Father-Daughter Fiction

October 1, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

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Image 3I have been in “radio silence” for the last weeks while working pretty long hours to get a first draft of That Autumn in Edinburgh finished by October 1, and–glory-of-glories–I managed to do it! Next up? Starting on page one to do a polish (or two…or three…) and hoping that I can make the deadline of getting this second novel in the “Four Seasons Quartet” published before the end of the year…perhaps by December 1.Harlan_Ware_circa_1950

Meanwhile, I heard from a very good writer and reporter who recently wrote an initial blog about a film made from a novel that my father, Harlan Ware, wrote called Come, Fill the Cup starring James Cagney, Raymond Massey, and Gig Young. The translation of the book-to-movie is a rather involved story–with some great photographs–and Moira Finnie has done a terrific job telling this rather tortuous tale.

A few days after she posted it, she tracked me down with a few questions, which I answered, including some family photographs of my own, and soon a second blog appeared. I thought both of them might be of interest to some of you classic movie buffs!

That Autumn EdinburghSo enjoy…while I’ll get back to work on this novel (see new cover on left!)…which would make a terrific movie, in my unbiased opinion…

Writing a Novel? The Details Count…

July 22, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

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Image 3Anyone who has not actually “gone the distance” writing a novel might imagine that authors sit home and conjure what’s on the page of their works-in-progress out of thin air.

Well, perhaps some do–and Internet search capability has certainly made fact-checking a lot easier these days–but for me, the reality of creating fiction…even contemporary fiction…demands a fair amount of legwork.9169072399_2997ef1c3d_c

Take my most recent trip to Scotland to prepare to write a contemporary sequel to my eighteenth century historical, Island of the Swans that was first published in 1989. The new novel, That Autumn in Edinburgh, takes place 250 years after the original book ends. The back-story has to do with the textile weaving industry for which Scotland is justly renowned. For me, as a former reporter for ABC TV and Radio in Los Angeles for more years than I like to admit, there is simply no way to learn about an industry other than to go there and see for myself.

9157107170_fed8b89cb4_hSo, first stop on my recent research trip was Floors Castle near Kelso to see the wonderful fabrics used in so many of the fabulously furnished rooms in this ancestral home built for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe in 1721.
Image The Flemish Gobelins tapestries came to Floors Castle via the American Heiress Mary Goelet, “Duchess May,” who married the 8th Duke of Roxburghe and literally plastered the walls with these beautiful hangings her family had imported from Belgium to Newport, Rhode Island, and then brought back to Scotland. I wanted to see for myself how these grand Scottish houses were furnished–and with what textiles.

url-1To be sure, I saw plenty of exquisite silks, satins and brocades, but where were the wonderful Scottish tartans and tweeds that so often decorated the hunting lodges and castles in Scotland? And most of all, I wanted to see the manufacturing mills.IMG_0219

Well, off to Borders Textile Towerhouse museum in Hawick I went to get an initial introduction to the world of weaving. There I gained a solid grasp of Scotland’s proud industrial past as well as learned about the process of making wool fabrics from shearing, carding, dyeing, and spinning the wool before the process of weaving or knitting is begun, and then finishing the end product–whether a kilt or cashmere sweater.

9169385717_4044b9babe_cNext stop: Johnstons of Elgin, St. Andrews, and Hawick. Since I was already in Hawick, I talked my way into a tour at the Cashmere Visitor Centre where a very informative young woman took me through the plant and explained how modern technology was being married to ancient practices to make the finest and most luxurious woolen products in the world.Image 2

In nearby Selkirk, I made an appointment to have a private tour at one of the largest mills remaining in Scotland, although the general public is welcome to sign up for “The Lochcarron Experience” when in the Scottish Borders, south of Edinburgh.

9171109676_36cbb654f4_cDesigner Leah Robertson gave up an entire morning to give me a thorough grounding in her world. She generously did this just a few days before she was due to fly to New York to meet with clients whose names you’d recognize and display to these buyers the beautiful fabrics made at the enormous plant in Selkirk, just up the road from Johnstons.IMG_0549_2

Leah explained the process of making tartan from the stage of either following an ancient pattern of a vintage plaid like that of the MacDonald’s, to the newest tartans, such as one designed in the late Princess Diana’s honor.

9157702606_7dbddd4daa_nThe week before, when I was in Edinburgh, I’d heard that the nearly one hundred-year-old-company had just been bought by a corporation based in South Korea. Here was a story facing so many legacy firms in Scotland unfolding right before my eyes: old-line companies being purchased by global operators–mostly from the Far East.9155456627_9559490473_n

The fear always is that eventually, entire operations in Scotland might be moved out of the country, once the foreign purchasing company learned all the “tricks of the trade.” I’d already seen labels in Italy that read “Designed in Italy”–but the items were actually made in China, Thailand, or Malaysia. So far, however, Lochcarron goods continue to be made in Scotland.

9168694437_7543cd5722_cSuddenly, I had my “back story,” which would be about a small, traditional family tartan mill in Scotland struggling to stay alive in the face of global competition and the need for modernization. A young Scottish-American designer would discover that she and the scion of an old-line Scottish textile company have some very interesting ancestors in common and…9174937043_858553e726_c

Well, you’ll just have to wait for the novel after That Summer in Cornwall to be finished later this year to find out what happens next! However, my evolving notion about the Scottish part of the story seemed an even better idea when I visited DC Dalgliesh, the last textile mill on my research list.

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Founded in 1947, D.C. Dalgliesh had recently been purchased by a Scottish entrepreneur named Dr. Nick Fiddes who has big plans for the little operation in Selkirk. His manager, Christine Payne, kindly showed us around, pointing out the treadle looms that had once been powered by foot, later electrified, and now in need of continuing maintenance.

IMG_0560_2All these small but cascading factlets are the kind an author simply cannot find merely by putting subjects in the Search box.

And when it comes to writing convincingly–whether fact or fiction–in my world, the details do matter. It’s a compact I make with my reader: If you buy my books, I’ll try my best to get the facts right.

The Queen Honors an Author

July 4, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

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IMG_0519We’d heard the rumors. On June 17th, when we had an “advance peek” of Sir Walter Scott‘s fantastical creation, Abbotsford, in the Scottish Borders south of Edinburgh, word was that “a member of the Royal Family” would be honoring the reopening of the castle built in the early 19th century and which was inhabited by members of his family until 2004._68532656_hi018537072

And sure enough, the rumors were correct. None other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II appeared today, July 4th, at the celebration of an 11.5 million pound renovation that took hundreds of skilled workers and is the culmination of seven years of planning, fundraising and restoration, along with the opening last year of a modern visitor center and an excellent museum about Scott’s life and literary works.

501px-Sir_Walter_Scott_-_RaeburnConsidered a key figure in the development of the modern historical novel, Scott and his life were of particular interest to me, thanks to the connection of the heroine of my first historical novel Island of the Swans –Jane Maxwell (1749-1812) who eventually became the 4th Duchess of Gordon–and her link to Scott’s family, whose last member to live in the house was Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott.IMG_0365

Now that I am embarked on a contemporary sequel, That Autumn in Edinburgh, that will reveal, 250 years after the fact, what eventually happened to Jane Maxwell and the great love of her life (not the Duke of Gordon!) known as the “Lost Lieutenant,” I needed to interview Jason Dyer, Managing Director of Abbotsford, who headed up this major renovation of Scott’s home and gardens and is an expert in all aspects of Sir Walter’s amazing life.

IMG_0522Despite his crushing schedule, Dyer spent a morning providing me with a personal tour of both the house and the extraordinarly beautiful grounds (Scott had acquired nearly a thousand acres over the years), to say nothing of glimpses of knights in shining armor and magnificent examples of heraldry throughout the house.IMG_0524

It was a great privilege to be given a private tour of Scott’s inner sanctum two weeks prior to the Queen’s visit when workers were still madly painting, positioning artifacts in their rightful places after having been cleaned and restored, and generally racing to meet the deadline of today’s grand opening July 4th.

IMG_0523On June 17th, we were shown Scott’s library/office containing some nine thousand volumes and where he wrote poetry, short story collections, and some two dozen novels. Scott’s best known works are Ivanhoe, Waverly, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, The Bride of Lammermore, and The Heart of Midlothian. The icing on the cake, however, was our rare opportunity to see his private living quarters (on that day still in mid-restoration) where a fire protection safety meeting was in progress among the staff! Ab-Weddings309

Abbotsford, which has been called a fairy palace (one can even get married there, now), is definitely worth a detour as it says in the Guide Michelin. A great architectural marvel that started life as a humble farmhouse called “Cartleyhole” in 1811, the name was changed to commemorate the monks of nearby Melrose Abbey who once owned the land and use to cross (“ford”) the river adjacent to the property. It was Sir Walter Scott who spearheaded the search for the Scottish crown jewels, hidden by Cromwell and eventually found by Scott’s team of sleuths in the bowels of Edinburgh Castle. A grateful Prince Regent (later George IV) bestowed on Scott a baronetcy and invited him to “stage-manage” his visit to Scotland with only three weeks’ notice!

_67965788_george_kilt_royal_collScott even managed to get his patron into a kilt–an object of clothing that had been banned as seditious by George IV’s forebears after the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Stuart) to regain the throne in 1745. All was forgiven after the Royal Visit, and the wearing of one’s family tartan has since been adopted by the Scottish diaspora wherever they might live around the globe._68531957_hi018537081

Today’s visit by Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly pleased Her Royal Highness, given her fondness for lovely landscapes and Scotland itself where the family spends a portion of each year at Balmoral. Queen Elizabeth’s ancestress, Queen Victoria, reputedly used Abbotsford as inspiration for the romantic castle she built there.

imgresPerhaps the opening of Abbotsford in its refurbished grandeur will remind the world just why Sir Walter Scott deserves such a lasting legacy. The Scots themselves have continued to revere this literary giant. After all, he’s the only writer I know of who is memorialized on paper money. His image is on every single bill of Scottish currency…

What Tartan Should I Wear?

June 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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imageOne of the joys of this particular trip to Europe is that I could combine research for That Autumn in Edinburgh (the follow-on novel to That Summer in Cornwall ) with a search for some of my husband and my families’ more obscure tartan patterns. In our joint two clans, we have the Scottish names McCullough, McVicker, McAllister/Alexander, McGann, Hunter, Pattison, Harris, Brown, Gibbs, Forester, and Bell.260px-Maxwell_tartan_(Vestiarium_Scoticum)

My husband Tony’s surname is “Cook,” and he always assumed it was of solid, English origin.

“Oh, indeed not,” his late father, Howard Cook, declared emphatically a number of years ago. “We were the MacCooks, but they lopped off the Mac to make us sound more American.”

I speedily went online and did a search for tartan names and found it–voila–as “Cook/MacCook.”

And then, long after we were married, we discovered that we both had the name “Bell” in our family lines. Turns out on this trip that that we learned there are a number of Bell regional tartans, but the most colorful one both Cook and Ware family members have been emailing me about has prompted them to ask if we all could coordinate and make a single, combined order for yardage? (I imagine there may be a number of sofas and upholstered arm chairs dotting California’s interior landscape soon…)image

The answer was given me: yes we can make a special order, and so can many tartan-loving souls by contacting D.C. Dalgliesh, one of the last traditional mills remaining in operation that are willing to do custom orders for the lesser known patterns–and will do a “run” for fewer than 30 meters, when most mills won’t bother with a set-up for less than that amount of yardage–and prices vary widely from mill to mill.

imageThe sad truth, we discovered as we made our ways through the stunning Tweed Valley where the textile trade once thrived, is that many of the mills that had manufactured tartans and other woolens for some two centuries have fallen to the onslaught of cheap, often inferior goods manufactured in the Far East. Other companies have, themselves, sold out to overseas manufacturers who apparently desire the cachet of a “Made in Scotland” label to further their global reach.image

Just recently, E-Land of South Korea bought Lochcarron weavers and the sister-company, Peter Scott, a cashmere operation based in the Scottish Borders region. So far, everything made in these factories appears to be of the highest quality, though some of the goods are already being designed with the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean markets and sensibilities in mind.

imageInterestingly, some indigenous Scottish textile companies that are managing to survive and even thrive, such as Johnstons of Elgin (and Hawick, south of Edinburgh and having last week earned the Royal Warrant), tend to be the ones catering to the high-end, luxury market that demands top quality merchandise–and can recognize it when they see it. With price usually no object, these buyers want items made in Scotland by the Scottish! One other very noteworthy development is a company called ScotWeb that offers many varieties of Scottish goods for online purchase.image

Behind a modest wood stairway in Edinburgh leading up to a large warehouse, Dr. Nick Fiddes is sourcing genuine Scottish goods to customers based all over the globe. He is also a tech wizard offering his expertise to a quasi governmental agency, the Scottish Register of Tartans, to create a giant database of known tartans (and the “recipes” to make them on existing looms) to help the diaspora of Scots living in the far corners of the globe to track down their family tartans or buy goods with obvious Scottish origins. This was the same database where I found the unusual version of the Bell tartan.

imageScotweb recently purchased the old-school weaving company, DC Dalgliesh, that owns perhaps the largest library of tartan patterns in the world and will also help a customer design a brand new tartan for a family or business entity desiring one of their very own.image

A big push, thanks–rather ironically, it seems to me–to Bronx-born garment and home furnishing designer Ralph Lauren is the use of tartans in American home furnishings. On this trip I discovered that the RL label even plays big in the stately homes and manors here in Scotland.

But more on that fascinating story in a future blog post…

Fly-on the-Wall Novel Research

June 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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imageOne of the goals of my research trip to Scotland for That Autumn in Edinburgh was to understand the trials and perils of having inherited a family woolen textile business and an historic home in the modern age. To understand the latter, I set out for Traquair House, the seat of the Maxwell Stuart family and the oldest, continuously inhabited home in Scotland.image

As I drove through the spectacular gates of the grounds nestled in the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders, south of Edinburgh, the “sunny intervals” were smiling on this impressive structure surrounded by acres of beautiful countryside and 5 separate farms belonging to the estate. The 21st Lady of Traquair is distantly related to Jane Maxwell of Monreith, who became the celebrated 4th Duchess of Gordon–and the heroine of my biographical historical novel, Island of the Swans from which I will spin a modern tale set some 200 years later!

imageThe house–whose owners, like so many in possession of these massive family homes–now offers accommodation to the public…and in stunningly grand style. But what is it like, I wondered, to have strangers sleeping in your beds and wandering about the front and back yards? In the case of Traquair, visitors could easily be swallowed up by the huge maze that takes up nearly an acre at the back of the house.image But what of the burdens for the modern-day titled person who inherited these piles of stones–perhaps without sufficient capital to sustain them? They still must keep the hedges trimmed, the linen washed every day to be ready for the arrival of the next visitors, and have breakfast cooked each morning for their discerning and not-so-discerning houseguests.

imageHow does the lady of the house cope with the weight of all that family history on her shoulders? Just how crushing are the death duties that come due when the older generation dies off and the next is faced with decisions about whether to keep the place going, give it to the government to look after, create a non-profit trust or museum property, or turn it into a (hopefully) profit-making enterprise?

And what about family members who, by an accident of birth, are not in line to inherit, but love a family home and its surroundings nevertheless, and often are envious and “unhelpful” when difficult decisions are made about the place where they grew up?

imageFor me, a former reporter for twenty-odd years for ABC radio and TV in Los Angeles, I find I simply can’t write about a place unless I see it for myself. Over the years I have trained myself to be “a fly on the wall” and observe the scene around me and allow the facts and the stories people tell me on these trips to take the plot wherever that newly-acquired information leads.image

When I start out conjuring a new novel, I usually have some vague idea of the characters and the nubbin of a plot, but what actually happens in the story tends to spring forth organically, based on what I discover on these journeys. How did the people live in the past; how do they live now? What are the social and economic forces at work in the modern era, as opposed to when life was very different for the wealthy and plain, ordinary folk?

imageI am always amazed and very grateful for the “kindness of strangers” willing to meet with me and talk to me about these subjects. A typical example was this week’s adventure when the 21st Lady of Traquair, Catherine Maxwell Stewart, graciously agreed to meet me in the breakfast room for an interview about her mother’s and her decision to carry on at Traquair House after her father died. This beautiful place now not only provides her family a living through house tours, overnight visitors, and various events like weddings and fairs held on the grounds, but also creates employment in an area that has seen the woolen trade devastated by global competition from the Far East in factories where workers earn a fraction of what the Scots were formerly paid.image

As I begin to grasp the lay-of-the-land and understand the way current circumstances are impacting those living in the Scottish Border country, which is both beautiful and challenging, ideas are bubbling forth for the Scottish descendants of Jane Maxwell and the American descendants of the “lost” Lieutenant Thomas Fraser of Struy–and I can finally reveal what really happened, in the end, to these star-crossed lovers.

I’ve had the time of my life on this trip, but now I can’t wait to get home to start writing…

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