The past two years has been a struggle for me, with losing my husband to pancreatic cancer, the grieving, then my own surgery to remove a tumor growing inside my jawbone, and the post-op healing. Not surprisingly, it flattened out the creative process inside me. Only, my writing comes in circles. The muse benefits from a downtime, yes, but I can only keep it stifled for a spell before the magic rises again and I must let her take wing. So with this New Year upon us, I am feeling that power swell, and the need to get back to writing full time.
When people learn I am an author, one of the invariable questions I am asked is “Where does your inspiration come from?” In many cases, it’s from the past, and from two grandfathers, who loved the ages gone, revered them, and passed that passion on to me. While instilling that hunger for the ancient times, they also taught me ability to empathize with those distant people, to seek out history, to embrace it—the good and the bad—but never forget these were real people, who fought, loved and forged lives, that they were no different from our day-to-day existence. My storytelling craft finds its roots in that oral tradition, harkening back to old bards at fireside, spinning and weaving tales of ladies and knights, legend and lore.
To this aim, I am starting a series of blogs for Prairie Rose Publications that deal with that magical inspiration, and how a writer can find a wealth of material hidden in the distant past—your ancestors. They are not just names and dates, but people with varied and colorful lives that rival any tales made up by an author. I will be sharing a peak at my own family trees, and the amazing men and women I descend from, this shall cover the famous and the infamous, and from kings to pirates! It seems that at every big event in the world’s timeline, there were my ancestors smack in the middle of the turmoil—and sometimes on both sides! Recently, I was doing a family tree for a dear friend, and she laughed, “Your ancestor kicked mine out of Scotland!” I laughed that they had done worse to each other—burning them at the stake or hanging them for being witches, beheadings, back stabbings, and even drowned in a vat of wine (yes, I am kin to that George, Duke of Clarence!). Unlike George, the more fortune of my family used the events to turn matters to their favor, for the rest, it cost them their fortunes, lands and titles — and on several instances — their lives.
When one starts on this journey through time, you will notice a trend by historians to focus on the men—their battles, their marriages, their lands, their sons. I have found branches of family going back to the year one thousand —and beyond, but yet was saddened and dismayed to discover frequently women are barely more than a footnote to a husband or son, listed not by a name, but by daughter of, mother of or wife of labels. So while I will be visiting some of my illustrious male great grandfathers and great-great uncles, I will be paying extra attention to the valiant women who seized the day, worked hard to control their destinies and fortunes, only to be largely forgotten. They deserve more than just a Mrs. in place of their names.
In keeping with reveling in these ancient ancestors, I will also visit customs about deaths, funerals and how people dealt with the passing of their loved ones—or their enemies. I will show you my adventures with Ancestry.com and other websites that can aid you gaining information that you need to trace your own family lines — some of the things to consider in trying to track down your 24th great-grandfathers. I will touch on unusual names for the periods, the aggravation of naming sons and daughters after their names, over and over for generation! Seriously? I have so many Roberts, Williams, James, Iains, Seans and Patricks in my tree that it’s mind-boggling. It gets dizzying with the effort to sort them all out.
So I hope you will join me in this adventure in ancestor stalking, and maybe it will inspire you to research your own family. You might be very surprised what you find.
I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and your health issue over the past 2 years. I know it must have been so difficult for you, and yet, you pushed through and set your mind to work. It is not for the faint of heart to move forward after such setbacks, and made even more challenging when your creative flow stalls out. I am so glad to read how you have overcome these roadblocks and are back at writing. I think writing saves us.
I always enjoy reading your stories. It's good to learn that you are inspired by your ancestors. The tales that are passed down through the family or discovered in research are filled with such vitality and, of course being family histories, mean a great deal to each of us. The first person in my family who arrived in the United States was Isobel Douglas. Nice to know it was a woman. She and her mother had a huge disagreement and Isobel left Scotland by herself and changed the course of our family history.
I'm happy to see you have plenty of plans for writing. I and so many others look forward to reading your upcoming work. You're talented and courageous, Deborah. I hope this year will be an excellent one for you. All the best to your corner of the universe!
I wrote a huge comment that disappeared. I don't think I can write all of it all over again, but the major part of the message was how saddened I was to hear about the loss of your husband and your health issue over the last 2 years and how much courage and persistence I know it took for you to regain your creative spirit and carry on. Writing saves us.
You had so much to say in this blog that I don't think I can address every issue you brought up except that family histories give us a real basis for our identities and, yes, fodder for stories. My Scottish ancestor, Isobel Douglas came to the United States by herself and led a successful life. She was fierce and smart and I'm proud to have such an ancestor.
I hope you have a much better year in 2021 and I do look forward to reading more of your stories. You are talented and courageous. All the best to your corner of the universe, Deborah.
This sounds fascinating!!! You have a wealth of knowledge on researching and I'm sure it this series of blogs will be very interesting!!! Can't wait!!! :) :) :)
Sarah, thank you. The tales they passed to me, were more like reading "fairy tales" to me. I recall once when my paternal grandfather was telling me about William Wallace, along with Robert Bruce, Good Sir James Douglas, Randolph and Edward Longshanks. I asked him if Wallace was kin to us, and he said very precisely, "No, we are not kin to William Wallace." What he didn't say was we were descended from all the others! My joy has been discovering the tales they handed down were so accurate. Simply amazing to know the stories were so accurate, to discover ancestors right where they said they were!!
I am delighted to hear you'll be doing regular blogs about your wealth of Scottish history, lore, customs and traditions. I've admired your writing forever as you transport the reader to medieval times from your first page. I can't explain my fascination with all things Scottish and would like to think I have a connection because of a past life. My mom's cousin did a lot of research into his side of the family tree and I hope to get a copy of it somehow even though he's no longer with us. He travelled to Hungary and scrutinized church documents, etc.
I look forward to reading your new series of blogs and am so glad you are back to writing. I can understand those blocks of time when life intervene and your Muse retreated. I've been there several times myself, hence I'm a late bloomer in the publishing world. I wish you a happier and more productive 2021. Sending you a big hug.
I always have been attracted to periods of history and places, long before I knew I had roots to them. Maybe that is what calls to you.
Yes, life can intrude harshly, and we need time and space to heal. But the Muse starts gnawing on you. I immediately did a novella for PRP, but couldn't finish it. The first couple weeks of numbness wore off, and then grief was just overwhelming.
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