Scottish historical fiction - S J Garland author interview

01 September 2014
imports_CESC_sj-14664_47242.jpg Scottish historical fiction - S J Garland author interview
Historical author SJ Garland talks to us about how she researched her newest novel, Pretender at the Gate, set in eighteenth-century Scotland. ...
Scottish historical fiction - S J Garland author interview Images
Historical author SJ Garland talks to us about how she researched her newest novel, Pretender at the Gate, set in eighteenth-century Scotland.

Could you tell us about your research methods for Pretender at the Gate?

My research for Pretender at the Gate can be divided into two categories –  primary and secondary. The primary information I gathered includes information such as the letters Colonel Nathaniel Hook passed with Scottish Lords on his travels through the Highlands.

I also relied heavily on a map of Edinburgh provided on the National Library of Scotland’s website, drawn in 1693 depicting a northern view of the city.  I also researched the historical characters I have included in the book, Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, Sir John Erskine, the Earl of Mar and Colonel Nathaniel Hook. For the most part, the interesting and varied lives these men lived provided more than enough material to carry the story along.

How far does the book mirror actual historical events?

Pretender at the Gate follows the major historical events of the time. James Stuart planned an invasion in 1708 backed by his ally the French King Louis XIV (pictured) who also believed in the divine right of Monarch’s. I have created a sub story for my main character, which involves him on the periphery of this event. I hesitated at making him a more integral part because he is fiction.

What gave you the inspiration for Pretender at the Gate?

Pretender at the Gate is the sequel to my debut novel Scotch Rising. The inspiration for both novels came from a trip I took to Scotland a few years ago where I spent time at a friend’s summer cabin on Loch Tay. I enjoyed several tours of Scotch distilleries in the area including one at Edradour.

The tour at Edradour begins in a small stone cottage where the excise collector would have stayed while living in the small village. I instantly thought of the Ichabod Crane character from Washington Irvine’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. An outsider who must live within the confines of a close knit village, while being socially rejected is a popular plot line because of its universal appeal.

Are any of your characters based on real historical people?

The main character of Esmond Clyde-Dalton is a creation from my imagination. I needed the flexibility of fiction in order to propel the story along. There are several supporting characters are based on real historical people.

The character of Sir Robert Munro of Foulis (1684-1756) is a real person who was a gifted soldier-politician. I used him as Esmond’s ally because of his loyalty to Queen Anne and his support of the Acts of Union in 1707. I also used Sir John Erskine, the Earl of Mar because of his tendency to switch allegiances between the Jacobite and Hanoverian causes, as a writer of historical fiction this inconstancy is a great source of plot lines.

The major plot line around Colonel Nathaniel Hook and his secret negotiations with Scottish Lords on behalf of James Stuart is also a true part of history. I think of the inclusion of these historical character’s is important in order to build tension in the story and make it more authentic. The fact that the characters may not always be exactly true to their historical biographies is a product of the fact I am a historical fiction author, not a historian.

How do you conjure up through your writing what it would have been like in Scotland 300 years ago?

The biggest challenge for me writing historical fiction is creating a place between historical authenticity and fiction. I completed extensive research on what people wore, their modes of transportation and any number of other small details that give the story flavour.

The trick for me is to weave them into a story in such a way that the reader absorbs them without thinking too much about them.

To me, the reader must enter the story and be a part of it, rather than entering a lesson on history. Also it’s important to make the main characters aware of the world around them, linking them to events of the time.

Do you have a favourite period in Scottish history?

I have enjoyed researching 18th Century Scottish history, even though it is not necessarily the most romantic period, most prefer William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The Union with England and the rise of the Jacobites is an extremely volatile time for Scotland.

Many heroes for Scotland rose during this time, such as Sir Robert Munro of Foulis, who would prove to be a great politician and soldier, fighting for a new Scotland. It is also a time of great change for Scotland, the age of industrialization transformed the social and economic landscape of the country making way for the modern age. I think to understand the eighteenth century of Scottish history gives a small incite into what it means to be Scottish today.

Who’s your favourite person from Scottish history?

My favorite character in Scottish history right now is Sir Robert Munro of Foulis. Sir Robert and his family supported the House of Hanover both in Parliament and on the battlefield. Although I have not found much personal information on Sir Robert, I think it must have taken a lot of dedication, loyalty and determination to rise in such turbulent times.

A monument to him in Falkirk reads, ‘Sincere and active in the service of his friends, humane and forgiving to his enemies, generous and benevolent to all, his death was universally regretted even by those who slew him.’

For more details on Pretender at the Gate, visit S J Garland's website.

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