"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, December 9, 2010

NonFiction Friday

Unfortunately this week I have no new titles of romance books set in Scotland. Though this week Susan Fraser King’s QUEEN HEREAFTER was released. I first mentioned this book back in September. This is the story of Margaret, queen to King Malcolm III as she helps Scotland move from the Celtic church to one that will embrace the Roman church. She must navigate the intrigues of Malcolm’s court where there may be those who would be a happy for a return to the old Celtic ways. Though personally, Margaret is not one my favorite women in Scottish history there is no denying the influence she had on the country and the church. She was the wife of a king and the mother of three Scottish kings. QUEEN HEREAFTER is a book worth checking out, if only because the professional treatment that Ms King’s writing will provide.

Now with Christmas just around the corner and with so many of you writing books set in Scotland I wanted to continue my Scottish Books recommendations. This posting will be for books on the language of the Scots. According to the Scottish Parliament website there are three official languages in Scotland: Scottish Gaelic (Gâidhlig), Scots and English.

Scottish English: the language of formal communication and administration

Scots: a closely related language used or understood by the majority of the population

Scottish Gaelic: the Celtic language traditionally associated with the Highlands and Islands. Scottish Gaelic is closely related to Irish. Over the centuries it has been pushed further and further to the northwest and the Western Isles, but is now enjoying a revival with more support from the public, government, and education.

Writers are always looking for good dictionaries of these languages to help enhance their dialogue. The following books are some I have in my own library and others are ones that have been recommended to me by my college instructors and fellow writers. Most can be found used or new from either Amazon/ or the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping) or found in your local large community or college library.

I am going to begin with the Scottish Gaelic because though it has the fewest speakers today in Scotland (about 60,000) it is the fastest growing language of learners. Gaelic is the longest surviving language in Scotland and was once the language of most of Scotland but from the time of King Malcolm and the influence of Queen Margaret, the Saxons and Normans. Scottish Gaelic was quickly overtaken by Scots which is a Germanic language akin to English. With so many Scottish romances set in the Highlands, especially in the medieval period, the most burning language question on many of the writer’s loops is how to say something in Gaelic. Using online dictionaries are not always the safest because many site use the Irish and Scottish Gaelic interchangeably. Having a good reliable dictionary at your fingertips is a must for those who place their stories in the Highlands and Islands. I would recommend the following books, though some can be a bit pricey.


A Scottish history professor recommended this dictionary as a comprehensive modern Gaelic dictionary, easy to use with good appendixes, modern phrases, and an uncluttered layout. The only draw back is the ticket price $65.82 (new) and $55.95 (used)


This dictionary in a paperback format is good for the student and traveler and would be ideal for the romance writer. It provides about 15,000 entries including common phrases. Though not as in depth as the previous one, which shows the origin and location for the word usage, it is not as expensive as the other book. This is one by the Hippocrene Practical Library who does a wonderful children’s picture book of English and Gaelic terms for common objects. Price: $11.01 (new) and $8.28 (used) Amazon


This dictionary also was recommended as a good Gaelic dictionary but it isn’t clear if one needs to know Gaelic to use it or if it has an English to Gaelic but apparently it has modern word usage as well. The good thing is that it is more practically priced at $30.40 (new) and $19.76 (used) Amazon

Now the most common language, and yes it is a language, is Scots. Scots is the historic language of the Lowlands, Borders and now most of Scotland. The language has its origins in the Germanic languages of the Saxons but was influenced by the Brythonic language of the Britons of Strathclyde, the Cumbrian language, Norse, Gaelic and Norman French. Today it is the language of all of Scotland though it hasn’t been embraced as a written language, which is still English. Many people believe that Scots is just a dialect of English but the European Union has recognized it as a language. Many authors confuse Scots (kinnas and dinnas ) as being the language of the Highlands but historically this would not be correct. If you are writing a book set in Edinburgh or Glasgow or southern Scotland, as well as the north East (Aberdeen, Dundee, St. Andrews) they you want to use Scots. Rather than the easy and over done “kinnnas and dinnas” the following books will help you find the just the right words.

SCOTS THESAURUS by Scottish National Dictionary Association

I really like this book and use it often when I am looking for just the right word of all the books offered today I would put this at the top of my list of purchases. The book is set up in themes with English words as the lead with Scottish words for those entries. This is an easy book to use and should be in everyone’s library. $30.00 (new) and $5.85 (used) Amazon

THE CONCISE SCOTS DICTIONARY by Scottish National Dictionary Association

The role of the Scottish National Dictionary Association’s goal is to promote the use and understanding of the Scots language and has been doing so with dictionaries such as this one since the 70’s. The most current edition of this dictionary was published in 2000 but it is as useful now to the write despite it being 10 years old. The Concise Scots Dictionary contains meanings, spelling variants, pronunciation, information on when and where words are used, grammatical information, idioms and phrases, etymologies and details of Scottish life then and now. I have used this book in a number of my college classes through the University of Dundee, especially the class on paleography when trying to decipher documents from the 1500’s forward. $30 (Amazon new) and $1.00 (used ABE Books)

CONCISE ENGLISH-SCOTS AND DICTIONARY by Scottish National Dictionary Association

Like the book above this is an English to Scots dictionary but is much less detailed with about 15,000 entries. I have this book but if you can’t find the two above then this is a good third choice. Its layout is easy to use in alphabetic format but not as detailed as the other ones. $24.00 (new Amazon-overpriced for what you get) and $5.50 (used Amazon).

And finally, for those of you writing stories set in the Northeast of Scotland the dialect of Scots unique to this area is called Doric. This book would be especially useful A DORIC DICTIONARY: Doric-English, English-Doric by Douglas Kynock. This book has a copyright of 2006 ( a reprint with an original of1996) but is difficult to find. I found on copy at ABE books used for $9.26. The book is easy to use and looks as if it may have been a result of someone’s Master’s degree from Aberdeen.

There is also the Scots/Irish language of Northern Ireland (Ulster) a result of the Scots/English transportations/plantations of the 17th century. Unfortunately I have yet to find a definitive book on Ullans or Lallans as it is called. Any suggestions?

And now a bit of Christmas silliness, you know I couldn’t resist…

Monday, December 6, 2010


After finally taking the time to catalog my own Scottish research library I thought over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas I would share some of my favorite books that should appeal to those of you who are writing Scottish romances. I know the cost of books is getting more and more expensive but with this list of books I am going to touch on some themes that I have in the past been asked to research. For the most part the books listed are my books in my own library so if someone needs to know if a certain topic is covered I would be happy to check it for you.

This first posting will include very basic books on Scottish history. But basic doesn’t mean simple or shallow. These books are the ones that I have used in my college classes. Some are scholarly and others read like popular history. But don’t be fooled they provide a great foundation for an understanding of the history and events that have changed Scotland from a Celtic nation, to a feudal kingship to a modern industrial nation. At least one of these books should be at the foundation of your Scottish research library.


This book was written in 1992 but the information is timeless. It includes 25 chapters starting with the Picts and moves up through the centuries defining the Scottish identity by exploring the historical, cultural and political events. The book is easy to read and can be used as a research book, using only the chapters of most interest. Mr Lynch has also has a companion book called THE OXFORD COMPANION TO SCOTTISH HISTORY. Though it doesn’t’ read like a dictionary it is more theme oriented rather than linear history and is a nice companion to his other book. Cost: New about $16.00 used: $1.17 (Amazon)


Magnusson’s approach is to tell the story of Scotland by answering the question…”What does it mean to be Scots?” His is not a pure scholarly approach thought he does provide the reader sources, he is looking at themes and events most heroic and warfare history. His book is easy to read and will provide enough excitement for the reader to seek out more in depth research. I especially like the chapter on the REAL MacBeth. He provides the reader with a Scottish king who suffered character assassination from Shakespeare that many a Scot doesn’teven know that Macbeth was probably their last Celtic King. He reigned successfully for 17 years on the cusp of the feudal age in Scotland. Cost: $15.30 new and $5.00 used (Amazon)

SCOTLAND: A HISTORY by Jenny Wormald

This was the text used in a recent class on Scotland at my local university. I found the book to rather boring to read, though I already had a pretty good foundation in the basic history of Scotland. The book is a series of thematic articles from Scottish scholars and though it provides a overview of Scottish themes it falls far from the in depth history from either of the ones previously mentioned. Though there are those who find it a useful source to start your Scottish studies. I can’t agree but I offer it here to provide choice. Cost: New $19.95 (amazon) used; $3.97 (abe)


Don’t be fooled by the title though the purpose of the book is Medieval Scotland the author provides a really good overview of the history from the times of the Roman invaders, the early people (Picts, Britons, Angles and Scots) as well as early Christianity and the Viking invasions before he even gets to the history of the 10th century and forward. What I like is that he provides sources that can be check for the serious researcher but the book is written in a way that is not overly scholarly. Throughout the book he keeps the people, the monarchy and the church at the forefront of the history he is telling the reader. For the many medieval storytellers this is a must book. Cost: New $29.97 and used $23.04.

Another book you might consider on Scottish history is A HISTORY OF SCOTLAND by Scottish archaeologist Neil Oliver who also produced the 10 disk DVD series for Scottish TV of the same title. Though books make better sources for information this DVD series by Oliver would make a wonderful addition to anyone’s library. The visuals in the video are sometimes a bit too dramatic and there are large chunks of Scottish history missing but what is shown is well researched and the audience will be captivated if only with the scenery, which is to die for.

Another book worth looking at if you like history told through the eyes of those who lived during an event or period, you might enjoy a new book recently published… SCOTLAND: THE AUTHOBIOGRAPHY 2,000 YEARS OF SCOTTISH HISTORY BY THOSE WHO SAW IT HAPPEN by Rosemary Goring. What I like about the book is you can start anywhere in the book by choosing a period and get a first hand account of an event in that period. Though not a traditional history book, this is the type of book that prods the muse into going in new directions with characters who reflect the events told by primary sources.

Other books often found in a writer's library of Scottish history books include the following, but given their copyright dates may be outdated. This is because Scottish studies have seen, in recent years, a resurgence in active scholarship. In large part because of the increase in Scottish Nationalism: many see themselves first as Scots and then as British.

  • A HISTORY OF SCOTLAND by J D Mackie (1984)
  • SCOTLAND: A CONCISE HISTORY by Fitzroy Maclean (2000)
  • SCOTLAND by John Prebble (1984)
  • THE BIRLINN COMPANION TO SCOTTISH HISTORY by Ian Donnachie, George Hewitt (2007)

The next posting will include books on the different Scottish languages.

Your Christmas treat from the PNW: