Thinking about Scotland and a #giveaway

Dunvegan Castle, the MacLeod stronghold on Skye
Dunvegan Castle, the MacLeod stronghold on Skye


Why am I thinking about Scotland? Many reasons—it’s beautiful there, I love the Scots accent, I would love to visit there again but don’t see it happening anytime soon, etc., etc. But at the moment, it’s mostly because I’m working on a Regency-era mystery where the hero is a Scot.

He was inspired by a waiter I met in Scotland. Many writers use pics of celebrities to visualize their characters, but I’ve never done this before. My characters are just vague images in my mind. But this waiter was so appealing—everything from his darkish hair to his medium build, the twinkle in his eye, and of course his brogue—that I couldn’t resist making my hero in his image, so to speak. Of course, my hero lived 200 years ago, so I was looking at him through a Regency-era lens.

Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness
Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness

The thing is, I’m not sure I can get into the skin of my Scots hero and write him properly. What does it take to write a convincing character of a nation or culture with which one is somewhat unfamiliar? Add to that the historical context, and it’s even more complex.

I don’t have much problem writing English characters. I grew up in Canada and have lived in the US for many years, but my ancestry is mostly English. One set of grandparents came from London. I lived in England for a year as a child. I read a lot of British literature growing up and still do. I’ve also read a lot of historical novels, many of which take place in Britain. So writing a British character in the Regency era feels reasonably natural to me.

Not so a Scot. So I’m reading up on Scotland from many angles. I need to learn more about Scotland’s history, which I have sampled mostly through novels. I also read novels about present-day Scotland—I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin’s mysteries. I’m trying to learn some Scottish vocabulary—but this presents another problem. How much of an accent or vocabulary is the right amount, imparting the flavor of the character’s speech without making it hard to read? It’s a difficult balance to achieve.

Steps to a Dungeon? Urquhart again, I think. Brrr!
Steps to a Dungeon? Urquhart again, I think. Brrr!

I hope you like the pics. (No, I don’t have one of the waiter.) Today I’m giving away a book and a pair of socks. Yes, socks. I was going through stuff in my closet and found two pairs of socks I bought ages ago for giveaways, and then forgot about. For a chance to win one pair (your choice) and one of my books (again, your choice), please leave a comment. If you know of authors whose books really bring Scotland alive for you, please recommend them—contemporary or historical, romance or mystery or whatever. Good non-fiction about Scotland would be welcome, too. And if you prefer more or less of an accent or vocabulary in a book (Scots, Irish, Cockney, French words and cadence, whatever), tell me about that, please.

(All the Barbara at Urquhart Castle 2014-2pics were taken by me or my husband. In fact, here I am at Castle Urquhart, devouring one of the many placards. I can spend hours and hours at historic sites…)

And here are the socks:

socks feb 2017





Follow Barbara Monajem:

Barbara Monajem started writing at eight years old. She has wandered from children’s fantasy through mystery to paranormal and historical romance. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.

26 Responses

  1. Tiffany Trumm Jorgenson

    I would love to visit Scotland! I don’t really prefer accents in books cause it’s hard for me to hear them in my head. But I do like native vocabulary to keep focused on the place.

  2. Leigh Hilson

    I love Scottish Highlands historical romance books my favorite author is Paula Quinn and her MacGregor and Grant series

  3. dholcomb1

    Your pictures are beautiful! Have always wanted to visit Scotland. I love reading accents in books. Any dialect.


  4. Teresa Broderick

    I visited Scotland once many years ago and I loved it. I love stories set in Scotland too. Hard to know about the dialect. Some of the Scots have this thick brogue that you couldn’t understand in a million years. A bit scattered throughout a book is fine but I wouldn’t like to struggle with it all the way through. Spoil the story.

  5. Josie

    I’ve been fortunate to visit Scotland and loved it. And, I’ve visited Northern Ireland many times. You’re right about the brogue. You don’t want too much so that the reader will be distracted, but enough to share the character of the novel. Best wishes!

  6. Barbara Monajem (@BarbaraMonajem)

    Thanks, Josie! I’ve visited Ireland, too, but for some reason I’m more familiar with the Scots brogue, and therefore more willing to risk writing a Scottish character. Perhaps it’s because in my childhood in Canada, I had some teachers with Scottish accents.

  7. Helen

    Wonderful timing. I’ve just returned to reading historical romances again. My favorites are set in England and Scotland. I think with accents, it’s about flavor. While a little pepper is good, too much can overwhelm the taste of the food. So the same with accent. But I do so love a good looking man with an accent…in books!

  8. Mary Preston

    Loving the pictures thank you. Too much of an accent or vocabulary can just take you right out of the story. Once the time period and location are fixed less is better.

    • Barbara Monajem (@BarbaraMonajem)

      Thanks, Mary — that’s a good point. Maybe it’s best to show a bit of the accent at first, and then let the reader assume it continues. I have done that when writing a Cockney accent. Showing every dropped H gets tedious for both writer and reader.

  9. barbarabettis1

    I’d love to go back to Scotland for a longer visit all on my own, so I could choose where I wanted to go and how long I’d stay there. You mentioned recreating the rhythm (cadence) of a language or dialect–I really appreciate an author who does that. I get the flavor and feel of the language without struggling to read different spellings of words. (And I appreciate authors who include a pronunciation guide to some of the unusual words.)

    • Barbara Monajem (@BarbaraMonajem)

      Hi, Barbara. I imagine it takes skill to recreate the rhythm of a language — and I appreciate it very much, too. One of my favorite examples of this is the heroines Justine and Annique in Joanna Bourne’s novels.

  10. Jan

    Hi Barbara. I love Scotland, hubby and I spent a couple of weeks there last summer.

    May I suggest Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – specifically the first two books. They’re Georgian rather than Regency but you’ll get a lot of the feel for the Highlands.

    My second suggest is Ann Lethbridge’s Gilvrys of Dunross (Harlequin). She did an excellent job and they are fantastic stories.

  11. Lane McFarland

    Wonderful post! I was fortunate to be able to go to Scotland last October. It was a fantastic trip. I love a bit of the accent in books. :0)

  12. Barbara Monajem

    And the winner is: Tiffany! Tiffany, I will contact you via email re how to claim your prizes. Thanks for the comments and advice, everyone. 🙂