Time zones make a phone call between Maryland and Oxfordshire a bit tricky to manage -- but sometimes Wenches just want to talk to each other! Recently Nicola and I chatted about our shared love of Scotland and Scottish-set fiction -- and about Nicola's new release, The Lady and the Laird, available on July 30.
We compared weather notes (hot and humid here, surprisingly hot and humid over there) -- and we had a fun discussion about researching, writing and visiting Scotland. Nicola is warm and charming, with a classic British accent that I could listen to for hours! Part of our conversation is transcripted below.
First, about her wonderful new book:
The Lady and the Laird, Nicola Cornick's first Scottish-set Regency, is every bit as warm, witty, evocative and charming as Nicola's other novels, with the added romance of Scotland. And Nicola knows her Scotland -- she has family ties and visits there often, and her love of Scotland shines in her work.
Yorkshire-born Nicola Cornick studied history at London University and Ruskin College, Oxford. In addition to writing, she is a historian for the National Trust at 17th century Ashdown House. A triple nominee for the RITA Award, Nicola is "a rising star of the Regency genre," declares Publishers Weekly.
The Lady and the Laird: A bluestocking renowned for her wit and beauty secretly writes love letters for others, letters that become more racy -- until Lucy MacMorland's meddling brings her into conflict with Robert, Marquis of Methven, who has no time to woo another bride--but since Lucy lost him a wife, it seems only right that she should marry him instead, help save his estates and his people from disaster . . .
"Lively dialogue and sexy cat and mouse games combine with poignancy and tenderness,” says Romantic Times Book Club, and Publishers Weekly calls it "an entertaining Regency-era spin on Cyrano de Bergerac."
Susan: Nicola, I so loved this book! Thank you for sending a copy. Have you finished writing the other two books in this new trilogy?
Nicola: The first book in the Scottish Brides series, The Lady and the Laird, is just out in July. The second book, One Night with a Laird, is finished and in production to be released in Nov 2013, and Claimed by The Laird, the third in the trilogy, I’m writing now and that will be out in Aug 2014.
Susan: I love the titles. Why did you decide to set some of your Regency stories in Scotland, after writing Regency England so far?
Nicola: For every book I write, I love the history and I think it’s important. I want to create a really vivid structure and background for the romance. And It was very interesting to set a Regency in Scotland. I think in part the stories are a reflection of the Scotland that people want to see and love best. It may sound odd, but Brigadoon was an inspiration in a way, as I always think of that film as magical and it brings out the bits of Scotland that people love.
Susan: And yet The Lady and the Laird isn’t really Brigadoony, is it. Not in the sense of being an invented Scottish stereotype. It’s such a romantic story, and I thought what you wrote was very sincerely done, very true to the era –- early 19th century Scotland.
I’ve written several novels set in 19th century Scotland, as Susan King and as Sarah Gabriel, so I know the challenges you’re up against -- Regency Scotland is a very romantic time in many ways, and yet there are the Clearances and so forth going on at the same time and you want to be true to the history, you don’t want to ignore what’s happening in Scotland then, but you don't want to focus on it either. It doesn’t fit a historical romance, does it.
Nicola: Thank you, I’m so glad you think The Lady and the Laird is true to the era. I’ve enjoyed your Regency Scottish novels immensely and I think you are exactly right that there are more difficult elements in Scottish history that can’t be ignored. That’s one of the reasons I find the era so fascinating. There is such a mixture of the romantic and the harsh.
Susan: Oh, well said! But Regency aside, what is it about Scotland for you in particular?
Nicola: I like to think I’m a straight-down-the-line historian, but at the same time I’m also such a romantic so there is a real dichotomy there. The picturesque romance of Scotland really draws me. There is that kind of romantic inspiration – and there’s being part of a kinship group that adds to that romantic flavor. Maybe that romantic Scotland is in part a construct, but the idea of the homecoming is strong there, and has a strong pull for others. And it does for me. I’m English, but I have personal ties to Scotland -- MacIntosh relatives on my side, and also my husband’s family is Scottish. So I have lots of connections to the place as well as a feeling of romantic attachment.
Susan: I know what you mean. My grandmother was born in Scotland and came here with her family when she was young. They were Frasers and Catholic, not uncommon even then for Highland families. She had certain ways, like cooking up a big kettle of porridge every morning before dawn and keeping that on the stove, and other little things she would do and say (and the Fraser dimples and red hair!) that came from her roots. It was nice to see her connection, and I feel that connection, too, partly because of her.
Nicola: I think these connections are very powerful for people. My mother-in-law still sounds Scottish, still keeps the traditions too, like the cooking and in forms of speech. My husband uses those Scottish words, too, but in a very classic British accent, which at first sounded strange to me! I think heritage helps so much to make you the person you are – and the strong appeal of the Scots being your people in a sense, it’s so important to belong somewhere, to feel that you’re part of something. I’m very interested in this idea of people belonging to something, and belonging somewhere. Like getting DNA samples done – I don’t know about the States, but over here, it’s very big at the moment to find out if you really do have Viking genes in your DNA, that sort of thing.
Susan: I’m so interested in that as well, I’d love to get that done! In Scotland, with clan structure developing early on in their history, kinship was such a strong factor that it contributes a great deal to that sense of homecoming, that sense of belonging in Scotland. It was a hugely important aspect for the clans and it meant their ability to survive, in those early centuries. Yet it is so inherent to the Scots that we can still feel that identity today regardless of where we live. I love feeling that i'm welcome somewhere in Scotland just by virtue of being part Fraser.
Nicola: It’s all part of the bigger picture, isn’t it, you often feel so attracted to where your family comes from. It’s like in the Gaelic, people don’t ask “Where are you from?” but rather “Who are your people?” I think we feel that in the Scottish romances – if you’re drawn to Scotland and stories set there, it’s a very warm sort of feeling that you have a place in the world, and it’s there.
Susan: Yes, the Gaelic - what a great point! With Lucy and Robert in The Lady and the Laird, this really informed Robert’s character, didn’t it, this sense of belonging. It was so important to him, to his sense of himself, and helped him understand what he wanted and who he was.
Nicola: Oh very much. Robert had gone abroad and had come home again, and there’s a strong pull that he felt about bringing the people back and preserving their livelihood and their heritage. He has turned his back on that in the past but now he now he feels he owes it to his people to give them his protection. I set this part of the story on Golden Isle in the book, which I very much modeled on Fair Isle in the northeast of Scotland. Robert is trying to reverse the damage done by his grandfather to the clan lands during the Clearances.
I had studied the history of the Clearances for my Master’s, and it felt to me when I was reading the history, that so many were milking the land, with the landowners in the south rather than up in the north on the land itself, just milking the land in Scotland for profit. And that doesn’t fit the romantic picture of Scotland. I wanted to reverse that through Robert’s character.
Susan: It’s true, and this touches on what I love most about the Scots and about writing Scottish-set stories – there’s such a sense of honor inherent in the Scots, even when things are not going so well. It's inherent to them.
Nicola: Absolutely! Scots did live so much on ideals – and it’s not just the ideal and the “creation” of Scotland, it really did exist, you see it all through their history.
Susan: So true! You see it in the Clearances, the touches of heroism despite tragedy and adversity—like the MacDonald chief who put everything he had, lost his fortune, in a heroic effort to keep his people in that part of the Hebrides rather than send them packing, as happened too often in Scotland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I based a book on that, one of my Sarah Gabriel stories—that heroism, that nobility is all through Scottish history, and I find it so attractive in heroes, and in the stories themselves. I try to bring that sense of integrity into all my Scottish stories and heroes.
Nicola: Oh I know exactly what you mean. That loyalty and nobility is a hugely attractive characteristic in heroes of Scottish set romance. I was just reading about that recently—MacDonald of Clan Ranald going bankrupt for his people, yes. And though the structure around them might change, the social structures, the strong principle remains. It goes back to the clans. And it’s of course not exclusive to the Scots, but it’s a very powerful force and characteristic in them.
Susan: It exists very much in the Bruce and Wallace era, too. I’ve written about that in several books -- loving that Scottish ability to thumb their noses at authority, to maintain their sense of humor and their nobility despite awful circumstances. You see it in the whisky smugglers too, and I've written more than one whisky smuggler hero for that reason—I love the creative way they had of expressing their freedom no matter what the circumstances. Many Scottish smugglers were pretty dreadful, let's be real -- but some had a great mischief in the way they went about producing their whisky no matter what English law dictated.
Nicola: Right, my third book in the series (Claimed By the Laird, 2014) has to do with whisky smugglers, and it’s such fun to write. It was a good use of their brains, too, the smuggling, when there were so many left with little to do, and so many regulations to follow. I love that refusal to just lie down and accept authority. It’s so interesting to write these things.
Susan: When Prof. Euan Hague visited the blog to talk about his research into the appeal of Scottish romance, we talked about how Sir Walter Scott had something to do with creating that sort of “conceit” of Romantic Scotland, the picturesque romance of the vast, rugged beauty of the landscape, the noble tartan-clad Highland savage, all that, and it ties in with King George’s visit to Edinburgh, doing it up right for the king.
Nicola: Euan Hague’s interview was fascinating! The whole thing about the clan tartans interests me —many people don’t even realize that it was all pretty much invented in about 1815, that if your clan has a specific tartan, it may have come about then and not earlier.
Susan: Right, early on a tartan design and its colors had more to do with the dyes available from the local plants in that area, and less to do with a specific color or pattern identifying a clan group. The local colors were more likely to identify you, and a weaver’s style, and that led eventually to clan tartan identification.
Nicola: That’s fascinating. I’m very conscious when I’m writing Scottish Regency romance that in some sense I’m writing within the illusion, carrying on that construct that was created about Scotland. And yet, so much of it has roots in the Scottish culture, and so much of it evokes the real Scotland. There really is a picturesque romance in the vast rugged beauty of the Scottish landscape, isn’t there! I don’t want it to seem like a construct.
Susan: Oh it doesn’t at all! I think what you’re writing is very sincere, very well done. I love what you’re doing with your new Regency Scotland series!
Nicola: Thank you so much, Susan. And it’s been wonderful to talk about Scotland and the Scottish Brides series with you!
The Lady and the Laird has a UK version too, which will be released in September - click here for Amazon UK!
What attracts YOU to Scottish Regency stories? Is it the Scottish setting, the Scottish heroes -- or is it Regency first and foremost for you, and any old setting will do? Commenters on this blog will be entered for a chance to win a copy of Nicola's The Lady and the Laird!