Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rob's New Book is Out!

New and Recommended!

For all of you who read and enjoyed my nice brother-in-law's excellent first book (No Time to Hide), I'm thrilled to announce that his even better second book came out today!

Rob (Rob Palmer is his name) writes marvelous, twisty thrillers, with 3-D characters and breath-holding suspense. And very appropriately to this election season--

Eyes of the World is a story of lies and betrayal, the tragedies that bind us together, and the blinding trust of love. America has its first woman president, Lynnie Connor, whom Mike Stanbridge has known since childhood. Their friendship is common knowledge; their love affair is the most carefully guarded secret of their lives. It’s campaign season, and as Lynnie runs hard for reelection, Mike is framed for murder. His only way out is to dig into Lynnie’s past, learning something that seemingly turns her whole life into a lie. Pursued by the FBI and a squad of assassins, Mike runs for Lynnie’s political life—and his own survival.

Praise for Eyes of the World:

“Suspenseful and affecting. A top-notch thriller with a tender heart.”

Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author [cough] of the Outlander and Lord John series

“5 Stars! A perfect read for the election year! . . . Rob Palmer's book [is] superlative. . . . I was kept on the edge of my seat the entire time. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. Magnificent!

Huntress Reviews

“You’re gonna want to read this one! Hold on for an intricately plotted, wickedly smart trip through presidential politics. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you’ll realize the games have just begun. An excellent book.”

Fresh Fiction

I'm sure you'll enjoy this terrific book as much as I did—though should you need any extra inducement [g], my sister, Theresa Gabaldon, is offering the famous family enchilada recipe to anyone who buys the book before the 4th of July.

Here's the link to the book's page on amazon.com:




And here's my sister's email address, if you'd like the enchilada recipe:


Saturday, April 19, 2008


[I originally posted this as a "Letter from Home"(or abroad) in the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, so some of you will have seen it. I know not everyone who subscribes to the blog lurks over there, though--so for the rest of you, here it is.]

April 16th was the 262nd anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, and thus an appropriate date for the dedication of the new Visitors Centre (among other things, they'd discovered that the battlefield wasn't _exactly_ where they originally thought it was--and that in fact, the old Visitors Centre was sitting on top of part of the second Government line of battle [cough]).

Having decided to build a new Centre, though, they did it right. An immense amount of thought, inspiration, and technology went into the construction, and the staff behind it are immensely--and justifiably--proud of it.

The dedication wasn't until 2 PM, so we spent the morning engaged in research--beginning with what one eats on "traditional Scottish porridge" (heavy cream and Demerara sugar (this being brown, crystallized sugar), at Culloden House). (The first day we arrived, I'd left something in the car, and had to go round to the car-park at the side of the house to get it. Coming back in, I couldn't recall whether the front door pushed or pulled, and did the wrong thing. Seeing my struggles, the very nice receptionist rushed over to open the door for me, observing, "Ye mustn't have had your porridge this morning!" "Indeed I have not," I replied cordially. Tuna and red onion apparently doesn't stimulate the brain cells the way porridge does.)

Research then took us into Inverness, where we found a car-park and went down to the river on foot, to undertake a census of the city's churches (no, I'm not telling you why that, either). Fortunately, this was pretty easy; most of the churches in town are located on one bank or another of the River Ness, within a span of a few blocks. I am now in a position to state authoritatively that Inverness is absolutely crawling with Presbyterians. No fewer than _six_ Church of Scotland churches--all within a quarter-mile of each other--by comparison with a couple of Free Church establishments, one Episcopalian church (though it _is_ a fairly grand cathedral), and one Roman Catholic church, done in the "Gothic perpendicular" style, according to the plaque on its front, and with a heavily Polish congregation, judging from the notices in the vestibule.

Started out to walk down the riverside--there's a lovely small park on the Islands of the Ness at the end of the walk--but realized we wouldn't have enough time to get there and back, eat, and still have time to change clothes for the dedication. Zipped back up the High Street--which has changed quite a bit since I was last here; many shops shut up, or moved into the new Eastgate shopping mall at the top of the street--to a small Italian restaurant (Bella Italia) we'd seen on our way to the river, and had a quick salad to sustain us. (One feature of the new High Street is "automatic bollards" which can rise out of the pavement to block car traffic, so that the entire street becomes a walkway--but can be retracted, if an emergency vehicle needs to come down the street. Doug was fascinating by these--he kept referring to them as "automatic ballocks"--and insisted on hanging around to watch for a bit and see if they'd pop up, but they didn't oblige.)

Zoomed back to the hotel and changed; I'd brought the blue version of my Santa Fe silks, and Doug had asked earlier if I meant to be the only peacock at the ceremony. I replied that since I would likely be in the company of innumerable men attired in kilts and grouse feathers, I rather doubted that anyone would notice me. (Doug had originally planned to wear his own kilt, but decided against it on logistical grounds; the thing takes up so much room--even without accessories like stockings and sporran--that it would have required an extra suitcase to bring it (we travel light; just one small roller bag each.)).

Not everyone was kilted (well, the women weren't, of course--though one elderly lady had a fabulous blue tartan ensemble, heavy silk straight floor-length skirt and a box-cut jacket), but there were a good many kilts in evidence--the reception the night before had been for only 40 or so people; 250 were invited to the dedication, and there was quite a mob in the foyer of the Visitors Centre. By sheer accident, we were fairly near the front, and thus able to hear everything, and see some of it.

After a simple speech by Alexander Bennett (whose actual title I forget, but he's in charge of the Visitors Centre--and looks Very Nice in a kilt), a lady from the National Trust for Scotland introduced the two little boys (aged 6--he'd be 7 next day--and 11) who'd been chosen to perform the actual dedication; both of them were descended from men who'd fought at Culloden--one from a Jacobite soldier, the other from _both_ a Jacobite and a Government soldier. They were introduced, and together, cut a red ribbon stretched across the entrance to the new exhibition area--after which a drape was pulled aside on the wall beside us, revealing a plaque stating that the place was dedicated on April 16, 2008, by Shonaig Somebody (whose last name I forget) from the NTS, Somebody Haigh (kid #1, whose first name I forget, too), and Philip Nicoll (kid #2, and I have no idea why _his_ name stuck). Applause all round, followed by sandwiches and canapes and tiny plastic cups of whisky--"Culloden Cream" (this being a cream and whisky drink, ala Bailey's Irish Cream, but with a sharper whisky edge to it) and "Tomatin" whisky.

Also Celtic music, supplied by a local group called Blazing Fiddles (and they _were_!) and then Highland Dancers, a quartet of young girls performing to taped pipe music. Neglected to mention before that a piper had been playing on the battlefield prior to the dedication--they said he was to play for the exact duration of the battle.

Beyond the great impact (and I do mean impact; they pull no punches; among the exhibits are not only the usual round musket balls retrieved from the field, but some of those flattened by the impact of passing through a man's body) and excellent execution of the new Centre, the designers also put a great deal of subtle interpretation into the fabric of the Centre itself. At the beginning of the exhibit, you have the Government side of the story on one side (they make a great point of its being "the Govenrment" versus the Jacobites, rather than "Scots versus English"--very properly, as Scots (both Highland clans and Lowlanders) fought _with_ the Government in order to defeat what they saw as a Stuart invasion (with concomitant efforts to return Britain to Catholicism, popery, and French influence)), and the evolving Jacobite story on the other (both with eerie shadow-boxes, where you touch a lighted panel, and the shadow of a person--nearly life-size--comes forward and tells you his or her story; the stories are from men and woman, people on both sides, and told in both English and Gaelic (a lot more emphasis is paid to the Gaelic culture in this new version). The backing of the exhibits on the Government side is made of raw-looking boards--which at the beginning are all higgledy-piggledy, but as you pass through, begin to lie closer together, and by the end of the story, are running in tight, true lines. This--as the staff explained to us--symbolizing the ragged nature of the Government's information and organization, as they began to get wind of the advancing Jacobite plot--this then becoming firmer and more orderly, to culminate in the solid battle lines that had won the day.

Because of the crowd of people, they were sending them through the exhibit in small groups at ten-minute intervals. We'd seen the exhibit the night before, so instead, we went outside for a brief look at the battlefield itself--not wanting to forget just what the point was, amongst the hoopla and celebration.

It was a day of sun and shadow, with a booming wind that came roaring over the moor. I'd luckily thought better of wearing the long, floaty silk skirt [g], in view both of the wind and the fact that the temperature was about 9 degrees Celsius--but I did have the floaty silk ruana, worn over three layers of warm clothes. When we stepped out, the wind caught the back of this and whirled it up around my head; Doug said it looked as though I was proposing to introduce Islam to Scotland (did not see any mosques on Huntly Street or Bank Street, though I wouldn't bet that there isn't one, somewhere in Inverness).

Got disentangled to find myself standing beside a long outer wall of the building, built of stones some 3-4" in height, most a foot or so long--some of them set so that they protruded from the wall itself. One of the staff explained that these, too, were symbolic--the protruding stones were of two kinds, and each stone sticking out symbolized either a dead Jacobite (some 700 of them) or a Government soldier (about 50) who'd died on the field. (There's a part of the battlefield near the Center, with a stone of its own that reads, "The Field of the English. They were buried here.")

Going down along this wall toward the battlefield, we met a woman with a black eye (a _big_ black eye), who stopped dead and said, "Excuse me--but are you by any chance Diana and Doug?" This turned out to be "Mac"--an online friend of Susan's (Susan being the helpful person who comes to do the bookkeeping and haul all my junk to the post office). I'd told Susan that I'd hang about a bit after the dedication, in case any of the online listers or Ladies of Lallybroch who might live nearby might want to stop by and say hello--and Mac had driven down from Thurso (! )--which is _not_ nearby--to do so, with her friend Linda.

We chatted for a bit, and Mac explained that the black eye was the result of her having walked into the new plate-glass sliding door at her local supermarket, and told us that she'd just met a staff member hurrying along, who'd stopped to ask about her eye, and then said, "I'm just going to inspect the gentleman who's been reported lying in the grass, to see if he's all right." (Returning, the lady reported that indeed, the gentleman lying in the grass was fine, "He was just lying back in the grass, listening to the birds." Scotland is a very tolerant country, it's history of religious schism notwithstanding.)

Parting from Mac and Linda, we walked down onto the battlefield. It's a quiet place. Notwithstanding wind, or visitors, or the Highland sheep that the NTS has used now and then to remove the saplings and help restore the moor to what they think is likely its original condition. Very quiet.

The lines of the two armies are shown by lines of flags--red and blue--fluttering in the wind. And just beyond the end of the Government lines, the path leads down beside the Well of the Dead "Where the Chief of the MacGillvrays Fell". It's a very small spring, welling out of the ground just by the path; you'd miss it, without the stone beside it. Someone had put the heads of fresh--cut daisies in the water; they floated there, safely out of the wind.

And just beyond this, the path lies between wide, grassy verges, on which the clan stones are ranged. These were put up to commemorate the fallen of the various clans--Clan MacIntosh (which has three stones; evidently MacIntosh was in the thick of it); MacGillivray, Stewart of Appin, Cameron...Clan Fraser. People who visit Culoden often send me pictures of the Fraser clanstone. Not like the pictures they send me of standing stones; those always have the sender or a friend standing with the stone, smiling and waving. There are never any people in the photographs of the clan stone. Just the lump of lichened granite that says "Clan Fraser."

We came back, quiet in the wind, to meet other online people who'd come to the Visitors Centre to say hello--I think I met seven or eight, all told--and sign books. On the way, I saw the boggy hollow where Jamie woke after the battle, knowing he was dead. And looked back at the clan stones, ragged lines beside the path, that say, "Don't forget." And back again at the new wall, with its fresh gray stones that say, "We haven't."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Well, I _was_ going to kick off my trip to the UK with a sprightly essay entitled "A Brief Disquisition on the Existence of Butt-Cooties." Had it mostly done; meant to post it just before we left, then follow on with a general blog about our doings in England, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, I left it in my other computer. (No, really; I brought my new MacBook on the trip, and forgot to transfer the essay out of my PC, where it's still sitting.) So I guess I'll use that as a closing flourish, instead.

We arrived in Scotland today! (Spent two days in New York first, to break the journey--poor Doug is 6'3 or 4, and Suffers Terribly on long flights, as he can't sleep on airplanes.) Then landed in England, which was quick, but fun. We had dinner with friends, had another dinner with the new UK publishing people--Orion is now my UK publisher, and a lovely lot they all are, too--went to the Museum of London (amazing place! It's address is One London Wall; it's built on what's left of the city wall), the National Portrait Gallery (just as amazing, in a different way. So cool to see the faces of history, especially all the Tudors and Stuarts and their cohorts), and...well, ate. As my husband remarked in tones of amazement last night, "We've been in England for 48 hours, and we haven't eaten anything awful yet!" The wonders of globalization. [g] (Had a wonderful time sitting in pubs drinking red wine and listening to the conversations, too. More globalization, I suppose--or the influence of television; while the people _all_ had accents--and not all English accents, either--we could understand them easily, whereas on previous visits it often took several repetitions of an exchange for both parties to understand what was being said. This time, they understood _us_, too.)

Anyway, got up Way Early and dragged our bags to the Tube station at Pimlico (lovely cool day; cold enough to see your breath, but a sweatshirt was enough to keep warm), and went to Victoria, where we caught the Gatwick Express, arriving in enough time to hunt food--had wonderful sandwiches for breakfast at the airport (the UK in general has _great_ sandwiches; they'll put _anything_ between two slices of bread (usually very fresh and good), and it's usually extremely tasty, though I drew the line at sweet-corn with bacon and Branston pickle): I had tuna, salad, and red onion, and Doug had egg, cress, and mayo, both on "malted granary bread" (aka multi-grain; delicious)).

Flew to Edinburgh, and got our rental car--a brand-new Audi A3 (whose right windshield wiper stopped working about three miles out of the lot; luckily, it didn't rain much), then drove north. After the hair-raisingness of negotiating the Edinburgh round-abouts on the left-side, Doug got comfortable again, and we could enjoy the ride, heading up through the rising lands of the Highlands, into big, rolling mountains still covered with snow on the heights, the un-treed slopes covered with a thick coat of dusty heather with the purple ghost of its summer glory lingering, and thick growths of gorse sprouting out of the rocks, so dark a green as to look black, covered with yellow flowers even brighter than the scads of daffodils growing on the roadside verges. Big, puffy clouds and small intermittent showers, but overall, a brilliant, beautiful day.

We stopped in Pitlochry, ostensibly to look for lunch. I had a secret agenda, though, which I hadn't mentioned, because I knew Doug was worried about reaching Inverness in good time to find our hotel and change for the evening reception at Culloden. I'd discovered, in the process of recent research, that Pitlochry has a hydroelectric dam, built in the 50's, and along with it, has a visitor's centre that recounts the development and history of hydroelectric power in the Highlands--that, and a fish chamber [g], where one can watch migrating salmon and trout making their way up a fish-ladder past the dam.

By good fortune [cough], we happened to see the sign for "Dam and Fish-ladder," and I (in my position as navigator) pointed and said, "Oh, let's stop there!" "Why do you want to see a fish-ladder?" Doug asked, pulling into the lot. "I don't," I replied, leaping out and heading for the dam. "I want to see a hydroelectric plant!" (No, I told him why, but I'm not telling you, sorry. It's to do with the next book, that's all.)

No fish were migrating, alas, but the visitors centre was fascinating, the stream (full of middle-aged and elderly men in waders with fly-rods) was rushing and glorious, spring plants were greening up all over, the trees were full of birds about their courting, and there was a delightful small stone inn/restaurant called Port-na-Craig below the car-park, where we stopped into the Fisherman's Bar (so-called for the dozens of ancient fishing-rods hung from the ceiling) and had absolutely decadent burgers--tender, juicy Scottish beef, overlaid with bacon (of the British kind--soft and streaky, not the crispy American sort) and thick with melted cheese--a tangy sort of local white cheddar. You couldn't pick them up to eat; they were so juicy, the bun fell apart, so we had to eat them with a fork ("We havena got tomahto _sauce_," the nice waitress explained ('tomato sauce" being Scottish for "ketchup"), 'But we've got a bit of tomahto salsa, if ye'd like that?" (We did. [g]) Homemade chips with white vinegar, a little salad on the side....and we went back to the car and nearly fell asleep on the next part of the journey, from sheer satiation.

Didn't go off the road, though, and made it to the Culloden House Hotel without incident. This place is a marvel; a very old, very large, stone-built country house, renovated and restored into a four-star hotel. Victorian wallpapering and furniture, luscious thick carpeting, windows with ancient wooden shutters to keep the morning light out, and a first-class dining room, equipped with Royal Worcester china, etched crystal goblets, heavy silver--and a menu to die for. I had the tournedos of Scottish fillet of beef, with wild-mushroom risotto, and Doug had a pork cutlet topped with pickled red onion, and a creamed sweetcorn soup with crawfish tails and chili oil (don't laugh; it was great [g]).

You might be more interested in the fact that during the final days before the Battle of Culloden, Jacobite troops rested on the grounds here--and Jacobite officers stayed in the house (the original house; the present house was built on the same site in 1780). Also because it was in one of the attic rooms of Culloden House that Jamie had his final, fatal confrontation with his uncle Dougal (of which we may possibly hear more, anon).

You'll be thinking that we don't do anything while traveling but eat, by this time. But no--our actual reason for being here today was a reception this evening at the new Culloden Battlefield Memorial Visitors Centre, to which we'd been invited by the National Trust for Scotland, they generously regarding us as donors to the project.

The new Visitors Centre is wonderful from the outside--very modern, with long, low, clean lines, so that it seems to fit into the landscape, rather than stick up out of it. The outside landscaping is still in progress, but they've begun to lay the stones for the Culloden Walk Project. I'll include a link here, in case any of you might be interested in contributing to the project yourselves.


I'd contributed a "chieftain stone" saying "Urram do na mairbh" (To the honor of the dead.")--and my thanks to Catherine-Ann McPhee (noted Gaelic singer and teacher) for the proper Gaelic! The Ladies of Lallybroch had very generously donated a stone to the project as well, in my honor. [modestly pleased cough] Anyway, the walk is a long way from finished, but even the beginnings of it are very impressive indeed--flat, dark stones, covered with names, leading up to the entrance.

I won't go into exhaustive detail about the evening or the exhibition, save to say that the evening was delightful (met all kinds of lovely people), and the design and execution of the exhibition is amazing--both striking and thoughtful. I _do_ want to tell you about what they call the "battle immersion" zone, though. This is a section where you walk through a dimly lit hallway, accompanying the Jacobite troops on the failed night march to attack the Government troops (you may not know about that, because Jamie didn't take part--he was busy getting Claire safely to the stones); you hear the noises of the Government encampment to your left, and to your right, the shuffling and muttering and jangling of the exhausted, starving Jacobites as they go.

As you come to the end of this hallway, you turn into a small theatre--but it's not the usual kind, with seats. It's a completely empty room, with screens lining the walls on all four sides. You stand in the middle of this, turning constantly round as the battle begins, is fought, and ends....around you. It was fascinating to see the Jacobite troops lining up, sidling uneasily to and fro, getting into their formation--both very real, and very eerie, knowing what was coming. Empty horizon on the other side of the room, the wind stirring the moor grasses--and then the Government troops are there, coming up out of the distance. And coming. And coming. Rank upon rank, Brown Bess muskets on their shoulders. And the cannon rolling into position.

I was looking back at the Jacobite line when the firing began. Two Jacobite artillery pieces fired; a moment's pause--and then English cannonballs struck two men in the front line, a few yards away from me. It was one of the most visceral experiences I've ever had. It went on from there in the same fashion; the terrible hesitation of the Jacobite line, before the order to charge finally came--the yelling mass of men, seeming to sweep right over us and carry us along--into the opposite screens, where the Government line stood firm....just waiting. You could smell the smoke of their volleys.

And then the wind again, over the quiet moor. And the dead.