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When I wrote Across the Deep, it took me a decade.

A decade of sifting through the historical record and the treasure trove of letters and journals left to me and my cousins by my grandfather.  Every new thing I read brought these people to life in new and vibrant ways.

You see, it’s one thing to have a family tree with names and dates.  (Many families don’t even have that much, beyond a couple of generations.)  Even old black and white photographs can only take you so far.  It’s the stories that really matter.

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I’m very excited to be able to show you the trailer for my new book, Across the Deep.  What do you think?

Just over a month ago I announced that my book, Legacy of Faith, had won the Word Alive Press Publishing Contest and would become published.  Don’t worry, that’s still happening!  But after careful thought, the good people there felt that the title I’ve been using might be too common.  They also thought it sounds more like a memoir, which, though it is a true story, my book isn’t.  


We talked about a few options, most of which centred on the idea of the ocean.  We’ve decided on Across the Deep, and here’s why:

  • All three of the book’s characters cross the ocean at some significant point.  
  • The ocean can be synonymous with trials, which figure prominently in the book
  • The ocean, in particular walking on it, is also a metaphor for faith
  • The idea of those who have gone on before us waiting on the “farther shore”
  • The nearness of God in trials as described in Psalm 42 – “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfall” 
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about Hillsong United’s “Oceans” as a theme song for this book, and it’s influenced the choice of this title, too

So from now on, I’ll be referring to Legacy of Faith as Across the Deep, but it’s still the same story, and hopefully this title will get that story out more effectively.  

What are your thoughts?  Do you like the new title?

Word Alive Press interviewed me about my upcoming book Legacy of Faith and my process in writing it.  If you’re interested you can see the interview.  



When I was researching my book Legacy of Faith, the Bass Rock was an important part of John Mackilligen’s story.


He spent three years imprisoned on this barren island, along with many other Covenanters (illegal Presbyterians) at the time.

The Rock itself is magnificent.  It’s basically a cube of volcanic rock that rises steep-sided out of the Firth of Forth, 351 feet high.  At present it is used as a sanctuary for seabirds, but its history is much darker.

According to legend, its first inhabitant was a hermit monk, who was reputed to stay in a cave at the centre of the island’s top.  Some time around the 14th century, the Lauder family built a castle on the cliffs, the ruins of which can still be seen today.

After Cromwell’s brief Commonwealth, the Bass Rock passed into royal hands.  Charles II decided it made a handy gaol for his many enemies, and so its period of notoriety began.

We have a few descriptions of the Bass at this time – when John arrived he would have been raised in a boat by a crane to the castle, he would have had little to eat and only dirty water to drink, and the continual dampness in the prison led many inmates to chronic sickness and even death.

And yet, John’s own words survive still: “Since I was a prisoner, I dwelt at ease, and lived securely.”


“Since I was a prisoner, I dwelt at ease, and lived securely.” John Mackilligen on the Bass Rock  Click to Tweet


I can’t read John’s inspiring story without encountering that imposing, solitary rock in the middle of the sea.  For me, the Bass is a symbol of trials in the Christian life.  I can let those trials defeat me, or like John I can use trials as a means to draw closer to God.

The Bass Rock is a symbol of trials in the Christian life  Click to Tweet

It’s finished!  My first draft of Legacy of Faith is finished after nearly a decade of research and writing.  To celebrate, here’a an excerpt.  This is the very beginning of the siege, when Jennie goes into the Peking foreign legations and anticipates the trouble to come.


June 20, 1900: Peking, China
The foreign legations of China were new to Jennie. Usually they were the haunt of the colonial elite, not lowly missionaries like her. She’d heard of grand parties, with string quartets and silk gowns and champagne held here. But now the beautiful gates were barred, the gaps between the embassies filled in with carved doors and polished tables. Ambassadors and their families crowded into the most sheltered buildings cheek by jowl with clerks and nurses and teachers.  
Dr. Leonard wasted no time finding other medical personnel and staking her claim on a small, well-defended house as the hospital. The German translator was their first patient, enjoying the undivided care of the nurses, but not for long. Jennie feared the little hospital would be overflowing with the wounded and sick. Dr. Leonard must have been of the same mind, for she set the nurses busily to work making bandages out of fine table linens, setting up beds in neat rows on the floors, stocking a little kitchen with all the salvaged medical supplies, and boiling and wrapping all kinds of tools from scalpels to salad tongs.
Jennie looked out the window toward the legation courtyard where the American Marines were drilling regulars of all different countries as well as training new recruits from among the embassy staff and missions. The more cool-minded of the women calmed the others and their children, giving each a task to keep their minds distracted.
Jennie half expected to see dark storm clouds gathering above, but the summer sky remained clear, hazy, and hot.  There was a storm brewing, though, even if not the usual kind. And Jennie hoped they’d found a secure enough place to withstand when the first onslaught broke.



As always, let me know what you think, and feel free to post your own work for critique.

I just finished this excerpt from my wip Legacy of Faith this afternoon.

This is an imagined encounter based on a real life enmity between John Mackilligen, the Covenanter (illegal Presbyterian) and John Paterson, the Bishop of Ross.


1670: Ballachraggan, Ross, Scotland. 
John Paterson, the Bishop of Ross looked down his prominent nose, narrowing his heavy-lidded eyes across the desk.  John would like to think he’d made no enemies in the course of his life, but despite the utmost care, he had.  And here was the chief of them.  
The Bishop of Ross had made some show of sympathy on his arrival, posturing as a fellow man of God.  Though John made no attempt to judge where the man stood with the Almighty, he certainly stood a great deal farther from John’s camp than he would have him think.  
“I understand,” the Bishop said, rubbing his knuckles, “how difficult it is to navigate the choices of these complicated times.  It was hard for me to turn away from the Covenant.”
John clamped his lips shut on his thoughts regarding that matter.  Paterson had balked against the Covenant from the first–running away to Holland rather than signing it.  He’d only joined the cause reluctantly when he realized power was not forthcoming otherwise.  No doubt he’d been only too glad to renounce the Covenant and take the king’s part, especially with a prize as pretty as a Bishopric.  
“But you must understand,” Paterson continued, “that God’s anointed king …”
John could no longer keep silent.  “The king is not the issue, here.  Ask anyone you wish.  I have never given the king cause to doubt my loyalty.”
“As you say.”  Paterson conceded the point with a nod, though he eyed John shrewdly, no doubt looking for any chink of treason in his righteous armour.  “And yet, the king has required conformity in his Church.”
“Christ’s Church, you mean.”  John kept his tone carefully mild.
“Just so.  Christ’s Church.”  Paterson’s eyes narrowed a degree more.  “But you must agree that to keep order, the king must exert control over the Church …”
“I agree with nothing of the sort.  On principle I cannot agree.  The Church must be free to follow the will of God.”
“No one is forcing you to preach doctrine you do not believe.  The king merely asks that you refrain from preaching against it.”
Here lay the treacherous path.  If John admitted to preaching, he fell afoul of the laws against the Covenanters.  If he denied preaching, he told a falsehood.  John took the middle ground and remained silent, though he had in mind several choice words he might have shared.  Paterson went on as though John had agreed with him.
“Now I’ve heard rumours that ye’ve been preaching up and down the Highlands and the coast, from here to Aberdeen.  Ye ken well enough that such unauthorized preaching is punishable under law.”
All the well-meaning sympathy had all but vanished now, replaced by a naked lust for power.  Paterson enjoyed his Bishopric and all the privileges it entailed, and none more so than holding a man helpless in his will.  But John was far from helpless.
“Ye’ve witnesses that saw me preach?”  He kept his tone mild.  “I’d be verra surprised if ye did.”
The Bishop abandoned all vestige of good will now.  “Mark me, Mackilligen.  I dinna care for your smug arrogance.  I mean to root out every insurrectionist in Ross–in all the Highlands, even.  You, most of all.”
John met Paterson’s gimlet eye with a steady gaze.  “Careful, sir, or ye may subject yourself to charges of libel.  Ye wilna find a trace of treason in me.”
“Not only will I prove you a traitor, I’ll see ye hang for it.”
“If ye’re quite finished, I’ll see you out.”  John stood abruptly.  “I’ve an estate to run.”
With a last fixed glare, Paterson stood.  “I shall see myself out.”  
But as his shoulders filled the doorframe he turned back, his jutting profile in silhouette and his hooded eye piercing.  “Ye may consider yourself safe, but one day ye’ll make a mistake.  I can wait until then.”

Please feel free to give me feedback and critique this, as well as provide your own excerpt for critique.  🙂



When the average settler, like William McKillican, arrived in Upper Canada in 1816 it may have been a trackless wilderness, but there was already a strict ruling oligarchy in place.


They were known as the Family Compact – a group of Conservative British Anglicans who held a staunch hold over the young colony.


If you were a United Empire Loyalist or new settler from England, if a banker or a lawyer, or a member of the Anglican clergy, then you had an “in” with the Family Compact.


On the other hand, if you were poor, uneducated, Catholic or other Protestant, or (heaven forbid) a later American defector, then you might be out of luck.


One has to understand, though, when considering the motivation behind this seemingly harsh clique, that all this followed on the heels of a very messy revolution and a recent invasion.  After the War of 1812, suspicion of American sentiment abounded.  It may have seemed safer to Loyalists such as Hamilton, Osgoode, and Strachan to keep a sense of cohesion, centred around Tory politics and Anglican worship in order to stamp out dangerous ideas like democracy.


By 1840 the Family Compact had lost their power, but not before establishing a strict order that one might argue preserved the colony from American rule long enough to become the country we love today.


And the Family Compact couldn’t have been all bad.  Although William McKillican was far from a Conservative Anglican, he had a long-term friendship with Bishop Strachan, to the point that Strachan even offered to let his fellow countryman take orders with the Church of England.  Despite William’s refusal, they maintained a correspondence throughout their lives.

While I’ve been working onmy wip about my family history, I’ve been thinking–what does it all matter?  Why do we care what dead ordinary people did centuries ago?


I guess the answer for me is that in my mind they’re not really dead.  The stories I have about my ancestors bring them to life in my imagination.  And they’re not that ordinary, either, once you get to know them.  Or maybe they are ordinary, and that’s  the appeal–ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Maybe your ancestors didn’t cross the ocean on a mission trip or go to prison for their faith.  Maybe they just worked away faithfully at their job or raised ten kids.  I think that deserves a medal anyway.

If you’re lucky enough to have letters, journals, or anecdotes about your ancestors, read them.  If you have an elderly relative, listen.  And on the chance that one of your descendants down the line will care, write down your stories.  Pass on the torch.

In August, I introduced Jennie, and in September you read about William.  Now I’d like to present the third real-life character in my work in progress, Legacy of Faith.
John Mackilligen was a much earlier cousin of William and Jennie McKillican, but he was likely an inspiration to their faith.

The kirkyard in Alness, Ross, where John’s church once stood
John lived in the 17th century in Highland Scotland, entering a promising career as a Presbyterian minister.  But with the restoration of King Charles II to the throne, suddenly his faith was illegal.  Refusing to compromise his promise, John lived as a Covenanter, continuing to preach despite the risks of imprisonment and death.  He had to walk a thin line between the brutal Royalists on one side, and the equally brutal and overzealous Covenanters on the other.

The “Covenanters’ Stone” at Obsdale, Ross
Enjoy the beginning of John’s story, and let me know what you think.