Since my novel ‘Clan’ was published in 2008, it has been on a remarkable journey, a journey I could not have anticipated when I first sat down to write it.
It had its genesis in my family history. A story that started with my father giving me a copy of ‘The Steel Bonnets’ by the greatly missed George MacDonald Fraser, which first introduced me to my heritage in the Borders of Scotland, to ‘Border Reivers’ and to my own much loved Elliot Clan. I have, of course, read many other books since, but his was the catalyst. That was over 30 years ago. My father died in 1978.
The more I learned about my ancestry, the more remarkable it seemed, as legends of Scottish history, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and my favourite villain (I’m sure much maligned and unfairly singled out by me for literary purposes), William de Soulis.
Was he really locked up in Dumbarton prison for life for conspiring against The Bruce? Or was he truly boiled in lead on ‘Nine Stane Rig’? And what of his evil familiar ‘Robin Red Cap’, the benignly named but vile little creature who has managed to keep a number of my readers awake at night, wondering if that tapping at the window is really the wind or Robin seeking to ‘blood his cap’!
But always there, brooding in the background and calling me to visit whenever I am in the Borders, is Hermitage Castle, the ‘Strength of Liddesdale’. It is said that it has sunk 6 feet into the ground from ‘the weight of the iniquity bearing down on it’ and it guarded the entrance to what was once known as ‘the bloodiest valley in Britain’. Hermitage is the picture that always I see first in my mind’s eye, whenever I think of ‘Clan’.
‘Clan’ has put me in touch with friends and family all over the world, with readers in 15 countries - at least that I know of. It has become an audio book, has been translated into German and is finding a great new audience over there; it seems the Germans love Scotland!
Above all, though, it has given me the opportunity to make friends all over the World, wherever Scottish blood, however diluted, flows in the veins of men and women. I have made friends and found family.
It would be iniquitous to mention anyone by name. By naming one and not another I insult people who are deeply important to me, but take it from me, everyone who has ever connected either personally or through ‘Clan’, you are friend or family.
But I’m sure you will forgive me if I do single out one person, a very special person: our Clan Chief Madam Margaret Eliott of Redheugh. Before ‘Clan’ was published, I forwarded a copy to her and spent a very worrying time waiting to hear her thoughts. I’m not sure what would have happened had she hated it – but fortunately it seems she didn’t, and her comments now proudly grace the cover of the book.
So there we are, 15 countries, from Scotland to Australia, the USA to Brazil, Canada to New Zealand, Germany to Israel - ‘Clan’ has travelled.
I am proud to say, courtesy of our Chief, it sits in ‘The Elliot Clan Museum’. It also is available in the Liddesdale Heritage Centre and Hawick Museum in the borders.
But there has always been one place it has never been: The one place which is its spiritual home, the one place above all others it should be, and that is at Hermitage Castle itself.
But that is about to change.
The guardians of Scottish heritage, ‘Historic Scotland’ have decided that ‘Clan’ deserves a place within Hermitage itself and they will be making it available for sale to visitors to the Castle.
I couldn’t be prouder. When I first opened my copy of ‘The Steel Bonnets’ and started a remarkable journey of discovery, it would have been sheer fantasy for me to consider that one day it might be on a shelf at Hermitage alongside it!
‘Clan’ is finally home.