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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Immerse Yourself in Scotland’s Otherworld

Please welcome guest blogger Cindy Vallar

My first introduction into the Otherworld, where magic and mystical creatures abide, came when I was just a wee lass. I donned a brown uniform with a brown beanie, then opened my orange handbook to learn more about Brownies! At the time, I had no idea this was my first introduction to Scotland. I was simply learning about wee folk who helped us with our chores. (For those not familiar with real Brownies, they were the entry level group of the Girl Scouts of America.)

As I grew older, I felt more at ease with the leprechauns and banshees of the old sod – Ireland – where my mom’s family came from. I was one of the first to return as a freshman in high school. I never thought about Scotland until I began reading historical romances. Many years later, while working in a school for seriously emotionally challenged teenagers, I attended a weekly staff meeting. Bored, I scribbled on my tablet (I write, rather than doodle):

Lightning flashed. A lone rider spurred his mount along the rough Highland track bordered by tall firs. He stiffened and toppled from his horse.

The English teacher, reading over my shoulder, whispered, “Neat! Write more.” Thus began a twelve-year odyssey into the history and culture of Scotland. When The Scottish Thistle, my novel about the Camerons and MacGregors during the Rising of 1745, was published, this was how I wove those three sentences above into the opening of the story:


Earlier, Thistle had blessed the torrential rain. Now, the smuggler cursed it. A lightning bolt slashed the ink-black sky. The shadows of the night blurred, and Thistle shuddered. The premonition descended with the finality of a coffin lid being nailed shut.

Thistle stood at the left hand of a dark-haired man. Swirls of mist curled around their feet and shadowy forms rose up between them, separating Thistle from the stranger. A flash of steel pierced the darkness. The white mist turned bright red, then faded to nothingness.

The smuggler's eyes flew open! Thistle strained to hear, but thunder and wind obliterated other sounds. Lightning flashed; in the instant it illuminated mountain and glen, Thistle glimpsed a lone rider spurring his mount along the rough Highland track bordered by tall firs. He stiffened and toppled from his horse. Two caterans crept from the trees. While one searched their unconscious victim, the other rifled his satchel.

As the smuggler's four companions surrounded the caterans, Thistle stepped onto a wind-smoothed boulder. With an arrow nocked taut against the string of the black longbow, Thistle aimed the lethal missile at one cateran's heart and waited.


Although The Scottish Thistle is historical fiction, I wove aspects of the Otherworld into the story so readers have a better sense of the Highland folklore. In the passage above, Thistle (a smuggler) is gifted with the Two Sights, the ability to see the future, although those possessing this “gift” often consider it more a curse. I could have stopped there, but Scotland’s Otherworld is rich with creatures and superstitions that spin their magic around those who venture into their realm. Within my novel’s pages, readers meet Bean-nighe (the Fairy Washerwoman) and the Queen of the Daoine sìth or fairy folk, and the gruagach or brownies.

If you’d like to meet these and others who populate the realm of Scotland’s Otherworld, join me for my workshop, “Witches, Kelpies, and Fairies, Oh My!” – If you dare!


Cindy Vallar, Associate Editor of Industry for Solander, writes the “Red Pencil” column where she compares a selection from an author’s published novel with an early draft of that work. She also reviews for the Historical Novel Society’s journal, Historical Novels Review. She is a freelance editor, the editor of Pirates and Privateers, and the author of The Scottish and “Odin’s Stone,” a romantic short story of how the Lord of the Isles settled the medieval feud between the MacKinnons and MacLeans on the Isle of Skye.

She belongs to the Historical Novel Society, the Red River Branch of the Clan Cameron Association, and the Scottish Clans of North Texas. In 2005 at the Clan Cameron North American Rally, Cindy received the first Friend of Clan Cameron Award. Prior to becoming an author and editor, she was a school librarian for twenty years and also taught computers and social studies. She invites you to visit her award-winning web site, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com/), to learn more.

Witches, Kelpies, and Fairies, Oh My!, presented by Cindy Vallar, runs from March 28th through April 24th, 2011.


Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I'm a big fan of the wee folk. When you spend time in the Highlands and islands of Scotland, you get it. Your research must be so much fun!

Cindy Vallar said...

It is, Julia. My favorite of the wee folk is the leprechaun, probably because I've a fair amount of Irish in me, but visiting the Highlands and researching Scottish folklore and history is something I love to do.