Friday 1 June 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with #Amy Hoff

Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday series continues...

where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. I'm delighted to be featuring such a wonderful variety of novels during the series, some of which fall outwith the standard historical fiction category. 

The settings for this series do not require to be Scottish, though many of them are, and if you've been following my Friday '#Aye. Ken it wis like this...' blog series you may notice some repetition of a particular historical figure, and of particular themes -  though not in the same posts. 

Today, I'm delighted to welcome back Amy Hoff, an author and extremely versatile artistic film-maker that I met some years ago at a gathering in Glasgow. A specialist in Scottish history, Amy's interest in Scottish folklore, and Scottish history in general, is deep. Some of her writing, set in Scotland, falls into the supernatural categories and is, I believe, the basis of her current film making. Thorough research has given Amy some very intriguing and unusual aspects to focus on in her writing, details that may not be too well-known in the wider-world about a particularly famous Scottish poet named Robert Burns, but I'll let Amy share them with us.

Welcome back, Amy! Please give us the historical background to your writing... 

The historical background to the Robert Burns love story in the Caledonia universe, an upcoming novel titled Burns Night.

Alexander Naysmyth's Robert Burns
Robert Burns, Scottish national poet and slut, is introduced in the second book, Mortal Souls. It is also revealed that he is a vampire. Over the course of that story, it is hinted that he fell in love with someone a long time ago and has stayed dedicated throughout his immortal life. Although only glimpses of Burns’s story are told in Mortal Souls, the entire history of the romance is revealed in Burns Night.

Robert spent an evening out at the pub, where he met a mysterious stranger who looked like neither a man or a woman, although he assumed it was a man at the time. He fell for this person, only to later discover it was a human-shaped creature called a baobhan sith, a sort of faerie race of vampires also called the White Women of the Highlands. This creature calls itself Desdemona but is not of any particular gender and Robert’s ongoing obsessive love is a matter of puzzlement to the creature itself.

Desdemona also happens to be the commander of the Fae army during their very own opium war. The story goes on to show Robert begging Desdemona to turn him because he knows how ill he is and that he will die soon. Against their better judgement Desdemona tries to do as he asks, but he dies anyway.

Burns Mausoleum St. Michaels Dumfries
Thirty years later, when his body is exhumed to be moved to the new mausoleum, he opens his eyes. He eventually meets up with the Caledonia officers and moves into Glasgow when he discovers Desdemona did not die in the war after all.

There is more to the story, of course, but a great deal of it is based on real history.

The character of Desdemona is based on Alison Begbie/Elizabeth Gebbie, a woman Robert asked to marry but was turned down in some particularly embarrassing way; Robert’s ensuing year of depression while living in Irvine is attributed to this. Alison/Elizabeth was said to be extremely independent and intelligent in ways that a poor farmer like Burns would never have encountered before in a woman. His resulting songs about her, including Cessnock Banks and Mary Morison, praise her intelligence and talk of his loneliness without her. Since many scholars believe he was not in love with Jeanie and named more than one of his children Elizabeth, some believe that Alison/Elizabeth’s influence on his life and heart were more dramatic than we tend to think today.

The concept of Burns as a vampire resulted from a class during my Master’s degree years at Glasgow University. It so happened that Scotland, like much of Europe, was aflame with the concept of phrenology, and many people wanted to get their hands on the poet’s skull. In order to prevent this, it was decided that the exhumation would be carried out in secret, but given the open nature of the cemetery in Dumfries, a crowd gathered. 
Please click the link below to take you to the original document
Please click HERE 

When the broken pine casket was opened, everyone was stunned to see that Burns simply looked as if he were asleep; even the traditional blush on his cheeks was there. Someone made the mistake of touching the body, probably out of sheer surprise and awe. The body then crumbled into dust. I remember saying aloud, ‘Maybe he was a vampire,’ and here we are.

Robert Burns House Dumfries 
I’ve been writing the Caledonia series of novels for several years now, based on my knowledge of Scottish folklore, history, and literature. Caledonia is also a web show and Burns Night a feature film just finishing post-production now. We were even fortunate enough to film some of the scenes in Burns’ former house in Dumfries. One of the best aspects of filming the movie for me was that my cast and crew really feel as if they know Burns personally now, so his story is that much more real to them. 

In writing this particular episode of Caledonia, I wanted to make the story about Robert Burns a story about love, since it’s what Burns’ work (if not his life) was all about. In creating the character of Desdemona, I wanted to show that if love was the most important thing in the world to this man, then the recipient of that love would not necessarily be something you’d expect. It’s an easy story, to tell of a beautiful woman and handsome man. Robert Burns falling in love with what amounts to an eldritch horror in the Caledonia universe made the story more about love itself than who was involved in it.

If Robert Burns’ name is synonymous with love stories, it stands to reason that to him, all love is love. An’ all that.

Nancy says: Amy's choice of actor for the character of Robert Burns is a very, very good one - What do you think? Answer in the comments please!!

Click HERE for Amy's Amazon page to view the range of work available and some other details about Amy Hoff.

Mortal Souls is on pre-order on amazon HERE, till publication Saturday 2nd June 2018.

Many thanks for popping in today, Amy. My very best wishes with all of your exciting projects - in the writing and film-making spheres! 


Images above from Wikimedia Commons,_Dumfries.jpg,_Dumfries.jpg

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