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…

Why I Love Edinburgh

June 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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imgresOn Tuesday night, June 11, just before midnight at London’s Euston Sation, my husband and I are boarding the ScotRail sleeper train to Edinburgh. “The Night Train to Edinburgh.” Just typing those words sounds like the title to a novel, but in this case, I’m off to research a new book that follows That Summer in Cornwalland it’s set—guess where?–in one of my favorite cities: the historic capital of Scotland built on a volcanic outcropping that protected its residents from invading enemies for some eight hundred years.Edinburgh_Castle_Scotland-Wallpaper On one end of the Royal Mile that skims along the top of that up-thrust is the Palace of Holyroodhouse where Mary, Queen of Scots most likely witnessed the murder of her most trusted secretary; on the other end, the spectacular Castle Rock, occupied since around 1,000 B.C.–which makes sense, given a lookout can see all the way to the Firth of Forth. 180px-Anchor-closeIn between these huge buildings are narrow streets and wynds –or alleys—where the city’s inhabitants lived in tenements, some of them twenty stories high.  Jane Maxwell of Monreith—later the 4th Duchess of Gordon and the heroine in my first novel, Island of the Swans —lived in the mid-eighteenth century in Hynford Close, a crowded narrow cobbled street in the heart of this bustling city.imageGen Following in the footsteps of historical figures such as the poet Robert Burns (seen here in a painting with a seated Duchess Jane who supported the first professional printing of his work), the writer James Boswell, and the novelist, Sir Walter Scott is one of the great joys of visiting a place where sections of Edinburgh remain as they were more than two hundred years ago. anta-200x150_12982But on this trip in June, I will be learning about modern Scotland in preparation for writing That Autumn in Edinburgh.  I’ll be visiting interior home design shops selling cashmere throws and tartan pillows, and checking out the Old Weaving Company where tourists ogle special order tartans made for everyone from Scottish-Americans tracing their roots to Chinese corporations seeking to brand themselves in the West.468675019_ab7534ab14_m I haven’t been to Scotland in over a decade, and I can’t wait to note the changes…and rejoice in the things that look the same.  Edinburgh, remember, is where the BBC goes to film when they want to recreate London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thank heavens they still can…

Scotland on my Mind: Then & Now

April 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Island of the SwansNow that I have launched That Summer in Cornwall, I was astounded to realize about two months ago that I began the research for my first novel, Island of the Swans, exactly thirty years ago this summer!  It was also my first historical novel—a fictionalized retelling of the life of the amazing eighteenth century figure, Jane Maxwell (1749-1812), 4th Duchess of Gordon, about whom—I soon discovered–no full-length biography existed.

I was such a novice, it never occurred to me that merely ferreting out the details of both her public and private lives was a book in itself, let alone the task of teaching myself–a nonfiction writer  at that point–how to create a novel!7757334344_48179fa517_z

So why choose Jane Maxwell?  Well, not only did she marry the largest landowner in Scotland, though passionately in love with someone else; wed her five resulting daughters to the dukes of Manchester, Richmond, and Bedford, the Marquis of Cornwallis, and a baronet named Sir Robert Sinclair—she also served as flamboyant hostess to Prime Minister Pitt, the Younger, during the Madness Crisis of George III—AND….

 

5 generations of McCullough Women copy…my great-grandmother, Elfie McCullough, who lived into her 90’s, swore  to my mother on the family Bible that our McCulloughs of Ayrshire–poet Robert Burns country–had married into the Maxwells of Monreith a generation or so before the future duchess was born, “making you, my dear, a direct descendant of a duchess!”  (I tried, but trust me, I could never prove this without a shadow of a doubt).03_Duchess_Jean

Even so, I grew up on stories that the beautiful Jane, a powerhouse of a woman like Elfie herself, was also celebrated for recruiting on horseback fellow Highlanders into her brother’s regiment that fought for the British in the American War of Independence and surrendered with their Commander, Lord Cornwallis, to George Washington at Yorktown.

02_cijiNow, I freely admit that during the 1980’s I became rather obsessed with Jane’s life, even performing some of my lectures about my heroine dressed in full court regalia.  In the course of more than six years researching and writing and selling this version of “Gone with the Wind of Scotland”– a story of Jane loving one man, a soldier reported to have died in the American Colonies, and marrying a duke, only to discover her lieutenant had not been killed as reported– my husband took to calling me his very own, little “Scot-o-Maniac.”Abbotsford-bartholomew-bust

Recently, I discovered that in the years following Jane’s death, a member of the Maxwell Clan married into a Lowland family by the name of Scott—as in the famous Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott.  This little historical nugget immediately triggered an idea for a contemporary sequel (to be titled That Autumn in Scotland as part of my forth-coming 4 Seasons Quartet series), set two hundred years later than Swans.

 Kilted SoldierWhat if, I mused one day in early February this year, a female American relative of the “lost lieutenant” (who had eventually abandoned Scotland at the end of the eighteenth century to settle in the Mid-Atlantic Colonies), met by sheer chance a male member of the Maxwell clan on a tour of Abbotsford, the famous baronial mansion owned by Sir Walter Scott?

And what if the pair discovered during the course of that autumn that they were direct descendants of the star-crossed lovers and were driven by curiosity and a growing attraction to each other to unravel the tale of what eventually happened to Jane and the man she could never stop loving?

From such questions a hundred thousand word novel can spring…sc001a1163

…and so, after three decades, it’s back to Scotland…but this time, not the Highlands, as seen here in 1983, but rather the Scottish Lowlands, land of my own Clan McCullough forebears, even if I can’t (yet) claim a “direct” connection to my eighteenth century heroine.

 

52b1a160e2719a73fb132418aa5b15faTony and I are off in June to explore the modern Scotland of tartan mills competing with the Chinese knock-off artists, castles whose land-poor owners can barely keep their heads above water, and some cultural changes that I like to imagine my savvy Duchess Jane would somehow take in stride.