Friday, 4 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Rosemary Gemmell

Aye. Ken it wis like this...

My Friday series continues, where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing.

Rosemary Gemmell
Today, I'm delighted to welcome #Rosemary Gemmell. Many of the authors contributing to this series might only ever be virtual friends, due to the locations we live in, but I'm really pleased to say that I've actually met Rosemary on a couple of occasions.

Rosemary has been published by #Crooked Cat Books, another connection to me, but the fact we both live in Scotland means a better likelihood of being at the same author gatherings. It was at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2017 that I first met Rosemary. She took me under her wing - me being a naive  'newbie' to conferences, and she being a veteran attendee author of many years standing who knows what the format is at such gatherings!

Argyll Hills and Dunoon-Courtesy of Rosemary Gemmell
Rosemary is here today to give the historical background to one of her books- The Highland Lass- which I found a very good read, especially because I could envisage the settings very easily. To help those who read this blog see the settings more clearly,  Rosemary has included some excellent photos, and don't forget to click on the video at the bottom of this post!

Welcome back, Rosemary, and please tell us more...

My full length novel, The Highland Lass, is the book of my heart as it means such a lot to me, both for its setting and its time-split storyline. For the first time, I set a novel almost completely around the beautiful area of Scotland where I grew up. 

Highland Mary-
Courtesy of Rosemary Gemmell
This immediately gave it a deeper level of authenticity, rather than having to imagine the places where my characters interacted. Obviously, this was easier for the contemporary story as I had walked in these areas myself. The short alternate historical chapters are set in the eighteenth century but it was surprisingly easy to imagine life in those times, especially in one particular area.

The Highland Lass was greatly inspired by the story of Robert Burns and his Highland Mary, which I had researched and written about in an article some years ago for The Highlander magazine in the USA. Most people know that Burns is our national bard here in Scotland, that he was a farmer and womaniser as well as a wonderful poet. Highland Mary is buried in my home town and their story has fascinated me since childhood when I first saw her grave. Burns himself wrote about his Highland Lass in several poems with such an air of regret and guilt that I knew their ill-fated love story would make a good subject for a romance.
Highland Mary's Grave-
Courtesy of Rosemary Gemmell
After writing the non-fiction article about them, my imagination was fired and I was eager to fictionalise Mary’s voice and write part of the story from her point of view. However, I didn’t think there were enough facts about them to sustain a book set completely in the 18th century. Since I love to read split-time stories, I decided to write a contemporary story about family secrets and a link to the past, through Eilidh Campbell, a possible ancestress of Highland Mary. Her burgeoning love story with Lewis Grant is alternated with short historical chapters told in Highland Mary’s voice in the 18th century.

Watt Library-Courtesy of Rosemary Gemmell
After researching Burns, from a book published in 1838, to more modern accounts and Burns’ own poems, songs and letters, I formed a real feeling for Highland Mary and her effect on the poet. 

Some of the research was carried out in the Gothic looking Watt Library in Greenock, with its access to microfilm copies of the old Greenock Advertiser and the later Greenock Telegraph, where I found several interesting facts that I incorporated into the story and the epilogue. The Greenock Burns Club (the Mother Club) allowed me to sift through their archives for any relevant material.

I also visited the Ayrshire villages where Mary met Burns and which have hardly changed since the 18th century. I was even able to sit in the very inn, Poosie Nancie’s, where Burns and his friends used to drink. Another location used in the contemporary part of the novel is Loch Lomond which constantly inspires my romantic imagination.
Poosie Nansie's-Courtesy of  Rosemary Gemmell

Writing about a real historical person adds other considerations, requiring more careful authenticity, since very well-known people will likely feature in many non-fiction history books. 

I had to remember, however, that The Highland Lass is fiction and I enjoyed giving Highland Mary a voice from my imagination, albeit using the meagre facts already available. I hope she would have approved!

Luss, Loch Lomond-
Courtesy of Rosemary Gemmell
A little More about Rosemary Gemmell ...

...she lives in beautiful Scotland where she writes novels, short stories, articles, tween fiction and poetry. Several of her short stories have won awards, many of which are now published in three collections.

Rosemary is a member of the Romantic Novelist's Association, the Society of Authors and the Scottish Association of Writers. She has a post-graduate Masters in Humanities (literature and History). She loves to dance!

You can subscribe to her newsletter on her website or blog.

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The Highland Lass 

Eilidh Campbell returns to her Scottish roots from America with one main aim: to discover the identity of her 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.

In short alternate chapters, Highland Mary tells her own story from 1785-6. From Dunoon, to Ayrshire and culminating in Greenock, Eilidh finds the past is closer than she realises.

Thank you for being part of the series, Rosemary, and for giving us an excellent glimpse of Burns' west-coast Scotland. Very best wishes with The Highland Lass and with all of your writing projects.



  1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for featuring me on your lovely blog, Nancy. It's great to be here!

    1. You're always welcome, Rosemary! I'm really enjoying the series contributions, they're very varied in eras and styles.


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