The Haunted Castles of Scotland

What is it about castles, especially the ancient castles of the British Isles? I love them, and so, it seems, do many of you. Here’s my guess as to why they are fascinating: they’re big and elaborate; they’re old and so have plenty of interesting history; and many of them are apparently haunted.castle

As I researched haunted Scottish castles I discovered a couple of interesting things. First, many (many) are haunted by someone described as a “Green Lady” (“Gray Ladies” are also a presence, but many more green – maybe for reasons I’ll come to.) Second, many are also associated with children. Naturally, both of these bear on THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

At Ethie Castle, near Arbroath, guests have heard the cries of a child at night, accompanied by the sound of a wheeled toy being pulled across the floor. The Green Lady of Dunstaffnage teases and plays with the living children of the castle. After a female skeleton was unearthed behind a wall in Fyvie, a Green Lady began to haunt the castle; she might be the late Dame Lillian Drummond, who was starved to death in 1601 by her husband (nice guy.) At Crathes Castle near Aberdeen, a Green Lady often appears near one of the fireplaces. She picks up an infant, and then they vanish together.

Sometimes Green Ladies are thought to be Gruagach, who are common household spirits often associated with children, and not associated with anything evil. The typical Gruagach is a brownie, the household helper said to inhabit every home (read more about them here.)

Green Lady ghosts are only seen in parts of the United Kingdom, and nowhere else. They are described as slender young women in flowing green gowns with long golden hair. In some cases, they appear as protectors by local farmers, who cite stories of Green Ladies herding their animals to safety during storms or border raids. Many times they are associated with water. Legend has it that a Green Lady will arrive at a croft dripping wet during a storm and ask to be admitted, and when they are admitted they become the protector of that croft. The Dunstaffnage Green Lady and the Green Lady of Fyvie have also been thought to be Glaistig – a being that could be benign or a vengeful ghost. Glaistigs also have a water association.Dunrobin Castle

The water association of these spirits is not surprising given Scotland’s many lochs, rivers, burns, and rills, the frequent rains, and the ocean on all sides. I wonder whether the green in Green Lady is a reference to water, and maybe also to the watery aspect of a ghost.

I’ve experienced a couple of haunted moments myself – one when many years ago I visited southern England and stayed in a hotel that was once a small castle in Devonshire, and was associated with my mother’s family. My mother and I shared a room and were convinced we were visited during the night. Perhaps it was a Green Lady, for she was very benign, and was visiting a mother and her child – maybe even her distant relatives!

Have you ever had any ghostly experiences, or visited any haunted castles?

Answers to Secrets: Hidden Passages

Cassidy asked this question:

If Kat’s dream about her hand was real, is the secret passage next to the fireplace in her room real?

I love the book! Your book moved to FIRST place! I am thankful that you wrote this book and my mom is now reading it because I thought it was GREAT.

Hi Cassidy!

Thank you SO much for loving my book and for sharing it with your mom. I hope she likes it, too.

Yes, the secret passages are all real. If you ever visit a castle in Scotland or England, you may find hidden passages are quite common. Usually they were used for the maids to get around quickly. Or sometimes they were used to hide in times of danger.

But in Rookskill, I believe there are many more passages there than the norm. Somewhere in the castle’s history, someone needed many hidden passages.

Maybe I should write about that – what do you think?

Answers to Secrets: Kat and the Magister

I have a question about Kat and the magister:

From Lyn

Sequel?

Our heroine is so clever. She knows her hand is from the magister. Why doesn’t she make the connection between the Lady and magister?

My daughter and I both love your book. Thank you for your work!

Hi Lyn!

Thanks so much for your note! I am working on a sequel, and hoping that my publisher will say yes soon.

That’s a great question about Kat and the magister. Of course, when he “fixes” her hand, she’s not really consciously aware, and forgets the incident soon after (that’s part of the spell). So I imagine that she can’t make the connection because the magister is not really on her mind.

However…since you asked about a sequel…I will be bringing the magister back and Kat will definitely come to know him. And I won’t spoil the fun for you.

Thanks so much again and so happy you both love the book!

Answer to Secrets: Peter and Kat

My first question, about the relationship between Peter and Kat in THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

From Hannah:

My question is, 

Is Peter afraid of Kat too much to be her friend? It says in the book, that Peter thought she was scary (well that her hand was) but still I would like to know if they still like each other :0) 
-Thanks for taking the time to read this!

I love the book. I read all the time so sometimes I can be picky about the books I read, but this one is amazing!! I love how you manage to combine WORLD WAR 2 with black magic. And I like how a group of kids come together to defeat the enemy, I just love teamwork! I like how the end leaves you expecting another adventure. I’m trying to get my family to read this book!

Hi Hannah!

Thank you so much for you thoughts – I’m so happy you liked the book so much! I loved combining the war with the magic, too.

Peter really likes Kat, and will always be her friend. And if there’s another book (I’m hoping), they will become even better friends. But Kat does have flaws, and I think it’s an important part of friendship to learn how to accept others despite their flaws. I think there will be more about that in their future. I’m betting there are lots of adventures ahead for the two of them together.

I hope this answers your question, and that everyone in your family enjoys the book, too!

Inside Plato’s Cave

Plato

Plato

In The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Kat and her fellow students at the Rookskill Castle Children’s Academy in the fictional burg of Craig on the coast of Scotland are taught by instructors brought in by the Lady of the manor. Their English instructor, Miss Gumble, has them study the Allegory of Plato’s Cave. This instruction turns out to be a lifesaver. (How? I’ll let you discover that.)

What is the allegory?

Plato founded his famous Academy in an Athens grove in 387 BC in order to informally tutor those intellectuals who wished to discuss philosophy and the sciences. Socrates was his mentor, having conducted his own school (the Lyceum) before being put to death after charges of corrupting the youth of Athens. Plato continued Socrates’ tradition of oral argument and debate; Plato’s most famous student was Aristotle. Plato wrote his treatise, The Republic, as a way to elucidate societal behavior and in particular the notion of justice. Our democratic ideals descend from Plato’s arguments.

PlatoOne of his most famous arguments in favor of thoughtful pursuit of knowledge is the allegory of the cave.

Plato argues that the world is divided into two realms: the visible, and the intelligible (which we can only grasp in our minds). In the allegory of the cave, he suggests that people are like prisoners chained from birth in a cave and unable to turn their heads. They can only see the wall of the cave before them, and behind them is a wall along which puppeteers can walk. A fire casts shadows of the puppets on the cave wall.

Those prisoners in the cave believe that the shadows are reality. When they are freed from their chains by education they discover they’ve been seeing only shadows of copies of reality, and not reality itself.

Plato questions the notion of reality in this allegory. Even more importantly, he suggests that those who can leave the cave – see the full scale of reality through the gift of education – must take this knowledge back to those who haven’t yet left the cave. Knowledge should be the goal of all of us, through education and realization.

Academy

Plato’s Academy

I really believe that knowledge and education are the foundations of a rich, full life. Plato’s allegory works for me, just as it does for my character, Kat.

Lady Macbeth

Macbeth AndBanquo-Witches

Macbeth and Banquo confront the witches

One of the reviewers of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle pointed out that a chief character in the novel is “a tragic figure, almost a Lady Macbeth”. You might or might not remember Shakespeare’s tragedy, so here’s a bit of background that may explain why I love that comparison so much. (Note: I’m deliberately not naming my “tragic figure” in this post, so that you can discover who it is for yourself.)

Macbeth is a Scots general who receives the prediction that he will one day become king of Scotland. He’s set upon his deadly path by three witches who can foretell the future but who also use their power to play with human emotions. His ambition drives him to commit acts of murder, first of the current king, and then of many followers and allies and presumptive heirs and their children, including his compatriot Banquo, until Macbeth himself is undone.

Macbeth is goaded to action by his wife, who will stop at nothing to see her husband become and remain king, her ambitions initially outstripping his. But as the story unfolds the Lady is torn by guilt and driven toward madness – sleepwalking and obsessively washing the blood from her hands – until she finally commits suicide.

Lady Macbeth

The sleepwalking Lady Macbeth

 Macbeth has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. It’s a creepy horror tale set in Scotland and rich with magic and mystery. Shakespeare uses phrases that echo nursery rhymes or fairy tales, reminding the audience that behind the story is longing for a child and heir: “Open locks, whoever knocks”; “The Thane of Fife had a wife”. There’s little doubt that Macbeth and his Lady love one another, maybe too well.

As I drafted The Charmed Children, I struggled with my “tragic figure”. She’s an antagonist, yes, but she must also be multilayered and multifaceted, not flat. I had to give her a backstory that would make her at least understandable, if not sympathetic. It is, in part, her longing for a child that drives her terrible behavior.

MacbethThus the comparison with Lady Macbeth is such an honor, for Lady Macbeth is a character who inspires compassion even while her actions are horrific.

Scots Words

I didn’t use many Scots dialect words in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Using dialect is tricky. Too much and people get turned off. Too little and the story doesn’t sound authentic.

words kill

A kill

But the Scottish language is so rich and varied. It’s often said that the Inuit have more than 50 words and phrases associated with snow. But there are more than 400 Scots words associated with snow. These include flindrikin (a slight snow shower), spitters (small drops or flakes of wind-driven rain or snow), and unbrak (the beginning of a thaw.)

Words I did choose to use include ken (to know), bairn (child), and laird (landowner). When I named the castle Rookskill, it was to suggest death (with the word kill), but also because in Scotland a kill is a kiln-shaped chasm in the rocks, linked to the sea by a tunnel, and Rookskill is near the sea.

Rooks are birds of the crow family. But you wouldn’t want to run into a bogle (a specter) or a kelpie (water demon).

words burn

A burn in the Scottish Highlands

Scotland is characterized by many fast-running streams and so has many words for running water: burn (stream), cleugh (a gorge that is the course of a stream), glen (a hollow traversed by a stream), grain (tributary), pow (slow-moving stream), stank (pond), syke (small stream)…I could go on.

And, of course, perhaps the most well-known of Scots poets is Robbie Burns. Burns is beloved by Scots, and every January 25th, his birthday is celebrated in Scotland and the world over by a Burns Supper, at which a traditional Scottish meal of haggis (a savory dish of sheep innards), tatties (potatoes), and neeps (turnips) is served and the bard’s words are recited, culminating with his most famous:

haggis_A0

Tatties, haggis, and neeps

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll talk’ a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne.

 

Magical Scotland: Magical Creatures

the magical coast

Scotland’s magical coastline

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is set in Scotland for a number of reasons. First, the magic “lives” in a chatelaine (you can read more about that in my previous post) that is a European jewelry. Second, it felt right to place the children in a castle, with its dark, spooky corners, large scale, and ghostly history:

The castle loomed out of the fog at the end of the winding lane, after what seemed an age. Kat sat up straight, and Peter let out a low whistle.

It was much bigger than the picture had made it seem, a real castle with many turrets rising up through the gloom bit by bit, and it did look the sort of place that would house ghosts.

And third, Scotland is rich with magical history, from old tales to Celtic traditions to folkloric animals. Here are just a few of the latter.

magical

A selkie?

Selkies are human-to-seal-and-back-again creatures. Most selkie stories are tragic love stories in which one of the lovers turns into a seal and must return to the sea, and cannot reunite with its human companion for seven years. In some tales a fisherman falls in love with a selkie only to lose her. The proximity of ocean to most of Scotland accounts for this and the many other magical creatures (waterhorses and sea monsters) attached in some way to the sea.

Changelings are creatures left in the place of a human infant. Usually elves or fairies were the culprits, taking the infant from her crib and replacing her with an ill or disabled child, or a disguised fairy child. A changeling child was often used as a way to explain sudden disease or developmental disability, with the result that the changeling could be left to die without guilt, and the assumption was that the real baby was living with the fairies. Sometimes a charm – such as an open pair of scissors left by the crib – was used to ward off the child-thieves.

Brownies are tiny creatures wearing brown clothing and looking like a little old man covered in curly brown hair. Brownies were usually helpful household creatures, working at night in secret in exchange for gifts of food, and living in attics or walls. Manor houses often kept a chair by the fire for use only by the brownie. It’s pretty certain that J.K. Rowling used the brownie myth as the basis for her “house elves” in Harry Potter.

magical Dobby-the-House-Elf

Dobby, the brownie-like elf

Being familiar with the rich heritage of myths, fairy tales, and magical creatures that defines the world’s cultures is a sure way to add depth to stories set in those cultures. Since I’m of English-Scots-Irish descent, I felt like I was tapping into my roots when I visited the U.K. and borrowed some of its mysteries for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle.

The Chatelaine

silver chatelaine

I spy a whistle, a tiny purse, a thimble, and…?

The original title of the novel was Chatelaine. You may be reacting to that title the way that the Viking Children’s marketing department reacted: What in the world is a chatelaine? Because they feared that young readers would have no clue, we changed the title.

I love the word, and it forms a crucial part of the story (although I do love the new title, too, and those wise marketing folks were right.)

Here’s what my main character Kat knows:

woman wearing chatelaineThe chatelaine had been a gift to Margaret from her mother upon Margaret’s marriage, and Kat knew it to be a precious family heirloom. Wrought of silver and marked with the smith’s stamp, the chatelaine contained three useful items that hung from slender silver chains joined on a silver hoop.

In Kat’s case, and in the case of the other chatelaine in the story, these are objects endowed with magic – a magic that can be used for good or for ill. I was inspired to write the novel because a friend of mine posted an image of a chatelaine that was so evocative – and creepy – that it brought to my mind a story. (You’ll have to read the novel to find out more – no spoilers here!)

Originally the chatelaine (the word is linked to the French word “chateau” or castle) was the actual person who held the keys to the castle. The word evolved to mean the keys themselves worn in a cluster, and then to mean something like a charm bracelet worn at the waist.

chatelaine

Mrs. Hughes and her chatelaine.

The Oxford English Dictionary says a chatelaine is “an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at the waist, supposed to represent the bunch of keys, etc., of a medieval chatelaine; it consists of a number of short chains…bearing articles of household use and ornament.”

If you’ve watched Downtown Abbey, you’ve seen the chatelaine worn by Mrs. Hughes, which is a set of keys and other items.

During the eighteenth century some chatelaines became so elaborate they were almost clownish. The fad faded away in the early twentieth century as fashion changed and became simpler (check out my post on fashion in the early twentieth century for more).

chatelaine

Just…weird.

Some chatelaines were much like a Swiss Army knife of practical objects. Some were strictly ornamental. Many are quite beautiful. You can think of them as physical “apps”.

What do you think – is it time to revive this fashion statement?

“The Secret of the Old Clock”

In The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Kat Bateson is a logical girl who idolizes her father. His hobby is clock-mending, and Kat spends her time with him learning about the inner workings of clocks, including the moment when he lets her help with a clock repair:

Her hands had trembled a little as she started, but after she’d disassembled the first layer of the works she grew bolder, and her father watched her, interjecting only a little. She’d cleaned and oiled the parts, and reassembled them, tightened the screws and adjusted the balance, and then set the clock to running. It gave a satisfying tick-tick.

Salisbury_Cathedral,_medieval clock

Medieval clock in Salisbury Cathedral

Kat’s skill with clocks is a crucial element in the story.

Mechanical clocks may be an anachronism in the age of streaming time and digital watches, but they are also satisfying – and are resonant with meaning. Time travels in one direction. Time waits for no one. Time can be your friend, or your enemy.

clock

My cuckoo clock

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is a story that is at one level about time and its passage. Kat and her friends live during World War 2. The castle itself is ancient. Scotland is a country rich in history through the ages. The clocks of Rookskill Castle break down in the face of magic. The number 12 figures both in the hours of the clock and in the children of Rookskill (more on that in an upcoming post.)

When you open up the back of a mechanical clock, you’ll see a beautiful assemblage of wheels and gears all working synchronously. Mechanical clocks need mending, but they can work for centuries (unlike most things digital). In fact, the oldest mechanical clock is in Salisbury Cathedral in England. You can even make a mechanical clock yourself!

secret of clock

Nancy Drew and her clock

I love clocks. Our family has made a collection of clocks over many years, some inherited and some we’ve picked up along the way. All are mechanical, some chime, some just tick – and one, in my office, is a cuckoo clock, which can drive our guests crazy.

One of my favorite books as a kid was Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock. I wonder now if it had a subconscious influence on my work. As a writer, I love playing with the concept of time, and what better way to suggest this than to use clocks in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle both physically and metaphorically?