Skye Book Tour: Day Two

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Good morning! I hope your sleep was wonderful. Step outside now that it’s daylight. This was Kathryn’s view, and it’s ours as well. Veiled in the mist are the Hills of Knoydart just across the Sound of Sleat. Isn’t it lovely? A wee bit of heather here and there. By the way, someone left their sunglasses in the rover. You’ll not find a lot of need for them here.

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Here’s a magical bit of information. First one of the day. When my husband, Jim, and I first came to Skye this is where we stayed as well. I chose it from the internet solely based on the names of the proprietors being Macdonald and the fact, he was a top tour guide. When we awoke, and I saw the view my first morning here I squealed (ever so softly as not to terrify Jim or the Macdonalds). This was the view I had written into my novel for Kathryn to see when she rented her very own cottage. I know! Magic.

Enough about the view, let’s head to Armandale Castle, home of the Lord of the Isles, the MacDonalds.

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Failte! Welcome to my ancestral home! Of course, I’ve been unable to locate just exactly where my Skye MacDonald ancestors lived. But, I think this might have been a nice spot. So why not?

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Much of the castle was burned in 1855, but it is formidable. In the 15th century, the Clan Donald was established on the Isle of Skye. From the 1650s, the MacDonald chiefs began to stay at Armandale in addition to their other castles around the island. In 1925, the MacDonald family moved to a smaller house, abandoning Armandale to the elements.

25 Sound of Sleat from Armandale

The gardens surrounding the castle and the wild woods adjacent to it are wonderful. The plantings seen around the castle grounds were started around 1790. The view from the front lawn is breathtaking when the mist chooses to lift. I’ve seen pictures of lovely weddings here.

23 Armandale Forest Path

Let’s take a walk through the woods. But beware. We will have to pass the guardian of the wood. Prepare yourselves. First, we’ll pass through the Dreamcatcher. Watch your heads . . . and well, just watch it.

47 Spider Tree Armandale Forest

Here we are. The guardian of the woods. You’re welcome to take photos while I speak with her. There now. All are welcome to pass. What did I say to her? That would be between me and the guardian. Wee bit of magic and all.

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The forest path is lined with wild flowers and ferns. Can you detect the scent that hangs heavy in the air? Yes, you’re right. Wild garlic. And there are orchids and blue bells of Scotland aplenty. Giant fir, beech, and birch trees fill the woods.

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The Clan Donald estate is home to red deer and golden eagles. And if we’re lucky we might spot a sea eagle. Oh look! A Viking boat in the middle of the woods. I’d say this is a good time to leave in case there are any lurking in forest. On to the gardens.

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The gardens are filled with beautiful Rhododendrun bushes in full bloom. What a sight! In East Texas we have Azalea gardens that are beautiful, but these plants are fantastic. There are many exotic plants from around the world planted in the castle grounds, as is only right for the home to the Lord of the Isles.

A visit to the Donald Library on our way out is always a good idea. My family tree is housed in this library. My actual personal family tree with the names of my children and grandchildren included This makes me so happy.  After we take a quick look in the library, we will tour the Museum of the Isles. It’s fascinating! We’re sure to be ready for a bite of something chocolate and a cup of coffee after the museum. The former stables of the castle are now a gift shop and restaurant. All the tartans of the MacDonald Clan hang on the walls around the dinning hall. I’ll be sure to point mine out!

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I hope you enjoyed the visit to Armandale. It’s a short drive along the Sound to the end of Sleat. There’s a story to be told along the way. I promised you yesterday. Are you ready?

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Local legend says there were three young men swimming in the small bay on the southern shore of Sleat. Three seals were watching them and magically transformed into three beautiful young women. They swam over to the young men, who had no idea they were Selkies, and instantly the boys fell in love with the young women. Once they all reached shore, the young men saw the seal skins on the beach and realized who these girls were. Two of the boys told the third to take the skins and hide them while they distracted the girls. Reluctantly, he did this. They all three married the girls soon after their meeting. A year passed and one of the wives tricked her husband into showing her where the skins were hidden. She took them, and the three wives returned to the sea with their skins and became seals again. The three young husbands were heartbroken and followed them into the sea. The young men turned to stone. If you sit along the hillside to this day you might catch a glimpse of three seals sitting on the three rocks. There’s the final bit of magic for today’s tour.

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We’ve had a full day. With the sun setting, let’s stop at the Ardvasar Restaurant for dinner. It was one of Kathryn’s favorites. Who knows? Sarah might be working. If so, she’ll be happy to see us. Haggis anyone?

 

THE STONE MANOR IS HERE!

Book Cover

After almost three months of working on updating this blog site, it’s finally up and running. (Thank you, Andrew Hale and Andy Fronius!) AND, after beginning my novel, THE STONE MANOR, over six years ago as a short story, it’s finally published! I’m beyond excited. It was a very long pregnancy. The labor was intense, but a labor of love. Now that my baby is here, I just sit and stare at it.

I attempted to have it published by October, but realized it just wasn’t going to happen. Things always take longer than you think. I started looking at dates in November, as in, what happened in history, famous people’s birthdays, famous and infamous inventions. You know me. Why wouldn’t I? Suddenly, a thought came to mind. I should look at the birth dates of my MacDonald ancestors, since the story is partially based on them. AND GUESS WHAT? The first MacDonald in my line born in the US to my Isle of Skye ancestor was born on November 6, 1788. There it was!

28 Violin and Fam Pic

(This is a photo of my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather, James Rueben Little, was the great-grandson of our MacDonald ancestor. This is also his fiddle!)

I realized I had very little control over the exact date my novel would be for sale. I knew November 6th was a long shot. However, my novel is all about ancestral dreams, fairy glens, and fate. In keeping with the fairy tale theme, it was, in fact, published on November 6th. This just makes me smile.

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(Your dreams are worth your best efforts to achieve them.)

Last night, Jim and I went to our favorite Thai restaurant in Percha, Germany (near Munich) to celebrate my dream finally coming to fruition. This was my fortune at the end of the meal. The dream theme continues. This also made me smile . . . and laugh.

Dreams do come true. I’ve loved the journey, from putting the first words to paper to pressing the PUBLISH button on my laptop. I know newbie novels don’t sell themselves. I’ve a lot of work ahead of me. But, I’ll be doing it with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, a fairy song I once heard in my dreams.

 

Fiddling Around: Name that Tune

28 Violin and Fam Pic

(My great-grandfather’s fiddle. He’s the man in the photo.)

My mother inherited her grandfather’s fiddle quite by accident. We found it in the drawer of a dresser that had belonged to her mother. It seems our grandmother had been given the fiddle by her father and had taken lessons in high school, but no one ever heard her play. She was shy.

What you need to know about this discovery is, this is the grandfather who descended from the MacDonald’s of the Isle of Skye. So, when Jim and I visited Skye in my search for the ancestral home and to double-check my writing for The Stone Manor, the Skye Accordian and Fiddle Festival was a must see. It takes place yearly in Portree.

On day five of our trip we drove up to Portree and wandered into the Royal Hotel, formerly MacNab’s Inn, the last meeting place of Flora MacDonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. The Festival was in full swing, and it was standing room only. Later that evening, we walked down the street to the Skye Gathering Hall for the Ceilidh Dance. What a wonderful way to experience a bit of the local culture. It was a blast!

68 Skye Fiddle Festival Band

(Isle of Skye Accordian & Fiddle Festival in Portree)

In my novel, Kathryn attends the festival and dance. This whole scene, which was great fun to write, was added after our experience there. Before going to Skye, my novel was like a detailed pen and ink drawing. After the trip, I added color to the drawing! Writing this scene was definitely a splash of color.

I made another decision after the trip to Skye and attending the festival. I wanted to learn to play the fiddle. Just enough to play a highland reel on my great-grandfather’s fiddle…in honor of the ancestors. I realize it’s a bit late to be picking up the violin, but I was determined. A good friend from New Zealand graciously agreed to give me lessons. Of course, she usually taught violin to five year olds, but I told her that would be perfect!

She found some music and the lessons began. I read music and play the guitar, so at least I had a bit of a head start. But nothing could have prepared me for the difficulty of this instrument. I bought a violin off the internet for 20 Euros (made in China) in case things didn’t go well. But I am happy to say that I can now play a reel. It’s short and sounds a bit like a dying cat, but I can play it none-the-less. Now I just have to get my great-grandfather’s fiddle repaired and the magic will happen. I promise to post the video!

For more information about the Skye Festival go to http://www.skyemusic.co.uk/festival.asp.

I Am My Father’s Daughter

12 Me and Dad Andes Chile 1974

(Dad and me, in 1974, in the Chilean Andes outside Santiago.)

My dad commented yesterday, Father’s Day, how great it was to share “the dream” with me. Let me explain. The recurring dream I have about the stone manor is evidently an “ancestral memory.” Don’t mean to sound creepy or heretical. Just stating the facts, ma’am. Besides many of you know how much I love faeries, fantasy, AND if I could have only one Super Power it would be flying!

Back to the dream. I was watching a Discovery Channel program a few years ago with Dad about Scotland. There was a beautiful one-track road with breath-taking views surrounding it, and Dad made the comment that it looked a bit like a dream he’s had for years. He began describing it, and I told him I’d had the exact same dream, beginning when I was eighteen years old. Crazy, we thought. Then later, I was in the car with my husband and our three sons, and I began to tell them about the dream and before I could explain what it was about our eldest son, Trevor, said, “You mean the one about the castle? Well, it’s not really a castle more like a great stone manor.” He was eighteen. He’d had the SAME dream. Can we all just let out a big CRAZY SCREAM right now? (Thanks for that.) Anyway, this dream helped form the main  “magical” element of my novel.

We took a trip to Scotland in 2002 with our three boys, all teenagers, and spent some of that time looking for the “dream” manor. No luck. We DO have a lovely daughter, but she was married and did not make this trip with us. Another time!

When I found ancestors from the Isle of Skye, I was elated. The fact that they’re on my mother’s side did not dissuade me. I KNOW my dad has ancestors from south-western England, Ireland, and Scotland. Somewhere there is a stone manor, and someday I will find it! In the meantime, I’m borrowing my mother’s ancestors, the Macdonalds, who immigrated to America around 1774 from Skye and grafting them into the stone manor dream. Sometimes I forget I’ve mixed the two. Like when Jim and I spent a week in Skye in 2008, researching for my novel. I was actually looking for the manor. Hey, it could happen!

A couple of years ago, my husband graciously agreed to accompany me on a search to the far south-western edge of Wales to look for a stone castle where one of my dad’s ancestors had lived. It had been described as a Fortified Manor House. Hmm. Could this be the one? It was awesome! We drove up in the rain, which is the only way one should see a castle in ruins in Wales. Alas, it was not our dream manor, but will make for a great setting in another novel.

13 Woebley Castle, Swansea, Wales

(Weoley Castle, Southwestern Wales. Photo by Jim Hale)

My dad is a STORYTELLER in the truest sense of the word. I’ve inherited this from him, and I am grateful. I love you Dad. Thanks for the FANTASTIC heritage.

The Stone Manor: A Dragon Worth Riding

24 Armandale Castle

(Photo above: Armadale Castle, Sleat, Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo taken by Jim Hale)

I’ve written a novel. It began as a dream, which turned into an idea, which found its way into words in a short story April 14, 2006. Lady of the Glen, as it was called then, was 3,800 words short and an assignment for my second Creative Fiction class at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Dr. John McDermott was my first ever writing professor, now good friend. In the Fall of 2006, I took a Fantasy and Magic Realism class from John’s wife, Dr. Christine Butterworth-McDermott. my second ever writing professor, now good friend. By November, Lady of the Glen had grown to 5,700 words and Christine planted the seed that this could be something bigger. A novel. I’d never seriously considered writing a novel. I continued working on the story and expanding it. Spring 2007 found me in my fourth Creative Writing class with Writer-in-Residence, Joe Lansdale teaching. He continued to encourage me to pursue writing seriously and helped with the “business” end of the craft. I am forever indebted to these three amazing writers.

11 The Stone Manor Book Cover Photo

I decided this was a dragon worth riding. It’s been a LONG HARD ride, but well worth it. I’ve loved almost every minute of it. Apart from the dreaded query letters and synopsis. My novel now stands at 81,000 words and is titled The Stone Manor. It’s Women’s Fiction with strong elements of romance and magic realism. I think my favorite part about this novel is it’s based on a dream I had. A recurring dream that began when I was eighteen years old…of a stone manor. As I started to write this novel, I decided to search for ancestors in Scotland. I’d heard we had lots of Scots blood on both sides, and I just knew the manor of my dream was somewhere in the Highlands. I’ll never forget the day I was researching on Ancestors.com and hit the jackpot. Macdonalds from the Isle of Skye! I screamed out-loud. The plot thickened and characters were born. A trip to Skye followed. But I’ll save that for another post…another day.