Review of Waypoints by Sam Heughan
In my review of Sam’s first book Clanlands (written with fellow actor Graham McTavish), I said I was so impressed with his writing ability that if for some reason he grows weary of being a handsome leading man, he has a career as a writer to fall back on. I’m so excited that the people at Radar Books agreed! Sam’s latest book Waypoints records his literal journey along the West Highland Way of Scotland and his figurative journey from boyhood to his present career as an actor. It’s a story of perseverance, of recognizing what is unnecessary and can be left behind, and summoning the courage to keep moving forward despite the obstacles. I enjoyed reading Sam’s descriptions of Scotland, the funny insights into his personality (like the personification of mushrooms!), and his ultimately successful journey, including his realization that his father’s abandonment affected him in ways he didn’t realize. I could sense the freedom he felt when he left the extra travel baggage behind, and I think he realized at journey’s end what that baggage represented. A thoroughly enjoyable read, full of glimpses into Sam and Scotland.
My only disappointment was that it lacked an emotional connection to the author. One thing no one warns you about as a writer is that authors will unintentionally write their hearts and souls on the pages of their books, especially in fiction. I think it’s easier to be self-revealing in fiction because it takes you by surprise—you think you’re hidden behind a made-up story. In non-fiction, especially memoir, the author has a tighter hold on what is shared. While certain aspects of Sam’s life and emotions are revealed, especially when using self-deprecating humor, there was a tangible control, a holding back in this book, especially when speaking of difficult or painful memories. I found myself wanting to shout, “Free yourself!” at Sam from the wings, like he described his acting tutor doing during his time at the Royal Scottish Academy. I wasn’t looking for juicy tidbits of gossip; I didn’t mind that he didn’t name all of his girlfriends or go into details about his private life. It was okay with me that he glossed over certain periods of his life. What I was hoping for was that emotional connection, the sense that the author has become one with the work—in this case, his own life—and is sharing it with his readers. I wanted to feel from him what he learned that day with his tutor, that he “lost all sense of self-awareness.” Madeline L’Engle says that story is revelatory, and that the author, through the work, is helping to write his own story. I caught glimpses of Sam’s story—his real story—in Waypoints, but I longed to hear what he actually learned, what the journey truly revealed about his past, his present, and what he could take with him into the future. I wanted the satisfaction of a completed emotional journey and not just a completed physical one. But I have hope that Sam will find that place of freedom in his writing that he’s already found in his acting. And I wait expectantly for the next one!