What Katie did next is actually fiction

5th March 1999 at 00:00
IT SOUNDS beautiful. A remote Scottish island, a sparkling bay surrounded by black mountains, a stone jetty, a new pier and best of all, a small, friendly community just opening up to visitors.

Not only that, the Isle of Struay is a boon to primary schools - recommended in England by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, no less, for teaching about geography, transport and different lifestyles. No wonder teachers are flooding the Scottish Tourist Board with inquiries.

There's only one problem. The Isle of Struay doesn't actually exist. It's the creation of author-illustrator Mairi Hedderwick and the setting for her popular, long-running Katie Morag series of books (the latest is due out next month). Struay is loosely based on Coll in the Hebrides, where Mairi has lived on and off for 30 years.

"It's quite mad," says tourist information officer Jill Dunlop. "We started getting all these calls from teachers back in September and they haven't stopped since."

Ah, September. That would be roughly when the QCA advised that An Island Home shows "how a storybook can be used to develop children's understanding of geographical features and ideas while at the same time developing their literacy skills".

It also suggests using The Two Grandmothers by Katie Morag (Katie's bright but she's only seven and, like the island, not real). Not only does it fail to make clear it's a work of fiction, it lists "photographs of Struay" among the resources teachers will need. "A lot of the teachers who ring are looking for photos," says Jill.

They're in good company. Mairi, who moved to Coll as a 17-year-old mother's help and whose daughter and grandchild still live there, says the post office regularly gets letters addressed to "Katie Morag, Struay". These are, however, usually from children.

"Struay is like any small community, especially in the Hebrides, where children can just walk out of the door and visit their grandmother two miles away," she says.

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