If These Castle Walls Could Talk…

April 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Caerhays_CastleThere are travelers who will tell you, “You’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen ‘em all,” but when I’m in the throes of constructing a novel set in Great Britain, castles  seem to me as important as “characters”  as any of the humans that populate my stories.

Each of these fortresses has its own, specific story to tell: who built them and why? What were they trying to protect?  Who was born here; who died here?  And most importantly…who loved—or hated—their fellow inhabitants here?

Call me the Ultimate Romantic, but over the years of researching my various historicals, I sometimes think that the stones imagewhisper their tales…if the traveler can just remain quiet enough to hear what they have to say.

Ciji in front of Caerhays Caslte nr. Mevagissey - Version 2I felt that “presence” of those who had come before so vibrantly at Caerhays Castle, the turreted stone edifice that was the model for “Barton Hall” in That Summer in Cornwall. It’s round towers and views of the English Channel and the lonely lookout cottage on the property’s cliff conjured up a story that practically told itself.

Now that I’m in the midst of the preliminary research for That Autumn in Edinburgh which will focus on the descendants—one Scottish, one American—of the star-crossed lovers in my first novel, Island of the Swans,  I find myself also plotting my trip to the Scottish Border territory south of Edinburgh.

Here I’ve set up an interview with the man who has spearheaded the mulit-milion dollar refurbishment of  Sir Walter Scott’s Abbottsford where I’ve recently discovered the novelist’s family were intermarried with descendants  of Jane Maxwell, 4th Duchess of Gordon, the heroine of Island of the Swans whose clan once  inhabited this ominous turreted fortress on the right.image

imageAnd then there’s Ayton Castle, the forerunner of the now-destroyed Ayton House where Jane received a letter a month following her arranged marriage to the Duke that the great love of her life had not died in an American Indian skirmish outside Fort Pitt, Pittsburgh, and was coming home thinking to claim her as his own.

Knowing this story, how would a modern Maxwell male descendant, struggling to keep a traditional tartan mill afloat–along with a Fraser, visiting from America in an attempt to recover from a tragic loss of her own– feel as they walked the banks of the River Eye on the exact spot where Jane learned of her lover’s survival, far too late for her to find lasting happiness with Lieutenant Thomas Fraser?

Asking a simple question like that…and listening intently to the standing stones and rustling wind might easily spark a writer’s imagination…

The Idea for a Novel Comes From…

July 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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I was originally drawn to the real life character of Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon (seen with her son in a painting hanging in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery) , because my aforementioned great- grandmother, Elfie McCullough–who lived to be 96–claimed that our McCulloughs from the Lowlands of Scotland were related to the Maxwells of Monreith through marriage a few generations before Jane Maxwell was born.  Later I came across an article about her life as the “Match-making Duchess” and was very intrigued that I might be related to such a fascinating historical figure. Sadly, after five years of research, I was never able to prove I was her direct descendant, but the odd thing is, we look rather alike: dark hair, hazel eyes, and a similar bone structure! Read more

Revisting Jane Maxwell

June 14, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

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In revisiting something this writer penned two decades earlier, it was invigorating to think about the qualities of my heroine in Island of the Swans– Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon—and the qualities in  her that I so admired…and to evaluate whether my portrayal was truly a close characterization of her.

I think I portrayed her as near reality as a writer could while still remembering to be a “storyteller”—which is the first duty of historical novelists, in my view.  Read more

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