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As the Women Lay Dreaming

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A novel of the Iolaire disaster

In the small hours of January 1st, 1919, the cruellest twist of fate changed at a stroke the lives of an entire community.

Tormod Morrison was there that terrible night. He was on board HMY Iolaire when it smashed into rocks and sank, killing some 200 servicemen on the very last leg of their long journey home from war. For Tormod – a man unlike others, with artistry in his fingertips – the disaster would mark him indelibly.

Two decades later, Alasdair and Rachel are sent to the windswept Isle of Lewis to live with Tormod in his traditional blackhouse home, a world away from the Glasgow of their earliest years. Their grandfather is kind, compassionate, but still deeply affected by the remarkable true story of the Iolaire shipwreck – by the selfless heroism and desperate tragedy he witnessed.

A deeply moving novel about passion constrained, coping with loss and a changing world, As the Women Lay Dreaming explores how a single event can so dramatically impact communities, individuals and, indeed, our very souls. 

Prizes and awards

Highland Book Prize 2018, LONGLISTED

REVIEWS OF As the Women Lay Dreaming

“A searing poetic meditation on stoicism and loss.” Mariella Frostrup, BBC Radio 4 Open Book

“A powerful novel… A poignant exploration of love, loss and survivor’s guilt.” Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

“Triumphant… The writing is breath-taking, poignant and takes great pains to immerse the reader in ideas of trauma, suffering and the shared culture of a grieving generation. [A] rich and lyrical writing style.” Lochaber Life, Book of the Month

“Timely, clever, evocative… Murray has said that this novel took him around sixteen years to complete and on the strength of this poignant offering one hopes we will not have to wait so long for his second.” Shetland Times

“A classic bildungsroman… It is that rarity: a work of imagination which reads like experienced truth. It’s the kind of book you want to read again as soon as you finish it, because you know there is so much that will be revealed on that second reading: the kind of novel which can enrich your life.” Allan Massie, Scotsman, Scottish Books of the Year, 2018

“Murray is an evocative painter of landscapes and a deeply sympathetic writer… This diligently researched book exists principally as a space for forgotten voices to sound, bearing witness not just to this tragedy, but to the terrible cost of World War I itself.” Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

“Beautifully and sensitively told, by one of the great lyrical writers of our time, D S Murray ... [A] brutal reminder of how resilient and tangled are the tentacles of tragedy.” Cathy MacDonald

“[A] tightly structured, time-hopping memoir-but-not-a-memoir… A story spanning 74 years whittled meticulously into shape… Murray pulls off the perfect combination of fact and fiction… [His] assured journey through the disruption, trauma, love and loss threaded unspoken through one Lewis family, with barely a word of the shipwreck, is on every page a novel of the Iolaire disaster.“ Catriona Black, Herald and National

“A very special book… a poignant tale of family, love and relationships lived out in the hardest of places… Donald S Murray is superb in bringing his characters to life and making the incidents they encounter feel utterly real.” Undiscovered Scotland

“A powerful book…which reveals new layers with every reading. It is history brought to life through fiction, and when it is done in a manner as moving and beautiful as this it is invaluable.” Alistair Braidwood, Scots Whay Hae.


Trade information

  • Rights: World
  • BIC code(s): FV, FA
  • BISAC code(s): FIC014040

As the Women Lay Dreaming

About the author

Donald S Murray

A son of the Hebrides, Donald S. Murray is a writer and poet whose work has been shortlisted for both the Saltire Literary Awards and the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award. His critically acclaimed books bring to life the culture and nature of the Scottish islands, and he appears regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland. 

Praise for Donald S Murray:

“Deeply moving.” Will Self, Telegraph

“He writes with an inherent understanding of Highland culture, language and way of life.” Herald

“The story is told with great charm, and tinged with a spirit of loss and yearning.” Philip Marsden, Spectator

“Mr Murray is a gregarious and engaging raconteur.” The Economist

“Donald S. Murray is one of the most accomplished and original writers to have emerged from Lewis in modern times, and there is stiff competition.” Roger Hutchinson, West Highland Free Press

“Outstanding.” Highland News