It is my pleasure today to give a big shout out to Eleanor Harkstead fellow member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, lover of history, men in kilts and all round fabulous author. Some of you may remember that I interviewed Eleanor (aka Helen Barrell) back in June 2017. At the end of that post I asked her what she was working on and she said:
“With two non-fiction titles under my belt, I’m focussing on fiction for a while. I’ve recently started to write collaboratively with Catherine Curzon – we have historical romance and romantic thrillers up our collective sleeves.”
Their contemporary short story about feuding theatricals, ‘An Actor’s Guide to Romance’, is available on Amazon. The first installment in their Captivating Captains series, the historical novel The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, will be published on 3 April 2018, and is available to pre-order. Both titles are published by Pride. If fancy reading ‘something different,’ give Eleanor and Catherine’s novel a try.
I met Eleanor through the Birmingham Chapter of the RNA and we discovered a common bond: writing, romance, a love of history and Scotland. To give you a taste of Eleanor’s work, I thought it would be fun to ask her to write a piece about Men in Kilts. Here it is:
The Ballad of the Scotsman in a Kilt
The first time I visited Glasgow with my Scottish partner, he assured me that I wouldn’t be seeing anyone in a kilt. “No one wears kilts in Scotland. Only bagpipers wear them, and old men in the islands.” Reader, I was disappointed. Until we got off the train at Glasgow Central and found ourselves in a swirling morass of Scottish footie fans who were off to see their team play an international match. Almost everyone was in a kilt.
“I thought you said no one wears kilts in Scotland?” “Erm….” was his reply
On another trip to Glasgow, my partner decided to buy a kilt. The ground floor of the shop was full of shortbread and whisky, and knickknacks featuring lake monsters and West Highland terriers. We headed down into the basement to the kilt department, where the heavy tartans and tweeds muffled the sounds from the street above. First, to decide the tartan. Being a Wallace, my partner does have a tartan for his surname, but he found its red colour a bit brash. So he opted instead for the Wallace hunting tartan, which is mainly a dark green. Obviously, you’d startle your quarry if it you had a quantity of bright red fabric swinging about your thighs as you crossed the springy heather, so each tartan has a hunting variant. Also – each tartan has an “ancient” variant, where the colours are more muted. After choosing his fabric, my partner was measured up. A kilt should be worn high on the waist, not low-slung on the hips, and it should come above the knee.
I’m sure you won’t mind me referring you back to the image of the heavy fabric swinging about the thighs as our Scottish chap strides up the side of a mountain – if the kilt is below the knee, that stride is going to be rather difficult. There’s an option to have a “sports kilt” – this involves less cloth (the pleats mean kilts are made from a vast amount of fabric), and they’re made from synthetics rather than wool. This makes them easier to move about in, whether you’re tossing cabers or heading off to a football stadium.
A sporran, next – my partner chose a plain leather one. You can get all sorts of designs on them, such as thistles or the St Andrew’s cross, as well as ones made from seal fur. If you must, you can have a ceremonial dagger – or sgian dubh – to tuck in one’s sock, then you have to choose your jacket. Does sir want a black “Bonnie Prince Charlie” jacket, or perhaps for that laird-striking-out-across-his-acres look, a tweed with buttons made from bone? And as for the shirt, will sir be wearing a plain white one or a Highlander-style billowing blouse? Whilst I evinced an interest in a shirt of the more billowing variety, my partner decided it would make him look like a jessie, so he wears one that he bought from Next. With a Wallace hunting tartan tie, of course.What footwear for a kilt? There’s traditional lace-up brogues, or you could go with a buckled shoe, or heck, why not go a bit punk and wear DMs or motorcycle boots?
A flutter of excitement went through my English family and friends once it became known that my partner had his very own kilt. He wore it when we visited my mum on her birthday in that most unScottish of English counties: Essex (well, apart from the Dagenham Girl Pipers).
My mum was exceedingly pleased with the kilt, and demanded she have her photo taken stood beside my partner in his Scottish finery. I am dismayed to relate that she told him it really suited his rear. Yes, it certainly does; that wouldn’t have passed me by, but mother – really. We went out for dinner on my mum’s birthday, so my partner decided to wear his kilt. On the way to the restaurant, my mum insisted we stop off in Sainsbury’s. The locals of Brentwood had never before seen a man in a kilt sashay through the aisles of their supermarket and my partner left a sea of astonished faces in his wake.
All except one local who came up to him to declare that he was wearing the Blackwatch tartan. My partner tried very politely to explain that he was wearing the Wallace hunting tartan, but she wouldn’t have it. Because of course, who could be more expert on kilts than someone living in Essex? “I know it’s the Blackwatch tartan – I’ve got it on a biscuit tin.”
Those better be shortbreads, or I’m having words.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no wedding is complete without a man in a kilt. We looked at the photos of a friend’s wedding to discover that a nice picture of my partner stood beside the bride was complete with women of a certain age in the background who were very obviously staring at his legs. At another wedding, he noticed that several female guests were deliberately getting their photos taken so that my partner and his kilt – and of course his legs – were in the background.
He’s even received an invitation to a wedding purely based on the fact that he owns a kilt. Unfortunately, on the day my partner was at a loss to find the right shoes, so turned up in trousers. As disappointing as this may have been for the women who were so looking forward to staring at a strange man’s knees, he wore his tweed jacket and tartan tie with his trousers, so he still brought a suitably Scottish vibe to proceedings.
And what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? Boxer shorts – in plaid, of course.
Many thanks to Helen/Eleanor for writing that piece for the blog. If you want to know more about Eleanor and her work, here are the links.
As a writer of Scottish romances, I thought I’d blog about a halloween party featured in my latest novel – Girl in the Castle –
I hope you enjoy the extract. I’ve also added some photos I took at a Halloween party last night and, to celebrate Halloween, there’s a FREE download featured at the end of this blog post.
When Henri entered the Great Hall, it had been completely transformed by the purple gloaming outside the windows, strategically placed candles and the roaring twin fires. A harpist was playing a selection of melodies on a clarsach, and in another corner, children were dookin’ for apples in a barrel of water, supervised by nannies or older siblings. The young guisers, dressed as ghouls, spirits or favourite super heroes, took great delight in frightening the grown-ups with turnip lanterns dangling from sticks and fake Dracula fangs.
If Henri had dressed so as not to draw attention to herself, the other guests showed no such restraint. They were celebrating Samhain in style; the men in kilts, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ jackets over matching waistcoats, dress shirts, black tie, and brogues. The women in long plaid skirts/kilts, silk blouses with lacy jabots or, like herself, in simple black dresses worn with clan tartan in the form of a shawl or a sash. Clearly, this was an evening for showing off, because heirloom tiaras, necklaces and bracelets had been taken out of the bank vault. The jewels caught the candlelight and added extra glamour to the evening.
One man stood apart from the rest, and it took several seconds before Henri realised that it was Keir. She’d never seen the Master of Mountgarrie other than in his work clothes. But this Keir, wearing full Highland dress with unconscious grace and style was every inch the laird she’d dreamed about in the library. Grasping her silver caman for good luck, she stepped out of the shadows and into the hall.
If you’ d like to read more about the Girl in the Castle, download it onto your kindle or to buy and keep a paperback copy on your bookshelf.
Here are the photos from last night’s party – (thank you, hostess with the mostess, Adrienne Vaughan)- lots of spooks and demons, but not a kilt in sight. Unfortunately. You might also catch a glimpse of fellow New Romantics Press’s June Kearns behind one of the masks (!)
If you like spooky stories then check out an anthology Adrienne and I contributed to. It’s FREE to download at the moment, then it’s going – going – gone.
And finally . . . check out this blog post I wrote about a real life spooky event which happened to me and my siblings many years ago.
Have a great Halloween celebration whatever you have planned.
** many thanks to Nick Fiddes of Scotweb/Clan.com for giving me permission to use photos from his fabulous website.