Finally – the work in progress is finished, and is available for kindle download, to purchase as a paperback and to read FREE on kindle unlimited. Thank you to all readers, writers and friends who’ve been on this journey with me. Tada, drum roll – I proudly present – Girl in the Castle
Here’s the book trailer
If you’ve followed over from my newsletter – here’s the opening chapter.
There it was, again—a lament; the kind played from the parapet of a castle high above a loch, the piper hidden by swirling autumn mist and fading light. Unable to ignore it any longer, Henriette Bruar ended the podcast—Five Historic Hauntings for Hallowe’en—and, ears straining, glanced half-fearfully over her shoulder in case some madman had got on at the last station, hell bent on making it plain that here was no place for Sassenachs.
No place for lone, female travellers either, come to that.
However, the train was empty, as it had been for the past half an hour. For who, in their right mind, would take the last train out of Fort William on a wet autumn afternoon and travel up the line to MacKenzie’s Halt?
Only her, of course. Henriette Bruar, lately studying history at Saint Guthlac University, Hexham, in the north of England, until—well, until she’d screwed things up so badly that she’d been forced to come high-tailing it up to this remote corner of Scotland until the heat died down.
‘Stop imagining things!’ she admonished herself, her voice unnaturally loud in the empty carriage. That had the desired effect of banishing the piper and restoring her grip on reality. Her iPhone, she reasoned, must have picked up a transmission from a nearby radio station—Highland FM, or similar. That, coupled with the spooky podcast, was enough to make her imagine things.
Yes, that was it.
However, just in case, she cast another look around the carriage. As she did so, the feeling of presentiment which had dogged her since setting foot on Scottish soil returned, accompanied this time by pins and needles and the shivery, shaky feeling which usually heralds a virus. Physical sensations which no amount of foot-stamping, arm swinging or cups of lukewarm coffee could banish.
‘You need to get your blood pumping, Bruar,’ she said in the no-nonsense tone of a games mistress. ‘You haven’t got time for flights of fancy. You’re here for one reason, and one reason only—to undertake a commission on behalf of the university. Keep reminding yourself of that, and how lucky you are to have been given a chance to restore your reputation. Right now, an overactive imagination is an extravagance you simply can’t afford.’
Spectral pipers, indeed!
After further foot stamping and curling and uncurling her toes, she sat down, unfolded her itinerary and read it through for the hundredth time. The train would stop at MacKenzie’s Halt, where she was to get off. The train terminated further up the line but few, if any passengers, went beyond MacKenzie’s Halt. Upon leaving the train, she should cross over the footbridge and make her way to the edge of the loch where she would be taken across to Castle Tèarmannair.
taken across . . .
Forgetting her earlier resolution to stop daydreaming, fancy took flight once more. She saw herself as a Jacobite heroine, plaid wrapped tightly around her to ward off the wind, a white cockade pinned to her hair, being taken across the loch by clansmen loyal to the exiled Stuarts. In her imagination, she saw a castle in the middle of the loch where her lover was waiting, piper by his side, to welcome her home.
Then she shook her head and dismissed the image.
Time she remembered that she was no Highland heroine, she was Castle Tèarmannair’s newly appointed archivist—hired to catalogue the contents of the laird’s library, prior to auction. Most likely it would turn out to be the usual collection of old estate papers, books on the best technique for blasting game birds out of the skies, or catching the salmon with a fly of the laird’s own design. There would be no first editions, illuminated manuscripts, or lost family trees proclaiming the laird the Last King of Scotland for her to discover
‘Castle Tèarmannair.’ She experimented with the unfamiliar Gaelic. ‘Meaning Guardian, or Protector,’ she read from her guide book. ‘A gift from the Lord of the Isles to MacKenzie of MacKenzie for fighting alongside him at the Battle of Largs in 1263.’ Releasing a pent up breath, she put the itinerary in her bag and, getting to her feet, walked the length of the carriage, holding on to the back of the empty seats for balance, and peered through the windows into the late afternoon gloom.
A thick autumn mist had followed the train out of An Gearasdan—Fort William, obscuring the stunning view promised by the guide books and, in a cinematic moment, the train appeared to ‘float’ above the rails. Nothing was visible on either side—not even the lights from the small settlements flanking the loch. Henri wondered, a little self-pityingly, if the mist was a metaphor for the current state of her life, which was mired in gloom and despondency.
She pulled herself up sharp. ‘Positive thinking, Bruar. Remember?’
She was halfway back to her seat when a lilting Highland voice announced: ‘We are approaching MacKenzie’s Halt. Please remember to take your belongings with you when you alight from the train.’ With no more time for introspection, she swung her tote bag over her shoulder, and collected coat, rucksack and suitcase out of the luggage rack as the train came, briefly, to a halt by the short platform.
I hope this extract has made you want to buy a copy of Girl in the Castle and read on –
If you’d like to read the latest reviews for Girl in the Castle, here’s the link
Today I’m welcoming author Rosemary Gemmell onto my blog, close on the heels of Gwent Kirkwood, another Scottish writer I featured. Are you detecting a theme, yet?
Thank you so much, Lizzie, for inviting me to your lovely blog. I enjoy reading about your travels around Scotland now and then!
The setting in any novel is often one of the most important aspects of the story, for the author and the reader. This has never been truer than it is for The Highland Lass, my Scottish dual-timeline novel, as it is mainly set around my own hometown in the west coast of Scotland, an area of natural beauty, rich with history.
The old Greenock cemetery’s ancient and elaborate gravestones, winding paths and overhanging trees provided much scope for my childish imagination. This was where my mother first introduced me to the gravestone of Highland Mary, who was a brief but important love interest of Robert Burns, our national poet. This early memory and a fascination for Mary Campbell was the inspiration for the short historical chapters in The Highland Lass.
Inverclyde enjoys an envious position right beside the River Clyde, and across from Gourock sits the small seaside town of Dunoon in Argyll. From my side of the river, we can see the entrance to the Holy Loch, bordered by the towering Argyll hills, where the American Navy was based from the 1960s until the early 80s. This provided another thread in the story, as Eilidh is seeking the identity of her father, who may have been an American officer. Dunoon is also where Highland Mary was born, where her statue forever looks across the Clyde.
I hope you don’t mind me sharing slipping in a couple of my photos of the Clyde and Dunoon, Rosemary, including this video of us sailing Doon the Watter to Dunoon aboard a CalMac ferry. We were on the lookout for submarines, but didn’t spot any.
After researching Burns, from a book published in 1838, to more modern accounts and Burns’ own poems, songs and letters, I formed a real feeling for Highland Mary and her effect on the poet. I had an article published about the couple in The Highlander Magazine in the USA some years before but I kept coming back to the idea for a novel. So I carried out further research in the Gothic-style Watt Library in Greenock, with its access to microfilm copies of the old Greenock Advertiser and the later Greenock Telegraph, where I found several interesting facts that I incorporated into the story and the epilogue of The Highland Lass. The Greenock Burns Club (the Mother Club) kindly allowed me to sift through their archives for any relevant material I may have missed.
The other main setting for this novel, in the present and past, is Ayrshire, known as Burns country. Highland Mary and Robert Burns met and plighted their troth there in the 18th century and the small villages have hardly changed at all. The inn where Burns and his cronies met, Poosie Nancie’s, is still in the same street in Mauchline. When I stepped inside the snug, low-beamed room, it took no imagination at all to picture the poet sitting at the table near the fire range with his ale. Ayrshire is also where the blossoming relationship between modern heroine, Eilidh Campbell, and handsome Scot, Lewis Grant, takes a major step forward.
Another inspiration for my Scottish novels is our famous Loch Lomond, one of the largest freshwater lochs (or lakes) in Britain, now part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. One of my favourite places is the fairy-tale village of Luss, where Lewis takes Eilidh one day. The tiny cottages with their abundance of flowers in summer months line both sides of the narrow main street which wanders right down to the edges of the loch.
Luss and Loch Lomond – stunningly beautiful.
In my most recent romantic suspense novel, Return to Kilcraig, I feature two different areas of Loch Lomond. One is at Conic Hill through which runs the Highland Boundary Fault that separates the highlands from the lowlands. This is also part of the famous West Highland Way. The other area in this novel is known as Loch Lomond Shores, with its aquarium, shops and water sports right by the loch side.
But it is around my own Inverclyde where all the story threads in The Highland Lass come together and where Eilidh finds the answers to her past. In Return to Kilcraig, the contemporary village setting of Ross and Christy’s story is a fictional blend of several country villages around this part of the west of Scotland.
Many of the large cruise ships now visit the port at Greenock but you can still watch out for the oldest sea-going passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world, The Waverley, which sails down the Clyde during the summer months and maintains our links to the steamers of the past. Scotland is so rich in history, myth and legend that I look forward to setting another novel somewhere along its shores.
More about Rosemary Gemmell – A prize-winning writer, Rosemary Gemmell’s short stories, articles, and poems have been published in UK magazines, in the US, and online. She is now a historical and contemporary novelist. She has also published historical novels and contemporary novellas with a touch of mythological fantasy as Romy and two tweens books as Ros. Rosemary has a post-graduate MA in Literature and history and is a member of the Society of Authors, Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Scottish Association of Writers. She loves to dance!
The Highland Lass
Eilidh Campbell returns to her Scottish roots from America with one main aim: to discover the identity of the father she never knew. But her mother’s past in Inverclyde is a mystery with family secrets, a book of Robert Burns’ poems with a hidden letter and a photograph link to the Holy Loch at Dunoon when the American Navy were in residence. Staying with her childhood friend, Kirsty, while searching for answers, Eilidh begins to fall in love with handsome Scot Lewis Grant, but just how free is he? Together they trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns, with its echoes to her mother’s story. In short alternate chapters, Highland Mary tells her own story from 1785-6. From Dunoon, to Ayrshire and culminating in Greenock, Eilidh finds the past is closer than she realises.
Return to Kilcraig
The legacy of her beloved grandmother’s cottage in the Scottish village of Kilcraig seems like the ideal solution after Christy Morrison’s recent trauma. Until the threats begin. Can she trust her heart and allow herself to fall in love again? When Ross McKinley reluctantly welcomes Christy back to the village, he has hardened his heart against love, until they begin to renew their childhood friendship. But someone is determined Christy should go back to London. Will they find the culprit in time?
Social Media Links
Gwen and I both write Scottish-themed novels and I thought my readers/followers would like to know more about Gwen and her novels.And, how could I write a blog post in January without mentioning Robert Burns?
Lizzie, thank you for inviting me to write a blog telling you why I set most of my books in Scotland. Robert Burns’ birthday is on 25th January and this year it happens to be my granddaughter’s twenty first birthday. My grandfather was a great Burn’s fan. When he was in his nineties, even though he had lived most of his life in Yorkshire by then, his two favourite books were still Burns poetry and the bible. I do enjoy traditional poetry myself. When I first began writing fiction I included a poem at the beginning of each book. My first sagas were the four Fairlyden books and they all have a poem by Robert Burns in the front.
Although I was born and went to school in Yorkshire, I had three Scottish grandparents and a yen to come to Scotland. When I finished college I came to Dumfriesshire to work, visiting the dairy farms. I loved the countryside from the beginning, and also the buildings of local red sandstone. Later I met and married my husband, a Scottish dairy farmer and breeder of Clydesdale horses. Consequently I have lived most of my adult life in Scotland and have no regrets. We have lush green fields, hills and glens, woods and rivers, and a few lochs too, although the south west of Scotland is often overlooked in favour of the Highlands.
Authors are often advised to write about what they know but I’m still amazed when I hear of people wanting to read my books about everyday life with families and animals, the ordeals and triumphs, usually related to farm or country life.
I like modern history and often set my books around 1900 and move forward, although Dreams of Home began with a young soldier returning from the Second World War and desperate to farm. This is the only series in which I wrote five books and continue to present day with Darkest before the Dawn, and the introduction of milk robots. I like to include the changes and developments in farming and wish I had listened more to the stories my grandparents could have told me.
Some of the letters I have received have been from readers reminiscing and sharing memories, or tales, of times past. Also one reader had been an evacuee to this area and lived in a rambling, bitterly cold, manse. It is now a hotel. I do mention some local towns by name but the villages and farms are all fictional, as are my characters.
Gwen, it has been fascinating learning more about your books and the background to your writing. What a fabulous collection of books for readers to get their teeth into. I’m going to start with Return to Bonnybrae, it wounds right up my street. Here’s the blurb –
“It is the start of 1919 and Miss Rina Capel, granddaughter of the Laird of Stavondale has one ambition – to set aside her life of privilege and become a nurse. But when she is summoned back to the Bonnybrae to see her dying grandfather just before her eighteenth birthday, he reveals to her family secrets which turn her world upside down. In love with a man she can’t have, and facing marriage to a man she has never met, Rina must draw on all her reserves of strength and female guile to escape a fate to which her dissolute parents would condemn her. And what dark secret is it that her father harbours, and which threatens the estate itself? Set in the wilds of a Scotland looking to recover from the most terrible war in human history, this is a gripping tale of one woman’s attempt to give her life meaning, and to be a force for good against terrible odds. Can Rina chart a course in a world torn asunder, and can she protect the Estate from the awful consequences of her parents’ actions? And can she find love, and find a way for happiness to return to Bonnybrae?”
If you’d like to know more about Gwen and her books, follow these links
If you write Scottish-themed romances would like to appear on my blog, get in touch via email – but, in the meantime … keep writing!
This is a true story, verified by my sisters –
Ellen Humber and Phyllis Fell.
KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO’S THERE?
– Leicester circa 1964
In 1962, my family –including Granny and the dog all moved from Scotland to live in Leicester in a rambling palisaded villa. Apart from my Granny, all the adults went out to work – Mother in one of the many shoe factories dotted around Leicester and Dad on a building site as a scaffolder. I was thirteen years old and my siblings ranged below me at eight, six and four years of age respectively. We were rarely alone in the house as Granny was there to welcome us home from school and to give us our evening meal before the adults arrived in from work.
There was something spooky about that house in College Avenue, it had a long dark corridor which led from the front door to the breakfast room, scullery and kitchen at the rear. Other doors opened off the corridor giving onto a sitting room and a gloomy dining room in turn. Once, the house must have been splendid, in a Gothic sort of way; high ceilings, marble fireplaces, deep cornices and even bells to ring for the servants in each room. But to us kids it was a scary place and we didn’t like to be left on our own. In fact, there were certain rooms which the dog wouldn’t enter – without its hackles rising.
One day Granny decided to visit her brother in London which meant leaving us alone for several hours until Mother returned from the factory. Granny was very unhappy with this arrangement, but eventually agreed to visit her brother – albeit with the proviso that all four children, plus dog locked ourselves in our parents’ bedroom and stayed there until Mother came home.
Granny left, and I locked us in our temporary prison with food, drink, comics, toys, radio, the dog and a chamber pot in case of emergencies! We watched Granny walk to the end of the street and then settled down for a boring couple of hours until Mother arrived home. Time passed slowly and we tried to guess where Granny was on her journey – Luton, Bedford, St Pancras, the underground . . .
Then, the strangest thing happened.
We heard Granny’s footsteps climbing the stairs and coming along the landing towards the bedroom. The door knob turned once and then sprang back to its original position. Being kids we thought nothing of it. Ours was an old house and things were always sticking and jamming. Then, stranger still, we heard Granny calling out my name: ‘Betty. Betty,’ in her unmistakable Scottish accent. I looked at my sister Ellen for confirmation of what I’d heard and then walked over to the bedroom door and tried the handle. The door was still locked and the key was on our side, just as I’d left it. I went to unlock the door, but remembering the promise I’d made to Granny to stay put until Mother came home, I changed my mind.
My sister and I sat down on the bed and looked at each other, more puzzled than frightened. When Mother came home, we were simply glad to be allowed to run outside and play and didn’t tell her about Granny’s voice, the footsteps or the door knob turning.
Years later I brought up the subject with my sister.
‘We did hear Granny’s footsteps and her voice, didn’t we?’ I asked.
‘We did,’ my sister Ellen replied, emphatically. ‘She called out your name, twice and the door handle turned.’
We exchanged a look and shuddered, knowing that, as adults, we were only just beginning to comprehend we’d seen and heard that day. Had Granny been so worried about us being in the house alone, that she’d projecting her anxiety across the miles from London to Leicester? Or was it something ‘else’; something which wanted us to leave the safety of the bedroom and venture out on to the landing where it was waiting?
The same nameless terror which made us run down the long dark corridor to the safety of the kitchen every time – and the dog refuse to enter the large cupboard under the stairs where we played? Or, was it the old lady my father (the least fanciful of men) purported to have seen on several occasions standing at the foot of his bed looking distracted and mournful?
My sister considers herself a ‘wee bit psychic’, while I consider myself a complete pragmatist. My other sister, Phyllis, told me recently that she’d seen the door handle turn on a couple of other occasions and had been too scared to leave her bedroom. I know there must be a logical explanation for what happened and I’d feel a whole lot better if someone experienced in this field could explain it to me.
Then I could finally lay this story to rest – where it belongs.
Thank you for reading this story. Next year, maybe I’ll tell you another true story … the one where my great-grandfather (who was ‘laid out’ in his coffin on the dining room table) ‘woke up; and joined the mourners toasting his memory with whisky in front of the fire in the next room . . .
Just for fun – work out what your Hallowe’en name is and leave it in the comment box below. Mine is . . . ICY RUNER!!
Many thanks to Emma for joining me on my blog and allowing me to share this fabulous post with you. If you like Men in Kilts and novels about Scotland (good or bad), read on . . .
One of the advantages of a Kindle is that the moment you’ve finished a good book, you can download the sequel, or more by the same author, right away. E-books can also be dirt-cheap, or even free, which gives me the impetus to explore genres and authors I wouldn’t previously have tried.
One of the downsides of the Kindle is the amount of (often self-published) weirdness out there…
I’ve been addicted to Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous ‘Outlander’ series since a friend recommended them last year. They hit every button for me – amazing settings, suspenseful plots, masses of fascinating historical detail, a strong-minded heroine and a frankly swoonworthy hero. The first book has just been made into a TV series (available on Amazon Prime) and though at first I had doubts about the casting of the book’s iconic Jamie Fraser, I’ve loved every minute. I’ve been saving the last (8th) book in the series to read later, because I’m pretty sure that either Jamie or the heroine Claire is going to die, and I’m not ready to lose them just yet… so I recently decided to browse on my Kindle for something similar.
Well, I have to say, I didn’t realise ‘Men in Kilts’ were such a big thing, if you’ll excuse the innuendo… I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for a man in plaid, ever since the Highlander film in the 1980s (my husband does a pretty good Christopher Lambert impersonation), but I had no idea that Gabaldon’s books had sparked such a surge of hormone-fuelled fantasy.
There are novels in every genre – from ‘Outlander’ time-travel copycats (though I haven’t found any as good as the original) to bodice-ripping drama and contemporary romance. As you’d expect, the quality varies hugely – I soon abandoned the ‘historical’ romances, which were often unreadably awful, with hideous ‘Forsooth, ma brae lassie’ dialogue and paper-thin characters. Authors, please note: a hero with a kilt, an accent and an improbably large sword does not make up for lousy writing.
Speaking of large swords, there is a frankly incredible amount of ‘Scottish erotica’ out there (don’t tell the Scottish National Party about this – they’ll only get ideas). It seems the Highlands are positively awash with passionate Celts who will tear off their tartan at the sight of a heaving bosom.
It’s not just ladies who like the idea of a laird – kilted gay erotica is particularly popular, though queerly enough, much of it is still written by women – for women?
There’s even a sub-genre of ‘Scottish Historical BDSM Fertile Erotica’, which is a very niche interest. Dearie me.
The contemporary women’s fiction scene is generally more wholesome (and rather better-written). Lizzie Lamb’s “Tall, Dark and Kilted” is a good, fun read with likeable characters, making great use of the romantic Scottish setting. I’ve also read a couple of entertaining supernatural stories where the kilted Highlander appears in ghostly form, to break a curse or charm the repressed English heroine.
If you’re more interested in the ‘real’ history of Scotland, you’ll find literary fiction re-imagining every era from the Picts to the 1960s, or you could venture into the murky realms of crime with Scottish Noir (though, to be fair, there’s not a lot of hot kilt-action in those).
There’s so much kilted-ness to explore – I’m quite intrigued by the sound of the ‘Kilts and Quilts’ cosy mystery series, and more so by the probably dreadfully-chafed Cowboys in Kilts (c’mon guys – even Jamie Fraser wears trousers on horseback).
I’ve found Vampire Scots (do they bleed Irn-Bru?), Scottish Fairies (harking back to the magic of the standing stones in Outlander), Scottish Dragon-Shifters (Oi! Bob! Help me shift this bloody great dragon!) and even Footballers in Kilts (now that would REALLY liven up Match of the Day).
Still, I think the prize for ‘freakiest kilt-related fantasy’ and possibly the oddest book title ever, must go to “Men in Kilts with Tentacles – and the women who love them”.
I am NOT going to download that one, BTW – some things are definitely best left unexplored…
Emma Seaman lives in Devon with her young family, and is a freelance Marketing & Social Media professional. She has been writing fiction for ten years, winning awards including the Jeremy Mogford Food & Drink writing prize and the Wells International Literary Festival Award.
Her short stories have featured in eight anthologies published by Legend Press, Exeter University, The Yeovil Prize and The Harrow Press (USA), with another due this October from the Bath Short Story Award.
She finds inspiration in long walks on Dartmoor, lazy days at the beach, from the people she meets and the fascinating minutiae of everyday life.
While we’re on the subject of Men in Kilts, dear reader, let me lead you gently by the hand towards my latest Scottish themed novel – Scotch on the Rocks which is available over on Amazon as a kindle download and as a paperback.