"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Today for Fiction Friday I am going to step back from the historical romances that I have been featuring the last few weeks. Instead I am going to promote some straight historical fiction that I know will appeal to romance readers as well. My definition of historical fiction is when the story is rich in history and the history is as much a character as the two protagonists. Unlike romances they are of a more sweeping nature and can take place over a much longer period, often years. Though like all good fiction be it romance or fiction in general there must be conflict and the conflict in a straight historical is most often the conflicts involving historical events within the historical period first and then the reaction of the protagonists to that conflict. Unlike romance there is no required Happy-Ever-After and often to be true to the history there can’t be. The first two writers are authors whose work I have come to enjoy. One author, Robyn young is new to fiction publishing with her Crusader trilogy. The other author, Jack Whyte has many books to his credit and a growing reader base but it is his last books that have caught my eye: his Templar series with Scottish protagonists

Ladies first… Robyn young was born in Oxford, England and attended the University of Sussex at Brighton. She is Scottish and English on her dad’s side and is Welsh and Irish on her mum's. She comes from a “folksy” family as she calls them and did a series of unfulfilling jobs until she met her current partner and began to write though not a novice as she was always involved with the writing process while in school. She realized after writing a 350,000-word saga that she needed to learn the process of creative writing, which eventually led her to earn her Masters Degree in Creative wiring from Uni. of Sussex. It was however a trip to Egypt in 2000 that gave her the idea to write BRETHREN, the first of her Crusader trilogy. What drew me to this first book was that it was the story of a Scottish Knights Templar. Anyone who knows me knows these two (Scotland and Knights Templar) are my most favorite books to read and to have them in one book, I was in historical reader’s heaven. But what kept me coming back for more in CRUSADE and REQUIEM-FALL OF THE TEMPLARS was the well plotted story of her Scottish Knights Templar who was a man and monk caught in the political turmoil that came to a head during the fight for Scottish independence. She weaves her characters through a maze of many political and personal conflict as we see Will Campbell first as a boy, then a knight and finally a man who fights both his human frailty and his faith for the greater good of Scottish Independence. Though most books in a trilogy should stand-alone it would be cheating the reader the wonderful reading experience by not reading them in order.

On October 14th in the UK, Ms, young’s new trilogy set in 13th/14th century Scotland will arrive on bookshelves... INSURRECTION- (my copy is on the way from the UK)

"1286 A.D. Scotland is in the grip of the worst winter in living memory. Some say the Day of Judgment has come. The King of Scotland rides out from Edinburgh into the stormy dark. On the road he is murdered by one of his own men, leaving the succession to the throne wide open. The king’s death is as a stone thrown into a pool, the ripples spreading far and wide. Civil war threatens as powerful Scottish families jostle for power, not knowing that Edward, King of England, has set his own plans in motion. For almost two decades, Edward has nurtured a fierce vision of conquest – a vision sprung from the words of an ancient prophecy – that will change the face of Britain forever. But all is not destined to go Edward’s way. Through the ashes of war, through blood feuds and divided loyalties, a young squire will rise to defy England’s greatest king. His name is Robert the Bruce. And his story begins in Insurrection.” Source:

My next author is Jack Whyte though born and raised in Scotland he has been a resident of Kelowna, Canada for his adult life. Though famous for his Camulod Chronicles and the stand alone book UTHER PANDRAGON, which brought the reader to the early period of the Roman invasion to Scotland and their interaction with the Scots, Britons and Picts of Scotland, I’m most familiar with his most recent trilogy which tells the story of the Knights Templar and their struggles over the 200 plus years of their existence. Though the books truly are more stand alone books than a trilogy with connecting characters in the same time period, there is a running theme, a connection to different Scottish Knights of the Sinclair family. Of the three books I was most intrigued with the first book, THE KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK AND WHITE, which sort of sets the plot around the idea that within the ranks of the Knights Templar there was an inner circle ( or other Order) for an independent organization who used the Knights Templar as a front for this group’s mission. This group included a single member from each generation of the chosen families of Europe, who mission it was to protect the group’s secret. The St. Clair (Sinclair) family was one of those chosen families and the main protagonists throughout the three books are representatives of that family as they work through the conflict of the Knights Templar from without and within.

Howevery my favorite was the last book in the trilogy ORDER IN CHAOS because though he doesn’t offer any new theories as to what happened to the Templar treasure he does provide a more believable twist to the scenariosl . He also addresses in a more believable way the conflict of King Robert Bruce and his dilemma of allowing the Templar to stay in Scotland though they are excommunicated from the Church, the very Church he is trying convince to endorse his kingship and restore his own good name as well as that of the Scottish Church. With this trilogy you could probably start at any of the books and get a good read without too much wondering what is going on.

Like Ms.young, Jack Whyte is working on a new trilogy called THE GUARDIANS OF SCOTLAND with each book telling the story of William Wallace, King Robert Bruce and my personal favorite, James “the Good” Douglas who if you didn’t know was Robert Bruce’s right-hand man during Scotland’s struggle for independence and who took the heart of Robert Bruce on a crusade to the holy land but was stopped by the Moors in Teba, Spain. There isn’t a US release date for the first book in the trilogy the title is THE FOREST LAIRD, William Wallace. Though the book it can be ordered from Amazon Canada where it came out September 21, 2010. If you go to Amazon/Canada they have an interesting trailer for the book. I have mine on order!

The final book I want to recommend this week is one that is unique in that it begins with telling you the particulars or facts of the story and who was who. DEADLOCK AND DELEVERANCE- THE RESCUE OF KINMONT WILLIE tells the story of the arrest, imprisonment and the daring rescue of one of the most notorious BorderReivers… Kinmont Willie Armstrong. The story is one of the most beloved heroes of the Borders not so much because he deserved saving but that his capture and imprisonment was a huge breach of Border Laws and was an insult in the face of the Scottish Border families. That this one capture brought the whole of the Scottish Middle March together with one purpose, to break Kinmont out of Carlisle Castle, shows the integrity and sense of loyalty to not each border family but loyalty to the Code of Law of the Borders.

The author Tom Moss has created a unique book because he begins by explaining the all the elements of the story and why it happened and in the second half of the book he provides the reader with his fictionalized account of the Kinmont Willie. I really enjoyed the book because before I read the book I had a good idea of who was who and when I read the fictionalized story, which gives the reader the story from the many different characters’ viewpoint, I was impressed with the depth of the tale. Unfortunately the book can’t be purchased through Amazon and the few copies that have appeared are way over priced but you can order the book directly from the author who lives on the Anglo/Scottish border on the English side but who is very involved with the Riding Season in the Scottish Borders. To order this book, go to this link for more information

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


In November I will be teaching a class online for writers on the Anglo/Scottish Borders and have ancestors from the Borders. I have always been impressed with the resilience of the Border families who have existed for centuries in a land where scorched earth wasn’t a policy but a way of life. As Scottish and English armies rolled through the borders near Berwick on Tweed or Carlisle they either took the resources of the Borderers or they burned or destroyed it leaving the riding families with few choices other than lifting cattle and goods from each other and from across the Border.

The lawlessness of the three Marches (East, Middle, West) on each side of the Borders was beyond the control of the governments of Edinburgh or London in large part because the early history. The area was part of kingdom of Northumberland and often fought over between the monarchy of Scotland and the royal family in Northumberland with neither keeping the interest of the people in mind. The allegiance of the people was to their family or surname first and foremost, then to fellow borderers and last. If ever, to the respective country they happen to be part of at that moment. The border itself was officially determined in 1250 when an equal number of knights from both sides of the border met to not only define the borderline politically but to create a set of laws that applied to the borderers. However there was a section between the West and Middle Marches where the line couldn’t be determined… the debatable land. This was a land that encouraged the habitation of the broken men of other families who formed their own family such as Sandy’s Barins as well as the Grahams and the Armstrong where even the Border Laws didn’t’ apply.

What I enjoy reading about is the number of characters that seemed to be a personification of the Border Reivers who were cattle thieves and confidence men and yet had a honor code among thieves that was comparable to that of the feuding clans of the Highlands. A classic example is the story/ballad of Kinmont Willie Armstrong. Armstrong was a raider who had built a reputation of using his 300 family members to terrorize large tracks of the Border Marches rather just a particular family. He had especially angered the families on the English side and they were just waiting to catch him for his misdeeds. On truce day March 17 1596 when all participants from both sides of the Border are allowed a safe conduct for 24 hours, Armstrong was returning to his home at Morton Rigg just north of Carlisle when a English troops arrested him against the custom of the Truce and took him as their prisoner to the castle at Carlisle.

The Keeper of Liddesdale, Walter Scott of Buccleugh was so outraged by this breach of Border Law that he went to neighboring families and together they planned how they were going to break Armstrong out of the castle. Even though Armstrong was a problem to Scott and probably revied a number of the families the breach of the Truce was drove them. On Sunday April 13 th he and 80 men entered the castle and under the nose of Sir Thomas Scropes were able to steal Armstrong from his imprisonment. Of course they had to bribe a guard of the garrison who probably sympathized with the cause of a fellow Border. Though Scropes never caught Buccleugh and Armstrong as they went back over the border he people of Annan and Dumfries in Scotland suffered when Scrope and his English troops burned both in retaliation. But the story doesn’t end there.

Though Queen Elizabeth was angry with Scrope and his English troops who broke the Truce, she was extremely angered beyond belief that he allowed the Scots to breach the Castle at Carlisle. She contacted King James VI in Scotland demanding he turn over Buccleugh. James was more than willing to do that because he was on tender hooks hoping to be named her heir before she died. However, the Scottish nobles supported Buccleugh and James couldn’t go against his nobles. So he demanded that Buccleugh present himself to the Scottish courts in a way to pacify Elizabeth but she would have none of that. And the debate went on for months with letters flying back and forth from Edinburgh to London until finally Buccleugh with a safe passage in hand, though why he would trust the English at this point is hard to believe but then as a Border Lord he was sure to think he was invincible. When he finally met Queen Elizabeth he wowed her with his bravado which she loved and all was forgiven, though Elizabeth never admitted that the whole event was a result of an over zealous English warden. The problem stemming from the fact Elizabeth sent southern Lords to warden the English Marches and these men had no connection to the actual people in the Borders where on the Scottish side the Wardens were chosen from the prominent families who had their family armies to police not only their land but that of their borders.