Scotland through the Eyes of the Author: a Presentation

My presentation, Scotland through the Eyes of the Author, given multiple times in the Twin Cities and most recently at the Fox Cities Book Festival in Little Chute, Wisconsin, is a multi-sensory hour (or more) packed with a slide show of Scotland, discussion of Scottish medieval history and the art of researching a novel, a reading (or two) from my books, performance of music from medieval times on period instruments, and a hands-on display of musical instruments and weaponry.

How does a classical trombonist (okay, big band, too) end up in medieval Scotland?  Something Shawn should have thought of before being so obnoxious, but I digress.  Oh, wait, I was talking about myself.

Blue Bells of Scotland, the folk song: Oh where, tell me where has your highland laddie gone?  He's gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done.  He's gone to fight the war for King George upon the throne.  At least according to some versions of the song it's king George.  How many novels celebrate noble deeds and the courageous heart?  It's a story we all love to read.

I talk about two of the inspirations for Blue Bells of Scotland, the novel.

Bringing history to life: the presentation includes a collection of medieval weapons, including long swords.  Here I demonstrate the ax.  Bruce's weapon of choice was the two headed battle ax.  I am telling the sad tale of Henry de Bohun, young English knight, and his failed charge at Robert the Bruce.  It did not go exactly according to young Henry's plan.

And then there's the lovely Yolande!  I am reading from Blue Bells of Scotland, a scene in which Shawn tries to discover what is going on in the time in which he's found himself--without giving away the fact that he is not actually Niall, as Allene and Brother David believe him to be.  "'Twas a dark and stormy night," Brother David begins, in explaining what happened to Alexander, the beloved king who reigned over Scotland's Golden Age.  "You're kidding!" Shawn says.  No, it really was a dark and stormy night, and it had a bit to do with the lovely Yolande.

The dirk: a long thrusting dagger.  I disagree vehemently with how the Bruce was portrayed in Braveheart.  The politics and intertwined land ownership and economics of the time were not so simple.  In our day, when someone gets angry with us, they defriend us on facebook.  In the time of the Bruce, consequences tended to be a little more serious.  Okay, a lot more serious.  A knife in the ribs, perhaps.  Given that I packed at 4:30 in the morning, I forgot to grab my sgian dubh, which is shorter, but I talked about the meaning of sgian dubh (knife black), a bit about the Gaelic language (adjective follows noun) and the two connotations of the word black in calling this a black knife.  See my (sadly neglected) Gaelic Word a Day if you're interested in learning a bit of Gaelic.

Claymore?  Longsword?  Various sites tell us the claymore--the 'great sword' in Gaelic--did not come into existence until at least the 15th century.  William Wallace, however, carried exactly such a sword, his being 5' 4" long, including the hilt, and weighing in at just under 6 pounds.  I now have two available for presentations.  This is the longer and heavier of them.

All was not murder, death, and mayhem.  Music has always been with us--harps being one of the oldest instruments.  Although the small wire strung lap harp currently has running disagreement with its wire strings, I did at least pluck a few to show the sound of a wire strung harp.  On the larger harp, I played a folk song in 'polyphony,' ie melody and harmony, and also a 'monophonic' cantiga--just a melody line--from 13th century Spain.  Listen to a cantiga--a song written to the Virgin Mary--here.

 Courtesy of Chris R. Powell, I am able to demonstrate a sackbut--this is in fact your great-great-great...great...great grandfather's trombone!  In some presentations, I bring my modern trombone to show the difference.  Notice how small and narrow the bell of this instrument is.

And the lute!  Although I cannot currently play a piece on this instrument, it's a nice example of what a medieval lutist played.  Scotland through the Eyes of the Author also includes a discussion of some things we just can't learn on the internet, but only through experience, the value of boots on the ground research, and things an author might be looking for that are a little bit different from the average visitor--dark alleys, for instance, or the backstage of a major theater.  Every presentation concludes with a question and answer session, and the chance for audience to look at the weapons and instruments close up.

 Although she didn't make the trip to Wisconsin with me, when possible I have also brought the lovely Lady Liadan--Grey Lady in Gaelic.  An Irish Wolfhound, she is very much like the Laird's great hunting hounds would have been.  The wolfhound was bred to hunt wolves.  In addition, they were trained to fight in battle--being large enough even to leap up and pull men off horses.  I have in fact met one woman personally who said her mother's Irish Wolfhound did leap up and try to pull down a horse that it believed was harming her mother.  Today, they are a breed renowned for their gentle nature and she was delighted to meet the audience--and they, her.

Audiences have been thoroughly enjoying the stories, slides, and music, the discussion of writing and history, and the chance to feel what it was for a medieval knight to lift the swords they did.

If you are interested in having this presentation given to your group, please contact me at 

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If you are interested in writing, please take a look at some of my posts on the craft of writing:

Building Character: Understanding Others
Writing Prompts: Where is Everyone Going?

or other posts under the WRITING WORKSHOP and BUILDING CHARACTER labels.

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