer as its protagonist – who, ironically, had no desire to marry as she couldn’t get over her first love. I scoured the magazine’s back issues – marvelling at the creativity and colour of its pages. I then started scouring the UK for possible places where such events could take place. One day I googled, ‘wedding bothies’ – which took me to Aberfeldy, from where Tassie and her new man, Dan, could easily travel to the Isle of Skye.
Late last year, my husband and I travelled the roads I wrote about in the novel. We had lunch at the pub in Skye – which turned out to have its own dramatic tale, even more remarkable than that in my novel. We met a wonderful lady who gives high teas and talks about corncrakes. In Aberfeldy we did a jeep safari and saw the bothy where Tassie takes her wedding photos. And we visited the castle where she and Dan have their first dance:
“By the fourth turn of the Eightsome Reel, Tassie and Dan were just about getting to grips with the moves. She loved dancing with him, the intimacy of her hands in his. Each time the formation whisked her towards another guest, she was aware that she couldn’t wait to return to him and frequently they convulsed with laughter as they twirled and jumped around; especially when it was Tassie’s turn to do her version of a highland jig. Before dinner she’d pulled her hair out of her plait as a half-hearted attempt at keeping her shoulders warm, and now she had to keep pushing it off her face as she whirled.”
Standing in that cavernous hall, detritus from a previous event gathering dust in a corner, I remembered dancing at my own wedding. Dancing so much, in fact, that my new husband later told me off for failing to talk to our guests. And I remembered the joy I’d felt on that day. And felt so grateful that I could carry on that joy in the stories I write, even though those who inspired me, and are the most precious, now dance among the stars, rather than alongside us.
Shoot the Moon is available to buy here.