Douglas Skeleton is one of Scotland’s most celebrated crime writers with dark stories that meld history and contemporary life stretching from the tough streets of his hometown of Glasgow to the wildness of the Scottish Highlands.
We’re talking Where Demons Hide, Douglas’s latest thriller with a supernatural edge, featuring crime reporter, Rebecca Connolly.
Hi there. I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler. And in today’s Binge Reading, Rebecca’s skepticism is challenged after a body is found on a lonely moor in the center of a pentagram. A woman has been frightened to death.
But was she killed by supernatural means or is there a more down to earth explanation?
This Week’s Giveaway
Our giveaway this week is a preview of my new mystery. Susannah’s Secret the second book in the Home At Last series set in 1870s, California,
Get the first four chapters of Susannah’s Secret – download here: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/t7i1brbmtt
As usual links for downloading the first four chapters of that book, plus all the links to this episode can be found in the show notes on the website www.thejoysof bingereading.com
And remember if you enjoy what you hear, add a review of the show to your favorite podcast site, so others will hear about us too.
Links to this episode
The Ice Cream Wars: Douglas Skelton and Lisa Brownlie: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1648791
BBC Documentary on the Ice Cream Wars:
Culloden and the Jacobite Defeat: https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden
James Stewart: James of the Glen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Stewart_of_the_Glen
Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson; https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/325128.Kidnapped
Alan Breck Stewart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Breck_Stewart
Peter Williamson and Indian Peter: https://www.amazon.com/Indian-Peter-Extraordinary-Adventures-Williamson/dp/1845960327
The Earl of Mar and the Mar Rebellion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_of_Mar
On Douglas Skelton’s reading list
Ed McBain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Hunter
Denzil Myrick: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/denzil-myrick
Caro Ramsay: https://www.caroramsay.com/
Michael J Malone: https://booksfromscotland.com/bfs-author/michael-j-malone/
Neil Broadfoot: https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors/neil-broadfoot
Gordon Brown: https://gordonjbrown.com/about/
Robert Crais: https://www.robertcrais.com/
Dennis Lehane: http://dennislehane.com/
Lin Anderson: http://www.lin-anderson.com/about.htm
John Prebble Scottish histories – The Lion In The North: https://www.amazon.com/Lion-North-Personal-Scotlands-History/dp/0140056459
Where to find Douglas online
Introducing author Douglas Skelton
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Douglas. Hello there Douglas, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Douglas Skelton: Thanks very much. It’s great to be here.
Jenny Wheeler: I’m in Auckland, New Zealand and it’s 8:30 pm and you are near to Glasgow and just starting your day. Have you had breakfast?
Douglas Skelton: Yes, I had a very quick something to eat before we came on.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great.
Douglas Skelton: And now I’m now drinking a coffee, so if you hear me slurping, you’ll know that’s what I’m doing.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s wonderful. And we’ve already had a conversation about how we might be interrupted by your rescue dog, so we don’t mind if she or he joins the show a little bit later on.
Douglas, you started out writing nonfiction true crime stories, but now you’ve moved on to fiction, particularly today we are going to be discussing the Rebecca Connolly series. Why did you make that switch to fiction?
Douglas Skelton: Well, there were a number of reasons for that. I’d always wanted to write fiction, I think is the main one. But because I was a journalist, ,it was like a natural extension to move into nonfiction when I started writing books and because I had written features on true crime, that was a natural extension as well.
That’s what I would begin with. But as the nonfiction career progressed, I started to do more historical subjects.
The move from non fiction to ficton
And fiction has always been what I wanted to do, and even with the nonfiction, I put a sheen of storytelling on top of the facts. So once I had done about number eleven in non-fiction books, I think I’d gone about as far as I wanted to go with them.
There were very few subjects that I wanted to write about after that. And I thought, well, I’ve got a reputation now. I’ve got eleven books under my belt. Let’s go for the fiction.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, that’s a very good place to start with a back list of eleven books. We’ll talk a little bit about a couple of those later on. Did you do, crime reporting when you were a journalist?
Douglas Skelton: I did. I started my journalistic career with a weekly newspaper, a local newspaper in the west end of Glasgow, and basically, a very, very small team.
Two or maybe three reporters and an editor at that time. And basically, I became the crime reporter by default, which meant that the editor at the time, Danny Brown, said to me, Why don’t you arrange to go round the various police offices in our area every week and get the crime reports?
So that was me. I then became effectively the crime reporter, as well as the movie reviewer, and occasionally the council reporter, and sometimes add feature writer because that’s how it goes with weekly newspapers.
Rebecca Connolly, thriller protagonist
And of course, as the industry, began to retract, more and more fell onto fewer and fewer people, and that kind is reflected in the Rebecca Connolly stories.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes it is. So Rebecca is a very energetic, Scottish reporter, a intrepid woman who is always getting mixed up in crime stories.
She’s a very likable character, a not-to-be-denied sort of character. What do you enjoy most about writing her as your lead character?
Douglas Skelton: Well, I’ve got to say that, to begin with, I don’t enjoy writing. Which is a very strange thing to say, but Dorothy Parker, the American writer once said, I don’t like writing. I like having written.
And that’s what I’m like. writing to me as a chore. It’s just what I do. But what do I find, to enjoy about writing Rebecca? She’s very focused, which I’m not.
I tend to go off and search of shiny things. But Rebecca will focus on something and she will get the job done as well as she possibly can.
And I, quite like that about her. The downside to that is that she tends to let her private life, life fallow to an extent.
Drawing on personal experience
But I certainly do enjoy the fact that she’s very focused, and that she has principles.
Over the series, they have had to be eroded slightly as she becomes more realistic about the world and about the industry that she’s in.
But she still has this basic core principle that she will do the best possible job that she could.
She will try and get to as many of the facts she knows she’s not gonna get the full story, because we never do get the full story, but she’ll get as much of the story as she possibly can. And contrary to popular, belief a lot of reporters are like that.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Have you known anybody that’s rather similar to Rebecca, yourself?
Douglas Skelton: Yes, there have been a couple. She’s not based on anybody in particular. Not even an amalgam. There have been a couple over the years.
I did it myself when I was doing the book about The Ice Cream Wars here in Scotland, which was a miscarriage of justice, along with, my friend Lisa Brownlie.
We were pretty focused then, and that was six months of intense research to pull that book together. Lot of interviews, a lot of treking about banging doors and finding people.
We were pretty focused to do that. And our personal lives tended to go in the back burner during that time as.
The Ice Cream Wars – a notorious killing
Jenny Wheeler: The Ice Cream Wars, for those of us who don’t have a clue what those were. Give us a very quick guide.
Douglas Skelton: It was a quite dreadful mass murder in Glasgow in 1984 when a fire claimed the lives of six members of one family in the east end of Glasgow, including an 18-month-old child.
It was linked to the rivalry between ice cream van operators. I don’t know if you have these in New Zealand, but what we have are vans that go around the streets selling ice cream, sweets, crisps. don’t know if they still do it, but they used to sell
Jenny Wheeler: We have Mr. Whippy here? Yes.
Douglas Skelton: It’s something similar to Mr. Whippy although we’ll have to stress that Mr. Whippy was not involved in this, and it culminated in this quite, dreadful crime. Two men were eventually convicted of the murder, but they proclaimed their innocence.
Jenny Wheeler: Gosh.
Douglas Skelton: Lisa and I picked this up in the early nineties and wrote a book on it and that kicked off a campaign to have them freed, and about 10 years later, they were cleared at the Court of Appeal.
Jenny Wheeler: Gosh. And has anybody ever been anyone arrested and charged since.
Linking ancient and modern
Douglas Skelton: No. There had been no further investigations as far as I’m aware. There have been plenty of documentaries. In fact, the BBC just did a two parter, over here, on it.
But certainly, there seems to be no appetite to find out what actually happened that night.
Jenny Wheeler: You definitely have an interest in history as well, and in The Rattle Of Bones, which is the second to last book that you published in the Rebecca series.
It begins with a very dramatic scene, a historic scene of a totally unjust hanging that occurred when the British were involved in Scottish history, and then it jumps to the contemporary scene, where a parallel thing is happening in the contemporary world.
You’ve done that with a number of your books, haven’t you? Almost a dual timeline or hooking something from the past into the present.
Douglas Skelton: That’s the hook for the Rebecca Connolly books, that there will always to be some sort of connection. Something in history or mythology or legend, something like that. The first one, Thunder Bay, which I set on a Scottish island that I made up, I put all sorts of legends and myths into there.
And they are threaded through the narrative. The second one, The Blood Is Still, was hooked onto Culloden, the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, and it harked back to A Rattle Of Bones, as you say.
It talked about James of the Glen’s, James Stewart, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of a government officer.
Wrongful conviction across the centuries
And he was hung on a hill above Ballachulish in the Highlands, and his body was left there for I think about two years before it was finally taken down.
And he almost certainly did not do that murder. It featured in Kidnapped. Robert Lewis Stevenson’s story.
There is a theory that Alan Breck, Stuart Allen, Breck as Stevenson called him, was responsible for the murder.
But there are various other theories as well. In the modern day, another James Stewart is already convicted o of a murder, the mother of his lover. And there seems to be evidence now that he did not do it.
And Rebecca. Is trying to get the story, but she’s got to fight, antagonism from the modern day, James Stewart’s mother, who is upset that Rebecca had tried to do the story before but then left it.
And the reason was that, as Rebecca tried to explain, there was nothing she could do. There was nothing new and no media outlets were interested unless something was new.
But now, some months later they found something new she can use. It is an unpleasant facet of dealing with the media from the point of view of civilians that they’re looking for news and you can’t just keep rehashing old stuff, although they do tend to do that as well.
The pentacle fails to protect
So, the mother can’t understand this, and Rebecca has to fight her way through this cold exterior that Mrs. Stewart has to try and get to the truth.
Jenny Wheeler: And in Where Demons Hide, you return to the slightly more supernatural and mythical aspect of things, don’t you?
You have a victim who digs a pentagram for herself, and dies within this pentagram. And it’s obvious in the beginning that she thinks that being in a pentagram is going to protect her from evil forces, but unfortunately, she dies anyway.
The pentagram doesn’t work in the way that she’d hoped, and the whole story is unraveling just what’s going on with her and the local cult that she is a part of.
Douglas Skelton: Yes, that’s right. Well, she’s not, part of the cult, she’s investigating the cult.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s right. Sorry. Yes, she’s investigating it. That’s right.
Based on a true case form the 1920s
Douglas Skelton: But again, that’s based on an actual case. In the 1920’s on the island of Iona, when a woman was found dead out on a hill and she had dug a pentacle around herself and there was a suggestion that she was trying to protect herself from evil forces.
And I’ve used that as a springboard and built everything else on it. But again, yes, it’s an example of using the past and various bits of mythology and belief and magic to tell a story. And the solution is very much down to earth.
Publishers can be a bit worried when you’re doing something that seems to span a couple of genres.
And I’ve gotta say, my publisher never said this, but I pre-empted it by assuring them . By the way, when you see this, you might think that it’s going one way, but it’s not, it’s all very much down to earth.
Jenny Wheeler: I didn’t realize that there was actually a historic case that Where Demons Hide was partly based on. Do we know what the story was with that person in the 1920s?
Douglas Skelton: She was involved in all sorts of occult groups. There was a suggestion that there was an involvement at some point by Alastair Crowley, who was a well-known cultist from the early part of the 20th century.
Nobody really knows. They think she probably just died of exposure
I think she was naked. I could be wrong about that, but I think she was naked. And, the night on these Hebridean Islands can get very, very cold.
The mysterious writing process
Douglas Skelton:, I think that’s what it was. But they believe that she thought she was under psychic attack and she was trying to protect, herself.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you always know when you start how the story is going to unfold and end? Tell us a bit about your writing process.
Douglas Skelton: I never know how it’s going to end. I have no idea. I just start, I get an idea. I might have a notion of a couple of scenes, through the book that I’d want to get to.
On very, very rare occasions. I have some vague nebulous notion of an ending. But I just start writing and I see where it takes me.
I laugh in the face of planning. I sneer at planning and sometimes secretly, but don’t tell anybody this, I do wish I could plan because it would make things a lot easier for me.
No, I just can’t seem to plan. I’m too impatient. If I’ve got an idea, I just want to get started. I don’t want to sit and work it out.
I just want to get started and see where it takes me. And I suppose I could say it means if I have any twists, if I have any reversals, that when I get to them, if they surprise me, they’ll surprise the reader.
The writing brain has its own wisdom
But I don’t think that’s true. But the other thing that I have come to believe, is, although I say I don’t plan, I think there’s a part of my brain that has already planned it.
Because very, very often I will just be writing away and I’ll do something on page 220, say, and I’ll just be sitting writing, and I’ll say, All right, and that can happen. And then I stop and I’ll say it to myself, ‘Oh, that’s why I did that on page 60.’
So I think there’s something going on, in the non-planner’s brain that a portion of the brain has already planned. The book just hasn’t told me. I’m on a need to know basis and it will let me know in good time.
Jenny Wheeler: And do your characters sometimes refuse to do the things that you think they should do or want them to do?
Douglas Skelton: Yeah, sometimes you just can’t get something to work properly. You want the character to do this, and you realize, no, no, that character couldn’t do that or wouldn’t do that.
Because of such and such and so forth. And then you have the characters who. you think are going to be minor characters, but suddenly you realize, Oh, wait a minute, this character could do more.
Characters with a mind of their own
And you start to give them more and more to do. And then there’s the point in my first novel Blood City, there was a character who I had intended to kill off. in that book.
And as I came to that point, I decided, No, no, that character’s not going to do that. I’m going to let that character live.
I’m being carefully not to give any sort of gender because that could give it away, that character’s going to live.
And I was known in that first series, the Davie McCall series, for killing characters off.
That’s why I’m not very good at Twitter because there’s only so many characters in Twitter now would kill them all off.
But the other side in, in that first Davie McCall is a character that I’d intended to carry on at least to the next book.
And I was coming to a point in the book and I’d note this is where this character has to die. And not only that, I know who it is that does the deed. None of that was planned. It just happened as I was writing.
The fascinating tale of Indian Peter
Jenny Wheeler: I did have a look at the list of your non-fiction books, and there was one there that really stood out, and I think you also did say that it was one of the books that you’re still the proudest of, and that’s the one that’s based on the true story of a remarkable fellow called Peter Williamson.
The book’s called Indian Peter, and he had the most remarkable life. Could you just tell us a little bit about that? I’m sure some listeners may be very interested enough to follow up on that book.
Douglas Skelton: Peter Williamson was a teenager in Aberdeen and he was taken, effectively by slave traders.
He was more or less abducted and transported across the Atlantic to the American colonies where he was sold into indentured servitude.
He was only 14, but they claimed that he had given permission, but he hadn’t, and he hadn’t spoken to his family, who back in Aberdeen were searching desperately for him, but he was being hidden away from them before they embarked.
A series of unfortunate incidents
So his services were bought. Indentured servitude meant that he was indentured to somebody for about seven years. And he didn’t have any rights, apart from the ones that his master gave him. He was lucky and he got quite a decent master and he served out his time.
And when the end of the seven years came, the seven year contract, he was free.
He met a woman he married, he set up his own farm. He was then attacked by Native Americans who were then at war with the British during the French and Indian War as it was called.
Different tribes aligned with either side, and these were Delawares who, I believe were aligned with the French.
His farm was attacked. He was taken hostage, and held captive in the Indian village. He escaped and made his way back. He found that his farm had been burnt out and his wife had died of a fever.
He then enlisted with the local militia because he wanted some pay back and he went to war.
He was at a place called Oswego, which I think is in the New York state, in the North, and it was under siege. He was taken prisoner by the French and exchanged for French prisoners and dumped on the south coast of England.
Story telling his way home
He then walked back from there back to Aberdeen and he told his story as he went along to get some food and to get some money.
He honed his storytelling abilities and he embellished on his life quite considerably, cuz that’s what we all do.
He managed to get a book of his adventures published in York, thanks to some local businessmen. which he then sold as he made his way back to Aberdeen.
Once back in, in Aberdeen he was telling his story and blaming the local business people, the local politicians who were behind the indentured servitude trade.
He was arrested. His book was burnt in the street by the public hangman, and he was run out of town. He went to Edinburgh, where he waged about a 20 year legal war against the purchases of Aberdeen, about what had happened to him.
The whole legal side was full of all sorts of, nonsense and jolly japes because either side, he was building dirty tricks, so were they. Not that that would happen in our current legal system, of course and in the meantime, he became a publican. He became a restauranteur.
An ignominious ending
He became a publisher, and a printer. He wrote some more books. He set up the first Penny Post in Edinburgh.
He published the first street directory of Edinburgh, and he won his court case. Eventually, he went through a very well publicized divorce that was well publicized because he wrote about it. And eventually the Penny Post was bought over and he got a small pension from what would’ve been the GPO I suppose. And he died almost penniless and probably an alcoholic.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh my gosh,
Douglas Skelton: It was just an, absolutely fascinating story that I stumbled on whilst doing research for one of the other nonfiction books. I thought, I’ve got to tell this, and I did.
And it is one of the nonfiction books of which I’m most proud. There’s some of them that I’m not terribly proud of, but certainly that one, I’m still proud of it. It’s out of print now, unfortunately.
Jenny Wheeler: You ought to put it onto ebook if you have the rights.
Douglas Skelton:. I’ve got the rights. The rights have returned to me, but to do that properly, you need to have time. And I’m afraid I’m under contract to write too many books to do that.
The fascination of Scottish history
Jenny Wheeler: You say on your website, and it’s been obvious hearing you talk, that you are very much steeped in the real stories of Scotland and that comes through. I’m sure that’s also an aspect of your books that your audience appreciates. Do you get that sort of feedback from your readers?
Douglas Skelton: Yes. There’s a certain amount of hyperbole there, but yes, I am, fascinated by history and because I’m Scottish, because I’m in Scotland, then it becomes Scottish history to a degree.
Anyway. And because of the Rebecca books, I’m always looking for something that I can pluck and say, Right, I can use that.
I can do a story about that, Next year’s Rebecca is called Children of the Mist, and it reflects something to do with the McGregor clan, because of the way that they emerged from the mist to steal the cattle or rob somebody when they were outlawed and then, meld back into it.
They became known as Children of the Mist.
It’s little bits like that that I look for, and I think, right, how can I build a modern day story on that?
A historical thriller – An Honorable Thief
I’ve also just had my first proper historical novel published called An Honorable Thief, a thriller that moves from London to Edinburgh in 1715, against the backdrop of the Mar Uprising when the Earl of Mar raised the standard of, the old pretender James Edward Stewart, and began a fairly short lived rebellion to try and get the Stewarts back on the throne.
So that’s very much in the background. And I’ve laid a story of crime and espionage on top of it.
Jenny Wheeler: So how many books are you writing a year?
Douglas Skelton: At the moment, unfortunately, I think I’ve got to do three this year. I’ve done two.
And I’ve got to try and get another one done by the end of the year. I’m not sure I’m gonna make it. Don’t tell either of my publishers that, for goodness sake. But no, I’m not sure I’m gonna make it.
But, I’m gonna give it the old college try.
Jenny Wheeler: So how many publishers are you working with?
Douglas Skelton: Two: Polygon in Edinburgh and Canelo in London.
Douglas as reader – what he’s reading now
Jenny Wheeler: Great look, Douglas, as reader, we are coming to the end of our time together, we like to talk to all our authors about their reading taste because this is the joys of binge reading. And we mostly feature people with quite a reasonable backlist so that if listeners enjoy hearing about their work, there’s lots of other books for them to refer to.
But that’s not necessarily the case always. Are you a binge reader and who would you like to recommend to the people who are listening in terms of what you’re reading at the moment?
Douglas Skelton: I’m not a binge reader, and I’m not a binge viewer either. I don’t binge TV. I’ll still do the old-fashioned thing of maybe watching one episode, perhaps not, one a week, but certainly one every two or three nights. And I don’t binge read. I once did binge read and that was in my teens, and I read just about everything, by Ed McBain that I could at that time.
And I continued to read his books as they came out. Currently I do a lot of reading, on behalf of other people. So you get asked, Will you read this and give me a puff and, if it’s somebody that I know, will you read my book for me and give me some feedback?
A diet of crime thrillers
There’s a lot of that. So there’s very, very little time to read for pleasure. But when I do read for pleasure, there’s a lot of good, – and they’re friends of mine – good Scottish authors, like Denzil Myrick, Caro Ramsay, Michael J. Malone, Neil Broadfoot, Gordon Brown. All good writers, but my preference is for the American writers and I’m a huge fan of Robert Crais.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh yes.
Douglas Skelton: I love Robert Crais’s work, and I’m a big fan of Dennis Lehane as well. So generally, when they’ve got one coming out, I will snap it up.
But at the moment, I’m reading something for somebody else, and I think I’ve got another one sitting to get to. But next on my reading pleasure list is S.G. MacLean’s, The Book Seller of Inverness, a historical thriller.
And I want to get to that. I really want to read that.
A fun podcast with Denzil Myrick
Jenny Wheeler: Now, before we started talking on this podcast, you mentioned that you two had been involved with a podcast with Denzil. Tell us a bit about that podcast.
Douglas Skelton: Yes, ., we did a whole stream of podcasts called Sbooks, S B O O K S. And really a lot of them are just Denzel and I, having a laugh, just gabbing away to each other about anything.
Denzel’s very, very funny. Don’t tell him I said that. I’ll deny I said that. A lot of it is we have this relationship. We are constantly insulting each other. So there’s a lot of banter going on.
But we did have guests and we interviewed the likes of Ian Rankin and S. G. MacLean who I mentioned, and Lin Anderson. We’ve had all sorts of guests on there.
And the last one that we did, because we had to stop doing them because we were both so busy, he had a couple of books to write as well.
Plus he’d work to do to for the upcoming TV series of his, Books. I Hate Them.
The last one we did was with David Baldacci. We thought we would go out in a high and Mr. Baldacci was absolutely incredible. He was a great guest.
What Douglas has got coming up
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic. I’m very disappointed because we did talk at the beginning about how your dog almost always interrupted these podcast episodes, but he hasn’t interrupted us today, has he?
Douglas Skelton: Not a word from him. I’ve disappointed myself. It’s not like him. He must be asleep somewhere. Cuz I took him out a walk before we came on. He’s probably relaxing somewhere, having had his breakfast and his walk and he’s happy.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah. That’s wonderful. So tell us what’s on your desk for the next 12 months you’ve mentioned that there is another Rebecca story coming. We’re still going to hear a bit more of Rebecca for a while yet, Are we?
Douglas Skelton: Yes, I’m contracted for, another three, including that’s the one that’s already written. The Children of the Mist will be out in the UK certainly, early summer 2023. An Honorable Thief has just come out and hardback. It’ll come out in paperback in April next year.
Where to find Douglas online
I’ve written the second one in that series, which is called A Thief’s Justice. I’m not sure of the release date for that. I’ve got the third one to write. It’s not got a title and as I say, another two Rebecca’s to do so all that’s got to be done more or less over the next 18 months.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. You are going to be very busy. Now, do you like interacting with your readers and where can they find you online?
Douglas Skelton: Oh, Yeah. It’s great talk to readers as long as they’re being nice. I’ve not had any experiences, but I’ve been told stories by other authors, about some readers have been quite unpleasant to them, but I’ve got to say, I’ve had nothing but decent readers.
I can be found on Twitter and there’s a Douglas Skelton author Facebook page, and I’m also on Instagram somewhere. I think it’s Doug Skelton one or something like that.
Jenny Wheeler: We’ll put all of those, in the show notes so that people will be able to find you.
Douglas Skelton: I’ve also got a website, which is just Douglas Skelton, www.douglasskelton.com There’s all sorts of things on the website because I’ll occasionally put an article on about something or I’ll lift something from one of the older books, the nonfiction books and put that in there.
Just to give people something to read if they want.
Fascinated discovery of Scottish history
Jenny Wheeler: Tell me, in terms of Scottish history, you’ve had an incredibly turbulent and colorful history, haven’t you? Do you think there’s anything in particular either about your geographic location or the nature of the Scottish character, that has created that turbulence?
Douglas Skelton: Yeah, I think there probably is. I don’t know whether the weather has anything to do with it. But certainly the topography would have something to do with it because, the mountains can be a tremendous barrier. But whether or not, anything about our history is unique. I really couldn’t say because I’m a storyteller, not an historian, so I don’t really analyze that sort of thing.
But I would imagine that all countries have their own blood spattered history, but ours is particularly blood spattered.
But I think it’s probably the same everywhere, but we would like to think that ours is unique. Certainly, I think the only thing that would be unique would be the different accents and the different languages.
It’s been very much a polyglot nation because you’d have the Gaelic, you’d have English, you’d have Lowland Scots, all sorts of things going on. So a Babel like country of people perhaps speaking different languages.
Oh, there we’re, there we’re, there’s Mickey (Douglas’s dog) now. So he didn’t let me down. I find Scottish history fascinating. I think probably because when I was at school, they didn’t teach it to any great degree.
Recommending Historian John Prebble
We didn’t get a lot of the things and there’s so much about Scottish history that just isn’t known.
A lot of Scots just don’t know what went on, or they’ve got the whole wrong idea. I mean, Culloden, for instance. There’s a lot of people who think that it was English against Scots, but it wasn’t English against Scot because there were Scots, on both sides. There was Scots in the government forces, and obviously there were the clans.
So it wasn’t an English against Scotland conflict at all. And it was the same with the Wars of Independence. Robert the Bruce, great Scottish hero actually fought for the King of England at one point.
It’s a very, very complex history of shifting loyalties and shifting allegiances and caught in the middle of all this, the ordinary people.
The best historian I have ever read was John Prebble. And I say this to anybody who listens, that if you want to know about Scottish history, then go to John Prebble’s books. Go to The Lion In The North, in which he outlines just about everything in Scottish history.
Looking back down the years
And he does it so very well. And his books about Culloden and Highland clearances and the Glencoe massacre are just so fascinating, So well researched, and so well written. You can’t get any better.
Jenny Wheeler: And are they, I’m sorry, I don’t know him. Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Douglas Skelton: Nonfiction, but so well, so well written and so well researched. They are incredible pieces of work. He’s been, declared as a socialist historian, which kinda suits me. but I just find his writing so good.
Jenny Wheeler: Mm, Look. Just one last question actually. I’m interested, I did a history degree. I’m by no means a historian, but we had a similar thing here that the school curriculum very much reflected the powers that be of the day and, And so you really only got one version of history. For you, was it more of an Anglicized version of Scottish history that was taught because effectively you were part of the United Kingdom
A rich ground for future books
Douglas Skelton: It was only from memory cuz it was some time ago. From memory, the only bits of Scottish history that we got were those that were part of British history.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes.
Douglas Skelton: We maybe have got a wee bit about Culloden and the Jacobites band got a wee bit of Bannockburn. But mostly history to my memory was British history, which meant very much London based in a way.
We weren’t taught much about the Scottish Kings and Queens. You’d get Mary Queen of Scots, you would get, James the sixth, but only because you became James the First of England and Scotland and Wales
But there was such a rich history that I discovered when I started to read for myself. Going further back in the various other Stuart Kings and, that just wasn’t taught. I think it has changed now, certainly.
Jenny Wheeler: There’s obviously a very rich ground there still for you to draw on, which is wonderful, Douglas. thank you so much.
Douglas Skelton: Thank you.
If you enjoyed Douglas you might also enjoy romantic mysteries with Catriona
Catriona McPherson’s ‘Scottish Downton Abbey’ Dandy Gilver series serves up a hedonistic mix of history, black comedy and murder in elegant prose certain to appeal to fans of Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie and Nancy Mitford.
On Binge Reading next week -Melody Carlson and an Inspirational Christmas
Christmas inspiration from Melody Carlson, an award winning author of more than 200 novels and more than 20 Christmas novellas; creating stories for people who may not expect a fabulous family time in the festive season, but can still find hope and joy.
That’s Binge Reading next week. That’s it for today. Thanks for listening and happy reading.