Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Picture in the Sidebar: Standing Stones

If Britain is known for one thing, it's standing stones, and anyone who has read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series knows you need to be careful near them!  Do not bring jewels!

The standing stones featured in the sidebar this next week or two are found in the village of Killin.  Like Finlairig, the feature of the last sidebar, these were not on my itinerary.  Like Finlairig, our host at the hostel (who was too interesting not to become a character in a future book!) mentioned these standing stones.  In a phrase I will forever more associate with Scotland, he told us, like so many other people there, with a smile, that "there are no no-trespassing laws in Scotland." These stones are actually in a field on someone's private property, and we were asked to stop at the house to officially ask permission to visit the stones. (I wonder if this is a trial for the owners of the field, having people ask permission, or perhaps why no one answered when we knocked.) 

They were one of our first stops on a slightly (very slightly, in fact, only barely--I just like to be accurate!) misty morning that would take us on a five mile walk around Loch Tay, through forest trails, to Finlairig Castle, out to a longhouse and finally all the way up, up the side of Mount...wait, that's Dr. Seuss...before climbing Sron a' Chlachain high over the village and Loch Tay. 

A light stream of visitors pushed through the light mist, down a long, tree-shaded path to the stones.  A few cars parked out in the field, of people who had apparently camped near the stones for the night.  The field is a sheep pasture now, so we opened a gate and let ourselves in with the standing stones and the sheep, who kept a good distance between us and themselves.

What surprised me about the standing stones of Scotland was how many there are.  As an American, I'm familiar with Stonehenge, and I knew it wasn't the only stone circle.  But I wasn't aware of just how common they are, or how varied.  They seemed to be everywhere, such that we had to pass up others we found near our route, and would have liked to visit, but just couldn't make time for it all. 

These particular ones, although it's hard to see from the picture, stood maybe 5'8" or a bit more for the tallest of them.  I had an interesting experience there, when I walked inside the circle, which became fodder for Book 2 of The Blue Bells Trilogy and which I think I will save to describe another time!  But that experience was unexpected and not repeated at the other set of standing stones, three sets of three, which we visited in the vicinity of the Fortingall Yew tree.  It certainly brought to the forefront all the questions about the original purpose and use of stone circles, and made me think that our modern age should not be too quick to dismiss all we don't understand as myth, legend, or superstition.  It made it easy to believe strange things could happen there.

Perhaps, as I do further research on standing stones and cairns, while finishing up the editing of The Minstrel Boy, I will come up with more answers. 

If you liked this post, you may also like:

If you enjoy an author's posts, please like and share.
It helps us continue to do what we do!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

So what is this Blue Bells of Scotland, anyway?

I have posted previously about the title Blue Bells of Scotland, and its roots as, first an old Scottish air, made famous by one Mrs. Jordan's lyrics, and, later, turned into a theme and variations for trombone by the remarkable Arthur Pryor, a prodigy of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Because Blue Bells of Scotland centers on musicians, I have a Music of the Blue Bells Trilogy page at my Blue Bells Trilogy site which gives links to youtube videos for many of the pieces referenced in the book.  The first link is to a performance of the trombone solo.

However, not surprisingly for such an old piece, there are many variations of the piece, by singers and instrumentalists alike.  Nan Hawthorne, author, blogger, DJ, and songwriter, has put together a playlist of many of these versions for this week's Same Difference program.  This is a fun feature Nan runs, in which she chooses a song each week, and at specified hours during that week, plays an entire hour of that same song.  It's a lot of fun to hear all the variations on beloved pieces, and her versions of Blue Bells are bound to be very different from the trombone version I posted!  I'm looking forward to hearing them!

Check out Nan's Radio de Danann if you love Celtic music!

Here is the schedule for upcoming selections:

Week of January 22:  Bluebells of Scotland
Week of February 6:  Danny Boy
Week of February 13 -  Love Week:  Gentle Maiden
Week of February 20:  Greensleeves
Week of February 27: John Barleycorn
Week of March 6: Lark in the Clear Air
Week of March 13 - Irish Week: Foggy Dew
Week of March 20:  Paarting Glass
Week of March 27: Rising of the Moon/Wearing of the Green

The Same Difference Hour happens at:

Mondays, 9 PM Eastern, 6 PM Pacific
Wednesdays, 3 PM Eastern/Noon Pacific and a reprise at 9:30 PM Pacific
Fridays (Saturdays), 7 AM Eastern, 4 AM Pacific

And a reminder that a Smashwords edition of Blue Bells of Scotland will be given away on January 31st.  Just follow the blog to enter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

KB Book of the Day, Sale, Giveaway, Upcoming Events

A few announcements today!  If you go over to the Kindle Boards, you'll find lots of great books and discussions among both authors and readers.  Blue Bells of Scotland is Book of the Day today.  It is currently on sale for .99 on your Kindle, from now until the end of January, so now's a great time to get your copy!

My January giveaway also continues until the 31st.  Smashwords is another great resource for avid readers.  You can get your e-books in a variety of electronic formats there, and a great selection for very low prices, or even free.  Most books have a sample feature in which you can read several opening chapters.  I will be doing a drawing January 31st for a free smashwords edition of Blue Bells of Scotland.  All you need to do to enter is become a follower of my blog.  Look in the right sidebar and click follow.  Easy!  To be safe, leave a comment with contact information, so I can let you know if you won.

A few days ago, I came across what sounded like a fascinating book about time travel, Island of Secrets, by Tammie Gibbs.  (Me, fascinated by time travel?  Surprise!)  I contacted the author, who graciously sent me a review copy.  I'm looking forward to finishing the book, and will be posting a review.  Tammie will also be joining us with a guest blog and interview!  Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, many people are asking when Book 2 of the Blue Bells Trilogy is coming out. Where am I with it?  In one last edit before sending off for proofs.  Those will then be edited.  Very specifically, I am, right now, this very morning, in the chapel of the Thieving MacDougalls, in the west of Scotland, where somebody is about to get a shock by hearing a mysterious voice from the confessional which has been empty for centuries.  (Cue minor chords!)  I had fun with this scene and learned quite a bit, while researching, about the various structure of medieval churches, to boot!

And the question remains: whose cattle were those, anyway?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sugar and Spice by Saffina Desforges

The blogging and reading world has been abuzz with talk of the how publishing is changing with the advent of new technology.  Please welcome Saffina Desforges, part of this new wave.

Sugar and Spice
When you've got two young children, and you think the unthinkable, where do you turn? Inspired by the story of a man who begged a Judge to give him a longer sentence, because he knew he would harm another child if released, Sugar & Spice is meticulously researched, asking the questions society prefers not to have answered. At once disquieting and challenging, Sugar & Spice is car crash reading
Saffina is part of an international team of writers and novelists looking to make waves in the publishing world.
With traditional book publishing now facing its first serious challenge from the new generation of e-readers and e-reading platforms, Saffina is hoping to bringing exciting new writing to the public's attention, at the fraction of the cost (both in money and in cost to the planet) of a traditional book.
The first novel, the ground-breaking, crime-thriller Sugar & Spice has just been launched as an ebook and is now available on all major platforms.
Watch out for the launch of The Snow White Series, an exciting new crime-thriller series, in early 2011!

Learn more about Saffina at: Saffina's website Saffina's blog  Another of Saffina's blogs

Follow Saffina on Facebook and Twitter

Sugar and Spice is available at:

barnes and noble

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Scotland's St. Columba

A friend of mine once said she loved her Catholic faith because 'it has all the cool stuff.' She was talking about the many mystical and miraculous events throughout Catholic history and the lives of the Saints. St. Columba, 521-597, definitely falls into the category of mystical and miraculous. His life story contains at least a hundred miracles: walking on water, raising the dead, driving out serpents, controlling wind and storms, purifying springs, prophesying the future as well as 'seeing' current but distant events. In an event that could only take place in Scotland, he is credited with being the first recorded observer of the Loch Ness monster.

... when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank.

And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled... And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

Columba hailed from Ireland, a royal descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. After a basic education, he entered a monastic school under the tutorship of St. Finian, who had studied in Galloway with St. Ninian. Even as a student at Moville, he began performing miracles. One was turning water into wine for the Mass. He spent fifteen years in Ireland, setting up religious houses in Derry, Durrow, and Kells.

Writing of St. Columba in the Cathac

saints, catholic saints, scottish saints, irish saints, columba, miracles, cool things about the catholic church
In his early 40's, Columba made his move to Scotland. Some sources attribute this to King Dermot disliking Columba's zeal against public vices. More often, it is linked to a family feud that ended with the death of 3,000 men, and for which Columba felt some responsibility. Still other stories concern a judgment made against Columba for making a secret copy of St. Finian's psalter. And some versions state that the battle was, in fact, the result of the dispute over copying the book. The Cathac, or Book of the Battle, the book of Psalms copied by Columba in the 6th century, still exists today, after a long and interesting history, and is preserved by the Royal Irish Academy.

The earliest sources, those closest to Columba's own time, do not mention the book or battle as Columba's reason for leaving, but simply ascribe to him the desire to win souls for God, and this reason is accepted by some.  Whatever the reasons, Columba established himself and his followers on the island of Iona, founded a monastic rule that was followed until St. Benedict, and from Iona, set about converting, or in cases re-converting, Scotland.

Among his most famous encounters is that with the Pictish chief, Brude, who is thought to have lived where Urquhart Castle now stands, on the north shore of Loch Ness. Brude, having no desire to meet with Columba, or Saints Comgall or Canice who traveled with him, closed and locked the gates. Columba lifted his hand and made the sign of the cross, at which point the bolts holding the gates fell away. The three saints walked into the castle unhindered. Brude stood in awe of the miracle. He not only listened to the Saints, but was baptized by them. His people soon followed, and much of Caledonia was converted.

Columba lived austerely, sleeping on floors and using stones for pillows. At least one of those stones is today credited with miraculous powers. Despite his austerity, he was cheerful, joyful, mild-mannered, and charitable in his thoughts and dealings with others. Yet he also commanded great authority, such that even kings consulted with him before acting.

Columba lived into his 70's, spending his time traveling around Scotland, and occasionally back to Ireland. He primarily spent his last years, however, on Iona. In the summer of 597--or 592 according to the Annals of the Four Masters, the discrepancy in years possibly being due to the change in calendars--Columba was already regarded as a saint. He knew his death was approaching, and climbed the hill above the monastery to give it one last blessing. He returned to his cell to continue transcribing a psalter, and died there in the earliest hours of Sunday, June 9.

The full text of Adaman's Life of St. Columba can be read online, detailing Columba's life and many more miracles and prophecies.

If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author's posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this article, you might also like


Friday, January 14, 2011

Finlairig in the Sidebar

This week's picture in the sidebar is of Castle Finlairig, an unexpected find during my trip to Scotland.

When I knew I was going to make the trip, I carefully planned my itinerary to include the places Shawn, Niall, and Amy would see and experience.  One of Shawn's first experiences, on arriving in 1314, is a many-days' hike through Scotland's rugged Highlands.  He, of course, is not used to such physical exertion. 

I had hoped to make a four-day hike, myself, but two weeks, with stops in Inverness, Stirling, Bannockburn, and driving out to the Rannoch Moor, and across the central Highlands where Shawn and Allene hike, didn't leave four days to spare.  But I did make some very long (for me) walks and find a 'hill' to climb, at the very least.  That happened to be Sron a' Chlachain, The Nose of the Village, rising above the village of Killin near Loch Tay.

On the appointed day of experiencing what Shawn would, in making a long-distance hike for which he was not prepared, we set out to make about a five mile walk around Killin and climb Sron a' Chlachain all in the same day.  Our host at the hostel was a rather interesting man with fascinating stories to tell.  It is from him that I learned about the concept of ley lines, which make an appearance in Book Two of the Blue Bells Trilogy as people try to make sense of the mysterious events at Glenmirril.

This host also told us about Castle Finlairig, and suggested we watch for it.  It wasn't on the itinerary, but as much as there are good reasons for having A Plan in the first place, there are also good reasons for being flexible and sometimes taking a detour from The Plan.  I'm so glad we did!

Our host told us to look for a small path.  He warned us several times this path was small, and hard to spot, so to really watch carefully.  I'm nothing if not literal!  After a long walk through pastures full of sheep, and around one edge of Loch Tay, up a small hill to a gnarled tree with multiple spreading branches low to the ground, surrounded by Scotland's famous fields of bluebells, we came to the path where we must watch for Finlairig's miniscule, microscopic, guaranteed-to-miss-it-if-you-don't-watch-with-a-magnifying-glass path.

I found it!

It was a dirt track, about six inches wide, pushing through spring foliage.  We followed it through, edging through ferns and ducking under limbs in the path, and burst out into a small clearing, isolated and silent, with a massive square mausoleum still standing, and one tower of a castle still reaching for the patch of blue sky above the clearing, along with several of its walls in disrepair.  Trees and rich, green grass grew all around.  On the far side of the clearing stood two white, lichen-covered Celtic crosses, more than four feet high.

This was Finlairig!

We passed through the arched door of the tower (you can see in the picture), which was open to the world on the other side, to find narrow halls and a rough way to reach what was once the second floor.  On the other side, we saw what must have been a great hall, still with a wall and a half but now filled with grass and a tree.

We studied the charter stone over the arched doorway, and the Celtic crosses, and found out it had been the home of the Campbells.  I couldn't have planned it better!

I found the place enchanting--and I don't use that word often or lightly.  But it was easy, in the solitude and silence and sense of age, to imagine anything might happen there.  Thanks to an unexpected departure from The Plan, Finlairig, though it isn't named, got written into Blue Bells of Scotland. 

*The giveaway drawing for an electronic copy of Blue Bells of Scotland happens January 31.  Sign up as a follower to enter.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Looking For More Exposure?

In January in this cold, Northern climate, those words strike a little fear into my fleece-covered heart and chill into my mittened fingers.  But then I remind myself I'm talking about blog exposure.

Giveaway Scout is a site that sends out notices about giveaways via multiple channels: their e-newsletter and website, twitter, facebook, and their widget network.  Giveaways are more fun if more people know about them, and that's a lot of people hearing about your giveaway!  I have added their widget to my right-hand side bar, so if you like entering to win, come back and check the widget.  It will give you plenty of places to enter giveaways.

I will be hosting another giveaway from now until 9 p.m. January 31.  We'll call this the James Douglas Tries to Take Berwick Again Giveaway, in commemoration of the Good Sir James' attempt to re-take the town of Berwick, which Edward I had sacked and taken from the Scots in 1296.  This giveaway is for a free electronic copy of Blue Bells of Scotland through Smashwords.  To enter, please become a follower of my blog and leave a comment with contact information so I can contact you if you win!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Feature

Is it just me or does everyone have 1,500 pictures of their favorite country sitting around doing nothing on their computer?  For the coming year, I'll be using one of blogspot's features to post some of my pictures of Scotland in the left side panel.

In 2008, after Blue Bells of Scotland was written, but not yet completely edited, I made a trip to Scotland to visit all the locations in the book.  This week's picture is of Castle Urquhart, on what the Scots call the north shore of Loch Ness.  To me, on a map, it looks like the west shore, but it's called the north shore.

After researching quite a few of Scotland's approximately 3,000 castles while writing the book, I settled on Urquhart as the model for Niall's home, Castle Glenmirril, partly for the location, which was far enough from Hugh's secret camp and Bannockburn that Niall (or Shawn as it turned out) to be sent on a journey of several days, partly for its location on a loch that needed to be crossed, and partly for its looks.

Urquhart existed in Niall's day, and in fact, it gets a mention in Book Two of the Trilogy, with regards to Edward Longshanks' attack on it in 1296.  Niall is just barely old enough to remember that day and the spectacular events that unfolded at Glenmirril in connection with the event. 

Most of our two week trip to Scotland was--for Scotland--unusually sunny, but we did get lucky enough, and no, I actually do not speak tongue in cheek! to see Urquhart on this slightly damp and misty day, which you can see in the picture.

The several days spent in this area included the wonderful accommodations at the Loch Ness Backpackers with our wonderful hostess, Wendy, visits to the Eden Court Theatre complete with a tour of all the backstage areas and dressing rooms to see the place Shawn's orchestra performs, walking Niall and Amy's route from Eden Court to the train station, and a five-mile hike through the woods on the south shore of Loch Ness, where Shawn would have hiked with Allene the first night he is sent on his journey. 

The tower on the left of the picture is Grant Tower, which was used for the cover of the book.