Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Scottish Thistle – Inspiration and Passion From Author Cindy Vallar

I happy to introduce you to Cindy Vallar. I know I'm going to fall in love with her books. And don't forget her excerpt from The Scottish Thistle on Saturday.

Hey, L.A., thanks for having me as your guest today.  

I’m a big fan of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, and Zorro. Why? They have a common thread – secret identities and masks. So, of course, I had to include a masked character with a secret identity when I decided to write my historical novel, The Scottish Thistle. Thistle helps the poor, who would never accept the assistance if they knew the smuggler’s true identity.

When I began writing about Thistle, I was simply “doodling.” As the librarian at a school for severely emotionally challenged teenagers, I attended weekly staff meetings on Wednesday afternoons. I often brought a tablet along so I could write. (That’s how I doodle when bored.) At one of these meetings, I wrote of a man on horseback riding across a moor during a thunderstorm. The English teacher, who read over my shoulder, whispered, “Write more!”

I sensed the story should take place in Scotland, but knew only three things about that country: men wore kilts, people spoke with a brogue, and it had a Highlands and a Lowlands. Not nearly enough to write a novel. Doing the research wasn’t a problem – after all, I was a librarian – and I did tons of it. This permitted me to decide on the time, the historical events, and the people who would populate the tale.

Time: 1744 – 1746

Event: Rising of 1745, the last civil war fought on British soil

Characters: Rory MacGregor and Duncan Cameron (and a cast of forty others)

Why choose this historical period? Queen Anne outlived her children, so the English Parliament decided her heir would come from the German House of Hanover, descendants of Protestant side of the British Royal House of Stuart family. But the Scottish Parliament still recognized the Catholic branch of the family as the rightful rulers of Scotland. At the time of the third Jacobite uprising, known as the ’Forty-five, King James III lived in exile and his elder son, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, led this final attempt to reclaim the throne. The last encounter in the ’Forty-five was the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746, and was equivalent to the battle fought at Gettysburg or Antietam during the American Civil War. The devastation at Culloden and in the aftermath of the war had a profound impact on Highland life and society.

Why choose Rory and Duncan as my protagonists? Although outlawed and persecuted, the MacGregors were tenacious, brave, and never forgot their heritage even though they were forbidden to use the name MacGregor. The Gentle Lochiel, the chief of Clan Cameron, supported Bonnie Prince Charlie in his attempt to return the Royal House of Stuart to the British throne. Historians believe the ’Forty-five would never have happened had Lochiel not lent his support.

After doing a lot of research and writing the initial draft of my story, my husband suggested we visit Scotland. Tom felt I should visit the places I had written about, and he was right. This special trip provided numerous inspirations for scenes in The Scottish Thistle. On our way to the Highlands, we stopped at a castle I discovered on a tourist map. Doune Castle served as a temporary prison during the rising. In the cellar, there was a display about the castle’s role during the ’Forty-five. Gregor Glengyle was governor of the castle and since he was a MacGregor chieftain, he became Rory’s kinsman. After the Battle of Falkirk Muir, Duncan brings several prisoners to Doune where, during the festivities to celebrate the Jacobite victory, the Fairy Washerwoman appears in the courtyard, singing a dirge as she washes bloody shirts.

Our next stop required Tom to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, sometimes going backwards, over a mountain, just so I could visit a broch. Brochs are unique to Scotland and Dun Telve is one of the best preserved of these Iron Age towers. The broch consists of two tapering concave walls with passageways to upper galleries. Its true purpose is unknown, but it may have been a fortified house lived in year round rather than a place where the folk sought sanctuary when sea raiders came. In The Scottish Thistle, Thistle seeks refuge in a broch after rescuing Duncan from caterans, thieves.

At Culloden, the Old Leanach Cottage is the only surviving structure from the ’Forty-five. When we were there, the interior showcased an eighteenth-century home with a woman dressed in period costume. Rory, who has Second Sight, has a vision of Duncan and Gregor Glengyle outside the cottage. The woman who resides there invites them inside and offers Rory soothing tea. Although old and blind, the woman has heard “the frightsome moaning” of the battle to come.

While visiting Achnacarry, the estate of the Cameron chief, I purchased a history of the clan. As I read the chapter on the Gentle Lochiel, I came across a brief description of his house. (The current one was built after the Hanoverians burned the original Achnacarry following the uprising.) The book mentioned a stone gable as being the only portion of the house that still remained. After The Scottish Thistle was published, I received an invitation to attend the international gathering of Clan Cameron in 2001. I didn’t notice where Tom parked until we returned to the car. That’s when I saw the remains of a stone fireplace. Suddenly, a light dawned. The stone gable I had read about! As I walked around the estate, a chill went up my spine several times. I stood on the same ground where the Gentle Lochiel, Rory, and Duncan had walked in my story. It was an eerie, yet compelling, moment and whenever we fly over the Highlands, I always feel as if I’ve come home.

The Scottish Thistle
Loyalty and honor. A Highland warrior prizes both more than life, and when he swears his oath on the dirk, he must obey or die. Duncan Cameron heeds his chief’s order without question, but discovers his wife-to-be is no fair maiden. Although women are no longer trained in the art of fighting, Rory MacGregor follows in the footsteps of her Celtic ancestors. Secrets from the past and superstitious folk endanger Rory and Duncan as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his uprising to win back the British throne for his father. Rory and Duncan must make difficult choices that pit honor and duty against trust and love . . .

Buy links:

A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder: Amazon
A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder: Barnes and Noble

About the author: A retired librarian, Cindy Vallar writes feature articles and book reviews for the Historical Novel Society’s Historical Novels Review. She also pens the biannual “The Red Pencil” column where she profiles authors and compares a selection from their published historical novels with an early draft of that work. She is a freelance editor, the Editor of Pirates and Privateers, and a workshop presenter. Aside from The Scottish Thistle, she has written “Odin’s Stone,” a romantic short story of how the Lord of the Isles settled the medieval feud between the MacKinnons and MacLeans on the Isle of Skye; and “Rumble the Dragon,” a historical fantasy that appears in A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder. Rumble is a young dragon, a misfit whose intelligence gets him into trouble. When a sacred chalice is stolen, Rumble must work with outlawed Vikings to recover the chalice before the thieves endanger the world. She invites you to visit her award-winning web site, Thistles & Pirates, (, to learn more.

Don't forget to come back Saturday for her excerpt from The Scottish Thistle.


  1. Great, great, great interview! It's always amazing to read about author's journeys! I'm going to find your book now!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Lani. Hope you enjoy Thistle as well!

  3. Hi Lani,
    I'm glad you enjoyed Cindy's post. I'm excited to read her book as well.

  4. Good for you, Cindy, for braving the "wrong side of the road" to bring back some exciting morsels to your readers. I'm sure your characters and scenes come alive. I really dig historical fiction from your period and locale, and I can't wait to check out THE SCOTTISH THISTLE! I wish you the very best in your journey with it.

  5. Thanks, Lisa, for the encouragement and kind words. Enjoy THE SCOTTISH THISTLE. I'd love to know what you think!