Both UK covers of Gillespie and I feature the artists’ impressions of the main building used during the Great Exhibition of 1888. The hardback cover artwork and design is by the wonderful Petra Borner - visit her website here - and the paperback cover artwork and design is by the fabulous Neil Gower - visit his website here.
The Great Exhibition
For anyone interested in The Great Exhibition, as mentioned in Gillespie and I, various scenes from around the Exhibition grounds can be seen here.
Website background image
The background image on this website is a photograph of the southerly end of Buchanan Street, taken in about 1900. This is approximately the spot where Harriet Baxter first encounters Elspeth and Annie Gillespie one hot day in the spring of 1888.
This photograph - and many others like it - are available to view at the Virtual Mitchell site, the online archive of photographs belonging to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. This is an absolutely fascinating site to browse if you are interested in old Glasgow.
Did you know that you can still visit many of the locations mentioned in Gillespie and I?
- The park where the Great Exhibition takes place is now Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow’s West End.
- Harriet’s Glasgow lodgings are on the top floor of one of the residences at the western side of Queen’s Crescent, just off West Prince’s Street.
- Ned and Annie Gillespie live just around the corner from Harriet on Stanley Street, which was renamed some time earlier in the last century and is now known as Baliol Street.
In The Observations, Castle Haivers is not set in any exact real-life location but is meant to take place somewhere in the vicinity of Armadale and Bathgate, just off what used to be the old Glasgow to Edinburgh Road.
The newspaper clipping that appears in Chapter 8 of The Observations (concerning a missing person, Agnes Faulds or Crawford) is only slightly adapted from one that appears in an edition of The Glasgow Herald in the early 1860s. Such listings appeared on the front page in those days. Old editions of The Herald can be consulted in microfiche format at The Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Their VirtualMitchell website is also invaluable.
Merlinsfield, Harriet’s father’s property, as featured in Gillespie and I, is based on a real place near the hamlet of Bardowie, called Robinsfield. This was a home and studio on the outskirts of Glasgow, once designed and used by artist Robert MacAuley Stevenson. The Robinsfield building has now been divided up into executive apartments. For more information read this article.
Background and inspirations
The Observations began life as a short story about a farmer poet and a girl from whom he 'acquires' songs but the narrative soon changed direction and then just expanded until it seemed clear it was a novel. However, the project was abandoned at an early stage and only resumed ten years later. Luckily, all the material relating to the story had been kept for the intervening years in a cardboard box in the attic, along with various other abandoned ideas. Many years later, the inspiration for Gillespie and I came from a few words scribbled on a piece of card that had been left in the same cardboard box.
Not much in either The Observations or Gillespie and I is drawn from autobiographical sources. However, I don’t think I could have written The Observations without having worked as a kitchen maid, chambermaid and maid-of-all-work in France while I was travelling/figuring out what to do with my life. And two key sequences in Gillespie and I are drawn from my own experience while I was working and living in Portugal. During that time, I did happen to save the life of an old lady whom I found collapsed, unconscious on the ground. And, for a short while, I lived in the home of another Portuguese lady who owned a pair of birds. The descriptions of Harriet Baxter’s birds and all of the narrative concerning them (right up until the very end) is based closely on the two birds with whom I shared a home in Portugal.