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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 April 2010

Welcome back BLYTHE GIFFORD!

BLYTHE GIFFORD is the author of five medieval romances, known for their “superb” mixture of history and romance. She specializes in characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. With HIS BORDER BRIDE, she crosses the border and sets a story in Scotland for the first time, where the rules of chivalry don’t always apply.

Here’s a brief description:

Royal Rogue: He is the bastard son of an English prince and a Scotswoman. A rebel without a country, he has darkness in his soul.



Innocent Lady: Daughter of a Scottish border lord, she can recite the laws of chivalry, and knows this man has broken every one. But she’s gripped by desire for him—could he be the one to unleash the dangerous urges she’s hidden until now?

Welcome Blythe! HIS BORDER BRIDE is your fifth book set in the fourteenth century, but the first you’ve set in Scotland. What caused you to cross the border?

A combination of creative and marketing reasons. Confession time: Scotland has never captured my imagination the way it does for so many, yet I know it is an auto-buy for many readers. Reason enough for an author to think seriously about a Scots story, but I refused to choose a setting strictly for mercenary reasons. But my hero in my last book, IN The MASTER’S BED, was from the Borders of northern England. As I learned his history, I became increasingly intrigued by this “third country,” where the Scots on one side of the line and the “Inglis” on the other had more in common with each other than either did with the rest of their countrymen. This was a Scotland that called to me, so I followed the muse across the border.

What sparked this specific story? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

I wanted to write a real “bad boy” hero. Since all my books have featured a character born on the wrong side of the [English] royal blanket, I wanted him to be the son of a really hated member of the royal family. I discovered that John of Eltham, a younger brother of Edward III, spent several months commanding the English troops in a Scottish invasion. He was rumored to have burned a church filled with people who had sought sanctuary there. I thought his son would be well and truly hated on the Scots side of the border, so that was my hero’s origin.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Was it an easy transition?

Yes to the research. Not at all to the easy! It was much more difficult than I anticipated. Not the dates and places, but to learn the Scots mindset. I compare it to learning to write left-handed. I’m a life-long Anglophile, so I was very comfortable with that world view. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I got into the story and had to learn the “back story,” if you will, of a whole country! During this period, and for several hundred years to follow, Scotland was more closely allied with France than with England. That made a difference in their court, their culture, their law – and that’s not to mention the Celtic echoes. I’m very grateful to the “Write Scottish Romance” yahoo group of writers who walked me through so much of it.
So how do you feel about Scotland now? Did you learn to love it?

Actually, yes, I did. The Scots, particularly on the Border, are a stubborn, independent, hard-headed, ornery, freedom loving lot. My kind of folks! In fact, my next book will be set on the Scottish border, too.

What do you like least about this period?

I’m very familiar with the 14th century by now, so again it was the location, not the era that challenged me. In my last few books, I’d incorporated various trappings of educated royalty: art, music, dance, university studies. Life was rough on the Scots Borders. Art and “culture” were scarce. But that actually lead me to some character development, as my heroine longed for the kind of culture and comfort that she would find, she thought, by marrying a French knight. (Not the hero!)

Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I had no idea how pervasive falconry was until I started studying it. Falconry, or hawking, is the sport of hunting with trained birds of prey. Its origins are ancient and despite having written four medieval romances, I had not realized that between the 12th and the 17th centuries, virtually every noble and even some non-noblemen would have hunted as a matter of course.
The sport and the birds became a strong theme in the book, symbolic both of her emotional state and of the developing relationship. And while I began by feeling quite clever for using it as a simile for the love story, I quickly discovered I was not the first to think of it. Much of the art of the period uses the falcon in just this contest. Several centuries later, Shakespeare, in “The Taming of the Shrew” uses the falconer/falcon analogy for Petruchio and Kate’s battle of wills. My story is not a “taming of the shrew” premise, but it made me feel better to know I had chosen a metaphor that indeed applied to love, as well as sport.

Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

The life cycle of the falcon! Because it was such a thematic arc for the story, I had to know when falcons mated, how long it took for the eggs to hatch, when the chicks first flew and how they were trained to hunt with humans---that cycle set the framework for the story. (The illustration of hawking here dates from the same era as my story.)

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

Somehow, my idea of Scotland included sprinkling nay and nae randomly throughout the text. (Well, not randomly. I thought I knew what I was doing.) But when the copy editor questioned my usage and my editor pointed out the confusion, I had an eleventh hour fire drill to go through the manuscript and correct or change my various and inconsistent usage. (Please don’t email to tell me I missed one!)

Thanks for being with us.

Thanks for having me back. I’d love to hear comments on the appeal of Scotland and what it represents to writers and readers. Any thoughts?

HIS BORDER BRIDE is a May release from the Harlequin Historical line. Blythe loves to have visitors at www.blythegifford.com or www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford.
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2010

14 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Hope you're having fun at RT! Sorry this is up late today. Stupid blogger and my provider were not playing nicely last night. *sigh*

5:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks so much for visiting us, Blythe! The book sounds wonderful--a fascinating combination of real and historical events. Have you read the Lymond Chronicles? They range all over 16th century Europe but are grounded in the Borders. I wrote a couple of historical romances set in the Borders myself, though in the early 19th century. As to the appeal of Scotland--to me, with a name like Grant, it has an obvious appeal to me personally :-) (though I have English, Welsh, German, Ukrainian, and Czech ancestors to name but a few. But I think perhaps the fact that Scotland was less settled makes it easier to set more adventurous stories there. And yet at the same time Edinburgh is a wonderful center of culture and learning that's also fun to explore. And having driven over a good portion for Scotland I think mile for mile it's the most beautiful country I've ever seen.

8:44 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

I wouldn't say books set in Scotland are auto buys, but they are the closest thing to it for me. The ruggedness of the country and the people are what appeal to me. It was/is a culture rich in family/clan pride as well as pride in their unique cultural traditions. They fought hard to keep their culture from being destroyed by the English. They had to take it underground for a while, but managed to save most of it.
This book sounds like a good one and I'll be looking for it.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Virginia Gal said...

I think you are right, there are many books out there set in historical Scotland and like you, I prefer England, than all the clan stuff from Scotland. I like your notion of a hero from the wrong side of the cultural sphere or social hierarchy. I can't wait to get my hands on this book!

11:18 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Welcome back, Blythe! I am tremendously impressed that to write this book you had to send yourself back to school, so to speak, and research another land and culture -- all within the confines of meeting your pub. deadline.

I've had a lifelong fascination with falconry, too (well, ever since we studied the Middle Ages in 5th grad) -- yet another reason to grab your book.

Best of luck with the new release!

4:55 AM  
Blogger Blythe Gifford said...

Writing from RT! Tracy, I've heard about the Lymond chronicles. Must put them (and your book!) on my list. I'm staying in the Scotland for my next book and was amazed to discover "skyscrapers" in Edinburgh! Thanks for your thoughts, LibraryPat. I did really grow to love the photos of the Borders that graced my computer. Beautiful, but stark, country. Hi, VirginiaGal. I do think my hero's return to Scotland as an outsider helped me find a point of entry to understand it. LeslieCarroll, every time I change time periods or locations, I do hit a moment when I ask myself: Why did I think this was a good idea???? Fortunately, it passes.
Thanks to all for the warm welcome. Nice to be back.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Hmmm, Scotland. The hero of my next book is Scottish (a lowlander) and the story centers aroud a lost treasure sent to support Bonnie Prince Charlie's bid for the throne (a REAL lost treasure!). I've had loads of fun with it.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Debra St. John said...

I do love those bad boys!

7:39 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

This book sounds great! I can't wait to read it!

8:45 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I love Scotland and really enjoyed the few weeks I spent there. Just bought His Border Bride and can't wait to read it!! LOVE your books!

6:29 PM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

I love a good 14th century Scottish romance! Thanks for visiting, Blythe and good luck with sales!

9:40 PM  
Blogger Blythe Gifford said...

Thanks to all for your wonderful enthusiasm. I got some VERY good news over the weekend. My last book, IN THE MASTER'S BED, has been nominated for a Readers Crown in Short Historical. I'm over the moon! Great timing because it happened at RT so there were lots of people I could share with!

12:53 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Congrats, Blythe! That's wonderful!!!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Oh, what wonderful news!!!

5:07 PM  

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