My Heart’s in the Highlands Author Amy Hoff discusses the challenges and joys of writing a romance novel set in Scotland
Most of the world has a particular expectation of a Scottish man; muscular, kilt-wearing, long-haired, sword-wielding.
However, the world does not really have any kind of stereotype when it comes to Scottish women.
In fact, much of Scottish Highland romance involves a Scottish man and a woman from somewhere else. Not all do, of course. But a lot.
Highland Scotland is often othered as a masculine kind of place where modern-day people can play out their fantasies, even though the actual realities of life in Highland Scotland in the past did not resemble said fantasies much, if at all.
However, Scottish women have helped to make Scotland what it is today, and their impact has often been conveniently swept under the rug. Highland Scotland is often othered as a masculine kind of place where modern-day people can play out their fantasies, even though the actual realities of life in Highland Scotland in the past did not resemble said fantasies much, if at all.
One of the most egregious errors in said romanticisation of Scotland is all but erasing Scottish women from the popular conception of Scottish history and culture.
Women in Scottish history
Despite what popular representations would lead you to believe, Scottish women can be clan chiefs and chieftains, and this has always been the case. Some notable historical figures include Christina of the Isles, chief of Clann Ruaidhrí, without whose assistance Robert the Bruce would not have been able to fight in the Wars of Independence. There’s also the pious chief Amie of Garmoran, one of Bruce’s many antagonists. They are only two of many women that made their mark in Scottish history.
Even today, many Scottish clans have female chiefs and chieftains. In fact, Scottish women did not historically take the last names of their husbands, and especially so in the case of female chiefs.
No part of Scotland is less Scottish than another, but the romantic popular view focuses on the Highlands.
The other aspect of romanticising Scotland involves only a certain time period and only one location within the country. Scotland is divided into three parts: the Highlands and Islands, the Central Belt, and the Lowlands (also called the Southern Uplands). No part of Scotland is less Scottish than another, but the romantic popular view focuses on the Highlands. Reducing Scotland to the Highlands is a trope that has endured for a long time; when the tartan craze swept Britain back in the Victorian period, people were celebrating the romance of Scottish Highland culture while actual Scottish Highlanders were starving.
Likewise, people never seem to understand that Scotland exists right now, and that there have been many exciting time periods throughout the nation’s long history.
One of the most fascinating–and least explored in fiction–is the Scottish Enlightenment. Scotland offered the world a great deal in innovation and invention, textiles and design. Scots had a hand in many of our modern conveniences, and indeed in our favorite stories. During the Scottish Enlightenment, we saw Scotland give the world the raincoat, the pneumatic tyre, penicillin, television, the telephone, and more.
Scotland’s dedication to intellectual pursuits led to the rise of women who also wanted education in the sciences. Sophia Jex-Blake’s newspaper advertisement asking for women who wished to study medicine resulted in the famous Edinburgh Seven, the first female medical students in the history of the United Kingdom.
Connecting with Scotland intellectually and personally
When I attended the University of Glasgow, I studied Scottish history, culture, literature, and folklore in the shadow of the ancient university spires. I was later to teach Scottish folklore in one of those same university towers, much to my delight. The contributions of Scottish women to every aspect of Scottish society were apparent everywhere I went, and in all my endeavours.
I produced a documentary short, The Angel of Govan, about the woman who built The Pearce Institute, a local gathering place in one of Glasgow’s most impoverished neighborhoods. I also had an office there, and we filmed much of our later supernatural feature film, Burns Night, in and around its environs.
When I set out to write My Heart’s in the Highlands, I’d initially just wanted to write a Scottish Highland romance with a lesbian love story at its centre. However, I realised that centering the story on Scottish historical women in general was also something I could do.
So, I chose two eras I didn’t often see replicated in popular culture about Scotland: first, the era of the Lords of the Isles, and second, the result of the Scottish Enlightenment, as Sophia Jex-Blake and her contemporaries dealt with life after university in Edinburgh. I also wanted to write about the city of Edinburgh itself, as life in the Central Belt is just as Scottish as life in the furthest-flung reaches of the Highlands and Islands. Writing about Islay was an easy choice, since I had already lived there and been a part of the daily life on that island, where the great MacDonalds once ruled by sea and by land.
What began as an interesting exercise in writing my first Scottish Highland romance resulted in a story about the vastly different lives of two Scottish women separated by centuries, and how the two of them were able to overcome the odds and find happiness together despite the differences each generation had instilled in them.
Scotland, as a wise man once said (it was Connor MacLeod on Highlander), will always be Scotland. Highland or Lowland, Central Belt or Borders, no matter the time period or the place, from the lowest Glasgow alleyway to the top of the Old Man of Storr, every Scottish experience is just as Scottish as any other.
The romance of Scotland is in its variety, and in how everyone Scottish, of all genders, has had a hand in its design.