I’ve always loved romantic heroes, be they highwaymen, pirates, Regency bucks or men in kilts.
I think the element of ‘costume’ removes the hero from the real world and transports both him and the reader into the realm of fantasy. The costumed hero is, generally, aristocratic – and while he does not have to work to earn his daily crust, he often has emotional scars which only the heroine can heal. And, in the case of men in kilts, there is the additional tease of whether or not they’ve gone ‘commando’ , in true Scottish fashion. So, while I loved the Wicked Lady, Frenchman’s Creek and the Scarlet Pimpernel, my favourite books and movies are Scottish-themed.
My interest began as a child in Scotland, reared (courtesy of Saturday morning cinema) on the exploits of highlanders featured in such movies as Rob Roy, Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Ghost Goes West (one of my favourites) and -sob- Grey Friar’s Bobby. After the movie (or fil-um, as we pronounced it) the children in my street would re-enact Rob Roy’s leap and subsequent escape through the waterfall, and the scene from Kidnapped, where Davie Balfour is almost murdered by his evil uncle. Our dogs were dragooned into being “Bobby”, loyally guarding his master’s grave on Grey Friar’s kirk. But they never quite ‘got’ what was required of them and were always wandering off, much to our annoyance.
The girls, of course, loved to act out Flora Macdonald helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape over the sea to Skye.
In June we visited Scotland, travelling as far as Skye to see the Fairy Pools and Flora MacDonald’s grave, amongst other things I wanted to research/double check before publishing for my forthcoming novel SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS.
The written word had its place, too; we knew Young Lochinvar off by heart and would declaim:
“He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone . . .
He staid not for brake, and he stopp’d not for stone,
He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;
But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,
The bride had consented, the gallant came late.”
I frequently found myself in trouble because I wanted to be Lochinvar, and wouldn’t take my turn as ‘the Fair Ellen.’ Nothing much changed there, then.
Those images and the tales of brave Covenanters and Jacobites stayed with me as I grew up and read more Scottish themed novels . . . The Jacobite Trilogy by D.K. Broster (falling in love with Ewen Cameron), The Lymond Chronicles (who could resist Francis Crawford?) and, more recently, the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon featuring uber-hero Jamie Fraser. For me, he is the ultimate kilted hero and has it in spades – looks, sense of honour, loyalty, is sex-on-legs and can speak Gaelic. If you’d like to see images of Jamie Fraser, check out my Pinterest board and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll even admit to subscribing to Amazon Prime so I could watch the TV Series: OUTLANDER. For me, a hero wearing a suit, carrying duct tape, rope and plastic ties just doesn’t cut it. Give me an exiled, Jacobite laird every time.
Which brings me full circle to my novels. In Tall, Dark and Kilted my hero is sexy laird Ruairi (Roo-ary) Urquhart who has to fight to safeguard his land and inheritance.
In Scotch on the Rocks I give you kilt-wearing, gorgeous Brodie – an American with auburn hair, who arrives on Eilean na Sgairbh on the back of a storm wind and turns my heroine’s life upside down.
Share with us your favourite ‘hero’, whether in book or film.
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Just before to leaving school and throwing my hat into the canal, my English teacher presented me with a long list of books that he said I must read.
Half-way through, I came across The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy. At that time, neither book nor author, were well known, but oh – I just loved it. It’s so funny and clever and heart-liftingly brilliant, and still my favourit-est book ever.
So, sixteen years later, with the book now well-thumbed and out-of-print, I was faced with my wonderful, unselfish sister-in–law asking to borrow it, for a holiday read.
I immediately felt shifty – (I don’t come out of this well) – huffed and puffed and tried my best to put her off, but in the end, grudgingly, I handed it over
So, the book was in a holdall in the back of the car, outside a French hotel. There was a smash-and-grab and horror of horrors, my precious paperback, (out of print! irreplaceable!) was now lost for ever. And serve me right, too, you might say.
After ages of high-and-low searching, I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy and now that the book’s been reprinted, I keep spares – you know, just in case.
Several years later, we went to the South of France, with my husband’s five siblings and assorted infants, travelling in convoy.
I’d never camped before; I was forty-six. At the first stop, after trolling up and down fifty or so steps, loo roll under arm, I lay on a narrow cot, watching flies circle overhead and thought – oh help, it’s like Tenko! – the TV programme about a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for women. Ging Gang Goolie? No, thank you.
Then my sister-in-law (same one) gave me a copy of The Republic of Love, by Carol Shields, another quirky, funny, wonderful book. Outside our tent, next to lakes, on beaches, crossing the Pyrenees, my nose was buried in its pages.
It was the beginning of another love affair, with another author and books that I just don’t like to let out of my sight.
What are your absolute favourites? Do you ever let them leave the house?
We all have books we simply can’t bear to part with because, like the old friends they are, they’ve stuck with us through thick and thin.
The oldest book in my collection is Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion (1858) followed by The Wild Bird – Margaret Stuart Lane, (1933) The Scarlet Pimpernel (1927), The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel, Rupert of Henzua (1930).
My other ‘keepers’ are the books which saw me through from girlhood to womanhood: Greengage Summer, I Capture the Castle, Bonjour Tristesse and The Dud Avocado.
With the fickleness of youth I abandoned these when I discovered Jilly Cooper’s novels (1976). My love of rom coms developing within their pages before coming full circle with Bridget Jones in 1996.
I can’t let go any of my penguin classics or historical romances by the likes of Georgette Heyer, Daphne Du Maurier, Jean Plaidy, Margaret Irwin, and Anya Seaton. My particular favourite – Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine.
When I want to remind myself how to write humorously, I re-visit Wodehouse, Terry Pratchet, Tom Sharpe – and the anarchic Catch 22.
I also treasure my poetry books . . . John Donne, W.B.Yeats, The War Poets, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin.
And in particular, The Mersey Sound – Adrien Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten which reminds me of when I was recovering after an appendectomy in Grantham General (1970). I was reading poems to the other patients in my ward and causing such hilarity that it was confiscated by the ward sister until I was discharged. Honestly . . .
I have two comfort reads Tristan and Isuelt by Rosemary Sutcliffe, (so beautifully written) and Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford which is great fun. I want to spend the afternoon with the Mitford gels in the Hons Cupboard discussing topics considered unfit for young ladies.
Want to come with me?
So come on, trade – what’s your favourite book?
THE ONE YOU’LL NEVER LET GO.