Anne here, wishing you all the best for 2011. Every New Year, when I hear Auld Lang Syne, my Scots blood stirs. I've had a love affair with Scotland all my life, even though my original Scottish ancestor arrived here in the 1880's. That side of the family is prone to poetry and, courtesy of Great Grandpa Dunn's influence, we grew up with Rabbie Burns quotations and recited the Selkirk Grace before dinner:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And so the Lord be thankit.
So when my Dad got the chance to live and work in Scotland for a year — and take us with him — he seized it. I was eight, and I attended the local primary school. Here I am with my Scottish classmates, in the middle of the second front row.
There was a resurgence of Scottish nationalism at the time and it fed my fascination with all things Scottish. I devoured everything I could on Scottish history and Scottish stories and legends and Scottish music.
Every second weekend we'd hitch up the caravan and head off to explore Scotland. We travelled its length and breadth, visiting great castles, crumbling ruins, austere little kirks, misty glens, and windswept islands. I scoured the grey surface of Loch Ness, looking for Nessie, cautiously offered handfuls of grass to horned highland cattle peering out from behind long russet fringes, and wanted desperately to adopt a wee black-faced lamb that had been orphaned and which the farmer let me feed from a bottle. It was a magic time. My siblings and I also acquired excellently broad Perthshire accents fairly quickly — I wanted rid of the label, the wee Australian lass. (My brother and I maintained our accents in private long after we'd returned to Australia. It was a great way to have conversations that were unintelligible to others.)
Yet I've never written a Scottish-set story. I did have plans for one once, but my editor at the time was English and could see nothing at all romantic about Scotland or Scotsmen and firmly squashed the idea. Scotsmen were unromantic and Scotland had bad weather and midges. Regency England, she said, would suit me much better. And I have to say, Regency England has suited me very well.
But when Trisha Telep invited me to write a short story for the Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance, I jumped at the chance. And I had a lot of fun with it, too.
It's always a bit of a mystery to me where my stories come from. I tossed ideas and situations around,and browsed through images of Scotland, and for some reason I kept coming back to this image.
I love highland sheep, with their long swishing skirts of wool and their dear little black-faced lambs.
And slowly, a story coalesced…
It's a classic premise: my hero, Cameron, is laird in name only — his inheritance is in the hands of his uncle until Cameron turns thirty, or marries. His uncle is spending money like water and nothing Cameron says will stop him. Cameron storms out, swearing to marry the first eligible woman he meets…
So Cameron sets off, followed by his two cousins, who've bet on the outcome of the vow — and taken a wee dram or three of The Good Stuff along the way…
Of course, the first woman Cameron meets is entirely unsuitable…. on the surface. Not that he can see much of her surface — he's run her and her sheep into a bog (which is where that gorgeous picture came in) and she's covered in mud.
But a vow is a vow, and Cameron's never broken his word in his life.
However there's more to Jeannie Macleay than meets the eye… And she's no pushover.
Here's an excerpt:
The girl scrutinised his face, then turned to look at each of his cousins. "Marriage?" she said eventually. "You're proposing marriage to me? To me?"
Cameron nodded. "Aye."
In her dirty, mud-streaked face, her blue eyes gleamed bright with suspicion. "Why?"
Cameron shrugged. "I must marry someone. Why not you?" It was ridiculous when said aloud, but with the eyes of his cousins on him, he wasn't going to back down. He'd never broken his word yet.
But he might not have to. The girl could still refuse. He waited. Down the road the girl's sheepdog barked. A sheep baaed in response.
"You're tetched in the head," she told him. "You canna mean such a thing. Why, you never set eyes on me before today."
"It sounds mad, I know, but it's an honest offer I'm making ye," Cameron told her.
Stunned, Jeannie Macleay chewed on her lip and stared at the solemn young man in front of her. He was asking her to marry him? It couldn't possibly be true. He probably wouldn't even recognize her if he met her again—she was all over mud, anyway. He was drunk, or tetched in the head, but… Marriage? The thought gave her pause.
She would have married almost anyone to get away from Uncle Ewen and the sheep. And suddenly, like something out of a dream, here was this tall, beautiful young man, asking her.
He'd wiped his face clean of mud. His cheekbones and jaw might have been cut with a blade, they were so perfect and sharp. His nose was bold and straight as a sword and his mouth firm and unsmiling. And his chin … her mother always used to say a man with a firm chin could be relied on.
Warrior stock, no doubt, like many folk in the highlands, of Viking descent. His hair was brown and sun-streaked yet his eyes weren't Viking blue, but hazel. They watched her steadily, but she sensed an intensity beneath the calm manner. He was well off, too, going by the quality of his clothes and his horse.
God knew why he'd even looked twice at her, with her in her uncle's old coat and boots and covered in mud, but he had. And try as she might, she could not dismiss it. She pinched herself, hard, to be sure it wasn't a dream.
"I don't know you from Adam," Jeannie said to silence the clamor in her head.
"My name is Cameron Fraser." Fraser. It was a common enough name around here. Oh Lord. She ought not to even consider his proposal. The poor lad was no doubt a wee bit soft in the head, and his friends were too drunk to realize what he was doing.
But she was only human.
The choices loomed large in her head; life with Uncle Ewen, the stingiest, gloomiest, dourest man in all of Scotland— or life with this tall, solemn young man. The rest of her life spent on the moors, half the time cold, wet and hungry, looking after Uncle Ewen's sheep — or marriage to this beautiful young man who was probably tetched in the head to be offering marriage to her on so little acquaintance.
No choice at all. People said better the devil you knew. Not Jeannie.
"Do ye have a house?" she asked. "I do." "Would I be its mistress?" It was the summit of her dreams — to have a home of her own, to be beholden to no-one. To belong.
He nodded. "My mother died when I was a bairn. You'd be the woman of the house."
The woman of the house. There it was, her dream laid out for her. All she had to do was to say yes. She swallowed.
* * * * *
Mine is just one of twenty-one stories in the collection. It's a fabulous read. The Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance – edited by Trisha TelepReleased TODAY in the USA, Jan. 27th in the UK
So what about you — do you like Scottish romances? Long to visit Scotland? Fancy a man in a kilt? Or do you agree with my former editor, that Scotland and Scottish men are not at all romantic.