When I began writing a series set in Victorian Scotland, I expected to have to research things like when did the fountain pen come into common use (answers may vary), when did remote country houses in Britain acquire gas lighting (answers may vary even more), or when did the train tracks reach Ballater in Aberdeenshire, Scotland (ten years after I needed it to, of course).
I did not expect to gain insight into my own family history as the descendent of Scottish immigrants. One of the facts I came across is that the Scottish Highlands are among the least populous regions of any developed nation, though this was not always so. The Clearances—two centuries of periodic forcible removal of tenant farmers to make room for free range sheep—the potato famines in the first half of the 19th century, emigration resulting from those two factors, and a climate tending toward the sub-arctic all contribute to the creation of an area that for all its beauty is very sparsely populated.
These factors have also resulted in a society characterized by frugality, hard work, resilience, ingenuity and strong family ties. If that list looks like much of what Americans traditionally pride themselves on, consider that most of the Scottish diaspora ended up in North America, and typically at the forefront of those involved in westward expansion across the wilderness.
My maternal grandmother’s people were MacDonalds, and my sister has traced where and when they came over from the old country. When I’m writing a Regency, I feel only a philosophical and artist and connection to the society I’m writing about. There’s a long ago, far away, quality to that world in my mind.
Not so, Victorian Scotland. We have photographs dating from early in Victoria’s reign, subway and rail stations built then that are still in use, and for me at least, there’s a cultural legacy that still resonates loudly in my own family.
Maybe this is why “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid” and its two sequels (“Once Upon a Tartan,” is due out in August 2013) ended up being stories that came to me fairly easily. The characters feel like they're my family, their problems real, their challenges genuinely daunting, their happily ever afters honestly deserved.
Publishers Weekly chose “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid” as a Best Book of 2012. I can’t help but think that somehow, Great-Grandmother MacDonald had a hand in that, just as she’ll have a hand in all the Scottish Victorians I’ve yet to write.
Where are your people from, and how does that influence you today? To three commenters, I’ll send a signed copy of “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.”
Ian MacGregor's family is depending on him to trade his lofty title for a wealthy bride, but it's penniless Augusta Merrick who captures Ian's heart...
To read an excerpt or order a copy click here.