Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Margaret Mallory Talks About Researching Her Latest Scottish Romance

*All photos are the property
of the author, Margaret Mallory
Welcome back to History Undressed, guest author, Margaret Mallory! Today she's here giving us an inside view of the research behind her latest Scottish romance, THE WARRIOR, which has been met with rave reviews! Enjoy!

To research THE WARRIOR, I poured over books and articles, as I usually do. But the two things I did that made the biggest difference for my story was making some four-legged friends and listening to a song.

When I realized that I’d written five books without a single dog—not counting the brief appearance of that unpleasant one on Queen Margaret Tudor’s lap—I decided to include one in THE WARRIOR. Most breeds we know today did not exist in early 16th century Scotland, so I didn’t have many choices. Some variation of terrier was probably on the Isle of Skye in 1516, but a terrier didn’t seem like quite the right dog to pair with Duncan MacDonald, the most alpha of my alpha warriors.

I’d nearly settled on the Scottish Deerhound, a graceful hunter, when I came across its larger cousin, the Irish Wolfhound. According to the American Kennel Club, the wolfhound has a “commanding presence,” is “remarkable in combining power and swiftness,” and is “muscular, strong though gracefully built.” While fierce enough to fight wolves, this dog is also loyal, steadfast, and oh-so-handsome.

Laugh, but the more I read about the wolfhound, the more this dog seemed just like my hero. How fortuitous that my heroine is in Ireland in chapter 1. Clearly, this dog was meant to be in my book. I named him Sàr, a Gaelic word for warrior.

Because I’d never met a wolfhound, a friend took me to visit a woman in town who owns three. I fell in love instantly. These dogs were everything I’d read about and more. The second time I visited, one of the dogs had 12-week-old puppies. Research should always be this fun!

The owner assured me that these gentle giants could take down wolves and shared this expression that is used to describe them:  Gentle When Stoked, Fierce When Provoked.

That’s how I found a dog for my book. Now, for the musical research.

Through constant training, determination, and natural talent, Duncan MacDonald has become the most fearsome warrior in his clan and captain of his chieftain’s guard. Early on, I decided that such a tough hero needed an unexpected trait to add another dimension to his personality and reveal his heart. So I made this hardened warrior musical.

In the first two books of the series, Duncan showed this talent mostly by playing sad tunes on the six-hole whistle--a precursor of the tin or penny whistle—that he carries attached to a leather thong around his neck. I confess that in THE GUARDIAN I made a mistake—gasp!—by making his whistle metal. I’ve learned since that this would be extremely unlikely, so Duncan’s whistle is now made of bone.

Despite my gross error, Duncan’s whistle seemed to work, judging from the extremely positive reader mail I received about him. I was a wee bit worried, however, about handling Duncan’s musical talent when he took center stage in his own book. Clearly, Duncan would need more than a whistle. And I, alas, am utterly lacking in musical talent.

Regardless, I forged ahead and made my warrior one of those truly gifted musicians who can play almost any instrument he picks up. From his mother, he learned to play the harp. The harp was the Celtic instrument for centuries and was still played after the pipes became the symbolic instrument of the Highlands. I can’t tell you when the pipes became important, but it was probably sometime during the 1500’s that every chieftain worthy of the name had to have a piper.

A number of people in a Highland castle might know how to strum on a harp, to varying degrees, but having my hero play the pipes, even a little, seemed risky. As best I can tell, it was around the time of my books that piping families emerged, and their members spent years and years learning their craft.

The MacCrimmons were the most renowned of the piping families. To help his musical ability seem more credible, I gave Duncan a MacCrimmon piper as his maternal grandfather. (In my book, the MacCrimmons have started their famous piping school on Skye, but that probably happened later.) The MacCrimmons served as the hereditary pipers for my hero’s enemy clan, the MacLeods, which added intrigue to my plot.
I already had Duncan playing three instruments. I had no plans to make him a singer.

That changed the day I happened to listen to the words to the traditional song, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair. The description of the woman could have been written for Moira, my heroine, and the longing of the song reflected Duncan’s feelings for her perfectly. When I heard it, I knew Duncan not only had to sing, but that he had to sing this particular song if it was historically possible.

Fortunately, it was. I discovered that the song is from Appalachia, but it’s believed to have originated in Scotland. I listened to this beautiful, emotional song countless times, weeping over my laptop while writing poignant scenes in THE WARRIOR.

The second song I listened to endlessly for inspiration while writing this book was Gerard Butler singing Galway Girl, from the movie P.S. I Love You. I know Galway is in Ireland and the song isn’t nearly old enough, but Gerard helped me envision an alpha-warrior Scot who is even sexier and more manly when he sings.

I’d love to respond to questions or comments!  Tell me if you like the idea of a dog as a character or what kind of music you listen to for inspiration—or anything else. I’ll give away a signed copy of THE WARRIOR to one of the commenters.


“4 ½ Stars! Top Pick!” RT Book Reviews

“THE WARRIOR is heartbreaking, filled with tension, breathtaking passion and nonstop adventure...A perfect romance…Superb storytelling!” 5 Blue Ribbons, Romance Junkies


Four fearless warriors return to the Highlands to claim their lands and legacies. But all their trials on the battlefield can't prepare them for their greatest challenge yet: winning the hearts of four willful Scottish beauties.


From the Isle of Skye to the battlefields of France, Duncan MacDonald has never escaped the memory of the true love he left behind. Deemed unworthy of a chieftain's daughter, Duncan abandoned the lovely Moira to prove his worth in battle. Now, when called upon to rescue her from a rival clan, one thing is certain: Moira's pull on his heart is stronger than ever.

Bartered away in marriage to a violent man, Moira will do anything to ensure she and her son survive. When a rugged warrior arrives to save her, the desperate beauty thinks her prayers have been answered-until she realizes it's Duncan. The man who once broke her heart is now her only hope. Moira vows never again to give herself—or reveal her secrets—to the fierce warrior, but as they race across the sea, danger and desire draw them ever closer.

Visit Margaret at her Website for links to read the book and an excerpt!


LilMissMolly said...

Your book sounds wonderful and exactly the type of book I enjoy reading. I like dogs as characters as long as they are not lap dogs. Those little creatures are just annoying.

Congrats on The Warrior's release!

Margaret Mallory said...

First of all, I want to thank Eliza for having me as a guest today. She does such a great job with this blog--I love it.

Thanks for the congrats, LilMissMolly!


Laurie Ryan said...

I am loving Sar and his part in this story (I'm about halfway through the book). He seems the perfect companion. Smart and protective.
As for Duncan's softer side (music), I'm enjoying that, too. It feels natural in the story. I haven't heard Gerard Butler sing. Didn't know he could. So I'll have to go check that out.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Fascinating post, Margaret! I love dogs as characters but I haven't had the courage to tackle one yet other than mentioning dogs were present. I do have a horse character in my last book which I enjoyed creating. I love animals! And I think musical ability is a wonderful trait for a hero to have! I look forward to reading about him. I'm still reading The Guardian and enjoying it very much!

Sandra said...

I'm such a history-geek. I love research. Thanks for sharing!

Sarah said...

I have always been a huge fan of yours and love to hear how you go about researching and preparing for your books.

I love the dogs and and like it when animals are added into the story. These dogs are very pretty in person and big!

As for music, I have a few CD's I like to listent to when I write. I love Celtic music!

Can't wait to read your newest book!

Margaret Mallory said...

Thanks for stopping by, & I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

The owner of my wolfhound friends came to my release signing Tues and bought books for a few of her friends with wolfhounds. The funny part was that she had me sign them to the people & their dogs. LOL!

cheryl c said...

I am really enjoying your Return of the Highlanders series. I like knowing some background to the story, and the pictures of the real sites are particulary fascinating.

Dogs can make interesting characters in a story. They frequently show another side to a human character's personality.

I can't wait to read this next book!

Lana Williams said...

Love the addition of the dog to the story! I think it can be such a great way to show the reader more about the character, especially when the dog has such a personality as well! Thanks for sharing!

Margaret Mallory said...

Thank you for the kind comments about my books. :)
I see we have more animal lovers. My knights were bonded to their horses, of course. I will have to figure out how to work a cat into a future book.

Celia Hayes said...

How wonderful - about the wolfhounds! I have the heroine in my latest be accompanied by a pair of them! She is an English lady and daughter of one of the 19th century enthusiastic breeders of wolfhounds. Her father gives her a pair as a wedding present, when she goes to marry a Texas cattle baron in 1876 ... and to follow him on the cattle trail with her dogs. They are such lovely and historical dogs!

Eliza Knight said...

And the winner is... Lana Williams!

Thanks so much to Margaret for visiting and to all of our commenters for participating!

Margaret Mallory said...

Thanks again for all the comments, & thanks to Eliza for letting me visit. Congrats to Lana!