Tantallon Castle, East Lothian, Scotland

Things I Learned About Scotland from Historical Romance Novels

So, as I mentioned in this post, my most recent ghostwriting project was a Scottish historical romance novel, and I basically got the gig because I:

a) Am Scottish.

and

b) Watch Outlander.

Which isn’t really THAT good a set of qualifications for the job, to be totally honest: especially when I tell you that, although I watch Outlander, when I got the gig I’d never actually read any of the books the series is based on – or, indeed, ANY Scottish historical romance novels. It’s, er, just not my thing, really. Yes, I know. I KNOW.

In my defense, as soon as I found out that this would be the genre of the book(s) I’d be writing, I did a bit of a deep-dive into the world of Scottish Historical Romance, and what a world it is, let me tell you. It’s a world full of brawny highlanders and feisty maids, and I feel like I’ve really learned a lot about Scotland and its history – certainly more than I ever learned during that one-year Scottish History course I took at university, say – from reading these books. 

Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned…

Tantallon Castle, Scotland1. The map of Scotland basically looks like this:

Scotland, according to Romantic fiction

2. Which can also be broken down like this:

Things we learned about Scotland from reading romantic fiction

So, if it’s not the Highlands, it’s not important, in other words. 

3. Speaking of Jamie Fraser, almost all Scottish men look exactly like him. (WE WISH)

4. These men must always be described as “brawny”.

5. They are almost always bare chested, even though that would mean freezing to death in the Highlands, even in summer. 

6. Everyone in Scotland speaks Gaelic, despite the fact that only a very small percentage of the population actually speaks Gaelic. 

7. To prove this, all Scottish characters must regularly sprinkle Gaelic words and phrases throughout their speech, like, chan eil dad a dh ’fhios agam dè tha seo a’ ciallachadh. You know? (I really hope you do, because I just copied and pasted that from Google Translate…)

8. The English characters (“Sassenachs”) will always make a huge fuss about not being able to understand a single word of this  – which is unsurprising, really, because I can’t either, and I was born here. The dialogue used in Scottish romance novels is very much how people THINK Scottish people speak, though, as opposed to how Scottish people ACTUALLY speak, so if you were born and/or raised in Scotland, this book isn’t for you, move along please. 

9. If an English character is introduced, he will turn out to be evil.

10. Unless it’s a woman, in which case she will fall in love with a brawny Highlander and refuse to go home.

11. We will know the love interest is a Highlander because he will be wearing a kilt. And also because he’ll mention it every few pages. 

12. In the unlikely event that an evil-doer is not English, s/he will be from Edinburgh, which is almost as bad.

Tantallon Castle13. Everyone in Scotland is either a Laird/wife of a Laird, or a peasant. There is no in-between.

14. Something about witches, idk.

15. The Scots like to fight. 

16. And also to drink. 

17. Not necessarily at the same time, though. 

18. OK, sometimes at the same time. 

19. Everyone in the Highlands lives in a castle. Even the peasants, who live in the Laird’s castle. 

20. There is always an older woman who is good at healing, and is possibly a witch. 

21. And a younger, slightly comedic male, who is the Laird’s best friend, but who dies in battle somewhere in the middle of the book.

22.  He must be avenged. 

23. Everyone is obsessed with clans, so if a character needs motivation for something, just make it something vague about his clan: that’ll do it. 

24. There must always be at least one reference to the Battle of Culloden, even if it’s not even remotely relevant to the plot. 

25. It’s been a long time since I mentioned Jamie Fraser, so please accept this gif of Jamie Fraser by way of apology: 

via GIPHY

26. Scottish lairds are very down to earth, with none of the airs and graces you might usually associate with English Lairds (Or “Lords” as the Sassenachs like to style themselves). This is because they are BETTER than the English lords, who are just pure evil, really. 

27. The English ladies who find themselves at the mercy of these fierce, and yet somehow loveable, rogues, are shocked by absolutely everything. They basically spend the book in a state of perpetual shock and/or arousal. Which must be confusing for them.

28. If there is a conflict between rival clans, the best way to resolve it is with an arranged marriage. 

29. There will always be a conflict between rival clans. 

30. There will always be an arranged marriage. 

31. To a brawny Highlander, obviously…

* * * 

And there you have it, Sassenachs: you’re now every bit as well equipped as I am to write Scottish Historical Romance! Which, OK, isn’t all that well-equipped really, but… yes. 

(BORING-BUT-NECESSARY-CAVEAT: In closing, I just want to quickly add that this post is, of course, supposed to be lighthearted, and is not intended to in any way disparage romance novels, or the people who read them. While some of the books in this genre aren’t exactly historically accurate, there are many more that are incredibly well researched, and, above all, entertaining: which is half the battle, really…)

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COMMENTS
  • Brenda

    REPLY

    LOL! Can you believe it: I have read most of the Outlander books but I haven’t watched the show??? And seriously, I have been led to believe that the Scottish are obsessed with their clan. Isn’t that why you can buy sweaters with a clan stitch, and family tartans and etc in all the tourist shops??? Ha ha. I had a friend recently confide in me that she has become obsessed with reading romance novels and it has her sort of baffled. It dawned on me that more people are reading them because we are bombarded with such heavy crap in the news, and even on TV (I’m looking at you, Yellowstone, Ozark and Squidgame!!) so we turn to the lighter stuff to read. I am struggling with reading too, so often it is murder mystery, or family dysfunction: it stresses me out!!! I am intrigued with your new direction and can’t wait to follow along. Maybe romance should be the genre I turn to. I need a distraction to lighten life up a bit!!!

    January 6, 2022
  • Myra

    REPLY

    Very funny, but you forgot the bit about when a couple declare they are married (usually when the English are chasing them) they are legally married

    January 6, 2022
  • Emerald

    REPLY

    This is brilliant! I love these ideas, but I do like the idea of the main man revealing himself to be Wee Jimmy from Springburn rather than Laird James from the Borders. Which will, of course, test her love for him.

    The Mills and Swoon section at our libraries is very popular, featuring such titles as My Night with the Greek Millionaire or A Date with Destiny with the Italian Lord. They’re always about a wealthy, upper-class man and a more down-at-heel class-wise, though not poor, woman who is swept off her feet.

    January 6, 2022
  • Jessa

    REPLY

    Love this! I once explained to a friend that Scottish romance novels are a subgenre largely unmoored from the reality of Scotland, and that I think of them as happening in some parallel universe… And now I’m wondering how much of this is because most (especially white) Americans have few ties to our ancestors’ countries and cultures, especially if they immigrated to America 100+ years ago.

    January 6, 2022
  • Jennifer

    REPLY

    Please tell me that at some point the Scottish Laird rides ventre á terre with the beautiful maiden clinging to his waist. She is simultaneously crimson with embarrassment and marveling at his muscular chest. They have to hide in the heather and he covers her with his plaid (did I get that right? Or at least, as wrong as usual?) while she lies sleeping. But she isn’t really asleep. She is gazing through her ridiculously long eyelashes as the firelight glints across his — you guessed it– muscular chest. No, I don’t know why they started the fire if they are being pursued.

    In case you can’t tell, I really, really enjoyed this post.

    January 6, 2022
  • Erin

    REPLY

    OMG, I laughed out loud at this post several times. I really hope that someday you’re allowed to tell us which books you wrote! I’ll wait for your memoirs if I have to!

    January 6, 2022
  • Steffi

    REPLY

    I read somewhere that it’s actually completely bullshit that all Highlanders in (medieval) romance novels wear kilts because apparently they weren’t actually a thing back then. (I obsess over fashion history, bear with me.)

    But they were a thing during Outlander times (apparently), so at least that’s something?

    January 7, 2022
  • Louise McDonagh

    REPLY

    I now feel like I need to read a Scottish historical romance novel, just for the brawny highlanders in kilts if nothing else xx

    January 8, 2022
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