Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Travis Haselton on Writing

One of the things I have really enjoyed about entering the world of writing is the people I have met. Yes, I've probably said this before, but, well, I'm saying it again. It has been a great experience getting to know other authors, the paths that led them to writing, and how they go about it. Please welcome today Travis Haselton, talking about writing.


I was asked to do a guest blog. This is a first for me so bear with me. The subject is to be on "what brought me to writing" "how I fit writing in my life" and "the process of writing a novel". So I suppose I will start with what brought me to writing.

It is essentially that I always have my head in the clouds and I figure I may as well put it on paper and out there for people to enjoy. When I was young I used to read the "Goosebumps" books by R.L. Stine. That's what made me want to write stories. I would write short stories on the old school typewriter my grandma had. That all stopped when I started taking Martial Arts seriously. After the High school years and such, I suppose about three years ago, I decided to give it a shot. I wrote a short book called "Hell On A Mesa."

After that was published, I realized that no one was going to pay twenty dollars for a 108 page book from a no name author. So I decided to write books and put them on the kindle. So now here I am, my head is in la la land all day and when I get home I write it down. It is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, I don't make enough as an author to pay any bill. So I still have my day job. While I am at work and unable to write, my mind is constantly going on some new story or idea. When I come home, I put them in the computer after taking care of homework and making dinner. The only real way to fit it in my life is just to do it when I can. Every trip to the dmv involves my laptop. It does help when you have a supportive spouse I could imagine how I would do it if she didn't approve.

As far as the process of writing a novel goes, it normally starts with something that inspires a new character or storyline. Next, I sit down and make a list of aspects I wish to put into the character. For example, do I want the character to have a drinking problem? Is the person sarcastic or dry? Then I create a timeline and figure how I want the story to play out. I may switch things around the same way movie makers move around story boards. But then a lot of times creativity gets in the way of that set storyline and character base and I just make somethings up as I go. No matter how hard I try, I don't really know how the story will end until I write it.

About Travis:

I grew up spending most of my time at a mining property outside of my hometown of Boulder City NV. I dropped out of school in eighth grade to help pay bills. Through my life, I have traveled the country working and expanding my knowledge. I now have settled down with my beautiful wife and am content to entertain all of you readers with the adventures I write. Please sit back and enjoy them. Maybe even pop open a beer while you're at it.

Travis's Books:

The Man With No Past:
When a man wakes up in the woods badly beaten and no recollection of what happened or who he was, he must try to trace back his footprints. Problem is, will he like what he finds? And what about the wedding ring on his finger? Follow him as he travels the modern west in search of his past.

Hell on a Mesa:
Bruce Galloway has seen his share of fights and adventures. But when a friend of the family comes up missing he finds himself in the middle of an ancient Pueblo myth and a secret government investigation. Can he protect the mysterious portal on Urracca mesa from the violent natured people on each side and still keep his family safe? Bruce will have to trust an ancient shaman and take a leap of faith into a world unknown as he fights to protect what is left of the ancient Anasazi.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Continuing Tour....

The past week has brought these stops on the Blue Bells of Scotland virtual tour. Please check these sites for chances to win a free copy!
Oct 19: Literarily Speaking, The First Page The first page of Blue Bells of Scotland is posted, along with an interview and discussion of the importance of the first page, and why I started the book as I did.
Oct 20: Acting Balanced Guest Post on why I love and write historical fiction, and on Oct 21: Acting Balanced Review:
Blue Bells of Scotland is definitely the start of something truly unique and interesting - it leaves you in a place where you want to rush out and pick up book two right away! If you are at all into Scottish history or fictionalized history of any sort and want a unique reading experience, I think you should check out Blue Bells of Scotland!
Oct 22: Mandy's Escape Review Excerpt:

Writers are always being told to "write about what you know". Well, Laura does just that in this historical read. She takes her knowledge of music and weaves a tale of redemption, love and self-discovery. A great deal of research and historical detail add to the believability of the story. I was so entranced with the characters that I felt like I could reach out and touch them. I found myself holding my breath as Shawn hid in the cellar from the English soldiers who sought to kill him; I found myself yelling at Niall to keep searching, don't give up; I found myself reaching out to Shawn at the final fair day, wanting so badly to just grab hold of him and tug him back to the future. I admire the way that Laura Vosika led Shawn down the path of self-discovery, one where he finally comes to be the man I feel he was meant to be. This is a captivating story that you will truly enjoy. I am eagerly awaiting the second installment in this trilogy.

Oct 25: Books and Movies ReviewsReview by Roberto Mattos:
This book is amazing. It grabs your attention from the beginning and you get so involved with its characters that when it ends you wish there was more... and fortunately there will be!

The plot goes around a famous musician (that has everything in life, but has a questionable morale) and a medieval warrior. When the musician got stranded in a Scottish castle tower, magic begins and he switches places with the warrior, that some hundred years before him was exactly at that same place. And the story goes on and Laura Vosika was amazing on the development of the plot and the switch to and from the medieval world to the modern world is done very properly and does not disturb at all the smooth of the reading.

The author did a magnificent job on the creation of the atmosphere of both worlds.

There is this feeling that your are in the Mists of Avalon, where magical things happen. If you like movies like Timeline, you will simply love this book. And the subtle message about redemption in my opinion is what makes this book one of the best three books I read the whole year. It is magic. It is powerful. It is a must have in any library of a serious reader.

Oct 26: Crazy Cat Lady's Library Review Excerpt:

As the mist swirled around him and he drew his cloak close around his body, his last thoughts were for the mission he was to embark upon in the morning. But when he awoke the next day, he found himself in much more dangerous territory than he could have ever imagined…

This is how Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika begins. What follows is an amazing adventure in two different lifetimes, as Niall and Shawn find themselves somehow switched into each other’s existences. Filled with humor, intrigue, and tumult, I found this to be an entertaining beginning to what I hope will be a compelling trilogy. I give Blue Bells of Scotland 4 paws!

Thank you to all the reviewers and interviewers for hosting me on this tour, and thank you to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book for all her hard work in making it happen! There are still 5 stops to come!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Researching the Historical Novel by Consuelo Saah Baehr

I am very pleased today to welcome Consuelo Saah Baehr, author of the historical sage, Daughters, speaking on researching the historical novel. Given my own years of research into medieval Scotland, I have really enjoyed hearing another author's experiences not only researching, but working the research smoothly into the story. Welcome, Consuelo!


When I began my historical saga, Daughters, I could just as easily been about to perform brain surgery. That is how inexperienced I was at research, never mind integrating world events and data into a smooth flowing narrative. My major qualification was that my paternal grandparents had grown up in a small village near Jerusalem (where my novel is set) and many relatives were still around to remember how things were done in the old days. I began with an oral history from both men and women. If there are people who still remember their own stories or stories they heard growing up, an oral history helps you get the minutiae of daily life down in an unselfconscious way. Oral history told me the terrain of the village, the crops the farmers grew, the growing season, when the harvests took place and how the villagers participated. I found out the kind of food they ate, the rhythm of the seasons and the way they spent their days and how they courted and married.

Jerusalem has always been a cosmopolitan city because of the pilgrims who flock to the Holy Places for all religions, and inevitably there were many travel books and memoirs written about it. Two of the most helpful books were Jerusalem Walks and the diaries of the Society of Friends. Jerusalem Walks pinpoints the Street and house number of stores, banks, publications, monasteries, churches etc. When you can name a Street or a specific spot, the reader feels comfortable.

In this passage, the father in Book One inherits a plot of land and grows some vegetables that he brings on a cart to sell in Jerusalem:

“By May he was able to bring his early crop to the Jaffa Gate and sell it alongside those of the other village farmers. The plaza outside Jaffa Gate was the busiest spot in all Jerusalem for here ended the well-traveled road from the ancient port city of Jaffa. Here, diligences, carriages bringing imported necessities and luxuries, discharged their passengers and goods. Mustafa fashioned a two-tiered cart with long handles to hold his produce and he and Miriam pushed it the ten miles from Tamleh every Wednesday. The spot they chose was at the foot of Suleiman Street in front of the French Hospital of St. Louis.

It was the thriving hub of the city. Jaffa Road, though still unpaved, had sidewalks. In just one small stretch, across from the Russian Compound, there was a branch of Barclay’s Bank, the Hughes Hotel, a specialty cobbler and several elegant shops and cafes. The Greek Consulate occupied spacious offices stop one building that housed a branch of the Russian Post Office below.”

Also invaluable were the diaries of the Society of Friends who began building schools in my fictional village in the 1850’s. With the help of the diaries, I knew precisely what day the British Protectorate ended and the area was left without a government, because the teachers heard the armies marching out at midnight and I could say that with certainty to my readers.

Toward the end of the First World War, when my fictional family has to leave the village to escape a famine and cholera, they walk across the Jordan to a monastery in En Salt. I was completely comfortable describing the terrain because I had read descriptions in several memoirs.

“It was so hot. The dust on the road attacked their throats and gagged them and they stopped speaking to conserve their saliva. Only Esa had energy and he skipped ahead sometimes running back to apprise them of some horny-headed lizard or chameleon he spotted on a rock. Toward afternoon of the next day, after stopping to rest at dawn, they reached the great depression of the Ghor that provided a bed for the Jordan. They passed many gorges into which the debris from the hillsides had tumbled creating a desolate wasteland. Most frightening of all were the narrow defiles with perpendicular sheets of striated cliffs on each side allowing no place to turn should they be attacked. Nadia crooned softly to herself and stuck her thumb in her mouth, lethargic from the heat and dehydration. The older boys and Nadeem took turns leading the donkey. Miriam kept her eye on Esa but her mind wandered and from time to time she became disoriented.

On first view, the Jordan appeared as a meandering ribbon of grass. There were muleteers who warned them of the muddy bottom but when their donkey began to slip and flounder and was in danger of drowning, the men made no move to help. Nadeem cut the animal loose from the packages and Miriam saw all of their belongings sink to the bottom. He saved only the food and although he submerged himself several times searching for the water skin, the men called out that it was useless. The strong current had already taken their cargo several miles. Nadeem led the donkey back and forth with each of them atop the animal. When they were all safely on the other side, he sat by himself, his wet clothes plastered around his thin body and wept into his hands.”

If you can use the name of the boat, the name of the street, the name of anything, it becomes much more authentic and valuable.

“Samir sailed from the port of Jaffa with twelve other passengers on a coal-burning cargo ship of the Khedevieh Line that was under British control. He left on September 11, allowing himself three weeks to make the trip and arrive in time for the fall term at the London School of Economics, which had become recognized as part of London University for the BSc degree in Economics. The ship dropped cargo at Naples and Lisbon and that was the last comfortable climate he was to know. The school was located in Aldwych just off The Strand and about a mile from Bloomsbury, the central University site. He was assigned a cold and drafty room on Fitzroy Street but it might as well have been off the face of the earth as he knew it.”

I felt very comfortable depicting the first meeting of an arranged marriage because I had heard it straight from my aunt’s mouth. In this scene the rebellious daughter is alone with the boy her parents have decided would be a good match. He has just asked a fatal question.

“Why do you want to go to such a rigorous school? My sister goes to Mar Yusef. It’s a good enough place.”

She looked at the boy as if he had spoken an obscenity. What made him an authority on what was good enough for her? It’s the best school in Palestine, “ she said firmly. “The American Consul says so and the British Consul agrees. Every visiting scholar makes it his business to stop by and lecture to us. Anyone who graduates can pass the London University Exam or the National Matriculation Exam. How can you ask such a question? If you had a choice between having something that was just so-so and having the best, which would you choose?”

The boy was frowning. He wasn’t expecting such aggression and it confused him. She could see he was deciding whether to be aggressive in return or to be polite. He sighed and shifted so that instead of sitting squarely on the couch, he was angled toward her. “How do you like to pass your time? Or perhaps you don’t have any free time in this fancy school.” He said “fancy” in a sarcastic way so she knew his feelings were hurt.

From out of nowhere she had this sense of freedom to say anything she pleased. It was wonderful not to care how someone reacted. “I pass my free time playing tennis. I’m mad for tennis.” She was trying for an off-hand brittleness precisely because it would annoy him.

“Tennis? Where you hit the ball back and forth?”

“Well . . . that’s not all of it.” To explain the finer points of the game would be useless. He would scoff. “How do you pass your free time?”

“I don’t have much of it,” he said proudly. “My father and I have the franchise for the Singer machines. Do you own a Singer? Do you sew?”

For any major event, I always researched at least two sources, especially for the passages of Bedouin life in the desert. I had to know it well enough to put one of my characters in the thick of it for an entire chapter. One of the main characters in Book Two is sent to become “a man” in the desert. By making Samir naive, the reader and I can ask a lot of questions:

“Why do you choose to live like this? Samir asked. It had occurred to him that Marwan’s father was wealthier than many of the villagers, yet this life held relentless hardship. They slept on the stony ground, chilled to the bone by night and suffocated during the day. Water was precious and rare for these were the driest days of the year and it would be two months before the rains began to replenish the water holes. Food was monotonous. The frothy salty camel milk fresh from the udder was repulsive but there was nothing else and he reluctantly began to tolerate it. The occasional meat was cooked so rare he couldn’t touch it yet the young men fought for the raw heart of any animal that was slaughtered. They guzzled the blood believing it gave them strength and virility. “Don’t you yearn for a different life?”

“Where else would I live? I was born here as was my father and his father before him.”

“But it’s so difficult. There’s a much easier way.” As he said this, anxiety rose in him. Would his father come back to claim him? And when?

Marwan laughed. “Easier for whom? We welcome the hardships of the desert. We love them.”

“But why?”

He answered with an innocence that made Samir ashamed for questioning. “We love the desert life because it is ours.”

But it is not mine, thought Samir with sadness.

One early morning, after the moon had set but while it was still dark, Marwan shook him. “We must ride into the wilderness,” he said and handed Samir a waterskin and some dried dates. Each rode a dromedary while two riderless mares cantered at their side and held by lines to the camel girths. A few miles out of the camp, Marwan, rifle in hand, flung himself from the camel onto the back of his mare, unslipped the line and raced off in a cloud yelling wildly. Samir made three attempts to do the same but fell twice. He couldn’t ride bareback and found himself gripping with his thighs for dear life. He reached Marwan who was casually pitching stones at a pile of bleached animal bones.

“I thought you were in danger,”’ shouted Samir.

“You were supposed to ride as if danger were near,” said Marwan coolly.

“I almost broke my back. Who ever heard of riding a blasted horse without a saddle! And jumping on him at that!”

“It’s the way it is done.”

“It’s a good way to kill yourself.”

“It’s the way we ride for the gazu, the raid,” he said stubbornly. “It is the way we move our camps. It is the way we protect our grazing areas and our flocks. In order to survive in the desert you must be ready to move swiftly from the camel to the war mare. It is the only way to be a man. We must try it again until it is as easy as walking.”

Samir rubbed his back. He thought: I’m never going to be in a raid. I’m not going to move a camp. One day I will return to my home. Yet Marwan was already retying his line to try again. They worked all day on the maneuver and Samir was enticed by the spectacular look of the transfer when it was accomplished properly. Using the left wrist to launch himself, Marwan lifted both legs up and to the right then swung gracefully between the two animals and landed squarely on the back of the mare, unhitching the line at the same instant he spurred the horse. Then came the wild yell of freedom. The thrill of speed atop the most splendid horses in the world, the “drinkers of the wind.”

In the end, after two years of exhausting research and re-writing, I was proud of the book that resulted. Daughters was translated into fifteen languages and received excellent reviews.


Consuelo Saah Baehr was born in El Salvador to French/Palestinian parents. At age five she joined her father and five uncles in Washington, D.C. where they ran the prestigious boutique department store, Jean Matou, a favorite of Bess Truman and Jackie Kennedy. Convent boarding schools came next and George Washington University. After college she began writing advertising copy for the Macy Corp. Marriage and three children followed and the writing was silent until a stunning Op-Ed piece in The New York Times brought a flurry of offers from book publishers. The result was the personal memoir, Report From The Heart (Simon & Schuster). Four novels followed: Best Friends (Delacorte/Dell); Nothing To Lose (Putnam's); Daughters (Delacorte/Dell) and 100 Open Houses soon to be a Kindle original.

Daughters, a historical family saga set in pre-war Jerusalem, has been translated into 15 languages. It was published as a Kindle book in late August.


About Daughters:

“Engrossing…the story Baehr tells touches so deeply one is tempted to reread each page.” Chicago Tribune
"No fiction that I have read has illuminated the nation that was Palestine through the medium of the family saga … as does this absorbing novel. Like a landscape painter, Baehr skillfully paints the background and it becomes a palpable experience. I for one long to know what has happened to the village and its families in the last forty years."

--Washington Post Book World

"Daughters is a big book in every sense ; a long, richly textured novel filled with wonderful characters and an extraordinary sense of historical detail. Consuelo Saah Baehr has written a blockbuster with a heart.”

--Susan Isaacs, author of Almost Paradise and Shining Through.

“A tapestry of complex fully-developed characters whose lives are filled with challenges and struggles.”

--Chicago Sun Times

“Sweeping, uncommonly stirring!”

--Publishers Weekly

From the one room dwellings of a tiny village near Jerusalem to the elegant town houses of Georgetown; from a world steeped in ancient traditions to a world of independent women comes this multi-layered novel of the lives, loves, secrets and strivings of three generations of Palestinian Christian women.

Miriam Mishwe is born into a world that hasn’t changed for centuries – rural Palestine in the last years of the 19th century. She marries a man chosen by her family but the world she sees as unchangeable is on the verge of upheaval.

Nadia is Miriam’s daughter. Sent to a local British school, she adopts many modern ideas but is not ready to renounce her heritage. It is Nadia’s child, Nijmeh, who looks to the west and calls herself by her English name, Star, when she goes to live in America. There she faces problems unknown in her childhood world of brooding hills and desert and brilliant skies.

Daughters is an unforgettable novel about courage, love and hope; and about two worlds – one ancient, one modern – and the extraordinary women who bridge them.

Russell Crowe's Robin Hood

Reviews of Robin Hood have been quite mixed. I come down on the positive side.

My experience of the movie suggests that the biggest cause of poor reviews might be expectations. Robin Hood is an icon: Lincoln green, pointy hats, feats of archery, Sherwood forest with his merry outlawed men, the lovely maid Marian, disguises and tricks against the rich and powerful, particularly the love-to-hate-him Sheriff of Nottingham, and the hope of King Richard the Lionheart coming home to save the kingdom from his evil brother John.

Russell Crowe's Robin Hood has very little of these stock features. Robin Longstride is an archer, in the king’s service, but we barely see that. He spends the movie not in Sherwood, but at the Crusades and in the village of Nottingham, wearing the standard russets and browns of the day, not a stitch of green, no pointy hat. He has only a few men: Little John, who is not quite so overbearingly large as previous incarnations of the story suggest, but only a little taller than average; Allan a Dale, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck, who really is not one of his men at all in this movie. Marian is a nearly middle-aged, overworked woman coping almost single-handedly with her blind father-in-law, the running of a manor and small village, and thievery both of run-amok orphans living in Sherwood and the English authorities, while her husband Robert of Locksley has been at war for a decade. King Richard is dead; and definitely not coming home to save the kingdom.

The Sheriff of Nottingham makes only a cursory appearance or two. The real villain, Godfrey, is busy pitting the barons against the new king, John, while plotting with Phillip of France to step into the disarray and make an easy conquest of England.

As to the wonderful hi-jinks and disguises that are an integral part of the Robin Hood story, they are also nearly non-existent here. Robin Longstride, archer, is honest with the Locksley family--widow Marian and her father-in-law--about who he is. It is the father-in-law's idea for him to become the long-absent and now dead Robert of Locksley and help the family. From there on, apart from assuming the dead man's identity, Robin lives in the open, no disguises, and apart from stealing back the grain being stolen from Marian by the authorities, there is no stealing from the rich. Until the last 5 minutes, Robin and his men are not outlaws at all.

Once I stopped expecting the standard elements, I appreciated the new take on the old story. I felt the characters came alive as real people, more genuine than the stock characters we know. (I have to admit, I have always wondered how a bunch of men living in the forest managed to have so much lincoln green material on hand to make matching outfits.) I felt I could relate to them better because they were no longer larger-than-life, but ordinary men thrust into extraordinary events, which allows us to ask the question that makes stories an important part of life: what would I, no legend, but an ordinary person, do in such a situation? It allows us to look into possible futures and think beforehand about who we want to be at such moments. It allowed me to see very clearly how the legend of Robin Hood might have sprung from an ordinary man.

As a historical novelist, I enjoyed the attention to detail: how a siege is conducted, how Marian rides her horse. Robin Hood tales often portray Richard being absent while held captive and awaiting ransom, and returning to England to free the nation from the evil John's tyranny. The movie depicts Richard dying in battle, killed by a cook, and leaving the kingdom to John. It turns out this is a fairly historically accurate--and fascinating--detail. (On the other hand, historical records report that Richard was a man of mercy, forgiving the boy with the pan who killed him, while the movie portrays him as less than that, setting Robin and several others in stocks, awaiting flogging and branding, for Robin's crime of voicing an opinion for which King Richard asked.)

The name Robin Hood probably drew plenty of viewers. But it also probably left many disappointed, as it was not what they expected. I briefly thought the producers might have gotten better reviews with the same exact movie had they simply not named the characters Robin, Will, Allan, John, Marian, and Friar Tuck, and thus avoided the problem of expectations. In the last 10 minutes of the movie, however, when John reneges on his word and outlaws Robin instead, it became clear that the real answer was to call this movie Robin Hood: The Prequel, for this is what it is. This, as they say, is just the beginning.

Plans for a sequel are up in the air, although the ending of Robin Hood clearly begs for one. If it materializes, I would definitely see it. I also expect I will watch this movie again, and enjoy it more a second time, knowing what to expect. If you like Robin Hood, if you like war , adventure, and action, or historical movies, I recommend this one. Just go in with the proper expectations.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Flower of Scotland

Scotland has no official anthem, but Flower of Scotland is the unofficial anthem, vying with Scotland the Brave, Scots What Hae, and a few other pieces for that honor. The song was written by Roy Williamson of the folk group The Corries, and composed by Peter Dodds McCormick, originally for Northumbrian pipes.

The song celebrates the great victory of Robert the Bruce, king of the Scots, over Edward II of England, at Bannockburn, on June 23 and 24, 1314.

Although a relative newcomer to the music scene, the song quickly gained popularity with its growing inclusion at sporting events, ever since being sung by Scotland's rugby team on its Lions tour of South Africa in 1974. It became the pre-game anthem in 1990, and in 1997 was picked up by the Scottish Football Association as its pre-game anthem, also.

In addition to the Corries, it has been performed and recorded by Alestrom, Celtic Punk, and The Real McKenzies. It is currently (June 6-12, 2010) on the playlist at Nan Hawthorne's Radio de Danann.

O flower of Scotland

When will we see your like again

That fought and died for

Your wee bit hill and glen

And stood against him

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again

The hills are bare now

And autumn leaves lie thick and still

O'er land that is lost now

Which those so dearly held

And stood against him

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again

Those days are passed now

And in the past they must remain

But we can still rise now

And be the nation again

That stood against him

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again

To fully appreciate the impact of this moment in Scottish history requires a little backstory. Scotland had long been its own, independent nation, but with the death of King Alexander III in March 1386, and the subsequent death of his only heir, Margaret, Edward I of England (Edward Plantagenet, Longshanks, and Hammer of the Scots, to give him his many names) stepped into the kingless gap to seize a nation. Through the years of the Guardians (including William Wallace of Braveheart fame) and the brief reign of John Balliol, Scotland fought against Edward, experiencing such dark moments as the particularly brutal town-wide slaughter at Berwick-on-Tweed in 1296.

Through these years, Robert the Bruce, grandson of The Competitor, another Robert Bruce, who had vied for the throne of Scotland, rose to power. Of course, power is a relative term. He was crowned in March of 1306 with few supporters at his side. "We are king and queen of the May," his new queen Elizabeth remarked, for they were indeed monarchs with no power, no authority, few supporters, and for some years, not even a home, while Edward I pounded Scotland into submission, capturing Elizabeth and Bruce's daughter Marjory, and driving Bruce and his few men to hiding, at times, in caves, and entirely dependent on the goodwill and hospitality of his subjects.

From this inauspicious start, from a country torn and fighting amongst itself and subjected by the armies of a more powerful nation, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce slowly gained strength through guerrilla tactics and clever use of the landscape against their enemies. Finally, in 1314, Bruce's hot-headed younger brother, Edward, forced Bruce into a position of fighting a pitched battle, something he had avoided, as he did not have the numbers to match England's forces.

Still, Bruce rose to the occasion. With Longshanks dead some years now, Edward II, his son, gathered a force rumored to be the largest army the world had ever seen. Sources report it stretched for 20 miles, with 2,000 cavalry, many thousands of foot soldiers, and a veritable caravan of supply wagons snaking over the hills toward Scotland to destroy the country once and for all.

Against this, Bruce had as few as 5,000 men, according to some sources. Others place the number at more than twice that, but what is not in doubt is that the Scots were severely outnumbered. Despite this, Bruce arrived early, chose his ground well, and prepared it for even greater effect, with caltrops and murder pits to stop England's war horses. He drilled his men to work together in schiltrons, prickly rings of hundreds of spears all pointed outward, that could fell even a charging knight.

And against all odds, after years of struggle, Bruce did far more than merely claim victory those two days at Bannockburn. Against a force anywhere from 2 to 5 times the size of his own, he forced a complete rout of Edward II's troops, setting Scotland back in position to reclaim the independence it had always had.

It was a truly remarkable story of perseverance, courage, and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds, and well worth celebrating in song.

Listen all week, June 6-12, 2010, to this and more songs celebrating Scotland, at Radio de Danann.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Medieval Berwick and Blog Tour Updates

The past days have continued to be busy on the blog tour.

Blog O' the Irish posted my guest blog on the shared culture of Scotland and Ireland, including Edward Bruce's brief stint as the last (Scottish) High King of Ireland, and posted a review, saying, in part: "I love a good time travel story and The Blue Bells of Scotland is a very good story.... Blue Bells of Scotland is a historical/contemporary novel at the same time filled with Scottish history and I look forward to read more in this great trilogy. A very enjoyable read."

I made a stop at Night Owl Reviews with a guest post on the contrasting lives of two men who are not so different underneath, and posing the question of how much our environment affects who we turn out to be.

Hot Author Report posted an interview, including the question about characters who behave with a mind of their own.

Book Marketing Buzz also posted an interview this week.

Medieval Berwick
In my research today, I'm taking a quick visit to medieval Berwick. Berwick sits on the border of England and Scotland, a location which led to it being the center of warfare. From 1147 to 1482, it changed hands at least 13 times, finally becoming and remaining English. It started with the town being given to Henry II of England as ransom for William I of Scotland in 1174. Richard I--the Lionheart--sold it back to Scotland to raise money for his Crusades in the late 1100's, and in 1216, King John of England destroyed the town, personally overseeing a barbaric slaughter of its inhabitants. (Is there any other kind?)

berwick, castles, scotland, medieval history, edward II, sack of berwick
In the time surrounding Scotland's Wars of Independence, Berwick got on the wrong side of Edward Longshanks, King of England, by signing the treaty of the Scots king, John Balliol, with France, Edward's enemy. In retaliation, Longshanks laid siege to the town, ending with a vicious assault on March 30, 1296, in which his men killed 8,000 townspeople, including hunting them down where they sought sanctuary in churches. Only when he saw his men hacking a woman to death in the very act of giving birth did some minor shred of humanity attempt to rear its head, and he called a stop to the carnage.

That brief flicker of humanity was short-lived, however. In August, he summoned 2,000 of Scotland's nobles to Berwick, still fresh from the slaughter, commanding them to swear homage to him by signing the Ragman Roll. Among these nobles was the young Robert the Bruce. Nigel Tranter, the Scottish historian and novelist, portrays this scene vividly, describing the town still stinking and bloody from the previous slaughter, as a stark message to the nobles of Edward's power. Not surprisingly, they fell in line and swore their heartfelt fealty as ordered.

In 1305, tradition has it that one of William Wallace's arms was sent to Berwick for display and warning against others who might rise against the English invasion. In 1306, the unfortunate Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, was locked in a cage and forced to live there, hanging from the walls of Berwick for some four years. (Her crime? Crowning Robert the Bruce.) In October, Bruce's brother Nigel was executed at Berwick. Four years later, Edward II wintered in Berwick.

In June of 1314, Edward II of England mustered his men at Berwick, and following his disastrous defeat, it was to Berwick he fled.

It would be almost four years before the Scots would finally take Berwick back, in an attack on April 1, 1318, following a three-month-long siege. The loss of Berwick was a powerful enough incentive for Edward II to set aside his differences with Lancaster long enough to launch an effort at regaining Berwick in the summer of 1319, but Walter the High Steward, with the aid of the Flemish military engineer, John Crabb, held them off. In order to assist them--knowing they couldn't hold off forever--Bruce ordered James Douglas to mount more raids on Northern England. This soon led to The Chapter of Myton,a disastrous loss for the English. Lancaster, who came from the north of England, abandoned the siege of Berwick to look to his home, family, and property. Without Lancaster's help, Edward was forced to abandon the siege, and the Scots retained Berwick.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like others on medieval Scotland:
Kingdom Without Castles This Day in Scottish History: July 10
Castle Tioram Linlithgow Berwick and the Bruce

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

News and Reviews and Interviews, Oh My!

At my children's school, they have "Ketchup and Relish" time: those who didn't do their work stay in to catch up, and those who did their work go outside for...relish.

Today, I am definitely in the Ketchup category. It's been a crazy week, with no spare hours to post.

In addition to guest blogging at Blogging Authors on the Butterfly Effect, and at Literarily Speaking on "A Day in the Life," there have been several reviews posted of Blue Bells of Scotland, excerpts of which are posted here.

Sharon, at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews, says:

This fascinating book is filled with history, romance, mystery and humor as well as a bit of time traveling to boot! I literally could not put this book down and spent the entire night in Inverness, Scotland until the wee hours of the dawn with the fabulous cast of characters that author Laura Vosika has created.

I was especially impressed at the way Vosika wove into the story an underlying story of faith, and how important his relationship with God was to Naill, the Scottish Warrior who had been plunked down in the middle of today's world. It's not "in your face," but the message of hope is there, as comforting and warm as an inspirational message should be. Very well done.

Marta at Marta's Meanderings, gave this review:

This book is fun, exciting and will keep you enthralled with this very original story. If you are like me, you will have a hard time putting it down to get anything else done. I was completely caught up in the story and absolutely loved it! It takes a talented writer to keep switching from medieval to modern times without it being an awkward transition, but Vosika manages to make that switch effortlessly. She takes two characters who are complete opposites, but happen to look identical, inserts them into the cultures of the other, separated by centuries, and makes it all work. This book is a treat to say the least.

DK at DK's Everything Romance, said:

Laura Vosika has a way with words and made this story come to life and I just love being swept away with a great read. I also like the fact that I thought I knew what was going to happen and then was surprised when something different than I expected happened.

From Must Read Faster:

Really, I loved this story! The characters grew on me as I read. I loved the way that Laura Vosika used time travel theme, but didn't make it at all seem cheesy....I completely and utterly devoured Blue Bells!

The book was very nicely written, very strong storyline and again awesome characters. I loved how they developed as the story went along. The ending is sad and I have no idea how the story will go!

An interview has been posted at As The Pages Turn and you can find Ten Fun Facts at Beyond the Books.

Coming soon, the tour stops of the last couple of days!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Researching Today: Melrose Abbey

As I research a sequence of hiking scenes today, I find myself in the midst of some of Scotland's great and picturesque medieval ruins.
Castle Campbell
There's Castle Campbell, high in the Ochil Hills between the Burn of Care and the Burn of Sorrow, and once called Castle Gloom. How much more evocative can you get? If you have ten minutes, take a virtual walk through Dollar Glen and up to the castle now!

There is simply no choice but to write a scene--any scene!--in such a setting! Whether that will be today, I don't know, because there are so many wonderful sites that might work better for the underlying themes in the scene.

I moved on to abbeys, in particular, those along the "Four Abbeys Cycle Route," a ride I fully intend to make some day. There's Jedburgh, in the haunts of the great James Douglas, Bruce's close friend and loyal knight. It's tempting to set a scene here, as Douglas appears in Book 2 of the Trilogy. There's Dryburgh, secluded on ten acres in a loop of the River Tweed, and Kelso, known as one of the grandest.

But for sheer picturesque beauty and mystique, Melrose stands out. It is no wonder it has been lauded by several poets, including Walter Scott, in The Lay of the Last Minstrel:

If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;

For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins grey.
When the broken arches are black in night,

And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light's uncertain shower
Streams on the ruin'd central tower;
When buttress and buttress, alternately,

Seem framed of ebon and ivory;
When silver edges the imagery,
And the scrolls that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave,
And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave,

Then go--but go alone the while--
Then view St. David's ruin'd pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear,
Was never scene so sad and fair!

and further in the poem:

Spreading herbs, and flowerets bright,

Glisten'd with the dew of night;
Nor herb, nor floweret, glisten'd there,
But was carved in the cloister-arches as fair.

The monk gazed long on the lovely moon,
Then into the night he looked forth;
And red and bright the streamers light
Were dancing in the glowing north.

Melrose is widely considered the most beautiful of religious houses in all of the United Kingdom, noted particularly for its Gothic architecture and its many detailed carvings of saints, gargoyles, plants, and dragons. Notable among the sculptures is the bagpipe playing pig.

Like all ancient churches, it is built in the shape of a cross, facing east and west. It features 50 windows, more than 50 buttresses, and a number of side chapels, many containing tombs. On one of its stairways, is carved the motto of the town of Melrose: "Be halde to ye hende." Meaning, Keep in mind, the end, your salvation.

At the request of David I of Scotland, so renowned for his piety that he was sometimes called St. David, the Cistercian monks founded this beautiful abbey in 1136. They selected the site, two miles west of a former monastery on the River Tweed, preferring the better farm there, over the site of the former monastery. Early records, recorded in the Melrose Chronicle, show grants of land to the abbey by Roger de Skelbrooke of Grennan, about 1193; and grants of Maybole and Beath to the Abbey by Duncan, Earl of Carrick. Other lands came from Raderic mac Gillescop and his wife Christina (daughter of Roger de Skelbrooke), and from Walter Campania in the mid-1200's.

The town of Melrose grew up around the abbey. Through the years, the English attacked both town and abbey. In 1322, 8 years after the Blue Bells Trilogy begins, Edward II destroyed much of the abbey. Robert the Bruce rebuilt. Richard II attacked in 1384, while driving Robert II of Scotland and his army back to Edinburgh. It took more than a hundred years to rebuild, and in fact was still not finished in 1504 when James IV visited.

Barely completed, it was once again attacked by Sir Ralph Evers during the "Rough Wooing" of 1544, in which Henry VIII demanded, rather forcefully, the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, as his son's bride. The English, this time, vented special rage upon the tombs of the Douglases, some of whom are buried there. The following year, in 1545, the English were back, under the Earl of Hertford, to wreak more damage.

Melrose Abbey was never completely repaired after this, and it declined as a working monastery. Its last abbot died in 1559, and its last monk some 31 years later in 1590. Not quite content, the English assaulted one last time, under Oliver Cromwell, in the mid-1600's.

Although it was disestablished in 1609, it was partially re-roofed and continued, even in its semi-ruined state, to be used as a parish church from 1618 until 1810. For years, nearby residents used the church as a quarry to build their own homes, further destroying its former grandeur.

Bruce's Association with Melrose

The Bruce seems to have had a place in his heart for Melrose. (A little historical humor, as there is now a place in Melrose for his heart, but I suppose one logically follows from the other.) On March 11, 1302, the 27-year-old Bruce wrote to 'the anxious monks of Melrose Abbey' that, despite being called to his Carrick army in previous years, he was now 'troubled in conscience' and thus promised never again to do so, 'unless the common army of the whole realm is raised for its defense.' (An echo, perhaps, of his own father granting certain freedoms to the men of Melrose Abbey in 1285?)

Around March of 1309, he made a royal grant of the lands of Eksdale to the abbey.

In 1316, in the wake of his success against the English at Bannockburn, Bruce maintained especially close ties to Melrose Abbey. He signed a charter there on June 8 of that year; 20 days later, from Kilwinning, he granted letters patent to Melrose. On October 6, it was the Abbot of Melrose who was given safe-conduct to England, presumably to deliver Bruce's own guarantees of safe-conduct for English negotiators to come north. Those negotiators arrived at Jedburgh on November 21, and on that same day, once again from Melrose, Bruce signed a writ to James Douglas.

In 1322, Edward II pushed all the way to the gates of Edinburgh. However, frustrated at the Scots' harassment of his army (imagine that!), he retreated, attacking Scottish abbeys on the way. The men of Melrose fought back, resulting in the English killing Melrose's Prior William Peebles and three invalids (what a glorious victory) and going on to descrate, loot and seriously damage the abbey.

In January 1326, Bruce granted the abbey a hundred pounds per year to serve each monk "The King's Dish" each day, a supplement to the standard rations. The money was to come from Berwick, Edinburgh, and Haddington; James Douglas was charged with enforcing the payment, and as soon as August, had to do so, threatening the sheriff of Berwick with a 10 pound fine. Several months later, Bruce gave 2,000 sterling, the equivalent of $50,000 today, to Melrose for repairs. Those repairs are credited with making the abbey so particularly beautiful, as Gothic architecture was at that time at its height.

In his last written requests as he lay dying at Cardross, on May 13, 1329, Bruce asked that his heart be buried at Melrose Abbey. Does his request have anything to do with the fact that his own father was buried at Holm Coultram, a daughter house of Melrose, in England? After Bruce's death, as per another request, Bruce's heart made a brief trip to Spain to fight the Crusades, embalmed in a silver casket. On its return, it was buried at Melrose as requested.

The abbey became the burial place of many important figures. An 1890 guidebookto Melrose Abbey, by J. Wass, lists William Douglas, "The Dark Knight of Liddesdale," and hero of Otterburn and Chevy Chase and many of his descendants; Alexander II and his queen Johanna; many of the Karr family; and the heart of Robert the Bruce, on its recovery from the Crusades, to which James Douglas carried it.

Among the most interesting stories of the dead at Melrose Abbey is that of Michael Scot, "The Scottish Wizard." His life straddled the 12th and 13th Centuries, and some believe he retired in old age to Melrose, and is buried there. claims this is authenticated, while other sites call it conjecture and put forth other places as his retirement and burial. Nonetheless, it is said that in 1812, roughly 600 years after his death, his stone coffin was found in the aisle of Melrose's south chancel.

Got Ghosts?

Like all good ruins, Melrose is home to a few ethereal presences. Michael Scott is reputed to be one of them. Many people report a chill in the air near his grave. A group of ghostly monks likes to walk the grounds, while another, unnamed figure 'slides' through the ruins like a snake, close to the ground.
A fourth story tells of a vampire. gives a fairly detailed account, calling this an 'actual vampire,' and reporting that the case was chronicled by William of Newburgh, author of Historia rerum Anglicarum, in the 1100's. It is worth noting that William of Newburgh comes down through history with the reputation of a 'careful historian,' and that he reports his case on the authority of 'reputable' clerics who experienced the events firsthand. The story is also recounted in Stories of the Border Marches, by John Lang.

These reputable clerics tell of a priest of Melrose who neglected his vows for frivolous activity. Other sources state more forcefully that he was given to all manner of sin and vices, and called Hundeprest, Dog Priest, for his love of hunting on horseback with a pack of hounds at his heels. On his death, he rose from his grave and made several attempts at entering the cloister. Failing this, he wandered the countryside, entering the home of a woman to whom he had been chaplain. Apparently not caring for her dead chaplain's nighttime visits, she reported him to the abbey.

Several of the monks sat watch by his grave. Most of them went to warm themselves by a fire, leaving only one witness to the nightly rising. This monk struck the dead--or not so dead--with a battle axe and forced him back into the grave. When the other monks returned, the earth appeared undisturbed. They dug up the corpse to find it marked with the wounds of a battle axe, in accord with the monk's story, and the coffin full of blood. They burned the body and scattered the ashes over the Lammermuir Hills, but the story of the undead priest, and many say his presence, too, remain at Melrose.

The rumors of vampirism and other crimes are often linked back either to Michael Scott or to the delinquent priest, and the sliding presence is said to possibly be a manifestation of the evil spirits left behind by one or the other of them.


Melrose Abbey stands today as a top attraction in the Borders region of Scotland, including the ruins, the old cemetery, and the Commendator’s House Museum, containing a variety of medieval objects. If you're interested in learning more about it, there is a fascinating and detailed guidebook from the 1800's available online.

Want to learn more about Melrose Abbey?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blue Bells of Scotland Available on Bookshare

Some time ago, I submitted Blue Bells of Scotland to Nan Hawthorne, author, reviewer, and songwriter, both to be listed at her site, medieval-novels, which collects medieval fiction, and to her personally to review at her blog, That's All She Read. I was very flattered to receive an e-mail from Nan some weeks later, asking that I and three other authors submit her 'four favorite books of the year' to Bookshare.
Bookshare is a site that makes books available in a variety of adapted formats (braille, large print, audio) for those with visual impairments, physical disabilities, or learning disabilities who have difficulty reading a standard book. If you know someone who would benefit from this wonderful service, please check out their link and pass it on!
Although it took longer than I'd hoped, due to work, family, and continued writing, I did take Nan up on her suggestion, and sent Blue Bells of Scotland to Bookshare. Their site tells me that: "In the final step, a Bookshare staff member reviews all books and verifies that they meet all criteria for inclusion into the collection. This person makes the final decision about whether to add it to the Bookshare library." On May 19, 2010, my book was added to Bookshare's collection, reviewed by a staff member, and marked as "Book Quality: Excellent."
Thank you, Nan, for suggesting I submit. I am very pleased to work with Bookshare in making books available to all!

Blue Bells of Scotland at Bookshare

Order a signed copy of Blue Bells of Scotland direct from the author

Blue Bells of Scotland at Amazon

Bluebells: the Flower

And yet, it is not the same as the English, or common, bluebell, the hyacinthoides non-scripta. And despite its name, the Scottish bluebell is not always blue, but comes in shades of purple, pink, white, and cream.  A rose by any other name....

Even the briefest study of the bluebell, after which the folk song, Arthur Pryor's showcase trombone solo, and my own novel, are named, reveals many monikers: campanula rotundifolia, Endymionin Latin, harebell, lady's thimble, fairy thimbles, aul man's bells, witches' bells, the wild hyacinth, Dead Man's bells, milk-ort (milk herb), or its common name, bluebell. This, by the way, is probably still not a complete list.

In strictly factual terms, the bluebell grows in clusters of bell-shaped flowers, a perennial which blooms from spring well into the fall, sometimes as late as November. They are a favorite of hummingbirds, and pollinated by bees, although they are capable of self-pollination. It is a woodland flower which may spread quickly, but will also grow in cracks in cliffs or walls, and on grasslands and heaths. They are a hardy flower which thrive with either sun or shade.

As a writer, I find the history, symbolism, and myths associated with the flower far more interesting. The bluebell, or harebell, is the official national flower of Scotland, although many sources also list the thistle as Scotland's flower.


Humility, constancy, gratitude, and everlasting love in Scotland. It is also associated with death in Britain and is often planted on graves.


bluebells, myths, legends, medicinal uses

Fairies: Bluebells are strongly associated with fairies, as it is said that the fairies ring these tiny bells to summon their people to the fairy convention. The fairies were rather protective of their bells, and would cast spells on anyone who damaged or picked bluebells, which would explain why it was considered unlucky to walk through a field of bluebells. What better way to damage them and call down the fairies mischievous spells on your head? According to others, fairies used the bluebell to trap passersby, especially children. Some sources say that the bluebell's properties allow mortals to see fairies, or see into the world of fairies.

Witches: Others claimed that witches turned themselves into hares to hide among the bluebells, explaining not only the hares rampant in the flowers, but bringing about the name harebell. Some said if you heard the bluebell ring, someone close to you would die. The bluebell produces a white juice, which was said to be used by witches both for a 'flying ointment' and to transform themselves into hares.

Moon Goddess: Wandering farther afield from the British Isles, the bluebell is associated with the shepherd boy Endymion. The moon goddess, variously called Seline or Diana, fell in love with him and cast an eternal sleep on him so that she could enjoy his beauty alone, forever.

between worlds, medicinal uses, herbs

A path between worlds: Most interesting to me is the belief that the bluebell 'thins' the walls between worlds and realities. Folklore warns of the danger of becoming lost in strange states in fields or woods of bluebells, and needing to be led out by another. One writer suggests that perhaps they do exist in multiple worlds at once: a fascinating reminiscence of the pools between worlds in the Narnia series. In Blue Bells of Scotland, Niall and Shawn each go to sleep in the castle tower, seven centuries apart, with bluebells present, and wake up in one another's times.


The bluebell is, according to many sources, a poisonous plant, once used in ancient alchemy. Interestingly, its properties are currently being researched for medicinal uses.

Other sources say that the bluebell is not only edible, but has healing properties, having once been used by the Cree, Chippewa, and Thompson Indians and others, for various purposes: heart, lungs, eyes, and ears; to stop bleeding and reduce swelling; as an anti-depressant, anti-fungal, and a concoction to increase milk supply in new mothers. It is also associated with preventing nightmares and curing leprosy, tuberculosis, and spider bites. Quite a lengthy list for one little flower!

I will add, however: Do not try this at home, kids! It is not medical advice, it is strictly a report on what other sources say.

Association with St. Dominic:

As yet, I have found only that the bluebell is associated with Roman Catholic beliefs and St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Friar Preachers, but not why.

I like to think that there is wisdom to be gleaned, lessons to be learned, from everything around us. In the bluebell, I see a great deal of human nature: the contradictions in all of us, the multi facets, and the fascinating stories that lie, waiting to surprise us if we only stop and listen, behind the most humble of exteriors.

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If you liked this article, you might also like
Thomas the Rhymer and the Ferry Queen
Eating Medieval: Bough Cake
or other posts under the Scottish Legends label


Arthur Pryor: Blue Bells and the Trombone

"What were you thinking?  It's just a trombone!"

"When you see him, you'll understand!  He could turn a tin whistle into stardom!"

From Blue Bells of Scotland
Book One of The Blue Bells Chronicles

In an unintended instance of art imitating life, Blue Bells of Scotland opens with Shawn Kleiner marching in to audition for the position of second trombone, and walking away as the new principal player. Though I was not aware of it at the time I wrote it, the scene could have been taken directly from the life of Arthur Pryor, the original "Greatest Trombonist in the World."

In 1892, the 22 year old Arthur Pryor from Missouri, self-taught on the slide trombone, arrived in New York City at the invitation of John Philip Sousa himself. At the first rehearsal of Sousa's brand new concert band, Pryor so stunned the musicians with his virtuosity that the first chair trombonist, Frank Holton (for all the musicians out there, yes that Holton) offered to hand his position to the young newcomer. Sousa convinced Holton to stay, but in 1893, Arthur Pryor did assume the official position of featured soloist with the Sousa band. Over the next ten years, he performed 10,000 trombone solos with the group.

When Shawn's teacher refuses to teach him the Arthur Pryor piece, Blue Bells of Scotland, he teaches himself. In this, too, he imitates Arthur Pryor. In Pryor's 19th Century America, the slide trombone was a novelty. When one was given to his father, the town's bandmaster, as repayment of a debt, nobody in the town knew how to play it. They had only ever seen valve trombones. Pryor's father gave it to him and told him to figure it out. He did, discovering the system of alternate positions known to all advanced trombonists today.

(It would be five years before someone told him the full length of the slide, all seven positions, could be used, not to mention passing on the helpful information that the slide really ought to be oiled!)

Ten hours of practice a day, however, in combination with his alternate positions, left Pryor so adept that he became a hit at county fairs, under the moniker of "The Boy Wonder of Missouri." This led to a midwestern tour with Allessandro Liberati, and a similar offer from Patrick Gilmore, (which he declined, as he'd already accepted a job as pianist and music director of the Stanley Opera House in Colorado.) It was after this that he received the telegram inviting him to play for John Philip Sousa, and still later that he began working with recording.

Though a prodigy and well-known band leader and musician in his own time, Arthur Pryor is largely remembered today for his arrangement of Blue Bells of Scotland, an old Scottish folk song. Amazingly, he did this arrangement probably at the age of 18 or 19, when he'd been playing the instrument only 3 or 4 years himself.

Bluebells demonstrated what a slide trombone could really do, featuring quick tempos, lots of sixteenths and triplets, double-tonguing, octave jumps, a three and a half octave range from pedal G's an octave below the bass clef staff to high C's in the treble clef, and, of course, the beautiful lyric statement of the original melody, which shows off the trombone's beautiful tone.

Arthur Pryor inspired interest in the trombone with his virtuoso playing, and Bluebells of Scotland in particular has been a standard of trombone literature for decades, and a favorite challenge for advanced players. It has been performed and recorded byJoe Alessi and Christian Lindberg, today's "World's Greatest Trombonist," among others.

For other Scottish songs set in Scottish locations with accompanying stories:

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To read the first four books in the series, click on the links:

Blue Bells of Scotland the Folk Song

One of these was entitled Oh, Where, Tell Me Where? It was written for the departure of the Marquis of Huntly, with his regiment, to Holland in 1799. (My research suggests he was a member of the Gordon Highlanders, but not what his connection to Mrs. Grant might have been.)

Many people assume that my interest in Scotland and its history must come from my heritage. The truth is, I have absolutely no ancestral connection to Scotland. In the strange ways of life's paths, my interest in Scotland stems from my life as a musician, and a piece known to all trombonists, Blue Bells of Scotland.

Blue Bells of Scotland is an old folk song which, like many, has multiple versions springing from different eras. Although histories vary, most now say that the song started off as the poetry of a woman named Anne MacVicar Grant, or, in the parlance of another age, Mrs. Grant of Laggan. Born in Glasgow in February of 1755, to a British soldier stationed alternately in America and Scotland, Annie MacVicar married a Scottish minister in 1779. Some 22 years later, she was left widowed and penniless while pregnant with the youngest of 8 surviving children. (There were 12 altogether.) In a classic story of pluck, she supported her children by publishing the poems she had written over the years.

Oh! where, tell me where, is your Highland laddie gone?

Oh! where, tell me where is your Highland laddie gone?

He's gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done.

And my sad heart will tremble till he come safely home,

He's gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done.

And my sad heart will tremble till he come safely home.

Oh! where, tell me where, did your Highland laddie stay?

Oh! where, tell me where, did your Highland laddie stay?

He dwelt among the holly trees, beside the rapid Spey,

And many a blessing followed him the day he went away,

He dwelt beneath the holly trees, beside the river Spey,

And many a blessing followed him the day he went away.

Oh! what, tell me what, does your Highland laddie wear?

Oh! what, tell me what, does your Highland laddie wear?

A bonnet with a lofty plume, the gallant badge of war.

And a plaid across the manly breast, that yet shall wear a star,

A bonnet with a lofty plume, the gallant badge of war,

And a plaid across the manly breast, that yet shall wear a star.

Suppose, ah, suppose, that some cruel, cruel wound

Should pierce your Highland laddie, and all your hopes confound?

The pipe would play a cheering march, the banners round him fly,

The spirit of a Highland chief would lighten in his eye,

The pipe would play a cheering march, the banners round him fly,

And for his king and country dear, with pleasure would he die.

But I will hope to see him yet in Scotland's bonnie bounds.

But I will hope to see him yet in Scotland's bonnie bounds ;

His native land of liberty shall nurse his glorious wounds,

While wide through all our Highland hills his war-like name resounds,

His native land of liberty shall nurse his glorious wounds,

While wide through all our Highland hills his war-like name resounds.

The original words of Mrs. Grant's poetry have, over the years, been used for the song, and at times replaced with others. From the Scots Musical Museum, a collection of 600 Scottish folk songs, we get a very different version:

O, fair maid, whose aught that bonny bairn

O, fair maid, whose aught that bonny bairn ;

It is a sodg-er's son, the said, that's lately gone to Spain,

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

O, fair maid, what was that Rodger's name?

O, fair maid, what was that Rodger's name ?

In troth a'tweel, I never speir'd—the mair I was to blame,

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

O, fair maid, what had that sodger on?

O, fair maid, what had that sodger on?

A scarlet coat laid o'er wi' gold, a waistcoat o' the game.,

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

O, fair maid, what if he should be slain?

O, fair maid, what if he should be slain?

The king would lose a brave sodger, and I a pretty num

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

O, fair maid, what if he should come hame?

O, fair maid, what if he should come hame?

The parish priest should marry us, the clerk should say amen

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

O, fair maid, would ye that sodger ken?

O, fair maid, would ye that sodger ken?

In troth a'tweel, an' that I wad, among ten thousand men.

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

O, fair maid, what if I be the man?

O, fair maid, what if I be the man?

In troth a'tweel, it may be so; I'se baud ye for the same.

Te dilly dan, te dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dan

The lyrics better known today follow a similar pattern of question and answer, regarding where he's gone, where he dwells, what he wears, and what if he dies:

Oh where, tell me where is your highland laddie gone?

Oh where, tell me where is your highland laddie gone?

He's gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done

And it's oh! in my heart I wish him safe at home.

Oh where, tell me where did your highland laddie dwell?

Oh where, tell me where did your highland laddie dwell?

He dwelt in bonnie Scotland where blooms the sweet bluebell

And it's oh! in my heart I love my laddie well.

Oh what, tell me what, does your Highland laddie wear?

Oh what, tell me what, does your Highland laddie wear?

A bonnet with a lofty plume, and on his breast a plaid

And it's oh, in my heart I lo'ed my Highland lad

Oh what, tell me what if your highland lad be slain?

Oh what, tell me what if your highland lad be slain?

Oh no, true love will be his guide and bring him safe again

For it's oh! my heart would break if my highland lad were slain.

There are many slight variations on these lyrics, and some larger ones. For instance, through the years, the Highland laddie changes his clothes:

O what lassie what does your heelin' laddie wear?

O what lassie what does your heelin' laddie wear?

A scarlett coat and bonnet wi' bonnie yellow hair

And there's none in the world can wi' my sweet love compare

What clothes, in what clothes is your Highland laddie clad?

'His bonnet's of the Saxon green, his waistcoat's of the plaid ;

And it's oh! in my heart, that I love my Highland lad.

But the ending follows the pattern set out in previous incarnations:

Suppose, oh, suppose that your Highland lad should die?

The bagpipes shall play over him, I'll lay me down and cry;

And it's oh! in my heart, that I wish he may not die!

O what will you claim for your constancy tae him?

O what will you claim for your constancy tae him?

I'll claim a priest tae wed us and a clerk tae say amen

And I'll ne'er part again from my bonnie heelin' man

A later version references George II and the Napoleonic Wars, which ran from 1803-1815, after the Scots Musical Museum, Mrs. Jordan, and Mrs. Grant versions were printed:

Oh, where, and oh, where is my highland laddie gone,
Oh, where, and oh, where is my highland laddie gone,
He's gone to fight the French, for King George upon the throne,
And it's oh in my heart I wish him safe at home.

In addition to the plethora of verses, the title has also changed over the years, being known also as The New Highland Lad; O Where, Tell Me Where, and The Bells of Scotland.

The source of the lyrics is largely undisputed; there's a little more controversy over the origins of the melody. The North Country Chorister,published in 1802 by Ritson (who does not appear, in all my research, to have a first name), printed this song as The New Highland Lad, which started with the words "There was a Highland laddie courted a lowland maid." The second verse of this version was "Oh where and oh where does your Highland laddie dwell?"

The song was brought to prominence by a Mrs. Jordan. She was actually neither a Mrs. nor a Jordan, but Dorothea Bland, born near Waterford in 1762. She led a colorful life, in ironic contrast to her name, moving from her training as a milliner to life on the stage, and having fourteen children, ten of them with William, Duke of Clarence/ King William IV, although they never married. But she is often remembered for singing Blue Bells of Scotland, at Drury Lane around 1800, set to what she called her own composition. Others describe it as a modified version of the original melody. Ritson later noted on copies of his version that, "The song has lately been introduced upon the stage by Mrs. Jordan, who knew neither the words nor the tune."

The 1853 edition of The Scots Musical Museum states that the words were set to a 'modern' Scottish air, but gives no indication of which one, or this modern air's relation to either Ritson's or Mrs. Jordan's melody.

In Immortal Songs of Camp and Field, published in 1898,Charles Mackay and Sir Henry Rowley Bishop debate whether it is actually a Scottish air or an older English melody from Sussex, discovered by a Mr. Fitzgerald, which began with the words "Oh, I have been forester this many a long day." This Sussex melody has several bars similar to the second half of Blue Bells. Sir Henry wrote on October 22, 1852, that Mrs. Jordan based her melody on the one discovered by Mr. Fitzgerald, but altered it to accommodate her own vocal range.

Another history of the melody of Blue Bells of Scotland tells of George Thomson, born in 1757, who directed the first Edinburgh Music Festival. As a violinist and lover of Scottish music, he disliked the melodies of some of Scotland's airs. Seeking better music, he forwarded these airs on to Franz Joseph Haydn, in 1799, who worked on some 200 of them, including Blue Bells of Scotland.
Blue Bells of Scotland on youtube: although there are dozens of versions, I have chosen this one as a fairly simple piece that sticks very close to the traditional melody.

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