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At the time of my Alba novellas, the structural landscape of Scotland was just as diverse as its people.  I thought I’d give you a visual taste of some of the buildings you might see if you wandered into my books.  😉




These weren’t much in use at the time of Daughters and Sons of Alba.  But plenty of them remained from older times, most of them in ruins.  I put a ruined broch in Dun na Cloich Leith:  Aigneis, Ealasaid, and Eithne’s home.  Like many of these circular towers, this one was likely plundered for its building stone over time.  Brochs were made by the ancient Picts for defence and consisted of a double wall of unmortared stone.


An intact broch


A ruined broch like the one in Dun na Cloich




The average Alban lived in a dun – a hill fort with an earth wall, populated with round, thatch-roofed stone houses.  Although the duns are gone, the marks of their presence remain, ringing hilltops across Scotland.  Here’s one like Dun na Cloich Leith.





With the influence of the nearby Saxon and Norman cultures, castles were a new thing in Alba, but not unheard of.  Castles of this time were very simple – not the pretty, airy things that came along later.  As with duns, there are virtually no untouched examples of castles in Scotland from this time.  They are all either ruined or replaced.  This is somewhat how I imagine castles like Allt na Cathrach or Sgain.




The Vikings brought with them a different style of building – long, low rectangular houses with an A-frame roof covered in thatch or sod.  Here’s how I pictured the houses in Thorsbjorg.




Ecclesiastical architecture is another unique class.  Borrowing from earlier Roman influence, the monasteries of the Irish Gaels had rectangular common buildings such as churches and libraries, narrow round watch towers, and little beehive-shaped huts for the monks’ cells.  Here’s a monastery much like Cill Linnhe.



Sacred Sites


The Celts from ancient times had an affinity for the spiritual, and loved to mark these places in various ways: Standing stones, springs, and cairns can still be seen everywhere in Scotland.


Some impressive standing stones


A Saint’s spring like the one the Daughters of Alba bathed in


A burial cairn




Though none of my characters live in a crannog, this distinctly Celtic building form bears some mention.  These were floating villages built on wooden pilings out on a loch, much like the round houses of the dun, but built of timber or wattle and daub instead.

I hope this little virtual tour of medieval Alba has helped inspire your imagination as you read Daughters and Sons of Alba.  🙂


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You might know the song about Bonnie Prince Charlie, about him being “the lad that’s born to be King”.  The Jacobites believed him to be the rightful king of Scotland based on the accident of his birth.


But before the Medieval Normans got a hold of Scotland – or Alba as it was once known – the Gaels had a different way of choosing the next king.  It was called Tanistry, from the Gaelic Tanaiste Righ, or Second to the King.

The Tanaiste was chosen from among the Righ domhna: those men of the clann who were deemed worth of kingship.  He was likely related to the present king, but not necessarily the firstborn son.

The idea was that a throne was not a divine right, but something to be earned based on wisdom, skill, and character.  That way the people had a say in who led them – kind of a semi-democracy.  The future king would have a combination of innate ability and training in statecraft, as he was groomed to become king one day.


That all changed when the Normans brought their feudal system to Scotland in the mid-Eleventh century.  After that, a king was no longer chosen; he was born – a system that caused several succession crises and wars.

I’ll be using the idea of Tanistry in my new work in progress, Sons of Alba.

My latest books, Daughters of Alba, have a lot of Gaelic (Gaidhlig) in them.  A lot.

When I wrote them I was having fun with learning the language and trying to make my work as authentic as possible.  But some of my early readers begged me for a pronunciation guide.  So, in honour of D of A coming out yesterday, I’ve started putting together a list of names and common terms I’ve used in the books.  I’ll keep adding to the list.


Here are some general notes on pronouncing Gaelic that might help you out.

There are a lot of “extra” letters in Gaelic.

Blends of as many as 3 vowels at a time usually end up sounding like “uh”.

Any time you see an “h” in a word, the letter before it is softened, or sometimes even cancelled out altogether.

For example:

“ch” = a hiss in the throat like at the end of “Bach”

“mh” and “bh” = “v”

“dh” and “th” = disappears entirely

Consonants are different than what we’re used to.

“S” alone at the beginning of a word = “sh” (like the Irish “Sean”)

“T” alone at the beginning of a word = “tch”

“C” = always hard sound like “K”

If you want to sound like a pro, say it with an accent.

Seriously.  There’s a reason the Scots and the Irish speak with that lilting rhythm: it comes from their native tongue.  To get the rhythm of Gaelic down, you’ve got to get away from the rhythm of English.


If you’re reading D of A and want to know how to say the names and words properly, then check out the new Gaidhlig guide.