It’s a real pleasure today to be welcoming Sarah Mallory as my guest: her latest book, Forbidden To The Highland Laird was published on 1st December, and is now available both for kindle and in paperback via Amazon in the UK and US. This is the first in her new series published by Mills and Boon Historical/Harlequin, Lairds of Ardvarrick – and I’ll admit that I’m kicking myself that I just couldn’t fit it into my reading list.
You might know Sarah equally well as her alter ego, Melinda Hammond – and you may remember I read and reviewed her Autumn Bride earlier this year (you’ll find my review here), and discovered (to my great surprise…) that I really rather enjoyed Regency romance. Or was it just the author’s excellent writing? In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning to read the sequel, The Dream Chasers, over the Christmas break.
But this book really is something very different – an early 18th century Highland-set adventure romance. Let me hand over to Sarah, to tell us more…
Starting a new book means I can create a whole world for my characters and writing Forbidden to the Highland Laird was no exception. The romantic adventures I write have history as a background into which I weave the lives of my fictitious characters, so I always read around the subject, to get an overview of the history before I start. With this one, I had an advantage, because here I am, living in the remotest part of Scotland, in a landscape where one can almost feel the history – and there is so much of it! I knew I had a steep learning curve ahead – just watching Outlander would not suffice!
Apart from the battles, clan wars and religious factions, there is the costume to be considered. The rich could afford a variety of clothes and dressed much like gentlemen in the rest of Europe, but they would probably have Highland dress, too: a linen shirt worn beneath a waistcoat and jacket of different tartans, then the belted plaid (around six yards of material which formed the kilt, with the rest thrown over his shoulder), or a small kilt (like those mainly seen today), or even trews. These might be another, quite different, tartan (the Highlanders were nothing if not colourful).
On his feet the Highlander would wear brogues, stout shoes with ties or a buckle, or they might wear riding boots with trews, but when wearing the kilt, he would either go barefoot or wear gillies, (like sandals) with ties up the calf. When you consider that he would be striding out on foot across the heather or bog, or through streams, this was far more practical than a closed shoe, as it allowed the water to escape.
Perhaps it is because I am a relative newcomer to Scotland that I wanted Grant Rathmore to have spent time in England. This allowed me to show some of the differences between the life he had led for the past ten years and his new role. Throughout the book this reluctant Laird gradually rediscovers his love for his homeland.
By contrast, Ailsa has never travelled outside the Highlands. She was raised in a household of custom and folklore. The first ideas for this story came to me when I attended a recital by young local harpist. It was then that I decided my heroine would be a musician. When I began looking into the history of the harp, or clàrsach, I found its origins stretch back to the Picts and many Scottish leaders had their own clàrsairs. Even Mary, Queen of Scots had her own harp and it is now kept by the National Museums of Scotland.
This gave me a role for Ailsa, she was valued by her family as a harper. Scotland is also a land of folklore, so it was a small step to add a family legend that if Ailsa should ever marry, she would lose her gift of music. Images of Scottish women at this time are pretty rare, but I did find this one of Rachel Chiesley, Lady Grange, painted in 1710. This poor woman had a turbulent life. After 25 years of marriage and 9 children, she separated from her husband but he later kidnapped her and held her in captivity until her death in 1745.
I also love finding houses for my protagonists. Scotland has no shortage of castles, many of the in ruins, like Strome Castle, on the edge of Loch Carron, many broodingly beautiful such as the well-known Eilean Donan.
These are only a couple of hours’ drive from my home, and I love them both. I decided that Ailsa’s family at Contullach would live in just such a fortified house, high stone walls and almost medieval interiors.
However, for Ardvarrick, I wanted something a little softer. Many of richer men were well educated and, like their English counterparts, they toured Europe and returned with new ideas. Naturally, some of them wanted to remodel their homes in a more modern style – for example Haddo House, built in the Palladian style (although altered in the 19th century) and Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire.
Ardvarrick might be slightly smaller than either of these, but it is still impressive, and much more modern than anything Ailsa had seen before. Here is the scene when she first sees her new home:
“Ardvarrick House was charmingly situated against a backdrop of a wooded hillside and it was approached by a short, curving drive. The house itself had two rows of large windows that looked across the meadows to the sea loch. More windows pierced the stepped gables of the two wings and a series of ornamental chimneys rose from the roof. It was as different from Contullach as it was possible to be, and Ailsa loved it.”
Despite the challenges, I loved writing Forbidden to the Highland Laird. It has everything I most love in a story, romance, adventure and a touch of history. I hope my readers will love it, too.
Some lovely insights there, Sarah, into the research needed for a book like this – thank you!
About the author
I write under the names of Melinda Hammond and Sarah Mallory: I am a proud patron of the Lancashire Authors Association and a long-time member of the Romantic Novelists Association.
I have been telling stories for as long as I can remember – many of them born of frustration when I was stuck in a classroom longing to be rescued! I love anything romantic, whether it is a grand opera or a beautiful painting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be happy, as long as it is inspiring.
I was born in Bristol and grew up on Barton Hill, an area of small terraced houses built in the nineteenth century between the mills and the railway. I think my love of adventure stories is due to the fact that I grew up with three older brothers and lived in a street full of boys! My love of history and the English language was fostered at grammar school, where I soon discovered the delights of Georgian and Regency fiction, first of all with the works of Jane Austen and then Georgette Heyer.
I left school at sixteen to work in companies as varied as stockbrokers, marine engineers, biscuit manufacturers and even a quarrying company, but I never lost my love of history, and when I wasn’t reading and researching the Georgian and Regency period I was writing stories about it.
When I was at home with my first child, I decided to try my hand at writing seriously, and my first historical novel, Fortune’s Lady, was published by Robert Hale in 1980. I have now published more than twenty novels, over a dozen of them as Melinda Hammond, winning the Reviewers Choice award in 2005 from Singletitles.com for Dance for a Diamond and the Historical Novel Society’s Editors Choice in 2006 for Gentlemen in Question. Writing as Sarah Mallory for Harlequin Mills & Boon, The Earl’s Runaway Bride won a coveted CataNetwork Reviewers Choice award for 2010 and I have won the the RNA’s RoNA Rose Award in 2012 and 2013.
After many years living on the West Yorkshire moors, I have now moved to the remote Scottish Highlands. The new house overlooks the sea, where the stunning scenery inspires me to write even more!