Author Rosemary Gemmell lives in a village on the west coast of Scotland, twenty minutes from Loch Lomond and thirty minutes from the centre of Glasgow. She joins us today to talk about how her Scottish surroundings inspire her writing. Learn more about Rosemary and her books at her website and blog.
|Highland Mary's Grave|
Scotland as Setting
The setting in any novel is often one of the most important aspects of the story for the author and the reader. This has never been truer than it is for The Highland Lass, my new Scottish novel, as it is mainly set around my own area in the west coast of Scotland and across the River Clyde to Argyllshire. An unlikely early inspiration was the large Greenock cemetery where ancient and elaborate graves stones, winding paths, and overhanging trees provided much scope for imagination. This was where my mother first introduced me to the gravestone of Highland Mary, who was a brief but important love interest of Robert Burns, our national poet. This early memory and a fascination for Mary Campbell was the inspiration for the short historical chapters of The Highland Lass.
Inverclyde has an envious position right beside the River Clyde, and across from Gourock sits the small seaside town of Dunoon in Argyll. From my side of the river, we can see the entrance to the Holy Loch, bordered by the towering Argyll hills, where the American Navy was based from the 1960s until the early 80s. This provided another thread in the story, as Eilidh is seeking the identity of her father, who may have been an American officer. Dunoon is also where Highland Mary was born and her statue forever looks across the Clyde.
Another inspiration is our famous Loch Lomond, one of the largest freshwater lochs (or lakes) in Britain. It is now part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and its huge surface area crosses the Highland Boundary Fault, which separates the highlands from the lowlands. One of my favourite places is the fairy-tale village of Luss where the modern hero, Lewis, takes Eilidh one day. The tiny cottages with their abundance of flowers in summer months line both sides of the narrow main street, which wanders right down to the edges of the loch. You may have heard the chorus of the famous song, The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, the lyrics of which were evidently written in the 18th century when one highlander was set free in the north of England after supporting the defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie and one was condemned to die.
“Ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak the low road
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye,
For me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”
The other main setting for The Highland Lass, in the present and past, is Ayrshire, known as Burns country. Mary and Robert Burns met and plighted their troth there in the 18th century and the small villages have hardly changed at all. The inn where Burns and his cronies met, Poosie Nancie’s, is still in the same street in Mauchline. Ayrshire is also where the blossoming relationship between modern heroine, Eilidh Campbell, and handsome Scot, Lewis Grant, takes another step forward.
But it is around Inverclyde where all the story threads come together and where Eilidh finds the answers to the past. One of the best-known views where Greenock meanders into Gourock is from the Lyle Hill overlooking Cardwell Bay and the Argyll hills beyond. Along by this stretch of the Bay was the perfect setting for Eilidh’s return to Scotland. Many of the large cruise ships now visit the port at Greenock but you can still watch out for the oldest sea-going passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world, The Waverley, which sails down the Clyde during the summer months and maintains our links to the steamers of the past.
The Highland Lass
Eilidh Campbell returns to her Scottish roots from America with one burning ambition: to discover the identity of her real father. But her mother's past in Inverclyde is a mystery with family secrets, a book of Robert Burns' poems with a hidden letter and a photograph link to the Holy Loch at Dunoon when the American Navy were in residence. Staying with her childhood friend, Kirsty, while searching for answers, Eilidh begins to fall in love with handsome Scot Lewis Grant, but just how divorced is he? Together they trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns, with its echoes to her mother's story. From Dunoon, to Ayrshire and culminating in Greenock, Eilidh finds the past is closer than she realises.