Today, I'm welcoming my good friend and HWW Michelle Willingham back to the Wenches to talk about her new foray into history. Michelle's Medieval Irish heroes have captured the heats of romance readers and won critical acclaim, including a RITA nomination for Taming Her Irish Warrior in 2010. However, in her new series, which debuts in North America next month with Claimed By A Highland Warrior, she journeys into new territory, heading north and east to Scotland! The new setting naturally involved lots of new research and travel, and Michelle is here to share some of what she learned. So, without further ado, I shall pass the pen to her!
The Scottish Wars of Independence have been romanticized over the years, both with the stories of William Wallace (depicted in the movie "Braveheart") and the idea of the Scots fighting for their freedom from English rule. I'll admit that I was drawn to the time period because of the raw, Highland warriors.
Upon researching the wars, I discovered that English garrisons were set up all over Scotland to help Edward I gain an advantage. The king laid siege to many castles, seeking to dominate and destroy Scottish rebels. He used newer technology, such as a trebuchet he nicknamed "War Wolf" when they hurled large boulders at Stirling Castle in 1304. Sulphur and saltpeter, the elements of gunpowder, were combined to help bring down the walls.
This past summer, my husband and I went on a research trip to Scotland. One of the things I learned about the UK is that their roads are NOT the same as U.S. highways. A location that's 100 miles away could very easily take four hours to reach. But despite our GPS (which mistakenly believed we were driving through a cow pasture), it was fun to brave the one-lane roads, taking our lives into our hands as we passed the tractors. I spent hours in the Edinburgh museum, photographing what artifacts I could and asking the guides questions about medieval weapons and clothing. Interestingly enough, the few surviving medieval artifacts were crosiers and other religious items. There were almost no everyday pieces on display. Perhaps the Highlanders valued their clan and the people more than "things," or perhaps they were primarily made of wood and didn't survive.
A few times, we took the "scenic" route, where the streets had no name and the sheep wandered into the road. We stopped in places where there were no phone or power lines, and when we reached the Highlands, it was like going back in time.
Although the majority of the battles were not held in the Highlands, I chose to set my fictional clan, the MacKinlochs, a few miles outside of Glencoe. This was partly because I wanted them to somewhat removed from the worst of the fighting, and yet, they would still have been faced with the English garrisons establishing minor fortresses to help Edward I.
In Claimed by the Highland Warrior, the heroine Nairna MacPherson was married at the age of fifteen to Bram MacKinloch. They spent only a single night together in 1298 before Bram's fortress was attacked by the English. Young and hot-headed, Bram charged in to meet the enemy and was taken as a prisoner of war.
In most cases, medieval prisoners were either ransomed or killed if they proved to be of no use. But I wanted to create a longer separation between my characters, with years apart. They needed to grow and mature from childhood sweethearts into a strong hero and a plucky heroine. It occurred to me that the prisoners of war could be used as labor forces, to build stone walls around the English strongholds or possibly even more permanent structures. And so, I doomed my poor hero to be imprisoned for many years alongside his younger brother Callum, as a slave to an English Earl. (Yes, I am a mean author. Yes, Bram is a tormented hero. Who wouldn't be, if you had to lift rocks all day long?)
When Bram is reunited with his wife, he's tormented by the nightmares of his imprisonment and his inability to free his brother. He can't quite let go of his survivor
9;s guilt, but Nairna helps him to overcome his past and they do fall in love again.
The story of a marriage reunion with a prisoner of war isn't a new one, but it offers so many emotional levels to explore. What's it like when the man you married is now a virtual stranger? How do you merge your life with his and try to make the marriage work when you haven't seen each other in seven years?
I'm giving away a signed copy of Claimed by the Highland Warrior to one lucky commenter. Just tell me, if you were separated from your significant other, what would you miss the most? Or if you don't have someone in your life, what traits do you value? For me, I'd miss the way my husband can look at me and sense what I'm thinking. That, and I'd miss him opening jars for me.<G>