Anne here. As some of you already know, I’ve just put a Scottish novella up for sale on the various websites — The Laird’s Bride, in e-book and paperback.
It’s the only Scottish story I’ve written. I was contracted for a short story of 12,000 words back in 2010, for the Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance (now out of print), and I wrote it hoping that those who bought it for the sake of the more well-known authors in the anthology might read my story and would like it enough to read my other books.
And though a lot of readers said they enjoyed it, they also said it was too short — and they were right. But the story stayed with me, so a couple of years later I extended it, showing the courtship of the couple and how they fell in love. It’s almost three times as long now — and it's not padding, I promise. I designed a cover and wench Andrea did the lettering for me — she’s very good with fonts — and I was about to upload it on amazon when I got a new contract that restricted my self-publishing. So it sat, unread and un-uploaded for almost ten years.
However when Berkley scheduled my next Bellaire Gardens book (which was finished in March) for publication in May 2024, the opportunity came to publish this story, otherwise I would have had no books out this year, which is not good for an author, especially now that self-publishing writers can finish a book and have it up for sale within a few weeks, and thus get a number of books out in a single year. So the Laird’s time had come. I had a new cover designed and lo, here it is.
You might wonder about an Australian writer setting a book in Scotland, but I lived in Scotland for a year or so as a child, and went to school there. When I pulled out this story and reread and reedited it, the cadences and rhythms of my childhood came back to me.
At school I quickly developed a Scottish accent — you do when every time you open your mouth your little schoolfellows fall silent and listen attentively, not so much as to what you’re saying, but how. My class knew I was coming — my father had taken up his job before Mum and my brother and I followed him — and the teacher had prepared the class with some information about Australia.
I well remember the day my little friends compassionately introduced me to rain. “Dinna fash yersel’, hen — it’s rain, just water that falls from the sky.” I thought that was strange — of course I knew about rain — but Mum explained later that they’d probably read about Australian kids our age who’d been living in the outback through a ten year drought, so they’d never seen rain.
But I was thrilled to bits when puddles in the schoolyard froze and we could go skidding and sliding over over them. Such a great game. I knew frosts, but not sheets of ice. It snowed a lot too that year — it was a very cold winter — and I loved every experience of it. Leaving for school and coming home in the dark was less delightful, I confess. (That's me in my Scottish class photo — can you pick me out?)
Not only did I soak up a lot of Scottish history and culture at school, my parents were great travellers and we hitched up the caravan almost every weekend and explored the countryside. I still have vivid memories of many of the places we visited.
I remember standing at John O’Groats and staring out to sea. We explored beaches and I still have a couple of the stones I picked up. Shingle and stone beaches were new to me — ours are mostly sand — and the sound made by the waves washing over the round stones and sending them tumbling, was magic.
My father was a keen bird-watcher, and I remember gazing up at puffins and marvelled at their cliff-side nests. (Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash) And I worried about the baby birds falling. At Loch Ness I scoured the waters for hours, binoculars clamped to my eyes (when my brother hadn’t snatched them) in the hopes that I might catch a glimpe of Nessie.
I have vivid memories of the car crawling slowly along a road over the moors in the wake of a flock of long-skirted black-faced sheep trotting along, their long fleece swinging back and forth like a muddy kilt, with a black and white collie keeping them in order. We didn’t mind the hold-up at all — we were used to mobs of sheep in Australia, but these were so different. And charming. I completely fell in love with the little black-faced lambs, especially when I spotted some twins peeping out from between clumps of heather and grass. (Photo from this site.)
I also fell for the highland cattle — the coos — with their long red fringes, big horns and solemn expressions.
Some of these experiences and images made it into the story — not many, because it’s a story, not a travelogue, but if you read it, you’ll see some of these things pop up.
Are you a fan of Scottish-set stories? Any favorites? I'll send an e-book to someone who leaves a comment on the blog.