Hello, my friends, and welcome.
Today I want to introduce to you one amazing author from Alaska: Cherime MacFarlane. I have discovered Cherime lurking on facebook, and read one of her books. It was full of local color, and you know me – I’m a sucker for real-life-inspired stories. Recently, I’ve bought another of her books, The Twisted Laird, and that is what drove me to write this post. Listen carefully: That book is amazing!
I’ve written a review, of course, but I’ve also twisted Cherime’s arm and sat her down for a chat. Here’s what she has to say.
Q & A with Cherime MacFarlane
I was surprised at the amount of detail in The Twisted Laird. All the strands of the story – the family life, relationships and customs, even the way of thinking and the speech – everything weaves together beautifully into a fascinating book. How did you manage to research all these and get it so right, being so far away from the actual setting? It seems an enormous amount of work for just one book.
I have been storing the information in my mind for years. I have been blessed with a nearly photographic memory and if I don’t recall something exactly, I know where to go to find the answer.
My father was part American Indian, Scots and Swede. But, the MacGregor part was always at the fore. All his life he refused to eat Campbell soup because of the connection between the MacGregors and the Campbells.
Then along came Allan MacFarlane. We were friends before anything else as he was married to a young woman who once babysat my kids. She came to visit and brought Allan and her daughter with her. He was a very well mannered, nice young man, six years younger than me.
Those two separated and she left Alaska. Allan stayed. My own marriage was falling apart due to my ex’s problems with alcohol. I finally determined some woman was going to realize what a catch Allan was and took steps to make sure that didn’t happen.
Allan’s mechanic shop was across the street from the newspaper which we ran. I told my ex it was over, walked across the street and told Allan I was all his. Now, what was he going to do with me? He figured out the answer fairly quickly.
He had immigrated to Canada with his family at a young age and did not get as much of his history as he wanted. Allan did not leave Scotland willingly. He put up a horrid fuss about it. So we researched together.
The two of us travelled to Scotland several times. I met his relatives while there. I listened and learned. I seem to have a gift for being able to put myself into other people’s skins, no matter the time period.
As an interesting side note to the research, a Patrick MacFarlane in the 1800 put together a comprehensive dictionary of Scots to English and English to Scots which is online in Google. I used it extensively.
Why the MacGroughs? Why not the MacFarlanes? What is so special to you about the Highlands?
Why the MacGroughs? Because I wanted a small clan, caught between the larger entities of the time. Being in that situation would lead to a tighter knit, more closely aligned group of people. Why not the MacFarlanes? Their history is too well known, too documented. Why the Highlands? That is Allan speaking through me. He was in love with them and hated leaving Scotland. If not for the children, he would have talked me into staying. But our children, his and mine, needed us. He was a wonderful father and step-father.
I’m reading Highland Light – thank you for gifting it to me, by the way – and find the same pull to keep reading. I seriously have no wish to do my work because the story is far more important to me. It takes a lot of imagination to build up a relationship between people who might have existed hundreds of years ago, giving them thoughts and emotions, and a certain way of looking at life. How much of it is guesswork, and how much is based on fact?
When you read old documents you get a feel for the times. The old stories carry a feel for the way people were. I have always listened to elders’ talk. Living in the French Quarter in New Orleans as a child, I was the one who hid in the shadows when the old folk were talking. I wanted to know what they did. I was a sneak and a half, often hiding under the furniture in the Old Colonial Antique store owned by my grandfather, and eavesdropped. Much of the old ways are ingrained inside me.
History and I are not best friends, but that is only because I hate learning text-book strings of facts and figures, with no logic or explanation. Showing historical events through the eyes of fictional (or real) characters is a genius way to entice a reader to satisfy their thirst for knowledge without coming across as a lecturing know-it-all. How did you settle on this method? Did you always plan it as a fiction novel, or rather a series of novels?
I told my children stories of how things were. I knew how to keep their interest and the same method works for most people. There are some who do not appreciate the detail I put in about how people lived in those times, but I know others do. It is a fine line to walk between enough and too much. I told the story as I would to my children.
Funny thing about this series. It actually started with the book about Hamish MacGrough, the heavy metal keyboard player for the band Bushmaster set in 1988. The basis for that story began as an exercise in payback. My son was playing with a guy, bass actually, doing a gig about 200 miles away. The lead guitar player and singer had an alcohol-fuelled meltdown and tried to trash on my son, in the middle twenties at the time.
When my son came home, Sean, Allan and I sat around one evening over a few beers and figured out how to murder the guy. Wired For Sound was born. I fleshed it out and the first draft was written in the late 1980s.
I saw the first scene in Highland Light. I either dreamed it or it was a vision, not quite sure which. Then I went for it and it just flowed out onto the page. I understand both Gideon and Ailene quite well. No, the characters do not talk to me in my head, but I often dream scenes and have to rise and get it all down while the vision is still fresh.
You’re obviously passionate about the events that took place in the 1700s, but passion doesn’t come without a strong emotion. What made you so interested in the Knights Templar and their possible retreat to Scotland, of all places?
The Knights Templar were an amazing group of men. All seasoned warriors, those who joined the order were usually widowers with sons or other male relations ready to take over the estates they left. They swore a vow of chastity and were the protectors of the faithful making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
They were the very first international bankers and the order was quite wealthy. One could deposit funds in any temple, get a chit and cash it in at any other temple and get your funds.
When Phillip the Fair of France decided to bring them down, he convinced a very weak pope to order them branded as heretics and for immoral actions. The pope controlled most of the western, catholic world at the time. The Swiss might have balked at a mass burning of people at the stake, but perhaps not. On the other hand, Robert The Bruce has already been excommunicated by the pope. But the bishops in Scotland stood with The Bruce and eventually he was brought back into the fold on a limited basis.
At the time I set the story Highland Light, there was no communication between the pope and the house of Bruce. There is also speculation regarding Rosslyn Chapel which I have known of for quite some time, which hints at a Templar connection. The Da Vinci Code made a bit of use of that as well.
And some have speculated as to a connection between Freemasonary and the Templars. It is all a wonderful puzzle to speculate on. There are mysteries out there which will never be solved.
Tell me more about this series. Are there any more books I should be looking out for?
The series starts with Highland Light then, a bit confusingly, jumps to a descendant of Gideon and Ailene, Hamish MacGough in Wired For Sound. Hamish’s adventures and the growth of his family and marriage are documented in North By Northeast, Rhythm And Blues and Family Knots. In those books more of his children’s paranormal abilities come to light. In The Templar’s Treasure, set in 2014, Hamish and his wife, Lori, celebrate their 28 year anniversary and all hell breaks loose. But, there is an anniversary present which turns up that leads a daughter in law to some discoveries and ultimately to Edan Campbell MacGrough who lived in 1746.
The paranormal connection is not something I just stuck in to appeal to a wider audience. My mother made spare change as a young girl reading tea leaves. What she didn’t tell people was that she could read them when she took their hands. She could hold something belonging to another person and tell you all about them.
Some of that, but in a different form, came to me, but skipped my sister entirely. I’m not sure, but think it has gone into the next generation in another manner which I will not go into here.
Besides the MacGroughs, I know you’ve written other books set in Alaska. I read one of them, and loved the genuine feel of the locations, characters and culture in general. What compels you to write about atypical situations and little-known nations or communities – unconventional, unpredictable, non-mainstream stories, so to speak?
I have lived in the Copper Basin, we hauled water and used an outhouse. It was interesting learning about the people and how they coped. Also, I have a mix in my DNA of other cultures and I enjoy learning how other people think and react to different situations.
In every generation you have those who are fairly sure they should have been born into a different time. What those people really possess is a pioneer spirit. It is the same spirit which caused the first man to explore. It is more than finding new sources of food, it is a great need to know. What really does lie on the other side of the hill?
It is a drive which cannot be tamped down or dismissed. It is a hunger, and there will always be those who feel the pull in their blood. I know them and understand their kind, being one myself. It is the reason Allan and I travelled as much as we could afford on a very limited budget. It is the reason I travel as often as I can now. I need to see what lies over the next ridge.
What an amazing woman! Don’t you agree? Let me show you the books I’m talking about. If you’re interested in the events surrounding Scotland of the 1700s, you will love them.
The story of the MacGrough clan begins in “Highland Light”.
Not pretty, Ailene knows her suitors only want the glen. She refuses them all. Her father knows she must have a husband, a laird for the small clan. The 18 Knights Templar who secretly negotiate with Robert Bruce must quietly marry into the clans loyal to him. Among the Knights is Gideon. A ward of the Master, barely a man, the warrior knows nothing else. He is as unprepared as she is ready.
Ailene has seen the young man she wants. She will have him and no other. Gideon has honored the vows of chastity. He has no knowledge of women. He and Ailene must learn together.
But Gideon owes his new King service. No matter how much he wishes to stay with his wife, he has a duty. Scotland is fighting for its life against England. At the same time, Gideon’s new home is locked in a vicious internal struggle for power. Enemies are everywhere. The clan is in danger from all sides. The small bedroom they share is the only place where the young couple can find peace.
Edan Campbell MacGrough is the only MacGrough male to return home from Culloden. They must leave their beloved glen. His half-brother sent him home to care for the women and children who are left. Daracha is happy to see her man return, but others are not so fortunate. He must hide behind his infirmity, a thing he detests. How will they survive in Glasgow? Aili Lara, wife of Birk MacGrough has seen Edan’s story by paranormal means and is telling the tale to the MacGrough’s of 2015.
Let me tell you first about The Twisted Laird, as that is the first book (in this series) I read.
The story begins with the aftermath of the battle of Culloden. Every male from the clan MacGrough went to stand by their King’s side, knowing full well they would not survive the massacre. The laird, whose responsibilities stretched further than present events, ensured the survival of his clan by ingenious means. I will not reveal what he did – suffice it to say it was very effective. From then on, a battle for survival ensues.
The only survivor and new laird, Edan, steers his people through the mire of dangers and prejudice rife at the time, and while their lives are not easy, the incredibly strong bond between these people enables them to prosper and move forward.
The author employs a great deal of Scottish vernacular in dialogue, in an attempt to give a better flavor of the time and place, and in this, she succeeded. At first, I resisted having what to me is an odd accent slow me down, but soon I settled into the rhythm of the characters’ speech, and loved my time there. I found I needed to get back to the book as soon as I could make time in my busy schedule. I missed reading about the MacGroughs whenever I was doing something else.
There is an enormous amount of detail in this book. I’m sure it’s taken days and even weeks of research, and for that I am grateful. I loved being immersed into the clan, and the atmosphere, and as soon I as I was finished with the book, I contacted the author and asked if there were any more. That is the sign of a good book. I loved that world, and I hated to have to leave it. I wanted back in.
And Cherime gifted me the first book in the series, Highland Light, because she is such an amazing person!
Despite the fact that I have read these books out of sequence, I feel the same pull to stay in the story, stay with the MacGroughs. Again, I love the characters, love the storyline, love the detailed descriptions – from customs to the work ethos, from cooking to the methods employed for building walls. These are not mere characters to me. They’re family. And I love them all.
The detail, vernacular, descriptions and reactions are all so perfectly woven, I hate having to turn the pages. I know I will finish reading this book in minutes, and I dread the end. There is no way I can give these books less than 5 stars. I wholeheartedly recommend them.
Although born in New Orleans, I am proud to call myself an Alaskan. I have lived here since 1977. I have seen -40 degrees, hauled water, made bear bacon and I live in a cabin. I have used a fishwheel to catch salmon coming up the Copper River. I was my second husband’s chief mechanic’s helper and roadie. I have cut firewood on shares. I worked as a cocktail waitress during pipeline days in a small lodge on the Richardson Highway.
My second husband, a Scot from Glasgow, was the love of my life. When I write Scots dialect, I personally experienced hearing it from my in laws. When my husband got on the phone to Scotland, after 5 seconds I could barely understand a word.
We moved to Wasilla to get warm. It barely drops past -25 degrees here in the winter. I became a paralegal and worked for over 26 years for the same firm.
Alaska is my home. I never thought I would love it so much, I never want to leave. The beauty of Alaska is a draw I cannot resist. I love the people and the history. I have been captured by a place I came to under duress. Life does play some interesting tricks on one. My love and I were not apart more than 24 hours for 20 plus years. I never wanted to be anywhere but with him. He was a man to run the river with and was my biggest fan. You can find me on FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cherime-MacFarlane/234948983315392. I also blog at cherimemacfarlane.wordpress.com.