Readers familiar with my books know I love the woo. And, no, I don’t mean old-fashioned courting. The woo is how I think of paranormal light. To me, that means ghosts, time travel, and Celtic lore. My Scottish medievals written under my real name, Sue-Ellen Welfonder, always have a touch of woo. My Allie Mackay Scottish-set paranormals really let me indulge this particular passion.
I don’t think I’ve ever visited a Scottish castle, ruined or otherwise, without wondering what it would be like to encounter the ghost of dashing medieval Highlander. Of course, he’d seem real. He’d also be ready and eager to sweep me off my feet. Another wish I have in such places is to slip back in time and land in the arms of a medieval hottie Scottie. He, too, would be keen on ravishing me.
Of course, he would. These are my fantasies, after all.
As for Highland magic … I really do believe.
Scotland is magical as I’ve seen again and again when spending time there. Take a peek at the Tomnaverie stone circle in northeastern Scotland. I took this photo on a chill and drizzly November day. Tomnaverie – believed to be 4,500 years old - is remote, small, and you can almost be guaranteed you’ll be alone when you visit. To me, that makes its magic so much stronger than an over-run site like Stonehenge.
Scotland abounds with places like Tomnaverie.
Places that are steeped in a magical, otherworldly feel.
And there enough tales and legends about each such place to fill centuries of long and dark winter nights spent around the peat fire.
I have great fun exploring such themes in my Allie Mackay titles. My upcoming release, TALL, DARK, AND KILTED ~ NAL ~ Nov. ’08, has the kind of sexy medieval ghost hero I’d love to meet. And the setting, Scotland’s wild and remote far north, is just the kind of place where staunchest disbelievers might think twice before they rumple a nose at Celtic whimsy and the unexplained…
A good man is hard to find.
Cilla Swanner has been jilted by her lover, and she is struggling with a jewelry business that’s far from sparkling. She needs a getaway to someplace quiet and remote. Someplace like Dunroamin Castle in Scotland where her aunt and uncle run a retirement home in the majestic Highlands. But what she finds there may be more than she can handle.
Or is it the other way around?
Centuries ago, the roguish Scots knight known as Hardwick was renowned for his swordsmanship, both on and off the battlefield. But a traveling bard cursed him to wander the world forever, pleasing a different woman each night with no hope of fulfillment or true love. Then Hardwick meets Cilla, who may be his only chance for salvation.
Cilla - being my creation – is up to the challenge of a ghostly hero. She’s enchanted by Dunroamin Castle. A place where the past embraces you the instant you step through the door. She loves the sense of slipping into an older, less harried world, even if her room reminds her of the set of an old black-and-white Dracula movie. Cilla also falls under Scotland’s own spell. She learns that the Highlands are more than hauntingly beautiful. And she discovers that this world holds things that can’t always be explained.
But not everyone is Cilla.
Some people struggle with the woo.
They can’t wrap their minds around Highland magic. Drifting mist is scenic but not supernatural. The beautiful luminosity of a Highland summer night is just that, beautiful. The smooth, perfectly round and white pebble found on a Hebridean strand will never cure terrible maladies. There aren’t any sprites in the woods and certainly not a water horse in the river. Heaven forbid someone mention a water bull. That wasn’t a faint skirl of pipes out on the lonely, night-bound moor. It was the piercing cry of a bird. Everyone knows it’s impossible to catch a glimpse of the past if you step – all by your lonesome – into the tumbled walls of a castle ruin. Ghosts are out of the question.
There are many people who agree with the above.
I am not one of them.
But such a skeptic lives in the pages of TALL, DARK, AND KILTED. He’s Cilla’s Uncle Mac who owns Dunroamin. As you can see in the following exchange that takes place not long after Cilla’s arrival at the castle, Uncle Mac wouldn’t acknowledge a ghost if one floated right past him. In this snippet, Cilla has just asked him if Dunroamin has ghosts….
“Ho! Not here an hour and already you’re asking what every American wants to know.” Uncle Mac’s face split in a broad, twinkly-eyed grin. “The only ghosts hereabouts are my creaky knees. If you count both together, they’re well over a hundred.”
Cilla smiled. “If your knees are creaky, I would’ve noticed.” She crossed the room and hugged him. “I’d rather hear about ghosts.”
“Would you now?” Uncle Mac lifted a bushy brow. “Truth is you won’t be seeing any. I took my first breath in these walls. If there were bogles flitting about, sure enough and I’d know it.”
Aunt Birdie sniffed. “What about the gray lady on the main stairs?” She came forward to join them, her purple-and-blue watered silk dress swirling around her like an exotic, perfume-scented cloud. “Or the little boy who sits on a stool in a corner of the kitchen?”
Her husband hooted. “The day a misty lady floats down my stairs, I’ll shave off my beard.” He rocked back on his heels, amused. “The offer stands for any spook that might care to put in an appearance.”
“Have a care, dear. There’s always a kernel of truth to any legend.” Aunt Birdie tapped his chest with a red-tipped fingernail. “Bucks County back home is steeped in tradition and ghosts. Here ….” she let her voice tail off. “Let’s just say that you, as a Highlander, should know better than to scoff at such things.”
Uncle Mac huffed and waved a hand.
“Tell me” – he winked at Cilla – “do you believe in such foolery? Ghosts, tall tales, and plaid-draped, sword-packing beasties that go bump in the night?”
Cilla bit her lip.
From what she’d seen of Scotland so far, she doubted Uncle Mac would like her answer.
That’s Uncle Mac. A wonderful character – always kilted, by the way – who is full of life, bluster, and good humor. He doesn’t believe in the woo.
There are lots of Uncle Macs in the world.
I encountered one early in my career. This reader found it ridiculous that my heroine was gifted with second sight. She ended her online commentary by asking: “How many people do you know with second sight?”
Well, … err, ahem….
It just so happens that I know quite a few. My own grandmother had it in spades. So much so that she scared me sometimes. And I have many Highland friends who have someone in their family who is so gifted. Or they know someone in the village who is. Or they have the sight themselves. I don’t know a single Highlander who’d deny its existence.
But there is so much more to Celtic legend and lore.
Second sight is just the tip of the iceberg. Highland Scotland is a treasure trove of the woo and the farther back in time that you go, it just gets more fascinating. People really did believe in sacred wells, charmed stones, mystical creatures and fairies. Sea monsters swam in the waters around the Hebrides and every Islesman kept a watch for Selkies. Trolls were greatly feared by Shetlanders and Orkneymen. Everywhere, the evil eye was dreaded, the local seer (usually a man) was highly respected, and the powers of wise women were in great demand. Omens were carefully sought and studied before any clan embarked on an important venture. Clan elders knew such signs could foretell the outcome of a raid or a battle and acted accordingly. Childbirth brought its own array of precautions and charms, the wealth and variety of which is beyond mind boggling.
Now look at the other two photos. This is Smoo Cave in Scotland’s far north. Legends abound about this cave, one being that it is a dwelling place of fairies. Another tale claims Smoo Cave hides an entrance into the netherworld. Could be those orbs surrounding me are fairies. Or spirits of the many souls said to have met their doom in the cave. Or they might be droplets of spray from the waterfall behind me.
Either way, Smoo Cave is a place where you can believe in anything.
Truth is Gaelic Scotland has an incredibly rich heritage of folklore, tradition, and beliefs. There were customs and superstitions that touched every aspect of daily life. It would take many more words than suitable in this blog to discuss them all.
Thanks to the Highlanders’ fierce pride in ancestry and culture, this amazing tapestry of lore has been well preserved. Those fortunate enough to visit Scotland can see living traces of this legacy. I sometimes think each blade of grass, clump of heather, and stone has a story.
Wonders are everywhere. Sometimes in the most unexpected places. Here’s one example: Glamis Castle is a huge tourist draw. It also brims with mystic and legend. But! Those who care to look beyond the well-known, and are willing to tramp down a steep, wet and weedy riverbank, can find an ancient pagan well beneath the old church in Glamis village. The well is just a few feet from the river’s edge and hidden behind a tangle of ivy fronds.
But it is there.
Testament to the old ways and … no surprise, really … if you peer into the peaty water, you can see a fairly modern looking tin cup. It would seem the ancients aren’t the only ones who trusted in the well’s healing abilities.
Highland magic is alive and well.
And it was more than that in medieval Scotland. It was everything. A part of daily life as natural and accepted as eating, sleeping, and breathing.
I cannot imagine writing a Scottish-set book (no matter the century) without including these traditions and lore that are so tightly woven into Scotland’s heritage. Yet I know some of my colleagues would rather sit on a tack than include anything ‘paranormal’ in their historicals. And (see above) I know there are readers who feel the same.
Sooo … how do you woo?
Do you enjoy threads of Celtic myth and legend in your Scottish reads? Can you push the envelope enough to enjoy a sexy medieval Scottish ghost hero? Or do you prefer your tales wholly de-wooed?
All views are welcome.
Please comment to win:
3 signed ARCs of TALL, DARK, AND KILTED (or wait until Nov. for the actual book – winners can decide)
1 signed ARC of SEDUCING A SCOTTISH BRIDE – my next (Welfonder) Scottish medieval, coming from GCP in March ‘09
3 signed copies of my reader favorite, DEVIL IN A KILT
1 pipes and drums CD as a special bonus prize
Readers can visit me at:
http://www.welfonder.com/ (Scottish medievals written under my own name for Grand Central Publishing, formerly known as Warner Books)
http://www.alliemackay.com/ (Scottish-set paranormals written under my pen name, Allie Mackay, for Penguin/NAL)
Thanks so much, Wendy and friends, for inviting me to guest blog. I appreciate it!
To everyone else … Alba gu brath! (Scotland forever)