Eilidh Campbell returns to her Scottish roots from America with one main aim: to discover the identity of her real father. But her mother’s past in Inverclyde is a mystery with family secrets, a book of Robert Burns’ poems with a hidden letter and a photograph link to the Holy Loch at Dunoon when the American Navy were in residence.
Staying with her childhood friend, Kirsty, while searching for answers, Eilidh begins to fall in love with handsome Scot Lewis Grant, but just how free is he? Together they trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns, with its echoes to her mother’s story. From Dunoon, to Ayrshire and culminating in Greenock, Eilidh finds the past is closer than she realises.
I’m thrilled you were able to stop in here at Celtic Connexions on your blog tour, Rosemary. There’s so much I want to know about The Highland Lass among other things.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be your guest today, Melanie. It’s lovely to be here and next best thing to sharing a cup of tea with you in person.
You write in a variety of genres – short stories, articles, novellas, and novels. Do you have one you prefer over the others?
I used to think I preferred writing short stories, until I started getting into longer fiction, and now the short stories are more infrequent. So I probably prefer longer fiction, whether novellas or novels. I do, however, enjoy writing articles every now and then as they employ a completely different, more analytical part of the brain and I find them a good rest from the imaginary world of fiction.
Your latest novel, The Highland Lass, holds a special place in your heart. Most of it is contemporary but there are some historical chapters in Highland Mary’s voice. Is she, or perhaps Robbie Burns, a part of the family secret Eilidh has come to Scotland to discover?
The main thrust of the story is that Eilidh has never known who her real father was and needs to try and find the answer. After her mother’s death in America, she discovers a secret love letter in her mother’s book of Burns’ poems signed by the letter R and a photograph that suggests a link to the American Navy at the Holy Loch. Her mother always maintained that Highland Mary was an ancestress and Eilidh feels drawn to the 18th century story. She also feels an affinity with the handsome Scot, Lewis Grant, whom she meets on the flight home to Scotland, as if they have known each other for much longer.
What inspired you to write The Highland Lass?
My mother first introduced me to Highland Mary’s grave in Greenock cemetery when I was a girl and I’ve been fascinated by her ever since. I also enjoyed Burns’ poetry, especially after winning the Burns certificate for recitation in primary school twice! But Mary Campbell was one small part of Burns’ life, with only certain ‘facts’ written over the years. My imagination was fired but I knew I couldn’t sustain a whole novel in the past as I didn’t want it to be about Burns himself. Since Eilidh is a Campbell, she becomes even more fascinated by the story of Robert Burns’ Highland Lass and their love story finds echoes in her mother’s story.
I also wanted to write about my own area of Inverclyde in homage to its beautiful scenery and I was interested in the period when the American Navy was based in the Holy Loch during the 1960s and 70s (and beyond) as many of the young girls on this side of the river went to the dances there and in Greenock – Eilidh’s mother being one of them.
How much research did it require?
The modern part didn’t require so much, as it’s set in all the areas I personally know, though I did need to visit the relevant parts of Ayrshire, just as Eilidh and Lewis do. I’ve been researching the historical details on and off for years and had an article about Burns and Highland Mary published in The Highlander magazine in the USA some years ago. Rather than speak to any descendants of Highland Mary, I preferred to use the letters, poems and non-fiction books to find out about her short time with Burns and how she affected him. This was important to me as the historical parts are completely fictionalised, albeit from the known ‘facts’ and they allowed me to imagine Mary’s voice.
What’s your next project?
I’m currently writing the third in my Aphrodite and Adonis series of contemporary novellas, with a touch of mythological fantasy set on Cyprus, for Tirgearr Publishing. At the same time, I have several other novels/novellas (historical and contemporary) awaiting some attention. I’m also writing a Victorian crime novel set around my own area – if I ever get on with the rest of it. Then there are the short stories and articles that are started but not yet finished!
A prize-winning writer, Rosemary Gemmell’s short stories, articles, and poems have been published in UK magazines, in the US, and online. She is now a historical and contemporary novelist and The Highland Lass is the first novel from Crooked Cat Publishing under her full name. She has also published historical novels and contemporary novellas with a touch of mythological fantasy from Tirgearr Publishing as Romy and tween books as Ros, as she likes to tackle a variety of writing genres and styles.
Rosemary has a BA (hons) in European literature and history and a post-graduate MA in Humanities from the Open University. She is a member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and the Scottish Association of Writers. She enjoys sharing writing information, and loves to dance!
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Romy-Gemmell/1422387704702586
Thank you for stopping by and sharing this exciting new book with us. My father may have been born in Aberdeenshire, but he was raised in Inverclyde at The Orphan Homes of Scotland so this part of your beautiful country is very special to me, too.