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What started it all was a stretch of wind-swept, treeless terrain and a bright blue cottage built from timber washed ashore after a shipwreck. I’ve always loved the notion of “if these walls could speak”. And building a house out of second-hand lumber sounds just like something a Hansen would do.

Ireland - blue cottage

How many men died aboard the ship this cottage used to be, trying to navigate the churning waters of the Atlantic, I’ll never know, but these much-treasured, repurposed boards live on as part of their legacy.

Ireland - daisies fence

Have I made my case? Writing a book set in Ireland is a perfectly fine thing to do. Still, I felt like I was cheating on Scotland the whole time we were in Ireland, Wales and southern England. Everyone who reads my blog knows that my love affair with Scotland has taken me through over five weeks of exploration of the bonnie country (in both 2007 and 2016) and five Wildflowers of Scotland novels – WILD ROSE and THISTLE DOWN, a prequel novella, set at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, BLUE BELLE, in and around Tobermory’s rainbow tinted harbor and cottages, castles and white sand beaches on the Isle of Mull, SHY VIOLET, set in Dornie at the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle, SWEET WILLIAM, in the nearby highlands and on the Isle of Skye, and now, GOLDEN ROD, set against the backdrop of Wester-Ross and lovely Lochcarron’s wooded shores.

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GOLDEN ROD is almost ready for the press. I’m very excited to know that soon, people will be holding freshly printed copies in their hands and reading the story of  Katelyn O’Neal, a well-intentioned but naïve American who inherits a castle in Scotland. Katelyn is thrilled to have an opportunity to sell Lachlan Castle to a wealthy bidder who is a client at the PR firm where she words because her twelve-year-old niece is dying and needs a very expensive, specialized treatment. Then she meets the “rightful” heir, Rod MacKenzie. As the “legal” heir, she has every right to cast Rod out of his home, and to destroy the beloved garden that is his legacy. She has no other choice if she wants to save Kacie’s life. But when a desperate pair of 500-year-old ghosts intervene, the whole course of history could change.  GOLDEN ROD is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that I think you’ll find both amusing and uplifting.

Golden Rod Front Cover Final

But now, even as GOLDEN ROD is being birthed, a lass named SEASIDE DAISY is calling out to me. She hails from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in a town named Dingle. My fickle heart has already fallen in love with the people and places of Ireland’s western-most peninsula.

Ireland - daisy sea

Sea caves and standing stones dotting the shoreline, pale lavender and white seaside daisies with yellow centers bent almost flat from the pounding rain and wind – but still blossoming, and even thriving – tell a story of perseverance and determination that captivates my imagination.

Ireland - Daisy lavender

Colourful shoppes filled with driftwood sculptures, fuchsia fairies dangling from lacy branches, and sea glass and beach pottery made into jewelry, call out to me.

Ireland - driftwood horses  Ireland - fairies  Ireland - vase

Constantly changing, ever dramatic skies and rainbows appearing and disappearing in the mist stoke my curiosity until I know I cannot NOT tell this story.

Ireland - beach

Ireland - rainbow

Bicycles. Black-faced sheep with curly horns. Hidden beaches, abandoned bothies, and crumbling battlements… The Wild Atlantic Way. Wild in what way?

Ireland - bicycle  Ireland - sheep

Overgrown rose gardens, fuchsia hedgerows, quirky hat hires, seafood chowder and Irish stew…  It may be a bunch of blarney, but it’s all so exciting and new!

Ireland - flowers  Ireland - fuchsia

Ireland - Hat Hire

Ireland - Seafood chowder

Scotland, it’s been swell. You know I’ll be back. There’s Aberfeldy, Dornoch, St. Andrews and Portree – and many more amazing castles waiting to be explored.

S - Inverary Castle

But I need to find out about this new place and its wild, wonderful ways.

Ireland - sun beach

Read GOLDEN ROD. You’ll agree with me when I say that after all they’ve been through, Rod and Katelyn need a vacation – or might it be a honeymoon? Perhaps they’ll find themselves on a ferry boat traveling across the Irish Sea? Michael and Isabelle from BLUE BELLE might be there, too, on a bicycle built for two, because Isabelle loves to pedal and Michael needs to know if Daisy will give Cavan Donaghue her answer true. Don’t you?  Only eight pages in and I’m already crazy over the likes of these two.

Ireland - daisies

An almost full moon reflected off a pond hugged by beds of flowers in blues, yellows and violets of various heights. In the center, a fountain trickled down the neck and breasts of a stone statue of a woman with full hips and voluptuous curves. The scene was framed by walls of stone and brick, etched with pink climbing roses and lavender wisteria. This is what they were going to destroy?

GR Blog - Wisteria.jpg

As Mark and I head off on another trip to indulge our love affair with Great Britain and research settings of future books, I’m anticipating the release of GOLDEN ROD, the book inspired by last year’s journey to Scotland.

One of the things I most love about writing is the chance to scope out new locations – and with them, the likeable qualities and legends that give the place its charm. And when we get home, my pleasure is doubled when I get to sit down with my thoughts, reminisce about our experiences, and craft a story with word pictures about the places we’ve seen.

GR Blog - Goose bench.jpg

Although Rod MacKenzie’s exquisite walled garden and the unique castle pictured on the front cover of GOLDEN ROD are fictional in the sense that they’re not located along the shores of Loch Carron, many of the other spots mentioned in the book are as real as you and me. In the text below, I’m going to share a snippet from GOLDEN ROD followed by a photo of the real life image that inspired it. Craigievar Castle, Leith Hall Garden and Crarae Garden, which I magically transported to the Lochcarron and the Wester Ross area of Western Scotland, are actually located to the east in Aberdeenshire and Argyll. Enjoy!

GR Blog - bluebelle garden   GR Blog - Castle   GR Blog - Bleeding hearts

The blue waters of Loch Carron disappeared, then reappeared. The road widened. Katelyn glanced out the window and caught sight of a rusty old gate surrounding a cemetery. The stones were all but covered with moldy-looking splotches of who knew what and some sort of green slime that looked straight from the pages of a horror flick.

GR Blog - Cemetery

A few blocks later, a large white building appeared. The huge black letters on its side wall spelled LOCHCA, followed by an R dangling precariously from what looked to be one nail, and a tenuous RON. Which is exactly what she wished she’d done the second she set foot in Scotland – run. Rod might have fanciful – make that delusional – images of the town where he’d been raised, but all she could see was a place that needed a good PR person to improve and update its sad, sorry, broken down image.

GR Blog - Lochcarron Hotel

The town was comprised of a long row of houses on one side, with a sidewalk, a greenbelt, and the lake on the other.

GR Blog - Loch Carron park

Rod pulled into a parking spot and came around to open the door for her. The sign on the front of the whitewashed building with blue trim and a slate roof said Waterside Café, Tearoom Takeaway. There were round picnic tables with bright blue umbrellas over the top in front. Rod straddled the bench of one, and motioned for her to have a seat.

GR Blog - Waterside Cafe

“Ye can go in and look at the menu board on the wall if ye like, or wait. They’ll bring ye a menu in a minute.”

“You don’t need one?”

“Nae. They know what I want.”

“How could they?”

“I’m a regular.”

“And you have the same thing every time?”

“For lunch, Stornoway Black Pudding Stack. It’s layered with apples and Stilton cheese. Pure dead brilliant.”

GR Blog - Stornoway

 “M’Lady? M’Lady? Are ye here?” Valan MacKenzie stood at the window where his wife had fallen to her death 500 years earlier and started to sing her favorite song in the hope she would come to him.

When bluebells start to bloom each spring, I’ll come to ye. My love I’ll bring.

My heart for ye, it always breaks. But sadness will nae overtake.

For hope lives on in each new day. My love for ye will find its way.

GR Blog - bluebells

Rod was holding two large china plates. “I took the liberty of getting some essentials since ye were asleep when we reached the grocery. I thought ye’d enjoy trying a full Scottish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. I skipped the haggis and the black pudding on yer plate since ye seemed a bit squeamish about them yesterday, but the rest should be-”

Her stomach had started to roil at the word eggs. It wasn’t that she disliked eggs, but the thought of eating such a huge breakfast when she was stressed out and in an unfamiliar place and it wasn’t even breakfast time where she was from…

GR Blog - breakfast

They walked through the laburnum archway he and his da had planted a decade earlier. The slender yellow fronds were just starting to fade.

GR Blog - Laburnum Arch

A minute later, Katelyn came flouncing down the steps of the blue and white house where Colin’s office was located. He’d never met anyone – man or woman – with so much attitude.

GR Blog - Blue House

The taller one smiled. “Is Sea Worthy booked for the rest of the afternoon or are you free? We were hoping to see Kilt Rock and Portree from the sea.”

GR Blog - PortreeGR Blog - Portree Harbor  GR Blog - Kilt Rock

 

“Do ye like fish? I’ve two nicely smoked haddock filets that I picked up in Portree this afternoon. My mother used to make something called Haddock Mornay. It’s been years, but I think I can remember how to make the sauce.”

Katelyn looked up and smiled faintly. Aye, the lass was warming up to him awright.

“My mum would make a roux and then stir a wee bit of garlic salt and some buttery, soft white Cheddar from the Isle of Arran into the cream. If ye’re a fan of fish, the taste of the Mornay sauce, o’er a bit of mash, is pure dead brilliant.”

GR Blog - Haddock Mornay

Rod tried to put Katelyn out of his mind as he walked back to the cottage. The deep, mossy scents of the forest floor, the sun-warmed pine needles, and the last remnants of the bluebells filled his nostrils with the familiar scents he loved so much. He could have spent all evening in the woods.

GR Blog - bluebells and buttercups.jpg

Katelyn twirled slowly, not willing to miss a single degree of the panorama spread out in front of her. “Thank you so much for bringing me here. I can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this one.” She peeked through the lacey fronds of Scotch pines and Douglas firs that stretched from blue waters to bluer skies.

    GR Blog - Loch Carron

Rod put one arm around her shoulder and pointed with the other. “See the big white house on the other side of the loch? That’s Stromeferry, where my grandpa’s ferry used to operate.”

GR Blog - Stromferry

Katelyn looked past the feathery fir trees and the hillside covered in bluebells, and the buttercups in bloom, and caught a glimpse of the sky. Moody, grey, towering clouds cast shadows into each valley, every fold of the hillside, turning sunshine to gloom. She felt as unsettled as a changeling, which she might as well believe in now that she’d met a pair of ghosts and God.

She could have stood with her neck arched, looking up at the roiling clouds, forever. It wasn’t because they were beautiful, or even captivating. They were on the move, ever-changing. They were frighteningly unpredictable. They were out of control, so various and sundry that one couldn’t be sure what was going to happen from minute to minute say nothing about tomorrow. Just like her life.

 

GR Blog - Clouds

I hope you’ll read GOLDEN ROD when it comes out next month! Although you’ll see a few familiar faces from my first four Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it’s not necessary to read any of them to enjoy GOLDEN ROD.

The only way Katelyn O’Neal can save her niece’s life is to ruin Rod Mackenzie’s. One 600-year-old Scottish castle. A rightful heir. A legal heir. Two desperate ghosts. GOLDEN ROD by Sherrie Hansen. Coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

Golden Rod Front Cover Final

If Prince Rod of Lachlan sounds like something straight from the pages of a fairy tale, you’re right.

Golden Rod painting

When Katelyn O’Neal, a reluctant “princess” from Minnesota, inherits a castle from a great uncle she met only once, she views the whole ordeal as a huge bother, except that selling the castle to a rich developer will pay for a very expensive, experimental cancer treatment for her 12 year old niece, Kacie.

Golden Rod Castle - Gold.jpg

Rod MacKenzie, the illegitimate but rightful heir to Lachlan, has used his own time and money to take care of the castle and its magnificent gardens for years – despite the fact that his grandfather wrote him out of his will. Rod would love to live happily ever after in the land of his ancestors even though he’s always known it was an impossibility.

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Add Laird Valan MacKenzie and the lovely Lady Rosemary, a pair of 500 year old ghosts who are bound to the castle by age-old curses, and would do anything to escape the place, and you have GOLDEN ROD, a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that turns everything upside down.

S - Brodick Castle

Lachlan – a centuries old castle on Loch Carron in Scotland. Kacie – a twelve year old girl whose dying wish is to see it. Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary – 500 year old ghosts who desperately want to escape it. Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod MacKenzie – the rightful heir who loves Lachlan and its gardens even though he will never inherit.  Katelyn O’Neal – the legal heir who unwitting sold the castle to a low life scum at a high price.

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GOLDEN ROD, a Wildflowers of Scotland novel by Sherrie Hansen – coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

 

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