Who's next on my North of the Border guest blog series? Today we have Sheila Currie, author of The Banshee of Castle Muirn!
Where does Sheila get her inspiration? How is Canada part of her inspiration? Read on and see...
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My father was in the RCAF and we were transferred a great deal, and I went to ten schools in twelve years. When it took time to make friends in a new town, I read books--fairy tales when I was younger and historical novels when older. In school I learned about British and Canadian history. But there seemed to be no connection between that history, and Scotland which my family had left in the early nineteenth century. I had an opportunity to learn more when my father was based in Europe.
A Very Ordinary Family
We are a very ordinary family, but my ancestors were different. They spoke Gaelic and they wore clothing which was very distinctive—the kilt. How did that happen? I was determined to find out. I sought out histories of Scotland from the library, but there wasn’t much about kilt-wearing Gaels. My father found a book called The Clans and Tartans of Scotland by Robert Bains at the base exchange and another book, Kilts et Tartans by Christian Hesketh ‘on the economy’, that is, in Metz, France. We were living in France at the time and that book was in French! I found a little book, The Scottish Highlands by W. R. Kermack which gave me some idea of the history of the clans. We visited Scotland for the first time when I was about sixteen, and I picked up a Gaelic grammar book in a second-hand shop in Edinburgh. I studied these books on my own.
The Volkswagen Van in Europe
When my grandfather heard that I was interested in Gaelic and Scottish history, he offered to help with expenses. So off I went to study at the University of Glasgow. Fortunately courses on the history of the Highlands were offered at the time. I loved learning what I could about Gaelic Scotland, and collected a few more books along the way. Loved learning. Didn’t love exams.
Glasgow University Graduation
Sheila Currie is my pen name. I chose Sheila because my mother was going to give me that name at birth, but there were too many babies called Sheila at that time. So I was named Sharron. My mother’s family has the same name as a dynasty of Gaelic poets who wrote poems in praise of Clan Campbell; we like to think we are descended from them.
Currie is the name of another dynasty of poets who composed poetry to honour Clan Donald. Poets went on journeys to compose poetry praising the chiefs of the Highlands and Islands and of Gaelic Ireland. Imagine--you could make a living from poetry! In the Middle Ages the Curries were reputed to be the best poets in the Gàidhealtachd (Highlands). Frequently the poets could often speak, read and write four or more languages and it was they who tutored the children of the chiefs and their gentlemen. The best were expected to learn hundreds of stories, legends and myths. They also kept the histories and records of genealogy for reference in their poems.
The professional poets were brought low by the Statutes of Iona in 1609 which forbade land-owning chiefs from supporting Gaelic poets and tradition bearers of any kind. In the1830s a Currie man recited something like 20 generations of his genealogy to members of the Gaelic Society of London. His forbears were the were poets; they were the aos-dàna, the learned men of the Middle Ages, yet he was completely illiterate. But literacy in Gaelic did not die out completely. Literate Canadian Gaels, such as MacLean Sinclair, published books and periodicals in Gaelic.
In certain regions of eastern Canada the traditions of the Scottish Gaels were also passed on orally. People used to go from township to township to sing songs and tell stories of Fionn, Deirdre, witches and fairies. Some of their lore has been collected and published. Lots of inspiration for a novel or two.
I have lived on the west coast of Canada for many years, but continue to visit the east coast and Scotland. To maintain my language skills I’ve taught Gaelic and joined Gaelic choirs here in BC. Beautiful music! And I still collect books on all things Celtic.
Victoria Gaelic Choir
The Banshee of Castle Muirn is about a ban-sìth, a fairy woman. The best families of Scotland and Ireland 'deserved' a banshee to warn them of a death to come. A good thing because people had the time to prepare a proper funeral. But the banshee was feared because of her power to see the future. Not to mention her ability to 'push' and send nasty folk flying. Those of you who remember fairy stories from your childhood will know that iron keeps the fairies away. In my novel the banshee is weakened by iron, and, the more she uses her powers, the more iron will weaken her and make her ill.
The banshee was often believed to be an ancestor of the family for whom she lamented. But in my story an old banshee lives among strangers, the Campbells, and she is searching for an apprentice as she is getting too old for the job. She wants the heroine to take over her duties, but her apprentice-to-be wants a normal life with a loving husband and children. She learns she is expected to marry a man brutalised by the wars on the European continent. A man of Clan Donald, her clan’s traditional enemy, could help her. She has a decision to make: become a banshee to rid herself of her unwanted suitor or accept the help of the MacDonald. But she is much attracted to him. Perhaps the decision will not be so difficult.
You can find The Banshee of Castle Muirn on Amazon US, UK, Canada and Australia.
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Sheila Currie lives in her world of thousands of books, fiction and non-fiction. Visiting friends worry about an avalanche. Her love of Scotland and Ireland led her to study in Nova Scotia, Canada and then in Scotland where she obtained an M.A. in Scottish History and Celtic Studies from Glasgow University. She was fortunate enough to have a summer job selling Gaelic books door to door in the West Highlands and Islands. She went from one cup of tea to the next--a wonderful opportunity to talk to local people and hear their stories. She teaches history and Gaelic at home in British Columbia, and finally she has written a historical fantasy--set in Scotland of course.
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/Sheila-Currie/e/B07KDJZCYZ
~ All pictures (except for the 1st) are supplied by today’s guest with their assurance of usage rights