EVERYONE has a book in them" is one of these eternally-quoted pieces of received wisdom.

"Write about something you know", is standard advice to any would-be author.

So, putting these two old saws together, Bill 'Snakebite' Ferguson, a Canadian-domiciled South African-born Scot has put together an entertaining little book: 'My Mother's Cousin And Other Memorable Characters'.

"What's this got to do with the Chronicle"? I hear you ask.

Well , Bill wrote the book at the behest of one of his cousins, retired banker (one of the good ones who was eased into retirement before greed became good) Bill Reid. Mr Reid, who lives in Mauchline, is a Cumnockian - one of the few Barrhill Boys au fait with joined-up writing; Bill Ferguson can be claimed by New Cumnock.

The Hero of the book (inasmuch as a collection of stories of the kind prefaced in local watering holes, late in a bevvy session with: "D'ye mind yon time..." can form a book) is Bill Ferguson's Uncle Robert. He was a guid New Cumnock boay cried Robert Galbraith whose cousin May and her husband Jimmy Ferguson (Bill's dad) decided the gold fields of South Africa were a better bet than living on the Mansfield Road. Robert, with family spread around New Cumnock and Burnfoot during the "Hungry Thirties", decided to tag along for the trip - without telling Jimmy until they were on the train, south-bound out of New Cumnock.

There then follow hilarious tales of pre-embarkation for the North African Campaign exercises with the Transvaal Scottish; encounters - drink having been liberally taken - with Afrikaans-speaking Boers; life among the doo-fanciers of the high veldt; the at times strange working relationship between the white and black miners, deep under the red clay of Africa as they extracted the gold from the seams.

Very few of the stories re-told are actually set in New Cumnock, but the book does prove: "Ye can tak the boay oot o' New Cumnock - ye canny tak New Cumnock oot o' the boay".

There are several laugh-out-loud passages - Uncle Robert, a Rangers supporter to the core, arriving down the mine one morning to find his "office" - the personal area from which he supervised his squad of black miners - re-painted from its original red white and blue to green and white stripes.

Ferguson's description of the Transvaal Scottish officer, a Major McClaren, being totally unable to understand his Uncle Robert's report of the enemy's position: delivered in broad New Cumnock: "There's six o' them in yon sheugh an anither seven ahint that wee knowe there": strikes a chord, as does Uncle Robert's response to the officer's blank look: "If he canna unnerstaun Scotch, whit's he daein in a Scottish regiment?" Obviously, not every "Rupert" (Jock parlance for an Anglo-Scottish officer) is English.

Along the way we meet other members of the East Ayrshire/Scottish Diaspora in South Africa; men such as Jock Ramsey, from Auchinleck, Wilson Humphries, Ray Thorpe and other members of 'God's Chosen Race' endeavouring to spread enlightenment, education and sophistication to a foreign land.

The author has himself had an adventurous life - diamond prospecting in Tanzania as a prelude to almost half a century in mining in South Africa and Canada, prising gold, uranium, nickel and tantalum from the earth.

Now retired and living in Manitoba, this is Bill Ferguson's first book. He is working on his second, his memoirs of his long career in mining. If it comes anywhere near this first effort it will be a volume worth reading.

And well done Bill Reid for giving your cousin the impetus to write down his hilarious stories.

Matt Vallance