Sunday, 15 May 2016

Writer on the Move - Linda Zupancic goes to Scotland ...

Linda Zupancic resides in Canada but recently had to get on a plane for the sake of the Skynner Chronicles:

Linda, how did Skynner Chronicles evolve?
My historical fiction novel was born from a labour of love for my Scottish Nana in 2013. What do you give someone who is turning 100 years old? Since I loved history and researching, I chose to research her married name ‘Skinnerʼ, creating an album with photo’s and information for her gift. The history of the name was intriguing, taking me to Denmark, England and Scotland. 
In Scotland the ʻSkinnerʼ name is considered a sept of the infamous MacGregor Clan,and officially listed as an ʻaliasʼ name for ‘MacGregor’ during the proscription of their name. (In 1603 it was illegal to use the name MacGregor). I was hooked! Skynner Chronicles is set in 1603 until 1715 ish.

Why go to Scotland?
I have been researching and writing for periods of time within the last 4 years. Since my family characters are fictionally woven throughout the history of Scotland, it made sense that I should walk the land and experience Scotland. My father agreed and invested generously in the trip. My husband Rene agreed to take on the challenge, armed with camera equipment and the courage to drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK. We booked our  tickets for two weeks, via Edmonton, via Iceland (we must stop in Iceland on our next trip).

What kind of preparations did you make?
I had 5 months to prepare for this adventure.
*making the plan to visit all the places in my story & more
*arranging the connections with people ahead of time
*adjusting the plan to new idea’s, or developments
*getting the personal details in order to leave a business
*making sure Jordie dachshund was cared for
*finding an affordable automatic car rental
*weather considerations for our wardrobe choices
*technology-what to take, what would work, wifi etc.
*leaving wiggle room for the unexpected things/people
*rest-not planning anything for the day after we arrived

What were your first impressions of Scotland?
Yikes, how do we get out of Glasgow! We opted out of the car rental GPS as it was very costly.
The rental lady gave us directions but it was like ‘greek’ to us, so armed with a paper map we headed  out of the airport. My husband was glued to the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and his eyes on the road, as I navigated our course. I suggested that we take the long scenic route to our cottage, which avoided going through the heart of Glasgow. It was a good choice. A few wrong turns and we ended up on the right highway leading out of the city....wheww! Aside from the NARROW roads with no shoulders and the rock walls that lined the country roads, we started relaxing somewhat. It took about 3 days for me to stop saying, ‘move over, you are too close to the edge’. My husband had the experience of driving in Tijuana Mexico and Guatemala, so he was up for this challenge. Next time we will rent an Austin Mini.

Where did you stay in Scotland and why?
Our base of operation was Little Briar Cottage on Loch Earn, located in the “Heart of Scotland”, Perthshire.
*most of the places we visited were located more or less an hour away (one weekend trip to the islands)
*our hosts Kim & Fraser live in an original thatched cottage that oozes the history of crofting farmers.
*the land beneath the cottages was originally owned by the MacGregor Clan before it was appropriated.
*due to our Canadian dollar being of low value in the  UK, booking a self-catering cottage for an extended time was prudent, also enabling us to eat out less frequently.

What are some of the things you did in relation to your novel ʻSkynner Chroniclesʼ?
 *We were on the hunt for a longhorn black Kye (cow), as black was the original colour of the Kyloes that came from the islands, later other colours became prominent. I had prearranged a farm visit toʻBarkers Highland Beefʼ (Hilary and Bernard) in Callander. What a treat, they hooked me up with a metal comb and a kye who was having a bad hair day. Hilary was also an artist, so I purchased some of her cow art (which included the elusive ‘black kye’).

*A steamship tour (S.S. Sir Walter Scott) on Loch Katrine in search of the ‘island refuge’ that is featured in my story. What a thrill to see it for real! I was also looking for the Goblin Caves across from the island but a landslide had covered them up. Interestingly the staff didn’t know about the caves at all, I had found them while researching a travel guide from 1899. Finally they located someone who knew about the caves and the landslide that hid them from view.
*Castle Eilean Donan, rated the most romantic castle in Scotland, has a large part in my story. I knew that you couldn’t photograph the interior of the castle, so I was thrilled to find a huge outdoor courtyard where they allowed photography. Such a BONUS for my purposes.

*a quick trip to the Islands of Skye, Harris & Lewis also known as the Hebrides. This was the most impactful part of the trip, the rugged beauty of the land, the hospitality and warmth of the people. It was hard to leave after our 3 nights.
*Rob Roy (remember the movie?) was a MacGregor so we visited his gravesite at Balquidder Kirk,

we climbed to a viewpoint that overlooked the whole valley surrounding Balquidder. Perthshire is ‘Rob Roy Country’, so he also showed up at Loch Katrine, Killin, and Comrie at the ‘Cattle Drover’s Exhibit’. Another feature in Perthshire is the ‘Rob Roy Wayʼ, the old cattle droving trail that has been re-purposed as a hiking route.

What are some eclectic points about your trip?
*tried Haggis two different ways, and liked it!
*loved the people, they were very warm and generous with their time and shortbread!
*we felt at home with the mountains all around us
*we had to adjust to the very slow pace of service in the restaurants, they all were quite casual
*we accidentally found a free castle ruin that was so much fun to walk through and photograph
*we visited Doune castle where Monty Python and Highlander was filmed, the audio-tour was great
*we dropped off some trackable geo-cache tags along the way, and found some treasure caches too!
*Scotland is very dog friendly, they are welcome in most accommodations, pubs and even some restaurants
*every single time I tried to get into the car, it was the wrong side

So, was it worth the time and money to go to Scotland?
Absolutely, it was part of moving forward towards my goals, by investing time, money and energy into discovering the land from ʻwhence I cameʼ.  Discovering the similarities and the differences to my own country brought new perspectives and a kinship, making the story come alive in a new way for me. Now begins the process of extracting what I have absorbed like a sponge, we covered a lot of ground in two weeks. Yet two weeks was long enough for that part, perhaps a week just chilling out after would have been the ticket. But I am a content sponge!

“We cannot live fully without the treasury our
ancestors left to us.” Quote: George MacKay Brown

Thank you, Linda, for sharing your experience with us.
For more about Linda and the Skynner Chronicles, 
visit her Facebook Page
or her Website
and find her on Twitter and on Instagram


  1. Lovely blog, great pics. Thanks.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Barbara - I love the way Linda gave a sepia tint to all her photos :)

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  3. Great post! Great author, great person! Looking forward to the Skynner Chronicles!