Monday 27 February 2012

I Have a Boat

We had flown in to Shetland and had planned to fly back, but the weather had other ideas. It was too windy for the plane to land. We were stranded. What do you do when you are unexpectedly stuck in a storm in Lerwick for the day? Of course, You go to the pub. We fell into discussion with a fisherman from Faeroe. He had been an English teacher for a while in Thorshavn but had gone back to the fishing. It paid better. "You know," he said, "there is one phrase that is identical in all the languages around the North Sea."

"what is that?" we asked.

"I have a boat."

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Sun on West Highland Snow

Sometimes you don't need to write much. Sometimes the pictures speak for themselves.

Times like an ascent of the Buachaille Etive Mor, arriving at the Blackmount at sunrise as mist clears from the hills:

Times when the snow is all the way down to the foot of the Buachaille:

Times when the company is good and the sun is out, even if the corrie is in shade:

Times like these.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Stephanie Laurens: The Cynster Sisters

Internationally bestselling author Stephanie Laurens is celebrating Valentine’s Day by publishing THE CAPTURE OF THE EARL OF GLENCRAE, the final book in a critically acclaimed trilogy that pays homage to Jane Austen’s incomparable heroine Elizabeth Bennet, writer and patriotic Scotsman, Sir Walter Scott, and incorporates a bit of Errol Flynn bravery and daring into three Regency-era heroes. The three stories are set across the diverse landscape of Scotland – from Gretna Green to the wonderfully romantic Edinburgh, to the Scottish Lowlands, ending dramatically in the Highlands. Ms. Laurens joins us to explain the lure of Scotland and explain why so many authors and readers consider our fair country one of the most romantic places on Earth.

Where to start? Let's strike the anvil where it’s hottest…Gretna Green, which is the setting for VISCOUNT BRECKENRIDGE TO THE RESCUE. Why did so many Regency-era couples elope to Gretna Green?

In 1753, a law was passed in England stipulating that if a bride or groom was less than 21 years old, they needed parental approval to marry, but in Scotland the law remained as it had been, so there a boy of 14 and a girl of 12 could marry without parental consent. Consequently, any youthful English bride or groom who wished to marry without parental consent fled to Scotland – and the village of Gretna Green is the first village over the border, approximately 6 miles farther on from the border north of Carlisle. Other Scottish border villages, such as Coldstream, Lamberton, and Paxton, were used by eloping couples, but Gretna Green was the most favored elopement destination.

Why was Gretna Green so Popular?

Because Scottish law allowed “irregular marriages” in which a declaration made before two witnesses constituted a legal wedding, almost anyone could conduct a wedding ceremony. In Gretna Green, as in the other border towns, surrounded as they were by farms with most local people working in the fields, the one certain place to find two people at any time of day were the blacksmiths’ shops.

We hear so much about the blacksmith shops! Why were they such hotspots for knot-tying?

In those times, most villages boasted at least one. In Gretna Green there were two – Gretna Hall Blacksmith’s Shop (founded 1710) and the Old Blacksmith’s Shop (built around 1712). Consequently, wedding ceremonies were often conducted over the blacksmith’s anvil, and the blacksmith and the anvil became the symbols of such runaway weddings. Indeed, the blacksmiths in Gretna were referred to as “anvil priests.” In addition to the blacksmiths’ shops, certain inns, and even some private cottages, became frequent wedding venues, but it’s the blacksmith and his anvil that remain most closely associated with eloping couples marrying at Gretna Green.

I call Edinburgh ‘wonderfully romantic,’ and it plays prominently in both THE CAPTURE OF THE EARL OF GLENCRAE and in IN PURSUIT OF ELIZA CYNSTER. We also spend some time in the Lowlands – but to the romance reader, it’s always all about the Highlands.

My characters lead me into the stories, and this story starts in a castle in the highlands. I’ve always wanted to write a full-length novel set in the Highlands – which is quite possibly why that first opening scene was set where it was (yes, my mind works like that – works to somehow get me to where my story-brain wants to be). After such a sweeping Errol Flynn/Elizabeth Bennet/Scottish adventure-romance, the finale definitely had to be grand! The ending had to be over-the-top – it had to contain everything – including the perfect setting. The castle, loch and glen of the Scottish Highlands provided the perfect canvas for such a sweeping tale.

Monday 13 February 2012

Stephanie Laurens and the Bones of St Valentine

Scotland has a long history of romantic novelists, from Elizabeth Thornton to Emma Blair to one of the greatest of all, Sir Walter Scott. Stephanie Laurens follows in their footsteps. She has the great advantage of living outside Scotland, the essential romance of the land thus untarnished in a way that is impossible for those of us who live with the rain, neds and litter of this sometimes depressing country we call home.

For Scotland is a land of romance, and romance can be found in the most unlikely places. Places like the Gorbals, once site of a notorious slum in the centre of Glasgow, replaced first with tower blocks, and those now largely replaced with low rise housing and the appelation New Gorbals. In the middle of this area likes the Catholic church of Blessed John Duns Scotus and its relics of St Valentine. Yes, that St Valentine. In Glasgow. In the Gorbals.

'O wad the power the giftie gie's, tae see oorsels as ithers see us,' wrote Robert Burns. Well, your chance will be here soon: as a fun experiment, tomorrow I've got a guest post from Stephanie Laurens. Watch this space!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Hillfit and Moonlight

I have been reading an interesting PDF download recently - Hillfit, by TGO fitness contributor Chris Highcock. It is about that most important piece of equipment/skill for getting outdoors - fitness. "I am not a gear geek and I get tired of the way in which kit dominates the outdoor magazines and blogs," writes Chris, "as if all you really need is another tent or pair of trousers to transform your time outside." Seditious talk for someone who writes for Britain's most popular hillwalking glossy. I like it already and we are only on the second paragraph.

Back in the days when I went out every weekend, I found that I was taking less and less gear up the hill, in summer at least (winter is a whole different story). A weather forecast, a map, and decent shoes are the only special equipment necessary. But only if you are fit.

A couple of years ago I badly twisted my knee and it took nearly a year to get back to full fitness. In truth I've never fully recovered.

Hillfit is the book I've been needing, the missing piece of a jigsaw. I've been vaguely aware of the need to do something about strengthening my knee/core strength, without knowing exactly what. This seems to be the very book for me. I will report back in a later post if I have found it makes a difference.


And so to the moonlight...

The crisp, clear evenings and full moon recently have made for excellent night time walking conditions. Being out and about at night gives a wonderful sense of adventure. With everything looking different and everyone else snug in their homes, you do not need to range far for a new experience. I was in the Borders at the weekend and took a wander across snowy fields, the stars above, warm yellow light spilling out onto the downy snow from the windows of farmhouses. It is always a marvel to be able to see well at night. I felt a tug towards the trig-pointed hill in the distance but, conscious that I hadn't told anyone I was going far, resisted. An owl hoo-wooed and I stopped for a while to try to locate it. On the way back, in the middle of a field, stood a fox. It just stopped and stared as I stopped and stared back. I thought only city foxes were so bold. I have still to work out how to get decent pictures at night, so you will just have to make do with this little pen picture. Get out at night in the snow if you can.