Inspiration for Highlanders of Forss
After a long career telling other people's stories on stage, I decided it was time to tell my own stories. Not a big leap from the stage to the page. Why tell stories about Scots? Something about the heroic and tragic history of the Highlands resonates with me. I chose Caithness because it's Clan Sinclair country. No name in Scottish Heraldry is more ancient and noble than Sinclair. I chose Forss because I liked the name.
I write romance because I love men and all their flawed wonderfulness. I'm Scot Curious and I can't wait for readers to fall in love with the next Highlander of Forss.
On my first trip, I spent a glorious three days as a guest of Forss House Hotel, a gracious Georgian style home converted to a hotel located west of Thurso along the River Forss. Although the home I describe in my novels is quite different, I loved the name. Hence, Highlanders of Forss: The Sinclair Series. If you take a look at some of the photos I've posted, you'll understand why I fell in love with Forss House and the surrounding area — ancient, mysterious, beautiful, and romantic — a perfect setting for fiction.
History of Caithness
Real historical events serve as a backdrop for historical romance. In The Sinclair Bastard, the first book of the series, I've used the last great clan battle, the 17th Century struggle for the title of Earl of Caithness, and included as many factual accounts as I can glean from historical records. Naturally, I've included real people from history like Sir John Campbell (also implicated in the Glencoe Massacre), George Sinclair of Keiss, George Sinclair 6th Earl of Caithness, and his wife, Mary Campbell daughter of the Marquis of Argyll.
One such real figure was Major William Sinclair of Thura. He was a friend of the 6th Earl and figured prominently in the Battle of Altimarlach. Researching Sinclair genealogy, I found that Major Sinclair and his wife Margaret had four children, a daughter and three sons. Birth and death dates were given for all but one, James. Next to his name was the enigmatic tag 'of which there is no account.' That, for me, was an invitation to tinker with the Major's family tree. The Major's mysterious son became his foster child, James Sinclair, the bastard son of the 6th Earl of Caithness.
The locations mentioned in The Sinclair Bastard are real places. You can find them on old maps and in most instances you can visit them like I did. One of the most difficult places to reach is the actual battle site that took place on the banks of the Wick River. I found it hard to follow written historical accounts of the Battle of Altimarlach. In order to invent a character's experience in the battle, I felt I needed to see what the obstacles were that lead to the shocking defeat of the Sinclair Army. On my second trip to Scotland, courage boosted by my traveling companion Laura Gordon (a real Gordon Scot), we slogged through a cow pasture in search of the memorial that marks the battle site. The Wick River was swift and deeper three hundred years ago, but one can still see the steep gorse-lined embankments, the narrow haugh on which the two armies fought, and the gully from which Campbell's men ambushed the Sinclairs. I hope I was able to capture the terrain and confusion of the battle in the book.
In the second book of the series, The Oath, I've used the Highland Clearances of the early 19th Century as the backdrop. It wasn't until I was knee deep into the writing of it that I realized I was writing a novel set in the Regency Period. New to the subtleties of Romance Genres, I had to scramble to learn as much as I could about writing a Regency novel. I wouldn't categorize The Oath as a true Regency novel, but I have tried to include as much detail about the period as I can for those Regency fans. A couple of the real historical characters that surface in The Oath are Lady Sutherland and her factor, Patrick Sellar, two prominent figures associated with the Highland Clearings notorious for the callous and sometimes brutal treatment of local crofters.
The initial inspiration for the story came when I stumbled across some of my own family genealogy. Apparently I have a six times great grandfather who had been gardener for George IV. Such are my antecedents. Peasantry. All of them. But, discovering that tidbit led me to finding out more about Prince Regent George IV, which led me to his brother, William IV Duke of Clarence, whose mistress was a famous stage actress, Dorothea Jordan. William IV had ten illegitimate children with Dorothea Jordan. I thought, well, what's one more, and invented Lucy FitzClarence, the main love interest in The Oath. Sometimes researching for novels can be far more entertaining than actually writing them.
The third novel in the Highlanders of Foss series is called The Selkie Bride and it's set in post WWI Scotland. Of course, they didn't call it WWI back then rather The Great War. As a big fan of Downton Abbey, I became intrigued by that period of history — the styles, the sweeping changes in social strata, and the devastating aftermath of that bitter war. Trolling the Internet, I ran across some notices written during that time period by men seeking brides using matrimonial agencies. Some of them were so earnest they really tugged at my heart. That idea was the springboard for the story.
There are not so many historical figures in The Selkie Bride. Instead, I've tried to lace the story with local landmarks, lore, and occupations associated with Caithness. Like all the Sinclair men of Forss, the main character is a warrior, a veteran soldier. Henry Sinclair served in the Lovat's Scouts, a British Army unit. As part of the Highland Regiment attached to the Black Watch, the unit was first formed by Simon Joseph Fraser, 14th Lord Lovat in 1900 for use in the Second Boer War. Composed mainly of gamekeepers or Ghillies recruited from Highland estates, the men of Lovat's scouts were known for their keen eyesight, tracking and shooting prowess. In the First World War, Lord Lovat's Scouts became the British Army's first sniper unit. Interestingly, the Boy Scouts of America owes its origin in part to Lovat's Scouts.
Road to Publication
As I continue to research, re-write, refine, and edit the Highlanders of Forss series, I plan to post more information on this site about the stories and the characters. I know, at some point I will have to stop futzing with them, and send them off in the hope that someone will see fit to publish the series. When I do, I need to have web presence and social media in place. I have been told the more people who check in on this site, follow my blog and like my Facebook Page, the more attractive I will be to publishers. So, thank you for your help and interest and cross your fingers for me.