The past was never distant to me. I have thought or said this so many times throughout my life. With small wonder. When I was a child, both my grandfathers filled me with wondrous stories of my Scottish ancestors. While at bedtime mum was spinning faerytales and Billy Goats Gruff, my grandfathers used my mind as a repository for history that should not be lost. Little did I comprehend they were cultivating my growing imagination, feeding my fascination with the past, and hoping to create the next historian in the family. To me, the lore and legends they regaled me with were not too different from Snow White and Rose Red. Knights, ladies, lords, and kings all danced through my hungry mind, awe-inspiring fables of adventures, quests, and loves that overcame all obstacles. Especially compelling were tales of Sir James the Black Douglas or Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray—generals to Robert the Bruce. Their hard fighting ways in trying to free their kingdom from the grasp of the evil Edward Longshanks were more enthralling than anything I could see at the movies or on television. I confess; I fell deeply in love with James Douglas and Thomas of Moray, and to this day that love has never faltered.
While my grandfathers foresaw a future for me as a historian or archaeologist, they little understood that my heart had been captured by the romance of that historical period. Not the battles, dates, and places, but of the people who lived, loved, and died for their beliefs. It wasn’t the dusty history that possessed my thoughts but the questions— who were these people?…were they happy?…how did it feel sending your husband off to fight in the Battle of Dupplin Moor or Halidon Hill, knowing so many of your uncles, brothers, grandfathers, and fathers before them had died in such a manner? The images glittered in my mind’s eye of the couples meeting for the first time, their courtships and marriages, births of their children, and the sorrows of losing a wife to childbirth or a husband to war.
Yes, they poured their knowledge, their passion for the past into me, yet perhaps they discounted my mother’s influence forming me as well. She was a true bard in the ancient ways. At family reunions, children would flock to her, begging for her to tell her stories. You would find her by fireplace or out in the side yards in the summer with them sitting about her feet as she wove her tales of myths and lore or personal adventures and the antics of her brothers and sisters. I watched as she held them spellbound, saw their eyes aglitter with magic, their imaginations engaged, seeing what she was describing to them. It was easy to envision her in a medieval gown, spinning similar tales to the castle’s people at night, and holding them breathless and enraptured by the magic she conjured with simple words. Yes, I believe that part of her mixed with my grandfathers’ devotion to ancient times, so it was hardly surprising that my heart wanted to be a writer. I wanted to create tales of ancient days, of knights in shining armor, of ladies fair, who were capable of seizing their destinies and fighting for what they wanted in life. That desire was the “child” borne of all their influences.
My mum never lived to see me published, dying young from liver cancer. My Montgomerie grandfather died from a heart attack when I was very small though I clearly carry all he told me in my heart. So that left me with facing my grandfather, a historian, to hear the news of me wanting to write historical romance. Of course, he was quite disappointed. He had envisioned me being a great historian, making some great discovery for the ages—such as finding the grave of Boudicca! Here I was telling him I planned to take all that astounding knowledge and use it to write romances. Grudgingly, he understood I was following my heart. It didn’t mean he approved; he just understood why.
It’s hard, oh so very hard, for an author to give over their first novel for inspection, especially when I was facing such a harsh critic. But I sucked it up and handed over my first historical novel to him. The year before I had given him a romance novel strong on history to show him what I wanted to write. He burned it! Thus, my stomach was tied in knots. He could make or break my dream with a few words. I loved him so much and wanted his approval. If he had tossed my book into the fireplace I think I would’ve curled up and died! When I gave the novel to him, he didn’t say a word, just arched an eyebrow—a trait of the Ogilvie men that spoke a thousand words, possibly a thousand cuts. He turned, went into the library and closed the door. I waited long into the night, fretting and worrying. Finally near dawn, I crept downstairs and tapped on the door. He called, “Come in.” He was sitting in his high-back leather chair, my manuscript on the small table beside him. I couldn’t tell whether he was disappointed in me or saddened in my work, thinking what an education I was wasting. The room was only lit by fireplace, so his countenance was cast in half-shadows. Heart hammering, I moved closer and saw a tear glittering in one eye. That scared me! Instead of the lecture of how I was throwing away everything to write romance novels, he looked up at me and said three words, “You did good.” It was a joke phrase, teasingly offered when he was proud of one of us grandkids. My grandfather was rarely a man of praise. I knew when he said that, he truly understood my passion was different from his, that my mum’s storyteller’s ability had also thrived within me. But he also comprehended I wasn’t “throwing” anything away; I was just traveling a different path to keep history alive in my own fashion.
So I, the great-great-granddaughter of Robert the Bruce (29 times and counting), and amazingly also the great-granddaughter of my beloved Thomas Randolph and James Douglas, tell history in my own style to make readers love the period and to see the people as I do. My grandfather still teases me about throwing away such a great education to write romances, but it’s done with a twinkle of his eye. He knows all he gave me imbues my works, making the knights and ladies come alive in a manner he never dreamt of….but I did.
Deborah Macgillivray writes Scottish medieval romances in the series the Dragons of Challon, which are set in the times of Robert Bruce. Author of nine novels and two dozen novellas, she also pens the contemporary romance series The Sisters of Colford Hall. The second book in the series won the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for Best Contemporary Romance Novel, a contest judged by booksellers across the nation. She is currently working on the next novels in both series as well as a nonfiction historical book about her ancestors. She is also co-authoring a novel about lore, myths, and legends of ancient Scotland. Her historical novels have been published worldwide and translated into a dozen different languages. She has written for Kensington Books and Dorchester Publishing’s Lovespell line and now writes for Montlake Romance (Amazon Publishing) and Prairie Rose Publications.
A Restless Knight (Dragons of Challon Book 1)
RavenHawke (Dragons of Challon Book 2)
One Snowy Knight (Dragons of Challon Book 3)
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