Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How I Learned to Love Scotland by Author Jen McConnel

Photo by Jen McConnel

I'm feeling a bit Scotland-obsessed these days. Maybe it's the cold weather making me long for a cozy pub and a pint. But whenever the nights grow long, I dream of far-off places of mystery and magic. I'm very excited to introduce you to an author who writes magical stories set in Scotland. I picked up Jen McConnel's debut novel, The Burning of Isobel Key, over the holidays and really enjoyed it. The historical sections of the book were particularly well-written and I found myself worrying about Isobel throughout the day and looking forward to picking up the story each night to see what would happen. But what really came through for me was the author's love for Scotland and the richness of the setting throughout the book. I asked Jen to write a post about why she loves Scotland and decided to set her stories there and was pretty surprised by her answer!

How I Learned to Love Scotland by Jen McConnel

I have a terrible confession to make.

When I traveled to Scotland in 2007, I hated it. The rain dampened my spirits, and the chilly winter winds made me realize I'd packed rather poorly. I was a bit of a grump for much of the trip, and I really wish I could have a do-over!

The sun shone only for one day out of my two-week trip, and at the time, I didn't realize what a magical day that was. But once I was home and looking over my pictures, I realized just how magical Scotland is. That one sunny day was while I was on the Isle of Skye, and the Fey magic of the island seeped into my skin without me noticing it. On Skye, there are giants who fell asleep and turned to stone, a stream that bestows fairy beauty on those brave enough to submerse their faces in it, (guilty of trying!"), and villages and farms straight out of another century. It's a place where it's easy to believe that all legends have a bit of truth to them.

It was a combination of that one beautiful day and the legends that filled my trip that inspired me to write The Burning of Isobel Key. The book revolves around a seventeenth century woman accused of witchcraft, and Scotland certainly had its fair share of bizarre witch cases. While I was there, I learned that although the Scottish burning times started a bit later than the rest of Europe (the first major witch craze, the Berwick trials, didn't happen until the 1590's.), people continued to be tried for witchcraft into the eighteenth century. For a land that's filled with magic, that's a pretty unforgiving legacy. The stories I heard while I was on that wet vacation took root in my mind, as did the overwhelming beauty of the Scottish highlands and coast. In 2009, I sat down at my computer and started to weave a novel based on my experience in Scotland and my deep fascination with the burning times. Although I conducted most of my research after the fact, the time I spent in the venerable old town of St. Andrews informed the setting of my novel, and I drew on my own travel experiences to tell the story of a pair of American friends traveling through Scotland in the winter. Like me, the main character, Lou, didn't know what to expect when her journey began, and like me, she found herself falling under the spell that Scotland casts.

So the next time you find yourself cranky because of the weather, look around you: I bet the rain and the clouds are hiding something magical!


What about you? Have you ever traveled to a place that you didn't fall in love with until after you left?

Find out more about Jen McConnel on her website. The Burning of Isobel Key is available now on Amazon. And look for the novella sequel, The Key Inheritance, on January 15th!