Travels through my jewellery box

Some time ago, we wenches were talking jewellery (or jewelry depending on where you live.) It was inspired by this blog by Mary Jo.  And I mentioned some of the little pieces I was given in travels when I was a child.


Mary Jo said: “Travels through my jewellery box” would be a fabulous blog! And so, since I'm scrambling to meet a deadline, and don't have time to do a research-heavy blog, here it is. 

I was very fortunate to travel quite widely as a child, and at many places we visited, I was given a little souvenir. Mostly they are cheap little things, but I've never equated monetary value with personal value, and these little items are precious to me.

PiskieDonkeyKellsI took the photos today, using a piece of plain white paper as a background. Bizarrely it turned out blue! No idea why. Sorry about that.

In this photo at the top left, there's a little brass Cockington Piskie—yes, that's the correct spelling—from Cockington Forge in Devon. Ugly little fellow, isn't he, but he's supposed to be lucky. I vividly remember visiting that big dark old forge.

Next to it is the letter A from the Book of Kells which is in Dublin. Beautiful, isn't it? I used to wear this on my  favourite blue jumper until the jumper fell to bits. I visited the Book of Kells later on as an adult, and fell in love with it all over again.

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Sir Sean Connery – A Tribute

“Love may not make the world go round, but I must admit that it makes the ride worthwhile.” Sir Sean Connery (1930-2020)

Sean in a kiltAs we mentioned in our recent newsletter, the Wenches were all very sad to learn about the loss of the wonderful actor Sir Sean Connery, the inspiration for many romantic heroes. We started to reminisce about our favourite memories of the roles he had played, and felt it would be a fitting tribute to this real-life Scottish hero if we shared them here:-

Mary Jo – Sean Connery was one of the most charismatic and compelling actors ever, and while his recent death at 90 wasn't cutting him off prematurely, he will certainly be missed.

I've seen him in any number of movies, including various James Bond films and a memorable turn as Indiana Jones Senior in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where he was the father of the younger Indiana Jones, memorably played by Harrison Ford. But perhaps my favorite movie role of Connery was a brief, uncredited appearance as King Richard in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. When he appears at the end to Robin Hood and his men, it's as much a surprise to movie viewers to see that unmistakable face as it would have been for the forest bandits to see the real Richard. It's quite a moment, and Sean Connery played it to the hilt!

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Of Weddings and Arrows

0002Susan here, with a two-fer: two backlist ebook releases,
and two behind-the-scenes stories about them.

, two of my classic Scottish medieval romances, are now available in ebook! They're freshly edited and redesigned with gorgeous covers by Kim
Killion (scroll down to see how pretty!). The “Maiden” series has an official series title — “Celtic Nights: Lady of Legend I, II and III.” The third book – THE
SWORD MAIDEN – will be available soon as well.
Each novel in the trilogy was inspired by Celtic legends. 

SusanKing_TheStoneMaiden200THE STONE MAIDEN
is one of those personally meaningful books -– I wrote it through the ordeal of an sudden family tragedy, and the writing became
one of those rare instances in an author’s life where the creative experience is
transcendant and healing. A tidbit of historical fact inspired the story, set
in 12th century Scotland—a Highland girl must wed a Norman
knight by order of the king–yet these two willful characters refuse to give in. Long ago, land was offered to Norman knights to attract their
military strength, and foreign knights came up for land and Scottish
brides, founding new clans with French roots, such as Fraser (my own
heritage). A few foreign knights adopted the names of their
Scottish brides.

What would happen, I wondered, if Norman honor met Highland stubbornness? That’s the premise of THE STONE MAIDEN. Alainna MacLaren, a stonecarver, is the last hope of her diminished Highland clan—and the man she marries must take the clan's name before it vanishes. But the king orders Sebastien le Bret, a hardened Norman knight, to marry the lady–and there is no way he will ever give up his name for hers. Both are fiercely proud and passionate, and both must discover that love is its own legacy. I particularly love this story for lots of reasons.

Last year, something truly wonderful happened: two dear friends of my son were planning their wedding—and asked if they
could borrow the wedding scene in THE STONE MAIDEN for their own
Celtic-style ceremony. They incorporated
the wedding verses in the book (based on ancient Celtic
poetry) –- and they also did a handfasting with a rope braided in the harvest
colors of their wedding theme. I was so happy to witness these two special ones getting
married, and thrilled to see my wedding scene come to life. Here are the verses from The Stone Maiden, and a couple of photos from Kate and
Drew’s beautiful wedding:

Wed-00225  Alainna came toward Sebastien, then stepped to her left and walked around him in a
circle, brushing behind him, circling in front, and again, twice more, until
she stood before him. He held out his hands and she offered hers, joining left
to left, right to right, so their arms made a crossed loop like an interlaced design. They stood, gazes steady
upon one another. . . She
clung to his hands, drew a breath, and began: 

shade you are in summer

shelter you are in winter

rock you are

fortress you are

A shield you are about me
cherish you

help you

enfold you

promise you.

Wed-00234. . . Sebastien drew a breath,
overcome. He knew what to say, but he had not known until this moment that he would say it with such conviction. The poem that came to him was
not the one he had learned that morning, but one the bard had recited a few
nights ago.  Somehow it seemed perfect.


found in the garden

jewel, my love

eye like a star

lip like a berry

voice like a harp.

found in the meadow

bright-eyed maiden

eye like a star

cheek like a rose

kiss like honey.

is done," he whispered.  "So be
it." His 
heart leapt in a
new pattern, and he was caught in its infinite turning.

you, Drew and Kate, for giving the verses true meaning!)


SusanKing_TheSwanMaiden200The second book in the series “Celtic Nights: Lady of
Legend II” is based on the legend of a swan maiden, set in the 14th century—it’s a sequel to Laird of the Wind, a tale of the Scottish
rebellion. Juliana Lindsay, cousin to the hero of Laird, is an archer among forest rebels, captured by the
English—and Gawain Avenel is the English knight who risks his life for the
beautiful freedom fighter who turns out to be somewhat of a handful — not only is she a crack shot, but swans do whatever she wants.

There’s a fun story behind the research for this book,
which I've mentioned in a previous post here on Word Wenches – the author as arrow-catcher. 

Sometimes stacks of history books or open links through
Google are just not enough to complete the research for a book. We all bring
something more to the work than what we glean from research—and though, thanks
to graduate years in art history, I can research the heck out of anything, sometimes
we just gotta roll up our sleeves and experience something before we put it on the page. For THE SWAN MAIDEN, I wanted the hero to catch an arrow in mid-flight. I couldn’t find
any sources about it, but wanted to be sure it could be done. I thought it would be very cool for the hero to catch an arrow in the instant before
it struck the heroine.

One evening I was telling my husband about my
arrow-catching idea, and one of our sons (now a black belt) looked up from his
homework and said, "Sensei can do that." Sensei was his karate
instructor. What??A phone call to the sensei confirmed it,
and he offered to teach me how to do it myself. Umm, okay.

ArrowshandArrow catching is a lot harder than it looks. Trust me. It’s
definitely one of those Don’t Ever Try This At Home or Anywhere things.
Seriously. Unless you have an expert teaching you how to do it, and there
aren’t many of those out there, it's not something to mess with.

My husband and I showed up, and at first Sensei tossed a bo (a wooden staff) toward us to catch in one hand, out to the side. We progressed to hand-tossed
arrows, and then to blunt arrow shafts released from a bow a few feet away. Thunk, grab, oh hey, that’s easy, even I, a myopic writer, could do it.

Then he got out the REAL bow, and the REAL arrows.
And he backed up about thirty feet.

There’s nothing quite like facing a tenth-degree black belt, an ex-Marine, a massive towering guy, as he raises a real nasty looking bow nocked
with a very sharp arrow – and aims it straight at you. “Don’t worry,” says
he, “I’m not going to shoot you.” Right, cuz I’m not moving.

SusancatchingarrowHe let the arrow go. It zoomed right past me, though I
snatched for it. He released another. Zooooooopp. A blur. Another. Zzzzzzip.
Missed that—and with the next one, I touched feathers!  Zzzzzzzzzzzip.  More feathers! Then I reached out and grabbed the shaft smack in the middle. After that, I caught them consistently. The secret is in the timing, and senses on alert, a bit of coordination, a little courage, and making sure to listen for the release more than watch the thing. 

My husband, I have to admit, caught an arrow on the
first try. Argh! But I walked out of the dojo that day with a great research
experience—and a feeling of achievement that I hadn't expected. And Sensei was
so pleased (and found it so very amusing) that he asked me to demonstrate it
at dojo parties. Yup—we took it on the road. Here’s a photo – that's little ol' me by the Christmas tree. I caught that arrow too.    

The third book in the series, THE SWORD MAIDEN, will be out soon–and that has an amazing cover too, that I can't wait to share!

Have you been to a Celtic wedding, or had one yourself? Have you ever caught an arrow, or thought about it?  (I know, those questions are SO related, right!) — comments and thoughts welcome! I'll be giving away a print copy of the original paperback of THE STONE MAIDEN or THE SWAN MAIDEN (winner's choice) to one lucky commenter! 



A Professor Studies Scottish Romance

24232296.thbSusan here. The Word
Wenches are so pleased to welc
ome Dr. Euan Hague, associate professor of Geography
at DePaul University, to the blog today!
Professor Hague has a special interest in
historical romance—-he's currently researching the phenomenon of Scotland-set literature
among the Scottish-American diaspora, focusing on novels written by authors exploring Scotland and Scottish culture in their work—which includes the wide array of Scottish romances.

EuanHagueEuan Hague is not only an
academician—he is a Scotsman transplanted to the U.S.
Throughout his career he has closely studied the aspects and expressions of the
Scottish-American diasporic community. And, fancy words aside, it's apparent he’s becoming a proponent of Scottish historical romance.

A few months ago, Professor Hague
contacted me to talk about fiction set in Scotland–and Scottish romance–as part of his research for his essay in an anthology for
Edinburgh University Press regarding the Scottish cultural dispersion. Originally from Edinburgh, he left home to pursue an academic
career and is now Associate Professor of Geography at DePaul University. In addition to lecturing, he has collaborated on two books and is a regular contributor to
academic debates about American perceptions of Scotland. He has appeared
on both NPR and the BBC to discuss Scottish nationalism, identity and the
Scottish-American diaspora. He is on the Board of the St. Andrew's Society of
Illinois and in his spare time he is a keen soccer player and father
to two daughters.

Susan: Welcome to Word Wenches, Euan! We’re delighted that
you are joining us to share your research and your thoughts about Scottish historical romance.

Euan Hague: It’s great
to be here with the Wenches! And that's not a sentence I ever thought that I
would write during my academic career. 🙂  The one piece missing from my
puzzle is more reader input into the discussion. Some of the writers I
interviewed shared a few reader comments with me, which were fascinating, and I look forward to gathering more reader opinion today at Word Wenches.

SK:  Tell us something about your project. How did you,
as a professor of Geography, become interested in Scottish historical romance
as an academic research topic?

EH: I moved to the United States to do my Ph.D. at Syracuse
University in 1994. When I arrived, everything seemed very foreign, but pretty
soon everyone was asking me about Scotland, after “Rob Roy” and “Braveheart”
came out in 1995. I remember going to see “Rob Roy” in the Carousel Mall movie
theater in Syracuse while wearing a kilt! As a Ph.D. student back in
the days before Google and iPads, I spent a lot of time in used book stores. As
I was researching my Ph.D. on Scottish-American views and representations of
Scotland, I began noticing romance novels with kilted Highlanders on the covers. I didn’t do any writing on it at that time, but the topic stuck
in my head and I thought that would be something interesting to look at in the future.

Laird of the wind

One of Susan's kilted heroes

When I moved to Chicago to DePaul University, I had published a great
deal of my previous research in academic journals and had become known as the
‘Scots in the USA’ guy. That led Scottish journalist David Stenhouse to contact
me when he was visiting Chicago around 2005 or 2006, and he’d recently
published in the Scottish press about romance novels.

At the same time I was approached by University of
Edinburgh’s Berthold Schoene to write a chapter about Scottish writing in the
United States for The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature.
I decided to go back and look at those plaid-wearing Highlanders. I went to a used book store and picked up Sue-Ellen Welfonder’s
Devil in a Kilt,
Julie Garwood’s The Wedding and The Secret, Julie Moffat’s The
Thorn and the Thistle
and Janet Bieber’s Highland Bride. The result was a
chapter in Berthold’s book in 2007, but I always thought that there was enough
material for a sequel. When Duncan Sim asked me to contribute to his new
book on the Scottish diaspora, I took up the topic again–and now I’m thinking
of this could be a trilogy! I’m finding out that romance novels are both big business
and are really interesting in how they depict Scotland


Isle of Arran: Photo, Euan Hague

People in Scotland
don’t really know about these romances, so it is a great topic to explore.

Why is all this Geography? Well, Geography has
changed a lot since people took it in third grade and learned state capitals!
Today, academic geographers examine how places and landscapes are constructed,
represented and understood. Why do places look like they do, and how are places
similar and different. This can mean conducting digital analysis of satellite
data showing deforestation, exploring urban planning and development policies
and their impacts on housing, learning about mountain and river formation or,
in this case, asking how literature depicts countries. It is a really exciting
field. Geography is a perspective, looking at things through the lens of place.
We do a bit of history, economics, sociology, literary studies, ethnic studies,
science, digital mapping, political science, international relations -  a bit of everything!  

SK:  How are you going about the research?  Have
you talked to authors, and are you reading Scottish romances and other
Scottish-set books? 

EH:  I’ve been reading some of the books. Most recently I
finished Blythe Gifford’s Return of the Border
Highlandersmercy Warrior
and as she lives here
in Chicago, I was able to meet and interview her. She recommended speaking with
Terri Brisbin, who I phoned and then picked up a copy of The Highlander’s
Silent Touch.
I spoke with Margaret
, who kindly sent me a copy of The Warrior. Also, my colleague here at DePaul, Prof. Alec Brownlow, recommended I talk to a
friend of his family, Word Wench Susan Fraser King! So I called Susan too, but first
made sure to read Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland.

SK: (Thank you!) What does your research reveal about Scottish
literature and romance in particular?  

Hague_1995_photo (1)

Euan in a kilt, 1995

 Of course, I’m finding that Highlanders are very popular, as
are feisty heroines, but I’m also learning that romance authors know more about
Scottish history than I do! When I was in High School in Edinburgh in the 1980s,
we were taught about Scotland after 1760, and my previous academic studies on
Scottish identity really explored the Jacobite period and the era of Walter
Scott, I’d say 1715-1822. Blythe knows more about Scotland in 1528-29 than
anyone I’ve ever met; and Susan as much about the 11th century!

Another thing I’ve been thinking about are those covers showing
muscle-bound shirtless men wearing a kilt and a strip of plaid over one
shoulder – you’d die of pneumonia wearing that outfit in Scotland! I was there
all last July and it rained every day. I never once saw the sun!


(Does this guy look cold to you?)


SK:  What did you expect to find when you first began
the project — and has any result surprised you?

EH:  I think that I expected to find what I’d call “tartanry”
stereotypes of Scotland – kilts, haggis, heather, lochs, castles – stirred into
somewhat formulaic romance plots. I certainly never expected time travel like
in Karen Marie Moning’s The Highlander’s Touch or detailed discussions of
medieval Scotland’s political and religious institutions as in Susan's mainstream historicals. I think the biggest
surprise has been the determination of the authors I’ve talked with to get
Scottish history right.

SK: With all that you're learning about romance — and having the advantage of being a kilted Scottish guy yourself — are you tempted to write your own Scottish romance?

EH:  I have been. I wrote a chapter about a woman time travelling
from Chicago to historic Scotland, but now I think I don’t know enough about
Scottish history to be able to finish it!

SK:  I think you'd do a great job–and just think how interesting your geography and landscape settings would be! What are some of your favorite places in Scotland?


Edinburgh Castle: Photo, Euan Hague

EH:  Well, I still have family and friends in Edinburgh, so I go
there every year and I love it. Seeing Edinburgh Castle, especially on a
late fall afternoon with a sprinkling of snow glistening in the sunset is just
a wonderful view. I like Greyfriar’s Churchyard in Edinburgh with all the
medieval gravestones. And being from Edinburgh means I’m meant to hate Glasgow — but the
Necropolis, People’s Palace and Kelvingrove there are great to visit. I also
went to the Island of Arran for the first time a few years ago and that was
spectacular. Typically when going
to the UK it means flying to London or


Isle of Arran: Photo, Euan Hague

Manchester in England, so I love the
moment when the M6 highway crosses the border and becomes the M74, and then the
drive through small towns in the Borders and on up into Edinburgh always makes
me smile nostalgically.

SK:  Now that you've looked at the interest in
Scottish-set romance from an academic standpoint — why do you think it is such
a consistently popular sub-genre?  

EH:  Ha! The million dollar question. The men in kilts? I know
how that works – I’ve worn a kilt!  I think Scottish romances allow readers
to experience a different time and place, but one that is not so foreign that
it is difficult to understand. I think that using pre-modern Scottish clans also enables
an emphasis on family relationships and genealogy which I think attracts
readers both as romance fans and Americans. In my experience, genealogy is a
more popular interest here in the U.S. than it is back in Scotland.

SK:  What's next for your research in Scottish romance?

EH: I’d love to
hear directly from your readers what they think of Scottish romance! Why do you like it (or not) — what are some of your favorites, and which books should I read next?

SK: Readers, authors, Wenches too — do you love Scottish romance, or do you not love it particularly … and why? Tell Prof. Hague what you think! He may want to use your comments in his chapter (if he does, we will contact you).

EH: Thanks, everyone –this is the most fun I've had writing an academic piece in a while. And thanks for inviting me to Word Wenches!

Tell us what you think about Scottish romance! And there's a prize in it for someone — I'll be sending one of my books to a reader chosen at random from among the commenters today and tomorrow.