LANDSCAPESHere’s where my writing started…
Many years ago, I was sitting on a clifftop on the coast of the Isle of Lewis. I had traveled to the western edge of Europe, then on a boat to the Western Isles of Scotland. I then crossed Lewis itself in a rickety school bus, to reach its west coast. Now I was sitting about as far west as one could get in inhabited Europe, staring out at the Atlantic Ocean.
It was misty, as it often is. Curls of vapour touched my cheeks. I could not really see the sea, only hear its muffled murmur somewhere far below. Farther along the cliffs, sheep bleated.
I could have been sitting there in any time, I thought. The mists had shrouded me in magic.And then…I almost heard the sound of oars splashing in the sea. The musical cascade of a different language. Straining, I almost saw a long, dark shape parting the mist, the gull-like flash of a white sail amid the fog.
It was like a memory pulled up from deep inside me. And in that moment, the desire to write about the ancient peoples in Scotland leaped alive in my heart.
I got up and walked until I came across old Mr MacGregor, the farmer seeking his sheep. We talked. His sheepdog darted around my feet, and I scratched its head.
I asked what it was like living there in that isolated spot, and — somewhat stupidly — what it was like speaking Gaelic, his own tongue, when few visitors could understand it. He replied, “Och, aye, we all speak the gaelic,” and he said it as “gahlic”, as it should be said. And when I heard the musical lilt of his speech, like a long rill of melody…
Well, then, I was lost.
SettingsThe Dalriada Trilogy is set around Kilmartin Glen in Argyll in western Scotland, south of Oban. Argyll is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, for it is mountainous but lush, and visitors are close to all the western islands which retain the Gaelic language and traditional music.
Kilmartin Glen has more archaeological remains in one small valley than any other part of Scotland. At its heart is Dunadd, the volcanic crag that was the kingdom of the Gaelic kings from the sixth to the ninth centuries AD.There are also standing stones and stone circles, Bronze Age barrows, burial cairns, Iron Age hillforts, and many rock engravings of spirals and other motifs. It was obviously a sacred place, though we don’t know why (read my books to find out!).
The Isle of Lewis, the site of my original "vision” became my Sacred Isle, where the priestesses live beside the famous (existing) stone circle of Callanish. There are also remains of broch towers on the island, such as that at Dun Carloway, where the nobility lived.
I also set smaller scenes in the Cairngorm mountains, around Inverness, and at Bennachie hill near Aberdeen.
The Song of the North / The Boar Stone also took in Hadrian’s Wall, in Cumbria, and Burghead near Inverness.
The Swan Maiden is set partly in Ireland, near Navan fort in Armagh - which was the mythical Emain Macha. Mostly it is set around Loch Etive in Argyll. This is traditionally where Deirdre and Naisi lived before returning to Ireland.
The Raven Queen is set wholly in Ireland, some scenes also at Navan fort (Emain Macha). Queen Maeve's stronghold of Cruachan is supposed to be Rath Croghan, near Tulsk, Roscommon; the lake where Ruan lives is Lough Boderg.
I love Ireland, but the Scottish landscape inspires me, and has inspired most of my books. The Celtic belief in the sacredness of all things, their closeness to nature, and the veneration of springs, caves and rivers as being doorways to the Otherworld mean that Scotland is not just beautiful. Trying to see the land through their eyes has given rise to many writing ideas, beyond marvelling at mere loveliness.The mists, rain and wind and the sudden changes in weather lend Scotland an elusive quality. You never feel that what you are seeing is real. Mountains can abruptly be shrouded in mist, a loch in sea-fog. A thick bank of clouds will roll away just as swiftly, and the sun will spill gleaming on red bracken and wet rock. Or pour down on a far hillslope, turning it gold when all about you is leaden grey.
It constantly shifts and glimmers, as if you are indeed catching glimpses of another world.
Of the Otherworld.