19th February 2018
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Author Millie ‘thrilled to bits’

Author Millie Vigor from Sandwick is about to launch her first novel and her publisher wants first refusal on her next two – a remarkable achievement for an 85-year-old.

Mrs Vigor’s book, Catherine of Deepdale, will be published on 30th April. It is set in post-war Shetland and is the story of a girl from the south of England who marries a Shetlander and comes to live on a croft with him just after the Second World War.

The book, which spans the years from 1946 to the mid-1950s, is intended to be the first of a trilogy. It impressed her publisher Robert Hale Ltd so much that the company is now eagerly awaiting the two to come, which will cover the 1960s and the oil era respectively.

Catherine of Deepdale has been a labour of love for Mrs Vigor, who says she has “taken the best part of 80 years” to achieve publication of a novel.

So why did it take so long? As for many people, life got in the way. Marriage, family and various house moves, including to a 90-acre farm in Aberdeenshire, all needed atten­tion and she says: “I’d always loved writing but I didn’t get into it until I was about 40. I started when my husband [then in the Fleet Air Arm] was away for 13 months.”

Mrs Vigor moved to Shetland with her late husband Slim in 1977 when he got a job with British Air­ways, and it was then that she started writing more seriously. Her first publication was in the women’s section of the Farmers’ Weekly, for which she received the sum of £25. “I jumped up and down I was so excited.” More magazine articles followed.

The couple lived in various South Mainland locations including Yaafield in Bigton and Hestingott in Virkie. Accommodation was in short supply and at one point they “bought a ruin” and lived in a cara­van while doing it up. The result was the autobiographical book Kippers for Breakfast, published by The Shetland Times in 2003.

But it was always her aim to write a novel and now that it has become reality she is “just thrilled to bits”.

The idea for the book was sparked when Mrs Vigor heard about a war bride from Southampton who, after moving to Shetland, only re-visited her native town three times in 40 years. But, she stresses, the book is “pure fiction. It’s about how she [Catherine] adjusted. I just had to write it.”

It is “a romance, basically”, set against the backdrop of rural Shetl­and with its sense of community that struck Mrs Vigor so forcibly when she first arrived in the isles. This reminded her of her own childhood in the countryside, where people helped each other in a really practical way and which has now largely been lost on the mainland.

She says: “If you walk along the street [here] people look at you and you can get into conversation with anyone. If you did that down south they’d think there was something wrong with you.”

After her husband died suddenly Mrs Vigor moved south temporarily, with the book unfinished, but then returned to Shetland and was able to complete the novel. “I came back to write, and I came back because I love Shetland. It grabs you.”

Although she was delighted to have finished the book she was unsure about getting published. But one day, swivelling round in her office chair, she spotted a volume with the publisher’s name “Hale”.

She sent the first three chapters of Catherine of Deepdale, together with a synposis and a covering letter, to the company, and four days later heard they had accepted her work. Not only that, they wanted more.

Originally the book featured Shetland dialect but that had to be re-written to appeal to a wider audience. Apart from that, Mrs Vigor says: “They [Robert Hale] loved it – they said the attention was held consistently and that’s what sold it.”

Catherine of Deepdale will be launched at Shetland Library at 7pm on 1st May.

About Rosalind Griffiths

I am a Shetland Times reporter covering news, including health stories, and features. I have been in Shetland for more than 30 years.

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