Monday, September 02, 2013

From the cutting room floor: About those MacGregors

photo credit: Renaud Camus, Flickr commons
While there's leaves in the forest,
And foam on the river,
MacGregor, despite them,
Shall flourish forever!

~ Sir Walter Scott 

Gaelic Name: MacGrioghair
Motto: 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream (My Race is Royal)
Plant Badge: Pine
Lands: Argyll and Perthshire
Origin of Name: Son of Gregory (Flocksman)

I tend to overwrite my first drafts. Before I turned Burning Sky in to my publisher to begin the months' long editing process, I trimmed away about 25,000 words. Most of those were small cuts. Sentences, phrases, the occasional paragraph. Over a manuscript the size of mine, many of those little cuts add up to a lot of words. But there was one larger cut that I made.

It's probably no secret by now that, along with 18th century American history, I'm very interested in Scottish history, too. Especially Highland clan history. A clan that has a most interesting, dramatic, and tragic history is Clan MacGregor. In the pages of Burning Sky I had included something of this history, in the words of character Neil MacGregor. Though it was of absorbing interest to me (and to Neil and Willa) the telling of it didn't serve a strong enough story purpose to warrant its remaining as part of a conversation that was already nine pages long. It slowed the pace in spot where doing so didn't serve the overall story. But I share it now for any readers who'd like just a wee bit more of Neil.

To put it in its original context: This exchange was originally part of the long conversation in Chapter 11, when Neil is awakened in the night of the rainstorm, to the sound of Willa's scissors cutting fabric...

He’d returned to the doorway to peer into the night again and ponder this subtle shift, this tentative tug on his soul that he wasn’t sure he welcomed, when Willa spoke.

“What did you and Leda’s husband mean today, about MacGregors and outlaws?”

“Leda? Aye, MacNab’s wife.” He barred the door on the falling rain and came to sit at the table. “D’ye ken aught of Scotland, and the auld ways of the clans, before the ’45?”

“Forty-five?” Willa had settled on the other block chair, now that she’d begun to sew the shirting, drawn close to the fire for the added light.

“The last Jacobite Rising. When the Highland clans were slaughtered by Cumberland’s English. Nigh on forty years back.”

Willa paused her needle. “Was that to do with Charles Stuart?”

“That’s the one. Charles Edward Stuart. Did ye hear of him from your da?”

“Or something I read. I do not remember.” She kept her needle poised, waiting for him to continue.

He settled his splinted arm on the table and the blanket higher on his shoulders. “Well,” he went on, staring at the fingers of his injured hand. “After that wreck and ruin ended, many of the clansmen—MacKenzies, Camerons, Grants, the lot—who weren’t slaughtered on Culloden Moor were driven into exile, but there was one clan who’d lived as exiles for generations before Prince Charlie set his Stuart heel on Scottish soil: Mac Grioghair.”
He found her watching him when he looked up, and hesitated. “Ye truly want to hear it?”
“It is a good night for stories.” Her mouth softened as she bent her head to her work again and he smiled at the bright crown of her hair.

“Aye. Still... it's a complicated history and I’ll no’ bore ye with the particulars. It came down to a feud between MacGregors and Clan Colquhoun, around the year 1600. The clans met in battle at a place called Glen Fruin. The MacGregors trounced the Colquhouns, and though it wasna through treachery, the Colquhouns appealed to the king and made him believe it was so, and that’s how the Act of Proscription came to be. The MacGregors were forced off their lands, and bearing the name was made a crime. Any MacGregor who didna renounce it was fair pickings to those of a mind to steal from him, defraud him, or hunt him like a deer.”

When he paused, Willa pushed the slender needle through the new linen and looked up. “Leda’s husband said his father did not keep their MacGregor name, but took the name of his mother. But your father kept the name?”

“But on the sly, ye ken. The MacGregors were forced to live in hiding, or sheltered by other clans, until the Act was repealed—just ten years ago, mind. My da’s grandda found shelter with Clan Graham, who claimed the family whenever need arose. I grew up on a Graham’s estate where my father kept the grounds. In all likelihood I’d be keeping those grounds in my da’s stead had not the physician who owned the estate caught me with a filched bit of foolscap and a quill, drawing the plants in one o’ his gardens.”
He’d figured himself in for a hiding or worse, but the old man had been impressed rather than angered. Neil had entered university—through the generosity of his father’s employer—as a Graham, but by the time he’d left Edinburgh and crossed the ocean to the colonies, he was using his proper name.
“So that is where you come by your interest in plants.”

“Aye, though I trained as a physician before I found my true calling.”

Willa snapped off a thread and held up the shirt, now boasting one finished sleeve. “I have wanted to ask you about this… calling.”

From that point, the scene flows on as it stands in the published version. I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into Clan MacGregor history from one of its sons (fictional perhaps, but he's very real to me).

For more, there's always Wikipedia's Clan Gregor page.


  1. Love Scottish history, Lori. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It's hard sometimes to leave some of this stuff out of the book. But story first, always!

  2. I love these little insights, Lori!

    1. I need to take a little trip through that very lengthy "cuts" file to see if there's anything else remotely interesting enough to share. This is the only bit that I deliberately set aside for the purpose.

  3. Ohhhh, this is like listening in to a private conversation. Okay, it IS a private conversation. But it's so cool to see it and know the story around it.
    Loved this, Lori!

    1. Wish we could cram all the stuff we know about our characters and their histories into a story, but... tip of the iceberg. That's how we gotta roll. :)

  4. Anonymous7:59 PM

    I too enjoy Scottish history, and it was fun to read this conversation! Scottish History and Native American History are two of my deepest interests. :)

    1. Mine, too! And Welsh is not far behind those.

  5. Fun! I agree the scene flows better without it, but I'm glad you shared. :)

    1. In my first drafts I tend to stick in all manner of extraneous bits like this snippet. You never know how they might develop. Sometimes they become integral to the story. Sometimes they don't, and get snipped out before all is said and done.

  6. Love this! Fan of all things Scottish so thank you for sharing!
    PS. Please write a Scottish Romance :D

    1. Clarissa, No plans to set a story in Scotland for now, but.... stranger things have happened. And I'm certainly not through with Scottish heroes.