About your Book:
Far Across The Sea follows the McMurdo family in Ayrshire Scotland through two world wars and eventually leads to a life in Australia. It provides a snapshot of the time when rationing was in place in Scotland and the aftermath of war that was felt many years after the conflict had ended. Australia put out the call for young men and families in its ‘Populate or Perish’ campaign, to build the country up again in case of another war. Many Scots took up the challenge. Our hero, Willie, intends to go to Australia for two years, then on to Canada for two years and America for two years, and return to Scotland with his pockets full, but he falls in love in Australia and that is where he stays – leaving behind a broken-hearted mother.
Targeted Age Group: any age group
Genre: historical fiction
The Book Excerpt:
Chapter 24 (1935)
The dour, long face of the school teacher, Mr Murdoch, was red with anger. He peered over the top of his rimless glasses, as the veins in his neck bulged out of the starched collar of his shirt.
“McMurdo!” he shouted as he walked quickly from the front of the classroom, a text book under his left arm and a switch of cane in his right hand. “What do you think you’re doing?” he enquired as he stood beside Willie’s desk.
“I’m no’ doin’ anything, Mr Murdoch,” said Willie angelically with a flip of the long, blond fringe that fell across his forehead.
“Show me your hands,” demanded Murdoch. As Willie slowly uncurled his hands Mr Murdoch could see that they were covered in ink. Then he looked at the girl called Jenny, seated at the desk in front of Willie. He opened his mouth to speak but words would not come. He gasped as he saw that the ends of Jenny’s pigtails had been dipped in ink and that the ink had stained her dress.
“Stand to, McMurdo,” Mr Murdoch shouted. Willie rose from his seat with his hands in his pockets. “Hold out your hands,” commanded Murdoch. Willie slowly took one hand from his pocket. “Both of them.” Willie took the other hand from his pocket. As Mr Murdoch raised the cane above his head, Willie quickly spat on both of his hands as all the boys did in a vain attempt to avoid the sting of the cane. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! The noise echoed across the classroom as the little girls gasped and the boys looked on in horror. After four good whacks with the cane, Mr Murdoch regained his composure. “Now sit down, and in future you will listen to what I am saying when I am teaching you about Britain’s greatest ever poet and playwright, and not get up to any of your foolishness.”
Willie sat down, holding back tears but smiling to his friends in the class. He was angry and wanted to strike back at Murdoch, but there wasn’t much physically that a nine-year-old could do against an adult. So Willie thought that he would torment Mr Murdoch with the only weapon at his disposal – his sharp tongue.
“Mr Murdoch,” Willie called to the teacher who was now standing at the head of the class. “Why are ye teaching us in English, when ye should be teaching us in Scots?” he asked cheekily. Murdoch began to turn red again. Willie continued. “Are we no’ in Scotland, and not England, so why do we no’ speak in oor ain language? Why are we learning aboot Willie Shakespeare when we have oor ain Rabbie Burns, the greatest poet of all, who hails from right here in Ayrshire?”
“McMurdo!” shouted Mr Murdoch. “To the principal’s office – now!” Willie started for the door, swallowing a smile. Hands in his pockets, he walked calmly past Mr Murdoch – then winked. Mr Murdoch threw up his hands in exasperation. “That boy will either be a saint or a sinner”, he said. “A saint or a sinner.”
Willie loved life and shook it by the throat. He turned every challenge into an opportunity and wasn’t afraid to share his opinion, even if it was not wanted. He was old for his tender years. His father provided for the family but he had become, at times, cold and distant, while his mother showered young Willie with love and affection. He would do anything for her. He had also become close to his Grandfather Bell, and while he was a hard taskmaster, Willie idolised the old man. He could be found most weekends, and after school, working the old man’s land with his Bell cousins, for no more than the satisfaction of pleasing the old man. He had never known his McMurdo grandparents for they had died when his own father was just a toddler, and his attachment to his Grandfather Bell was strong. There was something about the old man that Willie loved. He was not averse to taking off the wide belt that he wore, to strap it around the legs of any of his grandchildren, but he made a good living through sheer hard work, and it was a lesson in life that Willie was learning.
He was a free spirit who wandered the streets of New Cumnock and the hills and glens around, looking for fun and adventure. He made friends easily and had his own little gang of lads that he got about with. They went fishing and they played soccer at the Glenafton Athletic Club and he enjoyed being part of a team. They didn’t have much in the way of material comforts, but they didn’t know that that was supposed to make them sad, so they just made do with what they had and enjoyed life with the carefree attitude of children. It was the way it was supposed to be.