Some Notes and Queries. . .
8 April 2019
7 April 2019
January 9th 2018 – Jane Davis’s Virtual Book Club: Elizabeth Gates introduces The Wolf of Dalriada
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth Gates to Virtual Book Club, my interview series which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their novels to your book club. Between reading English Language & Literature at Bedford College, University of London, and acquiring an MA in Linguistics at the University of Essex, Elizabeth explored Europe as a teacher of English and Creative Writing. Later she worked as a freelance journalist – published for over twenty-five years, in national, regional and local magazines and newspapers, specialising in Public Health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder in the armed forces and suicide among our farmers and the health of foreign seamen trapped on ships held in British ports. Elizabeth’s return to fiction has resulted in The Wolf of Dalriada Stories. Her debut novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, was published in 2016 and the second in the series, Staining the Soul, has come out in 2020. A third and a fourth novel are already in the planning stage. Apart from writing, history and travel, she loves family, friends and labradors.
Q: Have you always felt driven to write or was there a particular trigger? Writing is like breathing, for me. It’s not just a love of language. It’s a way of life, a way of viewing things – so much so that, growing up, I was surprised to find that other people didn’t want to write. When I discovered this, for a while I stopped saying I wanted to write. To say you wanted to be a writer at that time was almost like coming out at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was a shaming secret. I then met other writers and felt less of a freak. So yes, I’ve always been driven to write.
Q: ‘Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home.’ – Paul Theroux. Well? Did You? I did eventually – although I did write my first novel (about the Napoleonic Greek wars) instead of working for my Science ‘O’-levels. My mother supported me in that she gave my manuscript to the GP to read. His verdict: ‘She’s not mad. Just very, very creative!’ Not sure where that leaves me with relation to your question.
Q: What was your first recognition/success as an author? On the 10th December 1985, I was contacted by a local theatre which wanted to put on a play I’d written about Judge Jefferys and, that very same day, an editor rang to say she wanted to publish an article I’d written on Dyslexia. Because life had become economically challenging at that point, I had to go with journalism – which I did for twenty-five years. However, nothing is wasted and my experience of writing about a 17th Century lawyer stood me in good stead for my return to historical fiction, decades later. It is 1793… As Europe watches the French Revolution’s bloody progress, uneasy Scottish landowners struggle to secure their wealth and power. And, in Dalriada – the ancient Kingdom of Scotland – fractured truths, torn loyalties and bloody atrocities are rife. Can anyone ride the maelstrom of these dangerous times? Only, it seems, Malcolm Craig Lowrie – the legendary Wolf of Dalriada. In remote Argyll, people cry out to the young laird for protection against the evil of the Clearances. And there is also a beautiful Frenchwoman – staked as a child on the turn of a card – now living in thrall to her debauched captor, Sir William Robinson. But can the Wolf of Dalriada safeguard his people? Can the Wolf defeat enemies who, like the spirit of Argyll’s Corryvrecken Whirlpool, threaten to engulf them all?
Q: Which brings me very neatly to your novel, The Wolf of Dalriada. The 18th Century seems ripe for picking, but what is it that fascinates you about that era? !n 1793, the year in which The Wolf of Dalriadais set, the civilised world of Europe was awash with new ideas of social justice and social management. Some of these were good, and some bad, but old ideas – also some good and some bad – were hard to eradicate. In the midst of this kind of maelstrom, as ever, most people want to achieve ordinary human ambitions such as falling in love and living happily ever after. After all, even if you are bringing about the death of kings, you still need lunch. But everything at the time and in those places – post-Jacobite Scotland and Revolutionary Paris – was changing. All the old certainties were being challenged. Unthought of earlier, for instance, people were now choosing marrying for romantic reasons – not just for political alliance or commercial gain or personal aggrandisement – and the social consequences of this were tremendous. And there are of course so many stories to be told here. I also find it fascinating the way human beings can work simultaneously with both basic impulses and grand ideas. The Wolf of Dalriada, for example, is a ‘modern man’ in 18th Century terms but he also represents the old Highland ways. There is also the suspicion that he may be one of the Celtic/Gaelic immortals. Certainly this is how he is seen by his clan. And the heroine, Adelaide de Fontenoy, brought up at Versailles, has to embrace disgrace and poverty and yet survive. The question is: can she? People of any era are endlessly complex and fascinating but I think that the people of the 18th Century were at times tested to destruction. A lesson for us all.
Q: One of the interesting things about writing historical fiction is that the reader has the benefit of hindsight, while the characters in the book do not. How do you use this to your advantage in The Wolf of Dalriada? Given the complexity of the times, Characters have to second-guess the future – either to make sure they are on the winning side or to make a stand, while fearing the worst but hoping for the best. This lack of knowledge of what is certain, coupled with what the reader cannot help but know about history, ramps up suspense.
Q: Verbal anachronisms have been spotted in Downton Abbey and in Ripper Street. There’s always a difficulty of striking a balance between getting the ‘feel’ of the language of the era right and borrowing directly from the language of the day. How do you go about this? Modern readers have been immersed for decades in period language and their passive knowledge – even if they don’t deploy the words and phrases – will surprise them. However, if only an 18th Scottish Gaelic word or French phrase will do – for information, setting or characterisation – then I feel context should make its meaning clear. If I use a word or phrase which seems anachronistic or too modern, during the edit, I use the Oxford University Press Dictionary to establish its origins and when it entered the language. (Some are surprisingly long-established.) And, if the word or phrase turns out to be inappropriate, I use a thesaurus to find any useful synonyms. Q: The key trick in writing historical fiction is transporting readers to another time and place without overloading them with historical information. So how much detail is too much? Whether it’s in the body of the prose or dialogue, the so-called information dump stands out like a sore thumb. It’s better by far to drip feed contextual details throughout a scene. I favour Hemingway’s view that research should be like an iceberg, only 10% visible. I always research to ensure accuracy but I don’t include everything I’ve learned because I’m not writing an historical academic essay. And I always bear in mind I’m building a world through this information to tell a story.
Q: Do you have a technique for keeping track of your fictional canvas and timeline? Writing about characters’ lives against a known historical timeline brings its own subtleties. For example, in The Wolf of Dalriada, the significance of the execution of Marie Antoinette ripples outwards to embrace the Scottish Highlands weeks after the event. But, although she doesn’t know or understand why, the heroine is unable to escape the highlands and take a French ship because of a breakdown in French society which is already happening. In order to keep track of these causes and effects in both the characters’ fictional lives and the historic context of place and time I use the simplest of tools: a spreadsheet.
Q: I wonder, did you write about an event from the past that you felt was particularly relevant to the here and now? Or did you perhaps chose to write about an event that has since taken on relevance? By 1793 – the period of The Wolf of Dalriada– Highland society had been largely re-organised in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Pockets of resistance to the new wealth- and status-seeking aristocracy and bourgeoisie still existed but on the whole, the people most affected were disempowered. As one metaphor for this – illustrating clear parallels with today’s society’s changing values – the story of The Wolf of Dalriadaexplores what female characters must be prepared to do to find their path through life. Even today, when they have little control over societal change, people with virtually no voice have to rise to this sort of challenge! And, with varying success, they do. Q: How has writing about history changed your perspective about history? I am impressed more and more by how little people’s hopes have changed and how similar their responses and solutions to their problems are. This I feel is the great gift of historical study: that it offers lessons from which we can learn how to handle our current concerns.
One comment 1. Thank you so much for such an interesting experience, Jane. Incidentally, if there are any book club leaders out there who are thinking of adopting ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’, there is a list of suggested Book Club questions on my website. Comment by Elizabeth Gateson January 10, 2018 at 12:34 pm
HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY (On-line)
A review by Catherine Kullmann
The Wolf of Dalriada
BY ELIZABETH GATES
Confused by the frequent changes of location, date and point of view, it took some time for me to come to grips with this episodic novel of derring-do and villainy set in Western Scotland in 1793.
Amid echoes of Culloden and Glencoe, the Highland clearances are underway in Argyll. Powerful men and schemers, both Scottish and English, jockey for position and control in Dalriada where Malcolm Craig Lowrie must fend off overt and subtle attacks as he strives to protect his people, preserve his lands and defend his honour. When fate brings his cousin’s bride, Emma, into the orbit of the mysterious Lady Robinson, a new sequence of events begins that will change everything.
Gates steers the reader through her intricate plot with a steady hand. She describes a society that is more feudal than modern, where might is right and the rule of law—any law—has a tenuous hold at best; an impression that is reinforced by reports from France of the beginning of the reign of terror and the execution of the queen. The scene-setting is excellent, whether of an uneasy midsummer’s ball, a daring ride or a sleazy, quayside inn, and the characters are well-drawn and well-defined. As the villains’ nets tighten around their quarries, we never lose hope that our hero will manage to foil their plots and gain his lady.
Sara Beatty (Reviewer) has just reviewed The Wolf of Dalriada.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a long over due review. I’ve had this book for like 3 months now, and it has got to get checked off my to do list.
Generally I’m am never so unsure of a book as I am with this one. It was really good, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that it was my type of book persay. I selected to review this book because I am a fan of some of the things it features. Like history and politics. That being said I wasn’t let down. The writing was amazing, the character development and the setting were as well.
I really do believe that Gates did a great job here with The Wolf of Dalriada. I also think that it’s not the book’s fault I wasn’t thrilled entirely with it. I read this completely when I was going through a rough patch, and that may or may not have to do with my feelings towards it. My feelings being sort of neutral in this case.
I’m going to give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was brilliantly written just not for me at the time.
A 4* Discovering Diamonds Review of THE WOLF OF DALRIADA by Elizabeth Gates
Amazon UK £8.99
Amazon US $5
Amazon CA n/a
Family Drama / Adventure
France / Scotland
“It is 1793… As Europe watches the French Revolution’s bloody progress, uneasy Scottish landowners struggle to secure their wealth and power. And, in Dalriada – the ancient Kingdom of Scotland – fractured truths, torn loyalties and bloody atrocities are rife. Can anyone ride the maelstrom of these dangerous times? Only, it seems, Malcolm Craig Lowrie – the legendary Wolf of Dalriada.
In remote Argyll, people cry out to the young laird for protection against the evil of the Clearances. And there is also a beautiful Frenchwoman – staked as a child on the turn of a card – now living in thrall to her debauched captor, Sir William Robinson. But can the Wolf of Dalriada safeguard his people? Can the Wolf defeat enemies who, like the spirit of Argyll’s Corryvrecken Whirlpool, threaten to engulf them all?”
Part political intrigue, part romance, part mysticism, this debut novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, explores the upheaval of the period of the French Revolution and it is refreshing to see life in this era from the different perspective of Scotland rather than the more usual London/Paris Scarlet Pimpernel-type romantic adventure.
Perhaps a little clichéd in places with the baddies being bad and the goodies being good, and the occasional stumble with the flow of the writing where intrigue is key over action, but some of the scenery and ‘backdrop’ to the story is very nicely described so lovers of Scotland will appreciate this aspect. There could be some polishing to this debut novel, but the author has talent and a good technical editor could help bring out that talent to make Ms Gates an author to definitely watch in the future.
An entertaining tale.
© Ellen Hill
‘The Wolf of Dalriada’ by Elizabeth Gates
Published by Matador,
28 November 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-785899904 (PB)
This romantic historical adventure, in a genre stretching back to writers such as John Buchan, Margaret Irvine, and Sir Walter Scott, is set in Argyllshire on the west coast of Scotland in the late eighteenth century at a time when the French Revolution was causing turmoil throughout Europe. It begins, however, some years before with a chance meeting between Malcolm Craig Lowrie, a young clan chief, then in exile, and the beautiful child Adele (or Adelaide) de Fontenoy at the court of the French queen Marie Antoinette. She befriends him; he never forgets her nor she him, although they do not meet again for 10 years. By that time she has been living with the elderly and corrupt English lawyer, Sir William Robinson, to whom Adele’s equally corrupt father had sold her in exchange for a gambling debt when she was a child. Since then, he has kept Adele in virtual isolation in his grand mansion in Argyllshire, Robinson Hall, apart from her priest, Father John Macdonald. She has so far violently repulsed Robinson’s advances. Now there is an unexpected visitor: Lady Emma Bamburgh who is fleeing from Malcolm Craig Lowrie whom she believes has murdered his cousin James Craig Lowrie whom she was about to marry. Emma, believing that Malcolm will murder her next, seeks refuge with Robinson who is an old friend of her father’s, the Earl of Bamburgh. Malcolm, ten years after his fateful encounter with Adele, is still a wanted man but is determined to protect his clansmen from the oppression of the Duke of Argyll, chief of the mighty Clan Campbell with whom Robinson is anxious to form a relationship profitable to himself. Malcolm’s ruthless vengeance for his people’s wrongs has earned him the name of The Wolf of Dalriada. Meanwhile the French Revolution has broken out and Adele fears that her father and her sister Gabrielle are in deadly danger. Will Malcolm and Adele find each other and fulfil their love? Will Robinson’s plans to marry Adele and to earn the favour of the Duke come to fruition? And what will happen to the Lady Emma?
Dalriada was a real kingdom in the first millennium AD which at its height ruled over much of the West Highlands and a portion of what is now Northern Ireland. Although it had come to an end by about 800 AD, no doubt the name lingered in legend in Argyll for centuries. The author uses it as a starting point for this, her first novel, which is a stirring historical romance which she tackles with immense gusto and a truly imaginative recreation of the period and the location.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.