Pre-sales, readings, revisions . . .
Not much to report on this front. If this book is going to happen, it’s going to be a close call. We have 74 days to go, and we’ve only moved 48 pre-sales. If you’ve already ordered a copy, tell your friends!
I have a reading / talk at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane on Thursday. It should be fun, though (sadly) there will be no haggis. You can check it out here: http://www.auntiesbooks.com/event/outlander-scottish-poetry-and-culture-after-45
I project the book will be about 120,000 words long, and I’ve drafted about 95,000. The first half of the book is, I think, in really good shape. But I’ve been pondering some major structural changes to the novel. In the next few days, I may upload an excerpt from the second half of the novel in the near future just to give a glimpse of the direction this might go . . .
The historical novel genre as we understand it was basically invented by Walter Scott when he anonymously published Waverly in 1815. He wrote it to start digging out of the massive debts he’d incurred through some bad decisions and poor investment advice. The novel was a smash, and Scott went on to write dozens more historical novels before he died in 1832. I have regular ol’ Penguin editions of Waverly, Ivanhoe, Old Mortality, Rob Roy, and The Heart of Midlothian. All of these are excellent, but I’m especially fond of my copy of The Abbot.
Why, you may ask, is my copy of The Abbot a favorite? Because it’s a real-deal first edition, direct from an antiquarian bookseller in Edinburgh, via almost two hundred years of reading and handling and sitting on countless bookshelves. I love old books, and sometimes, as I’m trying to puzzle through a new section of the novel, or a difficult revision, I open one of The Abbot, thumb (carefully!) through the pages, and smell the old ink and old paper. Then I (carefully!) put it back with my small collection of antique books and get on with writing. I swear I write better after touching these books.
Libraries, archives, and other odd places . . .
Because The Last Prince of Scotland is historical fiction based on the life of a fairly well-known historical figure, writing the novel required a certain amount of research. At first, I looked at easy-to-find sources: popular biographies (particularly Fitzroy Maclean's Bonnie Prince Charlie) and histories: Magnus Magnusson's thoroughly readable Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Michael Lynch's exhaustive Scotland: A New History, and Rosemary Goring's fascinating collection of historic Scottish documents, Scotland: The Autobiography.
(In academic writing if you don't use a colon in your title, you're doing it wrong.)
But I have a deep and abiding interest in archival research, and I love nothing better than sitting down in a quiet university reading room, opening an archival box, and finding out what secrets might have been out of sight for years and years. Because in my academic life I write about Scottish literature and culture, it's been easy to double up and combine official professional research with poking around for long-forgotten scraps about Charles Edward Stuart and the '45.
Archival research takes a person to some interesting places. For me, this has included stints in the special collections reading rooms at the University of Edinburgh, the National Library of Scotland, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington, UCLA, and Gonzaga University.
Archives and special collections house materials that often cannot be found anywhere else. For example, in 2010 in Edinburgh, I was researching early university courses in English literature for my dissertation. This included looking at class notes taken by James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. That was pretty cool. Archives are magical places: I've handled centuries-old books and manuscripts that absolutely take my breath away.
This past summer, I spent time in the Special Collections at UCLA. I only had one afternoon to work, but I found some fascinating texts which dealt with Charles Edward Stuart and the '45 in the decades after the rising. These books let me see how Charles Stuart was thought of and remembered in popular culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I'm grateful that the UCLA guidelines allowed me to take some pictures. One excellent find was a text, written only a few decades after the fateful battle at Culloden, which included detailed information about the opposing forces on April 16th, 1746:
The author's note to The Last Prince of Scotland includes a version of how my work in an archive in Edinburgh led me to the story of Charles Edward Stuart, which I may upload for my readers on Inkshares one of these days.
Thanks for the support! Tell a friend -- that pre-order goal is still out there!
We need to move more pre-sales! We're up to 41, which isn't bad, but if you want to see the book published, we need more orders. This is crowdfunding, after all, so the success of the project depends, in large part, on you, my wonderful readers. So: get the word out! If you know someone who is Scottish, interested in Scotland, or just loves a rip-roaring story filled with adventure, fighting, escapes, romance, tragedy, loss, and (hopefully) redemption, I guarantee this is a book for them.
Reading at Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane:
I'm giving a talk at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane on February 11th, 7 pm. Burns Night just came and went (more on Burns Night in a moment), so we'll talk about Burns, Scottish literature and culture, and of course discuss The Last Prince of Scotland. There may even be haggis. If you're in Spokane, you should come out!
Wha' happens a' Burns Night, ye ask . . . ?
I just experienced my first Burns Night, and it was fantastic. For those of you who don't know just what I'm talking about, Burns Night is celebrated by lovers of Scotland around the world. Robert Burns, the national poet (often called the Bard) of Scotland, was born on January 25th, 1759. Scots everywhere are incredibly proud of him.
A typical Burns night begins with the formal presentation of the haggis, accompanied pipes and introduced by a recitation of Burns' poem, "Address to a Haggis." There's usually dancing, pipes and drums, plenty of good food, and loads of Scotch. There's also some readings of Burns' poetry, and two toasts, one to the lassies (which I was asked to give) and one to the laddies. The toasts are more like roasts, but all in good fun.
All in all, a good night, with good food, a grand haggis, marvelous Scotch, and more kilts than you've seen this side of Braveheart.
Thanks, everyone! Your support means the world to me.
We're up to 32, which isn't too shabby. We still have 90+ days to go, and with the upcoming event at Auntie's Bookstore and other outreach efforts, I'm confident we'll make those pre-sale goals. If you've already ordered: thank you! If not, I'm going to keep doing my best to convince you . . .
A Window on the Process:
I started this project about two and a half years ago; the first efforts took the form of a screenplay. I wrote about eighteen pages, then decided to shift it to a novel. Since then, I've written almost 100,000 words, and I think I still have about 20k - 30k to go before I finish it up.
The process -- like all writing processes -- has been exceptionally messy. The section I drafted first (which served as the opening scenes in the now-abandoned screenplay) doesn't have a home -- yet -- in the current draft. It'll land somewhere in the second half of the novel, but I'm not sure where yet. I've written the final scene of the novel as well, based on some marvelous suggestions from my wife, Lorri. I've written other scenes, too, that haven't found their way into the mostly-complete first half of the novel.
My brain just seems to work that way. I know where the entire narrative arc is going and I tend to write the specific scenes and vignettes as they come to me. Then I try to tie it all together with as little exposition as possible. It's also a frame story, and at some point I'm going to have to attend to the framing device which has been sadly neglected for several thousand words.
The whole thing is the most enjoyably maddening work I've ever done. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Social Media Update:
Just a quick note: The Last Prince of Scotland is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lastprinceofscotland
Head over now to like the page (please!) and find the details for my author event at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane. I'll post the occasional book update, tidbits about the life and times of our hero, Charles Edward Stuart, and anything else that might be of interest to the wonderful people who might be interested in the novel.
Spread the word, Inksharers! And, as always, thank you for your support.
Reading Event at Auntie's Bookstore
Good morning friends, supporters, and fellow Inksharers! Happy Monday!
This has been in the works for a few weeks, but now it's finalized: I'm excited to announce that I'll be giving a reading and talk at Auntie's, Spokane's legendary independent bookstore on Thursday, February 11th at 7pm. The talk will be called "Beyond and Before Outlander." I'll chat a bit about Scottish literature, read a few Robert Burns poems, then discuss The Last Prince of Scotland and field a few questions.
I'm reading Burns at the event because Robert Burns is often viewed as Scotland's national poet, and his birthday (January 25th) is celebrated all over the world with poetry readings, drinking Scotch, and -- of course -- eating haggis. There won't be any Scotch (at least, I don't think so), but I may try to bring in a wee bit o' haggis for my more daring supporters to sample (haggis is really pretty good -- in the words of my Edinburgh cabbie, "Och! It's beautiful!).
If you're saying to yourself, "I'm not sure I've ever read a Robert Burns poem," you're probably wrong. In fact, you might have even sung a bit of a Burns poem on New Year's Eve: Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne and based it on traditional Scots folk songs and poems. Other familiar Burns poems might include A Red, Red Rose and Sweet Afton (covered by Nickel Creek a few years ago).
If you're in Spokane, please come out if you can! I promise it'll be fun. To everyone, near and far, who has supported the book, thank you! And tell your friends! We have 99 days left to reach our pre-sale goals . . .
Good morning, Inksharers! Happy New Year!
Last night – December 31st, 2015 – was the 195th birthday of Charles Edward Stuart, the central character in The Last Prince of Scotland. Even though he was in the direct line of descent of the Stuart dynasty, which had ruled Scotland and then England for more than three centuries, he was born in Rome, where his father ruled the Stuart court-in-exile. Here’s an excerpt from “A Winter’s Night” (the first chapter of The Last Prince of Scotland) where I describe the prince’s birth:
An hour before the New Year, the muffled noises from the Queen’s chamber rise. The Queen screams and cries out; the moment is near. Another scream tears the air; out on the piazza, a pair of beggars look up from their fire and say a prayer for the kind young woman who distributes alms with her own hands. They know who she is, they know she is in labor, and the poor and forgotten of Rome gather in the piazza outside the Muti Palace: they are witnesses as well.
Within the Queen’s chamber, the doctors and nurses, sent by the Pope himself, prepare for the birth. An old woman, a midwife, waits for a pause in the contractions, says in a calm, direct voice: Here, my dear. Take this in your teeth. Bite down when the pains come so you don’t shatter your teeth or bite off your tongue.
And she places a narrow shaft of leather-wrapped wood in the poor girl’s teeth. Another contraction and Clementina Sobieski does bite down on the leather-wrapped shaft and screams. She pushes and the doctor says: Once more, your Majesty. Once more.
The young woman takes a deep, ragged breath, then another, then the pain comes again and she bites down, screams, pushes, crushes the stick in her teeth and thinks, oddly, through all the pain: There are splinters in my tongue, I believe.
She hears a cry: full and loud, angry, filled with life. The doctor yells: a boy!
James Stuart rushes in from the anteroom at the announcement; he takes the wriggling infant from the midwife even as she says: Your majesty, let us clean him! You will soil your fine clothes. But James Stuart laughs and takes the child and says: Clothes and finery be damned! I have a son! He carries the boy, gingerly, to his wife’s side and says again: I have a son!
And then, he thinks, adds: We have a son. Thank you, my dear.
He hands the boy back to the midwife and rushes out to the assembled witnesses, covered in blood and birthing fluid: I have a son! You must come see! And so, in twos and threes, they come in, they see the boy, whom the exiled King is already calling Charles. The baby is bathed and dried and wrapped in swaddling, all while an endless procession of guests come to witness: there is no baby in a bedpan, no stillborn child to hide and forget.
The new mother slips toward sleep, exhaustion squeezing her in a pleasant fist. Before sleep overtakes her, she calls out: Where is my son? I must see my son!
Every head in the room swivels toward her voice; they have forgotten her, they wonder that she is not sleeping already. The midwife brings him to the mother and she cradles him, looks into his tiny face, stares in wonder at his head of dark hair, traces the tips of his finely-formed fingers. She says, softly: Your father says you are Charles, so in my heart you are Carlo, Carlisimo, my little Charles.
And then the babe is bustled away, taken to a wetnurse, and Clementina Sobieski allows sleep to overwhelm her as she listens to the bells of the Santi Apostoli ring in a New Year and the birth of her son, soon to be christened Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart.
I’ve conducted quite a bit of research on Charles Edward Stuart in the past few years, and my professional research interest in Scottish literature and culture has blurred into a private fascination with the personalities surrounding the 1745 Jacobite uprising. The photo below is just a small sampling of the library of Scottish literary, historical, and cultural studies I’ve accumulated:
If you’re interested in learning more about Scottish history, I highly recommend Magnus Magunsson’s Scotland: The Story of a Nation. He writes with the narrative force of a great historical novel, and I guarantee he’ll pull you right in. All the fascinating figures from Scottish history are there: William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, and, of course Charles Edward Stuart.
Thanks again for your support!
Pre-orders are going pretty well, and I'm fairly certain a few more orders will come in before Christmas. Thanks to everyone for the orders so far!
I've added some temporary cover art to the book on Inkshares. The image is the statue of Robert the Bruce on the battlements of Stirling castle. I took the picture in 2010, when I was in Scotland doing research in Edinburgh:
Bruce is looking out over the valley where in 1314, the Bruce led Scottish forces to a resounding victory over the English. During his campaign in 1745, Charles Edward Stuart besieged Stirling Castle with his highland army, but the castle never fell.
Charles found success elsewhere, though . . .
I can't reveal too much on this front, but if I hit my pre-order goals (250/750), I might have some pretty amazing opportunities for launch events. So, spread the word! Pre-orders mean the world to me.