At the end of The Last Sunset I wrote that the story was conceived amongst the empty glens and ruined townships of Lochaber. The events of the 18th and 19th centuries still scar this land. In fact there are glens within ten miles of Fort William where a person can walk all day and not see another living soul. Once heavily populated, these places have now been left to the wind and heather. The past hangs heavy here, and occasionally - just occasionally - moments from those days can be sensed. A brief scent of peat smoke in a ruined settlement. The tang of manure amidst the green swathes of a shieling that haven't seen cattle in two hundred years. Sam's tale from Gettysburg, as told in The Last Sunset, is closely based on a story told to me by a rational, well educated woman, who watched the spectres of ragged clansmen materialise around her campfire by the shores of a remote loch some years ago. On the eve of publication I thought it might be an idea to contact this good lady and let her know what had become of her story. A few clicks on Facebook, and we were in touch again for the first time in years. She was not only delighted about the book's publication, but retold the tale:
Lighting the Darkness
I love looking at pictures of Earth taken from satellites. Those taken at night are particularly illuminating – if you’ll excuse the pun.
The great centres of population in Europe, North America, India, China and so on, are lit up like Christmas trees. But the darkness too has a story to tell. There are deserts where only the hardiest creatures can scratch a living. There are great forests, swamplands, mountain ranges, Arctic tundra.
Then there are those areas where the darkness is man-made...
Much of the northern half of Scotland lies black and empty. Here the landlords of the nineteenth century did their work well, leaving little but ruins and silence and an emptiness that tugs at the soul.
And the families, the descendants of the great clans who once inhabited these darkened glens; what of them? Well, their seed was scattered to the four corners of the Earth; to the towns and cities of the New World. To where the lights now shine brightly.
As many as twenty-five million Americans claim Scottish ancestry. Add to this five million Canadians; some two million Australians and New Zealanders. Half a million Northern Irish also trace Scottish roots.
It seems our greatest export has always been our people.
But there are signs that the tide might be turning. At the last count, over 400,000 English people had moved north to settle in Scotland. Many – though not all – have come to escape the rat race. Other accents can now be now heard in our towns and villages: Irish, Asian, West Indian; and of course Polish, experiencing their own diaspora.
The Isle of Skye, whose population had slumped to 7000 in 1971, has seen a 40% increase in forty years.
Here and there one even hears the odd American accent.
On a recent TV programme I followed the story of a wonderful lady by the name of Angela Scott. She was a New York attorney who visited Skye some 16 years ago and simply fell in love with the island.
Now she lives in a croft, grows vegetables and keeps chickens and sheep. She and her husband own a smokehouse, where they cure venison and salmon. It is said you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted her savoury smoked salmon cheesecake; based on a recipe brought to Scotland from Brooklyn.
Her products are sold across the U.K. But Angela Scott and others like her are pinpricks of light in the darkness. Great swathes continue to lie empty.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century the Skye poet Mhairi Mhor, Mary Macdonald of the songs, predicted;
“The day will come when the sheep will be wheeled away and the glens will be tilled. The cold, ruined houses will be raised up by our kinsmen.”
Not in my lifetime, certainly, but perhaps one day people will be able to look at satellite images which show the dark Highland glens lit up once again, however faintly, with light and with life.
7. The Real Magic
When invited to contribute to the 7 Blogs series, I considered memories, humorous anecdotes, and any number of other ideas. What came to me instead was a passage from the novel I’m currently writing. As Christmas Eve is nearly upon us, it seems especially apropos. I hope it touches you.
"He reached down to the bottom of the bed and felt around in the darkness until he encountered the filled stocking he knew his father had left there. Then he reached over to his brother's side of the bed and located his stocking, reassuring himself that one was no bigger than the other.
He knew what was in there. The sole bulged with the inevitable apple and orange. In the heel he could make out the unmistakable shape of a pink sugar mouse, that little jaw breaker which only seemed to appear in the shops at this time of year. There would be a handkerchief, or something equally useless, then something that felt like a pencil case, or perhaps one of the packets of Edinburgh rock his mother had brought with her on her last trip home from the hospital. At the top of the stocking would be the usual chocolate hollow Santa Claus.
Individually there wasn't a lot there on which to base the special magic of Christmas Eve. Collectively the filled stocking was the manifestation of the season, a little sack of wondrous delights that had materialised out of the darkness of the night before Christmas. He knew the only way to preserve the magic was to leave the stocking untouched. He knew the true essence of Christmas lay in its anticipation. Somewhere in the precious darkness of Christmas Eve, when the stocking at the bottom of the bed had not yet been explored, and the presents under the tree had still to be opened. When the carol singers still sang about the glorious imminence of Christ's birth, before he had begun his journey to the cross.
Somewhere in there lay the real magic of Christmas."
Bestselling Author Bob Atkinson writes time-travel/alternate reality novels set in the magical Scottish Highlands he calls home. His first two books, The Last Sunset and its sequel Red Sky in the Morning, predict a very different America, had the Scots beaten off the English in a great deciding battle.
Facebook Author Page
6. The Year Our Christmas Tree Was a Chair
As Christmas memories go, mine probably hint at the same nostalgia and youthful excitement as most of yours, with maybe two important exceptions. One, my parents are immigrants from India, and we aren't Christian—although that didn't stop us from celebrating. And two, holiday dinners didn't resemble anything close to what I'd seen on A Christmas Carol or the Brady Bunch. No goose, turkey, or ham. Not even fish. Our everyday menu usually consisted of Indian vegetarian food, and as I got older, special occasions called for the only meat dish my vegetarian mom ever made: Onion Chicken Curry. My sisters and I never failed to drop everything and ruuuun to the kitchen for dinner!
(I suppose this is where I need an I digress—not really my style, but you get the picture.)
Because of TV, school, friends, and co-workers, Christmas became a hodgepodge of this is what you should do and this will be fun for the girls and don't let them feel left out. Ever the eager parents, they purchased a tree, strung lights, and bought into the idea of Santa like it would help us get into Harvard one day...
Shaila Patel writes from her home in the Carolinas and dreams up all sorts of stories with epilogues. A member of the Romance Writers of America, she's a pharmacist by training, a medical office manager by day, and a writer by night. Her debut novel, SOULMATED, releases on January 24, 2017 (Month 9 Books) and won the 2015 Chanticleer Book Reviews' Paranormal Awards for Young Adults.
You can reach out to her online at:
Facebook page: http://bit.ly/2btIJLK
Goodreads SOULMATED page: http://bit.ly/2aX5aJU
Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/ZonSpSM
5. The Turkey That Almost Wasn't
My fondest memories of the holiday season revolve around the tradition of simply being together—like drawing names with relatives and friends, hiding behind the couch to watch my mom wrap presents, getting a bag of candy from church, white elephant gifts, and trying to dodge a turkey tryptophan coma. It’s hard for me to nail down one memory, but when I was asked to participate in the Holiday Blog Hop, one particular holiday stuck out. It was Christmastime a few years back. My husband and I had both our families over for the holidays along with some of our dearest friends. We divvied up the menu between us, and my responsibilities included the biggie—the cooking of the Christmas ham and a holiday bird. Sounded easy enough…right? I mean, you put a ham in the oven and with a turkey you just follow the directions. Anyway, my husband bought a twenty-one pound turkey at Costco (love that place) and a Reynolds Wrap roasting bag. Only a moron could screw that up…
A. J. Lape is the author of the Darcy Walker Series which has stayed on Amazon's teen's mysteries and thrillers bestseller's lists since its debut in 2012. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two daughters, an ADD dog, a spoiled hamster, and an unapologetic and unrepentant addiction to Coca-Cola--plus a lifelong love affair with bacon she has no plans to sever. A graduate of Morehead State University with a Master's degree in Communications, she's a PI wannabe and daily stops crime through the fictional ADHD character of Darcy Walker. If the FBI ever checks her computer, she'll be wearing prison-orange due to the graphic and disgusting "wiki" articles she looks up...all in the name of career research, of course.
Fan Club & Street Team: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ajlapestreetteam/
Google + https://plus.google.com/+AJLape/
Newsletter signup: http://www.ajlape.com
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ajlapeauthor
Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6576193.A_J_Lape
Amazon Author Link: http://amazon.com/author/ajlape
Next Up: Shaila Patel
4. Surviving the Holidays
For some people the holidays are a great time to get together with family and friends. For others holidays bring an even greater sense of loneliness and isolation. I especially speak of those who suffer from depression, or some other form of mental illness, as well as those who are chemically dependent. People who suffer from this combination of illnesses, known as the dual diagnosed, are doubly marginalized from society, for both mental illness and addiction are highly stigmatized. Here are some tips for surviving the holidays for people who suffer from one or both maladies or know someone who does...
Dual diagnosed* from an early age, Matthew Peters dropped out of high school at sixteen. He went on to obtain an A.A., a B.A. from Vassar College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University. He has taught various courses in a variety of disciplines throughout North Carolina. He is committed to increasing the awareness and understanding of the dual diagnosed. Conversations Among Ruins (All Things That Matter Press, 2014) is his first novel. His second novel, The Brothers’ Keepers: A Nicholas Branson Novel–Book 1 (Melange Books, 2016), is a political-religious thriller that capitalizes on his love for history and research. Currently, he is working on the next book in the Nicholas Branson series. He is a member of International Thriller Writers.
*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency.
Connect with Matt!
Amazon Author Page
Next Up: The hilarious AJ Lape
3. My Wish List by EM Kaplan
My Wish List for You this Holiday SeasonWhile desperate parents try to hunt down the latest must-have Hachimal-Tickle-Me-Cabbage-Patch toy, I'd like to offer you a few wish list items of a different kind. Note that these aren't tongue-in-cheek genie wishes that backfire. They are exactly what they seem to be, so take them at face value.
Behold, my wishes for you this season.
1. Less Paperwork
Paperwork, red tape, or hassle. It's all the same. Let's reduce that mess. Turn that dial way down.
"Ace report, Linda. But I don't caaaaaare."
2. The Return of a Memory You Haven't Thought of in a While
"We're totally remembering the same thing, aren't we?!"
3. A Creepy But Harmless Internet Friend
Not like this guy.
4. A Close Call
"MapQuest says to go straight."
Emily is freezing her tuckus off in Northern Illinois where she lives with her husband, author JD Kaplan, kids, and dog. She's currently working on her fourth snarky Josie Tucker mystery.
Connect with Emily
Website and blog: www.JustTheEmWords.com
Next Up: Author Matthew Peters
2. The Christmas With No Ice Cream
My earliest memories are bound up in the celebrations of my extended family. It was not uncommon to have three or four generations in the house during each holiday, birthday, or anniversary. Every single one of the women was a great cook, and smells would waft out of open windows in the summer or hit you as soon as you walked through the door in the winter. Of them all, Christmas was the best and my mother’s favorite.
This particular Christmas, I was five years old. I’d been having a series of sore throats throughout that year and spent a lot of time home from school. Mom and I made delicate string decorations with crochet thread, starch and lots of glitter. We made taffy and fudge and sprinkle cookies with melted white chocolate icing. Pipe cleaners got bent into figure skaters, and we created frilly little skirts for them out of crepe paper streamers. Yards and yards of construction paper chains hung from the wood moldings and swooped over the tree.
The days dragged until Christmas and my anticipation spiraled. My little sister wasn’t sure what all the excitement was about, but she loved sticking her fingers into the dough Mom rolled out on the table as much as she enjoyed munching on the stray cookie that found its way into her hands. At not quite three, she was way too young to remember the treat I knew was coming on Christmas Eve, the milk, eggs and vanilla my dad would crank together in a frosty steel bucket to make the frozen delight we had only once a year. But I knew, and I marked off each day on the calendar with a green crayon.
That might seem like a lot to remember from such a young age, but I’ll never forget that Christmas, because it was the Christmas without ice cream…
Mica Rossi has been writing since she was in the second grade and barely able to form her letters properly. Her short works have been featured in several anthologies, and she is furiously scribbling through various drafts of her second novel, a contemporary romance set during the Christmas season.
Her first book, Once in a Blue Moon, was selected as a spearhead novel for the ‘White Satin Romance’ line at Melange Books and will shortly be brought in-house to Camelot Publishing and re-released in February of 2016 in a revised edition. Just think about a gorgeous member of the Aos Sidhe running into the one woman in Boston who has a vendetta against all things magical, and you'll understand why sparks fly against the backdrop of hot summer days and starry nights in the city.
Mica’s latest release, Heart Songs, is a collection of poetry and short stories published in April of 2016. It’s a compilation of the emotional journeys we all take through our lives. From friendship and love to the depths of despair and back again, the author digs into the human experience with humor and grace.
Connect with Mica Rossi!
Amazon Author Page
Next Up EM Kaplan
Today I present the first in a wonderful series of blogs. My dear friend and blog guest, Bestselling Author Virginia Gray, will share her most unusual Christmas expereince.
1. The Craziest Christmas of My Life!
When I was quite young, my father went back to college to finish his degree. With only my mother’s meager hospital salary to support us all, we found ourselves living in a little trailer outside a small mountain town in North Carolina. Though the situation may have seemed dire to my parents, I had a wonderful time exploring fields, taking forest hikes, and playing in and around the rank-smelling creek behind the trailer park. It’s amazing how oblivious children are to such trivial things as economics.
There lay a small airplane strip on the other side of the highway, and as it was Christmastime, my father decided it would be a great (and cost-effective) idea to trespass on that private piece of property and cut down our own tree. So off on our quest we marched, bow-saw in hand, rope dragging behind us.
Even in my tiny youth, I wanted a tree grand enough to grace Rockefeller Center. Nearing the top of a daunting hill, I found just such a tree; one whose trunk I couldn’t hope to fully wrap my arms around. My father, being a more practical sort, pointed to a somewhat humbler cedar that would actually fit inside our single-wide. After fierce debate, he began merrily sawing away.
And that’s when all the trouble began…
Virginia Gray writes contemporary women's fiction. A member of Romance Writers of America, she is known for her bestselling series The Susan Wade Saga. Please visit her on social media and sign up for her fan-appreciation newsletter.
Amazon Author Page
Fan Appreciation Newsletter
Join me For Blog 2 by Author Mica Rossi
Bestselling Author Bob Atkinson lives in the wilds of Scotland where he weaves tales as tall as the standing stones.