Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Wednesday, 27 January 2016

IN CELEBRATION OF BURNS WEEK, WE'RE DELIGHTED TO INVITE AS OUR GUEST ROSEMARY GEMMELL, AUTHOR OF 'THE HIGHLAND LASS', WHO KINDLY ANSWERED OUR QUESTIONS -Welcome, Rosemary.



Rosemary Gemmell is a published historical and contemporary novelist for adults (as Romy) and also writes for the Middle Grade/tween age group (as Ros). Her short stories, articles and occasional poems have been published in UK magazines, in the US, and online and several stories have won awards. Her new novel, The Highland Lass, was released by Crooked Cat Publishing in 2015 and was recently a Number #1 bestseller on Amazon UK.


Thank you so much for inviting me on to your lovely blog – I’m delighted and honoured to be here!

Gill asked: ‘Where did you get the idea from for this story?

The historical part of this story idea had been in my head for a very long time, even before I knew it would eventually become a novel! When I was a child, my mother and I took a Sunday afternoon walk through the large Greenock cemetery to put flowers on my paternal grandparents’ graves. It’s a very old, winding, hilly place and provided much scope for an imaginative girl. We always stopped at Highland Mary’s big dark gravestone and my mother told me she was connected to Robert Burns. Since I then won two Burns certificates for recitation at primary school, this rather neglected gravestone caught my interest and I became fascinated with this Mary Campbell, wondering why she was buried in Greenock.

Over the intervening years, when I started writing in earnest, I kept thinking about Highland Mary and her romantic story. It wasn’t until I researched her for an article I had published in the US magazine, The Highlander, some years ago that I wondered if I could develop the basic details for fiction. Since there are few definite facts about her relationship with Robert Burns, I read everything I could with a view to using my imagination and finding her voice. After many years (while I wrote other types of fiction!) I knew I had to do something about this compelling idea that would not go away. However, I didn’t think Highland Mary’s story would sustain a whole novel, and setting it completely in the past would entail even more research. I also didn’t want the novel to be about Burns himself, apart from his relationship with Mary, so I decided to write a dual-time novel allowing me to ‘speak’ in Mary’s own fictionalised voice in the 18th century. The link between present and past is a contemporary story of family secrets involving a book of poems by Robert Burns, and a modern ancestress of Highland Mary’s branch of the Campbells.

Jennie asked: ‘I see you describe The Highland Lass as the book of your heart. Can you tell us why?’

Even while I was writing those other short stories and novels, I knew that The Highland Lass would be different. Not only because it is more women’s fiction than romance and it is the only one so far that has a dual timeline, but it also means so much to me because of its setting and Highland Mary’s connection to my own childhood. As an imaginative child, I looked upon her grave on almost a weekly basis and by the time I stopped going to the cemetery so often, it was as if I had to write about her. I was pretty sure not many local people even knew her grave was there, or where to find it (which has proved true), although more has been made of it in recent years. I’ve never felt that same compulsion to write about anyone before yet I kept putting it off. Perhaps it was partly the worry of not doing the story justice, or because of it being of such local interest and the fact there are so many Burns fans around the world, but I knew that, for me, this probably would be the most important novel I would ever tackle. 

Linda asked: ‘You must be thrilled that your daughter is now also a novelist - has she always been interested in writing or do you think it’s because of your influence that she has taken it up?’

I am indeed thrilled that Victoria has now achieved her long-held dream of being a published novelist! She has been writing since about five or six and was always making up stories. She 
started going to the SAW Conference with me in her late teens and since then she’s had many shorter pieces published, but her main aim was always to be a novelist.

I think she would confirm that seeing me writing and eventually being published with short stories and articles, showed her that writing was something she could do too and I certainly encouraged her. She was (and is) a prolific reader so writing her own stories seemed completely natural to her and she went straight to novel length. The head teacher in her last couple of years of primary school was a great influence too as she recognised Victoria’s love of reading and her creativity and told her it was possible to be a writer. You can imagine our huge pleasure when Mrs Fraser came to Victoria’s book launch and told her how proud she was!

Audrey/Neil asked : ‘Chapters in The Highland Lass open with quotes from Burns. Do you have a favourite poem or quote you’d like to share?’

I love so much of Burns poetry and find he gets straight to the heart of everything, with huge insight into human nature. It was a pleasure trying to find a couple of verses from different poems to loosely illustrate the content of the modern chapters of the novel. One of my favourites is Ae Fond Kiss, especially as a song, and no matter which of his ladies he wrote it for, to me it really encapsulates the sweet sorrow of his parting from Mary Campbell. These few lines from the second verse really appeal to my romantic nature!

Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met-or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Rae asked: ‘How important was the setting of 'The Highland Lass?’

The setting was hugely important in this novel, more than in anything else I’ve written. Most of it takes place in the area of Inverclyde on the west coast of Scotland where I grew up, went to school and was married. All my siblings stayed in the area and I have great memories of visiting my granny and grandpa in one of the streets I mention in the story. Greenock and Gourock are quite unique, being at the ‘tail of the bank’ as it’s called, with some of the best scenery you will find by the River Clyde. Yet it was also one of the great industrial areas, with its now mainly silent shipyards and faded memories of the important sugar factories, amongst other industries. It is this mix of scenic beauty and industry that has always made it interesting and it was such a pleasure to write about the area I know best in the world.


One of the other significant areas is Dunoon, Argyllshire, on the other side of the river where the American navy had its base during the 1960s and 70s. As well as being where Mary Campbell was born, Dunoon was also where my modern heroine’s mother used to go dancing, which adds another thread to the story. And of course, Ayrshire is the third significant setting in both the contemporary and eighteenth century strands of the novel, since that was where Highland Mary met Robert Burns and where they eventually parted. It was a pleasure visiting all the locations in the novel again and it gave me a more authentic feel for the past as some small villages in Ayrshire have hardly changed, including one of the inns where Burns and his cronies used to sit and drink! But Greenock itself is where Mary Campbell’s journey ended when she came to visit her brother, and from where she intended to sail away to the Indies with Burns. How could I resist telling her story!

Now Rosemary would love to answer your questions too!

The Highland Lass - Blurb

Eilidh Campbell returns to her Scottish roots from America with one main aim: to discover the identity of her real father. But her mother’s past in Inverclyde is a mystery with family secrets, a book of Robert Burns’ poems with a hidden letter and a photograph link to the Holy Loch at Dunoon when the American Navy were in residence.

Staying with her childhood friend, Kirsty, while searching for answers, Eilidh begins to fall in love with handsome Scot Lewis Grant, but just how free is he? Together they trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns, with its echoes to her mother’s story. In short alternate chapters, Highland Mary tells her own story from 1785-6. From Dunoon, to Ayrshire and culminating in Greenock, Eilidh finds the past is closer than she realises.


Website: http://www.rosemarygemmell.com

33 comments:

  1. What a lovely interview. I really enjoyed it. Such a talented family too. Wishing you both much success and congrats on a #1 on Amazon. What a thrill.

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    1. Thanks so much, Jane - it's lovely having a daughter who writes too!

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  2. So interesting to hear the background of your story. Good luck with it, Rosemary.

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  3. Thanks so much for featuring me on your lovely blog today, everyone!

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  4. With that degree of your personal passion being put into it, no wonder it's doing so well, Rosemary. Lovely to hear the background to it.

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  5. Thank you, Bill - I think that's what's made the difference with this novel!

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  6. Great information, thanks so much for sharing a glimpse!

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    1. And thank you very much for commenting, Christy!

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  7. Rosemary, I can sense how important the book is to you. Wonderful to find something that really does seem to be written from the heart. :)

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer - I think that's why it took me so long to finish and submit this one!

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  8. It's always great to read an interview with Rosemary. I loved Highland Lass, and since we used to live in Gourock it was like a trip down memory lane to revisit these locations in the novel.
    Thank you both.

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  9. Thanks so much for that, Rena! It's great that you know the area so well.

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  10. This book sounds wonderful and I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  11. Interesting interview. It seems the locations helped inspire the story.

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    1. Thanks, Patsy. Yes, the locations were so essential to the storyline and helped a lot!

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  12. Your love of Highland Mary's story shines through, Rosemary - and so cleverly woven with the contemporary plot-line in 'The Highland Lass.' So glad you shared it with us.

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    1. Many thanks, Rae - I'm so pleased to be given this opportunity!

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  13. Oh Rosemary, I wonder if wandering in graveyards is part of the apprenticeship of a writer? It's something I do a lot of, too. So pleased your novel is doing so very well. Long may that continue, anne stenhouse

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  14. Thanks a lot for your kind comment, Anne!

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  15. Very interesting blog post Rosemary. Pleased for you that your novel is doing so well.

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  16. A lovely interview! Thank you for sharing your journey with us Rosemary. Wishing you continued success!

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    1. Thanks so much for getting here, Nicola!

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  17. Lovely to hear your answers Rosemary :). An yes, I have to agree with Anne, I think wandering graveyards is very much a writer's stock in trade.

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    1. Thank you, Gill - and this was a very large, unusual gravestone!

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  18. Oh my goodness, what a really interesting post. So pleased you could join us, Rosemary, and thank you.

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  19. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Linda - I've really enjoyed being here!

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  20. Lovely interview, Rosemary. I really enjoyed the Highland Lass!

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    1. Thank you, Marie - that's very kind of you!

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  21. Really interesting read. Thank you.

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  22. Many thanks for commenting, Angela!

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