Revisiting the Jacobites – The History Behind the History

On Thursday 12th October, from 18.30 – 20.00 (doors open 18.15), I’ll be one of a panel addressing different aspects of the 1745 Jacobite Rising at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I’ll be talking about the women I wrote about in Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45, Arran Johnston will be talking about the Battle of Prestonpans, about which he’s just published a book, On Gladsmuir Shall the Battle Be, and Professor Robert Dunbar will be talking about Gaelic language and culture and the suppression of those after Culloden. There will be a panel discussion and Q & A with the audience after our brief presentations. It’s sure to be a lively debate, this is such contested history. More information and how to get tickets from the NMS website.





Twenty Years of Damn Rebel Bitches: Event at NTS Culloden

On Saturday 30th September, I’ll be in conversation about Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 with my friend and colleague Lin Anderson, founder of the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival and award-winning author of the Rhona MacLeod series.

The event starts at the NTS visitor centre at Culloden at 1.30 pm, doors open 1 pm. Book your ticket here. I understand they’re going fast!






Damn Rebel Bitches: Research Then & Now

When I did my research for Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 twenty years ago, that had to be done the hard, albeit very enjoyable way. I’ve just written an article on the subject for Historia, the online magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association, which you can read below.



Damn’ Rebel Bitches: Research Then and Now



Damn’ Rebel Bitches 20th Anniversary

This year I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45.



Writing this book was a labour of love for me. With no Internet to speak of back in 1997, I did the research in the old-fashioned way, travelling to libraries, archives, museums and locations up and down the country, from the Public Record Office in Kew in London through York, Carlisle and Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness.

DRB, as we call it in our house, has had some wonderful plaudits over the years.

‘glitters with eye-catching gems that shed light on everyday 18th century Scottish life.’ Roddy Philipps, Aberdeen Press and Journal.

‘a racily written, well-researched and heart-warming account.’ Elizabeth Sutherland, Scots Magazine.

‘a modern classic.’ The Herald.

‘bold and argumentative … resounds with authority.’ Scotland on Sunday.

‘This book changed my life.’ Young woman at Linlithgow Literary Festival. 

Originally published by Mainstream of Edinburgh, Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 is now published by Penguin Random House.  It is available from High Street and online booksellers, including Amazon UK and Amazon US, as is its companion volume, Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45.  



Readers furth of Scotland and the UK might like to know that The Book Depository send books worldwide at no extra cost for postage and packing. All my books are also available worldwide as ebooks from Amazon, Kobo and other online retailers.


Upcoming Events in 2017

20th May 2017 at Aviemore Highland Resort, Outlandish UK Gathering

Delighted to be speaking to #Outlander fans at their 2017 gathering in the Highlands, organized by @Outlandish_UK.

I’m doing two events on Saturday 20th May. In the morning, I’ll be speaking about some of the real people who played their parts in those interesting times and who feature in my two non-fiction books on Jacobite history, Damn Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 and Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45. 

In the afternoon, I’m hosting a wee Jacobite afternoon tea party. Tea played a crucial role in the Rising of 1745, even if one prominent Scotsman back then described it as a “vile drug and a contemptible beverage.” Or maybe because he did!





Daft Friday — The Start of Yule in Scotland

Today is Daft Friday, two Fridays before Christmas Day, and traditionally the start of Yuletide celebrations in Scotland, stretching through to Hogmanay and the all-important seeing-in of the New Year.

Daft Friday 1743 has been a day that has stretched for me. In fact, I am worn out after living through Daft Friday 1743, over and over again, like Groundhog Day or 12:01. That’s what comes of racketing around Edinburgh with Captain Robert Catto of the Town Guard and Kirsty Rankeillor, lady apothecary and Jacobite, the main protagonists of my novel, Gathering Storm. That pair keep getting themselves into trouble. I understand that, I really do, but does it have to be snowing so heavily, just to complicate things even further? (Of course it does. Ed.)

Daft Friday and the Daft Days were a time to turn normal behaviour on its head. The records are full of people getting into trouble, chiefly from the Kirk, for doing just that. Another classic source of information is F Marian McNeill’s 4-volume work on Scottish folklore and calendar customs, The Silver Bough. 

Here’s how I describe Daft Friday in Gathering Storm:

Daft Friday: when the world went mad. Boys put on their sisters’ dresses, girls pulled on their brothers’ breeches. Drunken revellers danced through the graveyard, cocking a snook at death itself. Ne’er-do-wells and the lowest of  people spoke back to their betters and, on this one day and night of the year, expected to get away with it. On Daft Friday everything turned tapsil-teery. The normal conventions did not reply.

Robert Fergusson, the Scottish poet who died tragically young at 24 but who is now immortalised as a young man in a hurry outside the Canongate Kirk on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, wrote a poem called The Daft Days


Sculpture by David Annand, image courtesy of Scottish Poetry Library.

Here’s one verse. You can read the whole poem on the website of the Scottish Poetry Library.


Let mirth abound: let social cheer

Invest the dawnin’ o’ the year;

Let blithesome innocence appear

To crown our joy;

Nor envy wi’ sarcastic sneer

Our bliss destroy.


In the same poem he takes a swipe at those killjoys, the City or Town Guard, calling them ‘that black banditti.’  Never very popular, the Town Guard. Not that Robert Catto loses any sleep over that. Other things, maybe.

So to celebrate the start of Yule in traditional Scottish style, we should eat, drink and be merry, dress up in the clothes of the opposite sex, dance through the graveyard and be cheeky to (those who think they are) our betters. Sounds good to me.

Have a cool Yule!


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Book Week Scotland 2016

I had a lovely time at Brechin Library in bonnie Angus during Book Week Scotland. I hadn’t been there before and was impressed by the lovely building and the warmth of the welcome inside. My thanks to Christine Sharp, Ann Morrice (both pictured below with myself) and the rest of the team.




These events are often billed as “Meet the Author”. They could equally be titled “Meet the Readers” and “Meet the Librarians.” For writers, who spend so much time alone with a keyboard – well, apart from our imaginary friends – it’s so nice to get out and about. An informal talk like this one also allows for general chat afterwards, often an exchange of stories. It all helps feed the imagination and refill the well.


As a bonus, I learned that Sir Robert Watson-Watt, pioneer of radar, was a Brechin lad. His dramatic statue stands outside the library.





One Sweet Moment by Maggie Craig

This month, November, I’m showcasing my novel One Sweet Moment. It’s a love story, if not one for the faint-hearted. Life for a poor girl in 1820s Edinburgh could be difficult and dangerous and I wrote the book with the realities of life back then in mind. I call it romance noir.


One Sweet Moment is also a coming-of-age tale and a love letter to Old Edinburgh. Richard and Kate’s touching and poignant romance plays out against the colour and pageantry of King George IV’s pivotal visit to Edinburgh in 1822 and the heart-stopping drama of the Great Fire of Edinburgh of 1824.

The book has had great reviews and is available as a paperback, ebook and as an audio download. You can buy One Sweet Moment from High Street and independent bookshops, Amazon UK and Amazon US. Overseas readers who would like to buy the paperback rather than the ebook might like to know that The Book Depository dispatches books worldwide with free delivery.

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Halloween in Scotland – The Whole Unhallowed Clanjampfrey of the Netherworld

We decided to go back to Scottish tradition this Halloween, where we’ve been celebrating this festival since time immemorial. Our lantern this year is carved from a turnip.


OK, I admit that Andrew the Neep-Heid is somewhat roughly-hewn and has a face only a mother could love but he’ll do sterling service on the gate-post tomorrow evening, lighting the way for any passing guisers.

But gin the auld folks’ tales are richt,
An’ ghaists come hame on Hallow nicht…

Violet Jacob

The traditional Scottish guiser is in disguise, that’s where the word comes from. This was a ploy designed to confuse and hide your real identity from witches, ghosts, malevolent spirits and fairies, all of whom might wish you harm. The Scottish variety of fairies are quite malevolent too. We have a rowan tree outside the front door, so that’ll keep the witches away. We’ll be on our own with the fairies but some of the ghosts will be welcome.

There used to be an element of ‘trick or treat’ in some parts of Scotland. According to F Marian McNeill’s classic work on customs of the Scottish year, The Silver Bough, lobbing a ‘fusillade of turnips’ at people’s doors was quite common at one time. This softened into guising, knocking at the neighbours’  doors in the hope of being invited in to do your party piece in return for an apple, a tangerine, a handful of sweeties or a coin or two.

There are other Halloween traditions, perhaps most notably dooking for apples. This involves bending over a bowl filled with water and bobbing apples, your hands behind your back, and picking up an apple with your teeth. It helps if they have a good long stalk.

My mother told me that as a child in Aberdeenshire in the 1920s, she used to go out guising on Hogmanay as well as at Halloween. On Hogmanay, Old Year’s Night, 31st December, they would go to the neighbouring crofts and chant a wee rhyme:

Rise up, guid wife, and shak’ your feathers,

Dinna think that we are beggars,

We’re just bairns come oot tae play,

Rise up, and gie’s oor Hogmanay.

Our feet’s cauld, oor sheen’s thin,

Gie’s a piece, and let’s rin!

Sheen is a variant on shoon, the old plural of shoe. A piece is a nice wee something to eat, often bread with something between it. In modern Aberdeenshire, a cake is still known as a ‘funcy [fancy] piece’.

It was years later before I discovered that what my mother and her friends were reciting was a fragment of The Goloshan, an ancient play that was probably performed in Scotland on the last night of the year since pagan times.

The celebration of Halloween too is a time-honoured part of our Scottish heritage, a time to mark the transition to the dark nights of winter and to remember those we have lost and those who came before us, back down through the centuries to the early folk.

Halloween is also a night to be safely scared. Marian McNeill listed a delicious array of those our forebears ‘believed to be at large on this occult night – ghoulies, ghaisties and bogles; fairies, banshees and gruagachs; witches, warlocks and wurricoes; brownies, urisks and shelly-coats; kelpies and water-bulls; spunkies, gnomes, trolls and sprites; the whole unhallowed clanjampfrey of the netherworld.’

The Battle of Prestonpans and the Gallant Colonel Gardiner

Drawn by Sir William Allan PRSA and lithographed by E. Walker. Published in 'Scotland Delineated' by John Parker Lawson, 1849 Lithograph 1849 Image size 180 x 98 mm
The Death of Colonel Gardiner at Prestonpans

Colonel James Gardiner was a Scotsman and a career soldier in the British Army. By a twist of fate, the man who travelled extensively during his military career was struck down at Prestonpans in a battle that exploded no distance from his own front door. Gardiner was quite a character. In his youth he was a rake and a philanderer and shockingly foul-mouthed, even by soldiers’ standards. There’s a reason why we still talk about someone ‘swearing like a trooper.’


After a religious experience in which he saw a vision of Christ, Gardiner changed completely. He gave up the casual sexual encounters, stopped swearing and began practising Christian charity, courtesy to people of all ranks, kindness to the poor and the soldiers under his command. He cared about animal welfare too, making sure that the regimental horses were well-treated. He was also an early advocate of the swear box, fining his officers and men for every curse he heard them utter. The money was used to provide care and comforts for soldiers who were wounded or fell ill.

He married Lady Frances Erskine, daughter of the Earl of Buchan, and they had thirteen children, only five of whom survived to become adults. You can read some of his letters to his wife at the National Archives of Scotland, at the eastern end of Edinburgh’s Princes Street. He almost invariably signed off to ‘my dearest sweetest Jewel Fany [sic]’, asking her to pass on his love to their children and his regards to all their friends.

Rallying some foot soldiers who had not turned and fled in the face of the terrifying charge of the Jacobite army, Colonel Gardiner was knocked off his horse by a Highlander swinging a scythe, sustaining further wounds as he lay on the ground. He died a few hours later.


His home at Bankton House is still there, now converted into flats. A monument to the gallant Colonel Gardiner stands between Bankton House and the railway line. It is guarded by four magnificently doleful stone lions.

BAB08 Colonel Gardiner's Monument Mourning Lion (Author)

You can read more about Colonel Gardiner and many other men involved in the 1745 Jacobite Rising in my book, Bare-arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45. The book is widely available as a paperback and ebook, including via Amazon UK and Amazon US.

The Battle of Prestonpans was hardly over before the song taunting the Redcoat commander, Hey, Johnnie Cope, was written. It’s been sung in Scotland ever since. Here’s a link to Ceolbeg’s version:  Hey, Johnnie Cope.

There’s lots more information at Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust, including the latest update on the petition to preserve the site of the Battle.