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  • Writer's pictureSharon Michalove

The Romance that Is Scotland

How did they know? When I started writing my blog this morning, having just decided that Scotland would be my focus, Classic FM started playing music from James Horner's film score for Braveheart. The only music that might have been as appropriate would be Bruch's Scottish Fantasy or the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti.

Scottish heroes. Men in kilts. The wail of the bagpipes. Landscapes full of gorse, ruined castles, and craggy mountains. These are images that have captured the imagination of romance readers forever. Even before Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series became a smash sensation, Scotland was imprinted on the popular imagination through the literature of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Lous Stevenson.

My own interest in Scotland probably started when I read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Knowing little about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the '75, I thought, at the age of twelve, that the story was impossibly romantic. This romantic view of Scotland was cemented in more recent years by the romantic-comedy series, "Monarch of the Glen." Antonia Fraser's classic Mary, Queen of Scots was published in 1969, the perfect time for a college freshman with a love of history.

With age, my view of Scotland has changed. When I began reading Dorothy Dunnett's historical novels in 1999, I began with King Hereafter, a retelling of the "real" Macbeth. I found her hypothesis intriguing. She proposed that Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, who we know to be Macbeth's cousin, actually was Macbeth. They were known, for example, to both be in Rome at the same time. The death dates don't match, but dating in the eleventh century is not an exact science. After reading her novel, I read the pertinent parts of the Orkney Saga, which is available in a very readable translation.

From there, I moved on to her House of Niccolò series. While the first book begins in Bruges, by the end, Scotland is firmly in the forefront. Dunnett's research was excellent and I spent many hours chasing down rabbit holes looking for the many sources she used in constructing her eight novels.

When I began to write about Max Grant, the male protagonist--may I say hero--of At First Sight, I really was thinking about his background as a spy, not as a Scot. Ironically, he grew up in the shadow of James Bond, played by another Scot, Sean Connery. The surname, Grant, just seemed to fit and, over time, his family developed. Having them live in the Speyside area of the highlands, in the shadow the Cairngorms suited me well. While I haven't been to Grantown, I have certainly been in the area and one of my favorite single malts, Aberlour, is made there.

I like to write about places that I have visited and the Scottish Highlands, visited on a train tour in 2016, was perfect for my purposes. Our "Slowly Around Scotland by Train" tour, was fifteen days from Glasgow to Edinburgh, created by McKinlay-Kidd, was an extraordinary travel experience. While Max and Cress don't visit Scotland in At First Sight, a chunk of the second book, At the Crossroads, takes place there.

However, several things inspired me to write about Scotland for this post. One stems from a blog post from the British Library called "Mapping Scotland." The library's copy of the earliest map of Scotland,, an early fifteenth-century map of Scotland created by John Hardying, is current on exhibit in the Wardlaw Museum in St. Andrews. Check it out here. The library's exhibition on Elizabeth I and Mary Stewart is set to.close today. However, you can still access the digital tour.

The other Scottish tidbit was brought to my attention by Simon Hedges in his post for the Dorothy Dunnett Society. The link is to the original source in the Scottish Parliamentary Register for 1472.

"It is 550 years to the day {February 20} that Orkney and Shetland were incorporated into Scotland by act of parliament.

"Alsua the samyn day our souverain lorde, withe deliverance of his thre estatis, annext and uniit the erledome of Orknay and the lordschip of Scheteland to the croune, nocht to be gevin away in tyme to cum to na persoune nor persounis except anerly til ane the kingis sonnis of lauchefull bed.""

So pour a wee dram or two, play a bit of music (Jean Redpath would be a good choice) and settle down with a few Scottish movies to celebrate. Here are some recommendations. If you want to watch "Monarch of the Glen," you can find it on Amazon Prime Video.

If you are looking for no-blush mystery, spicy but closed door, here's your chance for some free books until February 28, I am a participating author, so this would be a great time to add At First Sight and other great reads to your virtual library. Click here.

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