Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. We’ve been isolating here in France for 2 1/2 weeks now, but with plenty of books to read and several plots to dive into, I can’t complain about being bored. Fact is, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to get bored!
But today, I’d love to tell our readers a wee bit about historical research, giving the example of my Scottish romance adventure, Highland Arms.
As my readers will know, I love history. I’m fascinated by Scottish history, particularly medieval and Jacobite, English medieval and Tudor, and the Norman conquests across Europe. Add to that the odd foray into the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis XIV… Oh, I could go on!
Anyway, my bookshelves are creaking under the weight of history tomes, but in between those, you’ll find little booklets, their content collated in small Highland or Normandy communities, released by small local printers, which provide inspirations galore. Those are the jewels in the crown, as you’ll discover important little details that make your plot just that little more authentic.
Highland Arms is set in the Scottish Highlands, near the dramatic hills of Glencoe and the hamlet of Ballachulish, in 1720. Having visited the area many times (and missing it much from a distance), the decision of where to set Highland Arms was an easy one. I loved to create a novel based on the stunning landscapes and troublesome history of my favourite area in Scotland.
Even the ‘Drovers Inn’ mentioned in the novel is based on a real inn: the cosy Clachaig Inn! Visitors of the Scottish Highlands should check it out. (And no, I’m not on commission, sadly!)
Baile a’ Chaolais, Ballachulish’s Gaelic name, means ‘village of the narrows’. It lies at the junction where Loch Leven flows into the much larger Loch Linnhe. The original village lay in what is now North Ballachulish (Highland Arms is set just a couple of miles to the north along the shore of Loch Linnhe), with a settlement in South Ballachulish, now linked by a bridge, established later. I used a local historian’s accounts (one of those useful booklets) for details smuggling activities in the area, which I incorporated into the novel.
Ballachulish is less than a mile from Glencoe village, at the entrance to the Glencoe hill range. The small villages nestle at the bottom of hills, with clouds always hovering low over the mountaintops. It is a highly atmospheric place. Scottish history buffs will know the sad story of the place, the Massacre of Glencoe that befell Clan Macdonald in 1692. You can still sense the desolation today as you travel through the glen. I used the melancholy of the area and incorporated it into a scene where the heroine travels on horseback, listening to tales of the (then) fairly recent massacre. The low mist and drizzle, which tends to be the norm in Glencoe, completes the setting.
1720 was a time of great upheaval, only five years after the first major Jacobite rising of the early 18th century. Spies lurked everywhere, and Highlanders didn’t know who they could trust. Clans fought against each other, plotting and seeking their own advantage. Jacobites were lying low, defeated but not giving up. A tale of a ship carrying arms stranded in a northern Highland loch (another fabulous booklet) gave me with the perfect backstory – the hero needed the muskets to start another rebellion. Or so he hoped…
So you see, it’s not necessarily the big, generic historical accounts that provide authors with the best plot ideas; sometimes it’s the little stories, the tales collated and written down by locals, and spotted in a dusty little museum, that make the best storylines.
Keep looking out for them!
Cathie Dunn writes historical mystery & romance set in Scotland, England and France. A hobby historian, her focus is on medieval and Jacobite eras.
She has four historical novels published:
Highland Arms and A Highland Captive (the Highland Chronicles Tales);
Dark Deceit, the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, set in England & Normandy;
Love Lost in Time, a dual timeline story set in AD 777 and present day in the south of France;
Silent Deception, a romantic Gothic novella set in Victorian Cornwall.
Cathie lives in historic Carcassonne, south-west France, with her husband, a rescue dog and two cats. She currently works on a medieval murder mystery and the sequel to Dark Deceit.