Ever since he could talk, Cameron has been telling stories of his life on Barra, a remote island in the Outer Hebrides, some 220 miles from his current home in Glasgow. He describes in detail his childhood on the island: the white house he lived in, the black-and-white dog he walked on the beach. He talks about his mother, seven siblings and his father, Shane Robertson, who died when he was run over by a car.
Nothing strange about all that. Except the fact that Cameron is only five years old now; his memories seem to be of a former life. Cameron’s stories have become increasingly more detailed since he first started telling them, and the shock of him insisting “I’m a Barra boy, I’m a Barra boy” has worn off a little. But his emotional attachment to his ‘Barra mum’ concerns his mother, and there’s clearly something going on in the poor kid’s head when he says, “My real barra dad doesn’t look left and right.” Intrigued by her enigmatic son, Cameron’s mother Norma has decided to investigate his claims.
Everyone who comes across Cameron is sceptical, but his stories are just so consistent. In her search to find a rational explanation for Cameron’s tales of his Barra childhood, Norma first visits psychologist Dr Chris French, editor of The Skeptic magazine. French suggests that Cameron might simply have acquired knowledge about Barra through TV or a family friend, and thus invented the stories himself.
Norma isn’t satisfied by this. Her next port of call is educational psychologist Karen Majors, who tells her that the way that Cameron describes his Barra world is similar to the way in which some children speak about imaginary places and people, except that Cameron really seems to believe that he has seen the things he describes first-hand; he also doesn’t seem to be able to control his ‘fantasy’ as other children do. Norma decides to investigate the possibility of reincarnation, contacting leading expert Dr Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia.
Tucker has investigated countless statements of reincarnation from children across the world. One of the cases he refers to comes from the American mid-West. Gus Taylor was 18 months old when he first began claiming to be his own grandfather returned to his family, saying “I used to be big and now I’m a kid again.” At four he was given a photograph album in which he identified his grandfather as a young boy in a group school photo as well as his first car. He startled his parents with knowledge they couldn’t comprehend him having about an aunt who had been murdered. Gus talks about falling through a porthole. Cameron also frequently alludes to falling through a hole from Barra; he is very calm about death because he believes we come back.
Norma always promised Cameron they could go back to Barra and with Dr Tucker’s encouragement, she takes her son to the island to see if any of his ‘previous life’ tales of the island can be verified. She hopes it will give him some perspective. Cameron has often described watching aeroplanes land on the beach from the family house – true to his memory, the beach does double as a runway. “Mummy, I recognise every single bit,” he whispers.
They set off to try to find the house Cameron has talked about, which must be located at the north end of the island to provide the view of the beach he has described. They fail to find it. A local historian calls them to say that he has information about the Robertsons, a mainland family, and the address of the house where they used to spend the summer during the 1960s and 1970s. The usual talkative and animated Cameron is suddenly nervous, and when they visit the house he’s strangely subdued. The house and its environs have a lot in common with Cameron’s descriptions over the last three years.
Initially, the trip seems to be a success, but Norma and Dr Tucker’s research into the Robertson family comes to nothing; the trail is running cold. On returning to the mainland, Norma visits a geneaologist to find out more about the Robertson family and discovers a lady called Gilly, who as a child would have frequented the summer house at the same time that Cameron claims he did in his former life. Will their meeting confirm a connection? And, crucially, will Norma and her son learn anything about the identity of Shane Robertson, the man Cameron claims was once his father?