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.

 

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

fergusson-robert-by-david-annand

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.

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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.

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

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#bookweekscotland

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.

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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.

If you’d like to keep up to date with my writing news, please sign up for my quarterly newsletter using the form to the right of this post.

 

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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

 

I Just Write

I didn’t write this. He who did is more used to writing technical reports but I think he’s made a great job of this wee story which might raise a smile, especially in the writers among us. I’m delighted to realize that he doesn’t always tune me out when I’m giving it laldy about people who try to lay down the law to other people as to how they should write! 

I Just Write
by a Gentleman (Or so he thinks)

The 27 to Silverknowes. She checked the app on her iPhone. Next one was in 8 minutes. That would do. There and back, about two hours to clear her head.

She needed to get out, refresh her ideas, she was getting nowhere – fast.

She nipped to the loo and checked where the cat was. He was cooking his internal organs on the radiator in the bedroom. He raised his head as she looked in and smelt the air. There would be no new food now, so down went the head, back to killing mice in his sleep.

Her coat was in the hall. She checked her pockets, bus pass, change purse, keys, grabbed the notebook she was trying to work in and a pen. ‘A good writer always carries a notebook and pen,’ her teacher always said. She was downstairs and at the stop with two minutes to spare.

It was just after 8pm. The bus was not too busy here but she knew it would get busier as it crossed town. She took a seat upstairs near the back, pavement side, where it was quiet, and got out her notebook and pen. She started a new page, a new start she hoped.

She watched the new passengers getting on at each stop to see if a face could be that of her hero or the arch villain. As they rode along the street full of B&Bs she heard many languages, tourists in for a bit of Christmas shopping in the capital and maybe a show.

Could the victim be Spanish?

As they turned out of Gilmore Place at the King’s she saw that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was this year’s panto. She didn’t think she could write for pantomime.

‘Oh yes you could! Oh no, you couldn’t!’ The words immediately came into her mind.

Most of the tourists got off near the High Street but a hen party got on and thankfully stayed downstairs. They were all dressed, if that was the right word, as cows. They were all showing far too much flesh that was turning blue. They must be from way down south and hadn’t checked the Edinburgh weather for December.

The bus went down The Mound and across Princes Street, which was all dressed for Christmas.

Preparations for the Hogmanay street party were underway. Near Rose Street the girls got off as did a number of others. It became quite quiet as they crossed George Street and down through the New Town.

She was looking at the CCTV monitor above the front window to see how many people were actually on the bus but noticed that the one that should have shown her was only displaying static.

‘Great, I could be mugged up here by the local nutter and not be seen,’ she muttered as they passed the end of Heriot Row.

‘May I ask what you are writing?’ said a voice to her right.

She almost jumped out of her skin, surprised that someone was speaking to her and not least that she had not actually noted the man there before. He had to be the local nutter.

‘I’m trying to write a book,’ she replied, not really sure she wanted to admit that out loud.

‘You’re not doing very well,’ he said, ‘you have written six lines and crossed three of them out.’

‘Yes,’ she replied, sounding a little stupid. ‘You see, I’ve been doing this creative writing class, and well, the teacher says we must write at least a twenty page synopsis plotting out the whole story and then,’ she paused, ‘and then I give up and try again.’

The man laughed but tried not to. ‘Is this teacher a writer, too?’

‘Yes, he has four books published on Kindle and he is bringing in his first novel in paperback next week for us to buy. I don’t know if I can afford it though at £16, but it was high in the charts. Well, for that type of book.’

‘Have you read any of his books on eh, Kindle?’ he asked, sounding as if he wasn’t quite sure what Kindle was.

‘No, but he has loads of five star reviews, but I think some of the names are former students and relatives. He says that’s how you get up the charts and get noticed.’

‘So, you are taking advice from someone you have never read. How do you know he’s right? Five star reviews from associates by the sound of it, not book sales.’

‘Yes, I know, but I have this really great idea for a Tartan Noir.’

Again he looked a little puzzled.

‘You know,’ she said, ‘a crime novel, like Skinner or Laidlaw or more up to date, like Rebus. I know I want to write,’ she insisted. ‘I just can’t plot it all out.’

She looked at the man properly for the first time. He looked about late 40s and smartly dressed, if a little dated in his style. A velvet jacket? The light wasn’t good. His hair was showing signs of grey with a moustache and a funny little beard, a little on the wild side. His face looked lived-in. He must have seen the world.

‘Agatha Christie used to write the story and then near the end look for who was the least likely suspect and go back to drop in clues,’ he said. ‘She never wrote a synopsis or did any forward planning.’

‘What, just start at the beginning and see where it goes?’ ‘Why not? That’s how I do it.’

‘You’re a writer?’ she asked, surprised. ‘Would I have read anything you’ve written?’

‘I don’t know. My first novel I gave up on, never completed it, not a good example there. My first published book was called The Sea Cook. I raised the money to publish by subscription.’

‘What, sort of crowd-funded?’

‘I don’t know about that, some good friends helped me raise the publishers’ costs.’

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

‘That one came from a treasure map I drew with my stepson, we fantasised of pirates and hidden gold. The publisher changed the title later; they’re like that.’

‘So you just write?’ she asked.

‘I just write,’ came the reply.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the driver on the Tannoy.

‘Silverknowes terminal,’ he announced.

She grabbed her notebook and pen and ran down the stairs. She pulled her travel pass out of her pocket and offered it to the driver.

‘Sorry, I was only out for the ride and want to go straight back to town, if that’s okay?

He nodded towards the pass scanner and said, ‘We leave in ten minutes, love.’

‘Thanks; I don’t know about the man I was talking to.’

The driver gave her a look and scanned the CCTV screen above his head, which was static free.

‘You’ve been up there on your own since Ferry Road, talking to yourself, it looked like, I thought I had a nutter on board.’

She returned to her seat, confused but too enthusiastic to think about it. She got out her notebook and pen again and started a fresh page.

As the bus re-crossed Heriot Row she looked up and saw the gentleman standing by a streetlight. He tapped his top hat with his cane to her and walked off.

By the time she was near home she was pages into her story, just writing. Characters came in and out and said things she did not expect. It was working.

She got off a stop early to go to the chippie.

‘Salt ‘n’ sauce on your sausage supper?’ asked the girl behind the counter.

‘Please,’ she replied.

She started into the chips as she walked the last block home but made sure there was some sausage for the cat.

The Sea Cook, she thought. ‘Never heard of it, I’ll Google it later, I’ve got a lot more to write tonight.’

oOo

The Daft Days: Robert Catto’s Christmas

I’m delighted today to publish a long short story, filling in the gap between Gathering Storm and Dance to the Storm. Dance to the Storm will be published in Summer 2016.

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The Daft Days: Robert Catto’s Christmas carries the action forward to Christmas or Yule Day 1743.

The long short story/mini novella will be free to download from Amazon UK and US this weekend before Christmas and the weekend after Christmas.

Merry Christmas from me!

Deep Within Edinburgh’s Underground Vaults

Edinburgh, 1822: Richard is a wealthy young medical student who lives in the opulent New Town. Kate works in a dingy oyster cellar below the South Bridge in Edinburgh’s Old Town, her only joy her young brother Andrew. In this extract from One Sweet Moment, she is reluctantly showing Richard around the gloomy vaults. She’s attracted to him but very wary. Life has made her that way. His interest is in her but he’s appalled at the poverty he’s seeing and has promised to help Alan Gunn, a widower with a young family and a victim of the Highland Clearances. 

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‘Aargh!’ He recoiled as something leapt at him from the overhanging beam. It coalesced into a ginger and white cat. The rat swinging from its jaws had to be dead. Using his shoulder as a stepping stone, the cat reached the floor and scampered off, the rat still clamped between its jaws.

‘Jack!’ yelled Andrew. ‘Clever boy!’ He set off in uneven pursuit of the cat, his lantern bobbing about like a fishing boat in a stormy sea.

Richard laughed as he watched them go. ‘Jack being the bridge’s resident mouser, I presume. Andrew’s right to congratulate him. Rats carry all manner of diseases.’

‘I know.’

Once more blue eyes met green. I know better than you do. Because I live with all of this. Because I may have no education but I’m not stupid either. Richard wondered if that was what she really wanted to say. Kate crossed her legs and he caught a glimpse of striped stocking. Red and white, spilling over the top of sturdy, if rather battered, laced ankle books. They looked dainty on her feet.

He wanted to walk over there, hoist himself up beside her and talk to her for hours. He wanted to find out everything about her. What had happened to her and Andrew’s parents? Was she happy to live here? She couldn’t be. He wanted to know what her hopes and fears and dreams were.

He stepped forward, and saw wariness slide across her face. How many times a week did she have to defend herself against unwanted male attention? Small wonder if she was sometimes prickly. He resumed his casual stance.

Kate’s stern expression didn’t waver. ‘You just gave me your word. About Mr Gunn.’

‘You don’t believe I really will do anything to help him though, do you?’

‘No. I dinna.’

‘You think I’m a bored young gentleman who’ll have forgotten all about the South Bridge and everyone in it by this time tomorrow?’

‘That’s about it,’ she agreed.

‘Well, Miss Catriona Dunbar,’ Richard said, ‘I’m clearly going to have to prove you wrong, am I not?’

One Sweet Moment by Maggie Craig is available at High Street and independent bookshops and online as a paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

It is also available as an ebook from Amazon US.