Today is Handsel Monday - a holiday celebrated in Scotland and Northern England. From Hymms and Carols of Christmas,
The first Monday after new year's day is called Handsel and is observed by merry-making. In sir J. Sinclair's “Statistical Account,” it is related of one William Hunter, a collier, that he was cured in the year 1758 of an inveterate rheumatism or gout, by drinking freely of new ale, full of barm or yeast. “The poor man had been confined to his bed for a year and a half, having almost entirely lost the use of his limbs. On the evening of Handsel Monday, as it is called, some of his neighbours came to make merry with him. Though he could not rise, yet he always took his share of the ale, as it passed round the company; and, in the end, became much intoxicated. The consequence was, that he had the use of his limbs the next morning, and was able to walk about. He lived more than twenty years after this, and never had the smallest returned of his old complaint.”
I invited Scottish historical author Sue-Ellen Welfonder to help us celebrate this Scottish holiday.
Sue-Ellen: Thank you so much for inviting me to SOS Aloha. I’m delighted to be here and wish I could be for real. In my flying days (many moons ago) I was lucky enough to get to Hawaii quite often. I’ve also spent some wonderful holidays there and love Kauai best.
Of course, my heart belongs first and foremost to Scotland.
Kim: Your website bio refers to your Hebridean ancestry - which clan?
Sue-Ellen: My ancestral ties to the Hebrides are paternal. I was born a MacDuffie. MacDuffies held the tiny Hebridean islands of Colonsay and Oronsay (south of Mull) since dimmest clan memory. The name MacDuffie is ancient and uses the Gaelic spelling MacDhubsith which is commonly agreed to mean ‘dark man of peace.’ (also ‘man of quiet and/or tranquility’) Because ‘dubh’ (‘dark’) can also have a mystical sense, some believe the name indicates a more lyrical origin, especially as there is a well-loved legend that the clan’s progenitor was a man who married a Selkie. Obviously this is the version I prefer.
The MacDuffies were the Official Keepers of the Records for the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles. I’m really proud of this connection as I love Clan Donald above all clans. I also have ties to the Mackays, hence my pen name, Allie Mackay.
As a MacDuffie, I am also a member of Siol Alpine or Clan MacAlpine.
Kim: Which castle?
Sue-Ellen: Colonsay is full of archaeological sites, including many from the Viking years, but it is generally believed that the original MacDuffie seat was a fortress known as Dun Evan, Dun Eibhinn in the Gaelic. It’s a remarkable site, high atop a rocky knoll with sweeping views of the southern part of the island. Sadly little remains except a crumbling wall or two. It would have been quite impressive in its time.
Kim: Which tartan?
Sue-Ellen: The MacFie tartan which is red and green based with yellow pin stripes. (MacFie is another clan spelling of the older name MacDuffie)
Kim: Favorite Scottish saying?
Sue-Ellen: These words from the Canadian Boat Song, especially the last line:
From the lone shieling of the misty island,
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas,
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.
Not exactly a saying, but these lines stir me the most.
I’ll share this, too: Rumbledethumps, a delicious Scottish recipe for potatoes and cabbage. I’m a total potato zealot, so Rumbledethumps scores high with me as great eating and a cute gotta-love-it name.
Kim: Could you share an example of how the ancient monuments inspired you and your stories? Have you seen a ghost, felt an aberration, or heard a calling?
Sue-Ellen: I’ve been visiting Scotland all my life and am always inspired anew each time I go back. All of my books have settings that I personally know well and love very, very much. It’s hard to choose one or two. My Mackenzie titles were inspired by and set at Eilean Donan though I called the castle Eilean Creag in the books. I now believe that castle has been over-used in romance books and on covers and author websites. My new Highland Warriors series was inspired by Clanranald’s Castle Tioram, an incredible ruin that might just be my all-time favorite. Duntulm on Skye is another crumbly ruin I absolutely love. Duntulm is the setting of my Allie Mackay title Highlander In Her Dreams, although I called it Castle Wrath in the book.
Like you, I much prefer the lesser-visited, crumbling ruins, appreciating the wildness and romance of visiting such places on my own and with only cold air and strong winds as company. It’s then, I believe, that you can truly feel ripples of the past just beneath the surface.
Standing stones and circles, duns and brochs, and ruined crofting villages as seen in Strathnaver, especially, also inspire me greatly. A walk around Arbroath Abbey at sunset on a cold autumn day remains one of my most cherished Scottish memories. Likewise another autumn visit at gloaming to a ruined medieval church not far from Inverness, a place too fragile and special to name here.
|Strathnaver Standing Stones|
First time visitors to Scotland shouldn’t miss the big showy castles like Edinburgh, Stirling, and Glamis. But to appreciate the true heart of ancient Scotland, you need to stay off the coach tour bus trail, drive yourself, and visit the out-of-the-way places. That’s when and where the past comes alive.
Ghosts? I absolutely believe in ghosts and even used to make ‘ghost-hunting’ trips all over the UK with two likeminded friends. So I’ve had quite a few interesting experiences of the eerie variety, including in Scotland. My Allie Mackay title, Highlander In Her Dreams, was inspired by a ghost I saw while picnicking alone at Skye’s ruined Duntulm on a blustery autumn day (I love autumn).
Kim: What foreign language do you speak? And how did you learn it?
Sue-Ellen: I speak, read, and write fluent German. I worked for the airlines for 23 years. Years ago, when my first airline needed foreign language speakers for European flights, the airline offered French and German lessons with the guarantee that any flight attendant who successfully learned either language would be guaranteed European flights. That was incentive enough for me. I learned German, flew Europe, and eventually married a German man and settled in Munich where I lived for fifteen years. Obviously, living and working in Germany for so many years and being married to a German helped me perfect my grasp of the language.
Kim: From your bio, you "write at a four-hundred-and-fifty year old desk that once stood in a Bavarian castle." How did you come to own this desk?
Sue-Ellen: My desk was in the private castle residence of a Bavarian baron. This baron was/is a personal friend of my husband’s. On a visit to the castle, I admired the desk, which is quite massive and beautifully carved. Several days later, the castle was delivered to my house as a surprise gift for me.
Kim: This reminds me of a book from your alter ego, Allie Mackay's Highlander in Her Bed. Did you find any Highlanders lurking in the drawers?!?!
Sue-Ellen: No Highlanders, sadly. But I cherish the desk very, very much. Highlander In Her Bed, by the way, was inspired by my stay in a Scottish castle hotel. Each room was decorated in authentic period style and my room was the oldest in the castle. It was in the under-vaults and contained the original medieval well. The well was capped with a glass lid and lit and as I would lie in the huge medieval-y bed at night watching the well, I imagined a sexy Highlander ghost climbing up out of the well. As the night progressed and the hours became ever smaller, my imaginings had the Highlander ghost not haunting the medieval well, but the medieval bed. That experience was the inspiration for that book.
Kim: Speaking of Allie, she writes Scottish set paranormals. I assume it would be a natural progression to jump from Sue-Ellen's medieval romances to Allie's Scottish paranormals. But maybe it isn't. Do you have a ritual to change from one persona/genre to the other? Is the research the same or different?
Sue-Ellen: No rituals. It’s an easy switch as the Allie Mackay titles have so much of everything I love best: Highland atmosphere with old castles, Celtic legend and lore, the same sweeping sea-and-landscapes, and the medieval influence because the heroes are all medieval Highlanders, either as ghosts or with the heroine meeting them through time travel back to medieval Scotland. My readers will know that my Scottish medievals all have strong paranormal threads, including ghosts along with all the Celtic myth and legend aspects I use. So it’s easy for me to write both genres.
I absolutely love the Allie Mackay books and have so much fun writing them. They are fun because the heroines are modern day Americans and that allows me to let them enjoy all the adventures that I wish would happen to me on my own trips to Scotland. When I walk around a romantic cliff-top ruin and the wind howls and the mist blows in from the sea, I imagine happening upon a sexy medieval Highland ghost or, perhaps better yet, taking a ‘wrong’ step and slipping back into 14th C. Scotland and meeting such a hero there/then in his own day. My Allie Mackay heroines don’t have to imagine, they get to live the adventure and that’s so much fun for me. The humor in the books is also very much my own and that also makes these stories easy and fun to write.
The research? I’ve loved Scotland and its history and culture all my life and have been studying it as long, so my knowledge base was there before I began writing. And I’ll still be loving and studying Scottish history/culture/lore, etc.. long after I no longer write. It’s my lifelong passion, regardless of my career.
The only difference with the Allie Mackay books is that I tap heavily into my own personal travel experiences from my trips to Scotland. If I show a heroine at Newark Airport, excited about boarding her Glasgow-bound plane, that’s me. Likewise when you see a heroine angsting/fussing about driving left. Again, that’s me. (I do drive left over there, but will never love it). Or when a heroine takes a trip on a ferry, again that’s me. And many of the pubs, country manor houses, and suchlike that appear in these books are all based on places I know and love in Scotland. Obviously, such travel experiences can’t go into my medievals, but I love revisiting my trips in the pages of the Allie Mackay books.
Kim: What's next for Sue-Ellen Welfonder? Allie MacKay?
Sue-Ellen: I’m currently beginning the third title in my new Highland Warriors trilogy, Seduction of a Highland Warrior. It’s the story of Alasdair MacDonald and Marjory “Lady Norn” Mackintosh. After that, I’ll either do a spin-off trilogy on my Highland Warriors or I might revisit my Mackenzies and the ever-popular Sir M. He has four children that have only been mentioned briefly in the books and I might do their stories, taking readers back to Kintail and those beloved characters. Time will tell.
For Allie Mackay, I’m just now wrapping up the Jan. 2012 release which still doesn’t have a title. It does have a wonderfully atmospheric setting at a fishing village on Scotland’s rugged north coast, I can tell you that. Thereafter, I have might do a few spin-offs on this untitled book or a totally new series I’m excited about. Again, time will tell.
Thanks so much for having me here, Kim! And a big Hawaiian-style wave to Mary, too! And everyone who stops by today. Happy New Year, all! Here’s wishing you good health, happiness, cuddly pets, and lots of great reads!
Kim: Mahalo, Sue-Ellen (and Allie, too) for joining us at SOS Aloha! In honor of your visit, I am giving away Mary's review copy of Sue-Ellen's Sins of a Highland Devil which Grand Central Publishing is releasing today! Mary posted her review of Sins of a Highland Devil on her website and blog,
Strong men and mysterious ways make for a sizzling and romantic read.
To enter the giveaway,
1. Leave a comment about Sue-Ellen Welfonder, Allie Mackay, and/or what you'd like to find in an antique desk (I'm still holding out for a Highlander).
2. Comments are open through January 6 for this giveaway.
3. This giveaway is only open to US residents. However, I will mail a special Hawaiian treat to any international reader who sends their mailing address to email@example.com.
Bliadhna mhath ur! (Gaelic)
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou! (Hawaiian)
Happy New Year!
Kim in Hawaii
In honor of Handsel Monday, I offer you a feast for your eyes - the hot covers from Sue-Ellen Welfonder: