IN his new novel, Angus Peter Campbell (Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul) explores the world of the mind - human and machine – as well as the world of sense and solidity. Memory and Straw is a remarkable book, with a plot that takes in modern artificial intelligence, and the mud-and-blood memories of Scottish island life in the 19th century.

Campbell, from South Uist, is the author of four collections of poetry and six Gaelic novels. His poetry collection, Aibisidh, won the Scottish Poetry Book of the Year award in 2012, but he is also an actor - children recognise him from his role in the TV adaptations of Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag, where he plays Neilly Beag.

A big man, father of six - he rhapsodises about the pipe playing of one of his daughters as we walk up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh - he is warm and generous company. He must also like his coffee: the cafe we meet in has been specifically chosen for the quality of its brew. Campbell's accent is lyrical and rich. Occasionally he slips into Gaelic, with a quick translation in English added afterwards (sometimes so quick I miss it).

Over that good coffee, he is clear on a key theme of the book: that the past, and the times of our ancestors, is not as lost as it seems. Written over "many years", Memory and Straw has its roots in the contested earth of the Hebrides, but touches down in Manhattan and Martha's Vineyard, England and Europe. It moves back and forward along the tape of time. The novel's main male character, Gavin, works in Artificial Intelligence in New York, researching human features to make more realistic 'mask-bots' – non-human ‘carers’ for the elderly.

Gavin ruminates on his own face, which is "uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been." The story then turns to the farming families of the 1850s Hebrides, his ancestors. It depicts their struggles with land and landed gentry, with God, and their encounters with the apparent supernatural in the form of faeries. At one point, a major character becomes lost in faery world, and emerges 100 years later.

However, Campbell says the temporal sweep of the book did not necessarily mean its period scenes are all that distant. "There are a 1001 things that connect me and you to history, and it is so near on one hand, and yet so distant. I knew Sorley MacLean well. And Sorley said: 'I knew of a man who heard tell of people who saw Raasay in flames after Culloden.' When [the Duke of] Cumberland’s red coats came through the highlands after Culloden. So the past was kind of two steps away. It wasn't 'all those years ago': it was in the moment. So hopefully the book concertinas time together."

He believes fairy myth and modern digital communications are but different "ways of understanding and comprehending and controlling the universe". So maybe Twitter trolls and fantasy trolls are similar? "Faery-land and the contemporary environment, I think they mirror one another. The challenge of course, was how do you put these two things together? The contemporary and the old world." Memory and Straw manages to do this, its words flowing like a song or a long form poem.

He notes that he can trace his own family back to 1700, but reflects, "It's odd, knowing that, that suddenly, here we are, in the blink of an eye, in 2017. Almost all that [history] is dissolved and gone.. But what I think I am trying to say is that it is the same forces, it's the same contingencies, it's the same pressures, we are circumscribed by the same business."

Power in the 19th-century Hebrides lies with the priest, the landowner, and the factor. The symbols of power in modern Scotland are perhaps different but, Campbell says, comparable. "These days it may be algorithms pushing you down, that channels you to read certain things, buy certain things, go to certain places. One hundred and fifty years ago, it would have been the Minister saying 'these are the commandments', or it would have been the Factor, who would have said 'you don't go over that boundary line' and the landowner would have said 'you pay that'. So I suppose [the novel] is about freedom, and the pressures that surround us. And of course they are different, over 150 years, but existentially and emotionally, I am not sure actually how different they are."

Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell, Luath Press, £12.99.