“Writing is what stimulates me. I get up at 3.45am and write until lunchtime. I am at my most creative then and there are no distractions.”
Angus MacDonald has lived all his life in the Scottish highlands and is steeped in their tales. A one-time army officer with the Queen’s Own Highlanders, he holds a fascination for one the most notable Highland regiments, the Lovat Scouts. His great grandfather was a commanding officer during World War I and his grandfather Andrew MacDonald a World War II commanding officer and close friend of war hero Lord Lovat, whose father had founded the Lovat Scouts during the Boer War. “The Lovat Scouts were an immense group of individuals recruited from stalkers and gamekeepers from the Highlands. During their 60 years existence they had a role completely different to any other British Army job; Gaelic was widely spoken and there was genuine fondness and familiarity between the men.”
Originally from Spean Bridge in Lochaber, he attended Edinburgh Academy and concedes that he “didn’t do well at school”, leaving at 17. Following a brief stint as a young tourist guide in Peru, he returned to the UK and served as a junior officer in the Queen’s Own Highlanders, posted to the Falklands and Northern Ireland. “I was a very young officer. I hadn’t been to university and it helped me mature in so many ways.”
But serving in the military was not a long-term career choice for Angus. Instead he made his success as an entrepreneur and businessman, building companies in publishing, renewable energy, recycling and education.
With his business success, he passionately believes in giving something back, and founded The Caledonian Challenge which has raised £15million for charity and for which he was awarded an OBE. He also runs The Moidart Trust, a trust fund set up to help small companies in the Highlands grow.
A serial hard worker, he thought long and hard about writing his own novels and states that the first book “took 16 years to write”. Inspired by his beloved Highlands, the curious draw of Ardnish‘s abandoned settlements and his passion for military history, he set about creating his first novel Ardnish Was Home in 1999, penning the first drafts of what would become a bestseller and the start of a fascinating journey in bringing this enigmatic area back to life. It’s success ensured a follow up novel We Fought For Ardnish – written in a much shorter timeframe – and Angus was firmly decided on a new career path.
Inspiration for the sequel was close by; during WWII the SOE selected their training posts at estate homes around Arisaig and Lochailort for their secluded locations, harsh terrain and tough weather conditions.
A third book followed – a prequel which opens the Gillies’ story, when Ardnish was still a thriving community. Prompted by in-depth reading of the Lovat Scouts activity in the Boer wars, this involved retracing their steps by visiting key battle sites in South Africa.
The fourth novel brings the Gillies into modern times where young Peter Angus Gillies journeys from Canada to Ardnish to discover his ancestors and their land. Many emigrants from Lochaber and Brae Roy settled in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, taking their Gaelic culture with them and Angus researched, visited and spent time among these communities to create an accurate and moving depiction for his latest story.
Aside from writing, Angus has continued with a creative business theme in his Lochaber home area, first by opening the Highland Bookshop and more recently, building the new Highland Cinema in Fort William’s High Street.
The Ardnish stories are never far away though, as he lives close by with his wife Michie and their four sons on the shores of Roshven in Moidart, overlooking Peanmeanach bay and the ruined settlement which first inspired him.