Joyce Milne D'Auria
The Scottish Writer
My Blood is Royal – Scottish Historical Fiction
In the spring of 1860, on the shores of Loch Rannoch, sixteen-year-old Lizzie MacGregor lives in busy contentment, minding her baby sister, making porridge for her father and brothers, tending the spring lambs, or stealing a precious hour away from the farm to roam her beloved moors, where she pursues the book learning her father considers wasteful for a lass. Jock Campbell, the shy, sweet friend of her twin brother, has just captured her heart. Then everything changes.
Colonel Charles Buchanan, who owns all of Rannoch, dies, leaving his property and the fate of his tenant farmers in the hands of his only child, the spoiled Mary Buchanan. Mary and her English husband evict the farmers from their ancestral glen. Overnight, the MacGregors are trekking south to find work in Lowland, industrial Scotland.
Jock’s family is off to another town, and neither he nor Lizzie know if they will ever meet again. En route, Lizzie’s twin brother Charlie disappears, carrying an envelope sent by the Buchanans’ housekeeper Kate. The envelope contains Lizzie’s mother’s birth certificate.
In the filthy, disease-ridden mining village of Whifflet, where daylight is obscured by soot and nighttime is lit up by explosions, every able-bodied MacGregor toils in the pit. There is barely enough money to feed the family, let alone keep the bone-chilling dampness out of their tiny hovel. After the two youngest bairns die of pneumonia, Lizzie appeals to the foundry manager for a better house. He offers her a coveted office position in a nearby town, but he expects favours in return. By making herself indispensable Lizzie cleverly manages to keep her job without granting the favors.
Lizzie’s new job inadvertently reunites her with Jock. Two years apart have not diminished their passion, and soon he and Lizzie, now 18, are engaged. Jealous of Jock, the foundry manager fires Lizzie and marries Annie. When a foundry accident kills several men and her adored Jock is believed to be among the dead, Lizzie is left unwed and pregnant. Her parents persuade her to marry Jock’s cousin Wullie McClure, who is infatuated with Lizzie. The memory of her lost love haunts her and her marriage to Jock’s cousin which is fraught with sadness, frustration and resentment. On a trip back to Rannoch with Wullie she learns information that completely destroys her marriage to Wullie but gives her hope for her future.
Can she resolve the mysterious circumstances around the foundry accident?
Can she ever find her way back to the home of her heart in Rannoch?
How can she contact her beloved twin brother when his whereabouts are unknown?
But first, can she survive life in the poverty and inhumane conditions that is Whifflet in the 19th century?
A Note from the Author
Book Quotes and Excerpts
Read review on Amazon here
The novel begins in the Scottish Highlands with the MacGregors and Campbells celebrating the 1860 Hogmanay (New Years). Lizzie MacGregor, the 16-year old heroine, has her eyes set on Jock Campbell, but despite their long childhood friendship he appears to be more interested in her 14-year old sister, Annie. The MacGregors and Campbells are subsistence tenant farmers for their Laird, Col. Charlie Buchanan. Their lives are hard, but they are strongly attached to the austere beauty of Loch Rannoch. Lizzie’s mother Flora is well-educated, having grown up as a servant in Col. Buchanan’s Aulich House. She has passed her love of learning on to Lizzie. Flora shares with Lizzie the precious books in her Kist (a hope chest)* that were given to her by the laird. Col. Buchanan also sends Flora money to help her family when times are tough, all giving rise to rumors that she is his illegitimate daughter. The family dynamics include friction between the hard working Lizzie and her willful, self-centered younger sister Annie, Lizzie’s strong bond with her twin brother Charlie, the animal spirits of the younger twins, Donald and Jamie, and Lizzie lightening her mother’s load by caring for young Gregor and the infant Archie. I was drawn into the story by the lovingly drawn MacGregor family and the hardships they faced when forced to leave their beloved Loch Rannoch for the sooty, fetid industrial town of Whifflet. They were one of thousands of families who were victims of the Highland Clearances, during which landlords forced tenants off the land so that they could use it for sheep farming and hunting. One thing I look for in a novel is the opportunity to see another place and time through the eyes of the protagonist. I had not known about the Highland Clearances and knew little about Scotland outside Sir Walter Scott’s novels, Ian Rankin’s murder mysteries, and Alexander McCall Smith’s tales set in modern day Edinburgh. D’Auria vividly depicts the plight of farm families suddenly evicted from their land and forced into Scottish company towns dominated by the coal mine and iron works owners When the MacGregors and Campbells are forced off the land, Lizzie and Jock are separated. Since neither family knows what the future holds and they are going to different towns, Lizzie has no way of contacting Josh once she is in Whifflet. She and her siblings are forced to work with their father in the mines to bring in enough money for the family to barely scrape by. Her everyday life is grinding, but Lizzie does not give up hope that she will someday see Jock again. During the course of the novel, there are many hardships, heartfelt losses, tragic turns, and plot reversals, but the author’s evident empathy toward with her characters reassures the reader through it all that there will be a satisfying conclusion to the tale. *There is a glossary of the many Scottish words used in the novel at the end, but most are readily understood or are explained in the text.