Please welcome my guest, Gail McMillan…
January 25, Robbie Burns Day! I was thrilled when Alicia invited me to answer interview questions about my latest book “Highland Harry” on that day. This Scottish-Canadian historical romance fits in well with the celebrations of Scotland’s arguably most beloved poet.
What perfect timing! I had never heard of Robbie Burns, but I’m so happy to share his special day with you. 🙂
Tell us about Highland Harry, where did you get the idea?
The idea for a book was inspired by tales of my grandfather, several times removed, George Fowlie, who immigrated to Northumberland County, New Brunswick, Canada in the late 1700’s. Although I’ve never been able to determine that he was, I assumed, for the sake of the book, that he’d been driven out of Scotland by the infamous Highland Clearances. In the backwoods George and his wife Jane established a farm and two mills, one grist, the other lumber. George died at age fifty, leaving Jane with all this to manage as well to raise nine children, the oldest fourteen, the youngest a mere two months old.
His wife proved a remarkable woman. She never remarried. She raised the children and managed the family interests on her own until she passed in her late 80’s. The Fowlie mills flourished until after World War II, a lasting tribute to this remarkable woman. Her eldest son, James, became a clergyman and, later, the first Professor of Natural History at prestigious Queen’s University.
“Highland Harry” is what I call a “what if” book. I wondered what would have happened if both George and Jane had died, if the care of their children had been left to a pair of unusual step parents, one a former Highland highwayman fleeing the noose, the other a tavern girl. Throw in a vicious enemy out to gain control of their prosperous holdings, and the plot was set to boil. Could these unusual and unexpected parents fight off all challenges and forge an enduring family, even a dynasty, out of all this adversity? You’ll have to read “Highland Harry” to find out.
Are there any tricks or habits you use when creating a story?
Not very original but I always try to walk in my characters’ shoes (boots, barefeet). I try to see the world as they would see and experience it. Sadly, sometimes I’ve inhabited their bodies too long and my real-life supper has burned to a black sludge.
What is one word you would use to describe yourself? What is one word you think others might use to describe you?
Shy. Others probably see me as distant or reserved.
What do you want readers to come away with after they read Highland Harry?
I would like readers to come away with a sense of the power and strength to be found in loving, caring family relationships, that by uniting for the common good, a family can conquer or, at the very least, manage any adversity.
If you could change something about one of your books that’s already released, what would it be?
I can’t single out one particular book. What I’d most like to do is expand on some scenes, give the characters more of a chance to reveal themselves and, in some cases, to draw a more detailed account of setting.
What is your favorite quote?
“God forgive me if I whine, I have two feet, The world is mine.” My father’s to me when I expressed discontentment.
What is your most prized material possession and why?
My mother’s copy of L. M. Mongomery’s “The Blue Castle.” She passed when I was sixteen. She left this book to me, a favorite of both of us. To me, it symbolizes our shared love of the printed word and keeps her memory always close to me.
Thank you for being with me today, Gail. I love that quote from your father. Very touching about “The Blue Castle,” I’m sure that is a prized possession.
Now, for Gail’s latest release…
After losing his family in the Scottish Clearances, Harry Wallace becomes infamous for his clever revenge on the ruling English upper class, but his success can last only so long. With the shadow of a noose hanging over him, he barely escapes with his life and sails for British North America and a town he’s heard of but never seen.
In New Brunswick, Maggie Fowler needs a champion, someone willing to fight for the home and holdings she and her seven stepchildren are trying to defend against a murderous, power-hungry enemy who has already killed the children’s father. Will footloose, devil-may-care Highland Harry meet her needs?
He sat savoring another wee dram. God knew he needed it. He’d just been proposed to by the stepmother of seven children with mills, a farm, and an apparently dangerous enemy threatening her and her family. The widow of a fellow Highlander, a woman—together with her children—he was duty bound to help and protect.
In the flickering firelight he walked to the door of her bedroom and peered in through the space she’d left open to allow heat from the hearth to enter. In the wide bed, her shining chestnut hair adorning the pillow, Maggie slept, long eyelashes spread out over creamy cheeks. In her arms she cradled the golden-haired cherub named Eppie. On a rug on the floor beside them, Pig woke, looked up at him with strangely knowing eyes, grunted, then lowered her head and went back to sleep. What was a man to do with such a rare and unexpected family?
He wandered back to the hearth, put a hand on the shelf above it, and stood staring down into the flames. Wind shrieked around the corners and snow buffeted the windows, but inside the log house, protected from the storm, he let a warm, secure feeling settle over him, a warm and secure feeling he hadn’t experienced at night since he’d been a lad in his father’s croft cottage during a blizzard much like this one. The ambience was seductive but perhaps false. After all, the family had a dangerous enemy.
He banked the fire for the night, then glanced back toward the bedroom where Maggie slept. Beautiful, unassuming Maggie. What would the future hold for her and the children if he decided not to stay?
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