Sunday, September 22, 2013

Escape to Another World: 19th Century Scotland

I'm currently writing the second of my British Agent Novels, and this one is set partly in Scotland, which had me thinking back to Gallagher's Pride and Brenna's adventure from her country, traveling all the way to Montana. 

Scotland is a country near and dear to my heart. There’s only a single line of ancestry in my family tree from this magnificent land, but I latched onto it, and love knowing that a bit of my history is intertwined with a people I came to enjoy and admire in a short period of time. It feels as though it has been ages since I walked upon Scottish soil and I open my little pill box filled with soil from the grounds of Cawdor Castle (okay, so I didn’t see a sign saying I couldn’t take it), and I recall every moment of my holiday there. I knew the moment I began writing, that Scotland would have to play a part in my books--no matter how prominent or insignificant.

In Gallagher’s Pride, our lovely Brenna Cameron hails from beautiful Scotland and though I do not delve into Scotland’s history in this book, the love for her homeland echoes my own desire to someday return. Cameron Manor is set in the countryside somewhere near Edinburgh, though my love is most surely for the Highlands. Scotland’s history is by far the oldest which I’ve ever researched and that’s only skimming the surfaces. It is a history like many a country; old, noble, treacherous and glorious.

In the late 19th century, during the reign of Queen Victoria, Brenna Cameron and her family existed in a time and place when Scotland saw many changes. It was a time when industry overtook agriculture and shipbuilding became a source of national pride, but all was not well in Scotland. With the industrial growth and influx of immigrants, the Scottish people saw an increase in slum conditions and overcrowding in industrial cities and poverty in the Highlands. “Land-rights agitation in the Highlands, led by the Highland Land League, erupted into violence in the so-called 'Crofters’ Wars' of the 1880s, and with crofters voting for the first time in 1885…”1

The story in Scotland begins in the 1880’s, however the Cameron’s are privileged and their story is ‘outside’ of the turmoil which took place during that time. More in part because the purpose of the book was not to be a history of Scotland, but rather to allow the reader to enjoy for a short time, what I know to be a remarkable country.

Brenna also enjoys having a tutor who sees to her education when she is younger, but what I found interesting from research is that education in the UK was made compulsory by the Elementary Education Act of 1880 where children were required to attend school only until the age of 10, whereas Brenna’s personal education at home extended far past that time. My love for education obviously disagreed with historical practices, especially when it came to the education of young women. 

Outbreaks and politics were also cruel forces during this time, and again the Cameron’s existed outside of this turmoil, but the reality is that it wasn’t a peaceful time for all of the Scottish people. “Cholera, smallpox, typhus and typhoid decimated families already weakened by starvation. Crime was an escape for many but punishment was cruel for the slightest offences. The political bitterness which some Scots had felt at the union of 1707 was now surpassed by the bitterness of men watching the sufferings of their families and the refusal by masters in factories and mines, who were themselves benefiting from the work of others…”2

This is certainly not the Scotland of Gallagher’s Pride. My Scotland is a bit idealistic, but because I was not set on writing a history of that time in Scotland, I took a fiction author’s liberty and left it out entirely, instead focusing on the characters and their stories. Having said that, Scotland’s history is a fascinating one, much like that of other countries who have fought for their freedom for centuries. It was my desire to give reader’s only a glimpse into a country whose past and present fascinate me and whose people I came to adore. 

I see a return to Scotland for Brenna and her family, but for now I must return to my writing, and another family waiting thousands of miles away in the Highlands . . .  

A Few Bits of 19th Century Scottish History (and some not so 19th century)
·         *An influx of emigrants entered Canada from the Highlands, many into the Red River area where they were not all met with a warm welcome after many endured horrible conditions aboard their transport ships.

·         *King George IV died in 1830, however he had made a visit to Scotland in 1822. A ruling monarch had not visited Scotland before that since 1650-51 by Charles II. A great contrast to Queen Victoria who was quite fond of Scotland and spent much time there during her reign.

·         *Highland cattle (lovingly called wooley moos while I was there) are so hairy that the only way to tell the difference between a cow and a bull is the direction their horns are pointing. The cow's horns grow more squarely from the head, rise sharper and are longer. The bull's horns grow outwards, at a level with the head but incline slightly. (I couldn’t tell the difference except for between the adults and the calves).

·          *In 1794 Scottish engineer William Murdoch built the first-ever house to be lit by gas.

·         *The world's first infant school was opened by philosopher and pedagogue Robert Owen in New Lanark in 1816.

·          *Scotland has some 790 islands, 130 of which are inhabited.

·        *Inverness-shire, Scotland's largest county, is home to Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis (1,343 m / 4,406 ft), Britain's deepest lake, Loch Morar (310 m / 1,017 ft), and Britain's second longest and second deepest lake, the famous Loch Ness. (This one is my favorite tidbits as Inverness-shire is where I stayed whilst in Scotland).

·          *In 2004, Edinburgh became the UNESCO's first City of Literature.

·       *Scottish literature includes such names as Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

2 A Traveller’s History of Scotland, Fifth Edition; Fisher, Andrew

Further Reading:
Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit
A Traveller’s History of Scotland by Andrew Fisher

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