On my very first of some ten trips to Scotland researching both historical novels and contemporary tales in the land of my ancestors, I had an extraordinary experience that has haunted my thoughts for years.
I was working in those days as an on-air broadcaster for both KABC Radio & TV and got the dream assignment to cover the “International Gathering of the Scottish Clans”—a rather clever public relations ploy to urge those of Scottish descent from around the world to “come home” to the land of the Celts and the Gaels…and bring their country’s currencies with them!
On the day when a hundred pipers queued up to march into Meadowbank Stadium just outside Edinburgh on a cloudless afternoon, I stood holding a microphone among some ten thousand of the “Scottish Diaspora” that hailed not only from the US, but Canada, Australia, New Zealand and places all over the world. Next to me was the, then, Mayor of New York, John Lindsay attired in his full Scottish regalia: a Lindsay tartan kilt, Prince Charlie Coatee, knee socks, brogues, and proudly displaying the “men’s purse” known as the sporran, strapped around his waist.
Without warning, my throat closed and tears sprang to my eyes. A voice inside my head whispered: You came from here! This is where your family once lived and braved so many hardships to sail the Atlantic toward a new life in America!
Although years of research never proved that “our” McCulloughs were the same ones related to Jane Maxwell, I’ve never shaken the feeling that I remembered what it was like to have hailed from Scotland. Eventually, I began to wonder if an ancestor’s memories of love and loss could be encoded in the genes of those who came later in the family line?
I’ve explored that theme in a number of novels (A Cottage by the Sea, Midnight on Julia Street, A Light on the Veranda)--books that my editors dubbed “time-slip tales” that start out in the present-day and then, through one of the five senses, tilt back to an earlier time inhabited by the modern heroine’s ancestors, weaving back and forth in parallel, related stories that ultimately have great meaning for the protagonists in the modern world.
In my latest release (November, 2013), That Autumn in Edinburgh, I wanted to explore this idea in a purely contemporary setting. Given that scientists have now isolated “the shy gene” and developed an entirely new branch of scientific enquiry called Epigenetics that explores how stress chemicals like adrenaline can actually alter a person’s genetic make-up, turning “on” and “off” certain factors so that even identical twins can end up with a different gene pattern--depending on life events impacting them differently. I wondered if that meant echoes of traumatic--or even exhilarating--memories could also be handed down to subsequent generations? Is there is an explanation for knowing intuitively that something about the past has deep meaning for a person in the present?
These musing brought me to ask this question: Can memories of a tragic, eighteenth century love triangle be passed down through a descendant’s DNA?
In That Autumn in Edinburgh, a compelling, almost mystical attraction draws American designer Fiona Fraser into the force field of visiting Scotsman, Alexander Maxwell, through an eerie happenstance one steamy summer’s day in New York City.
When Fiona’s mercurial boss dispatches her to Edinburgh to create a Scottish Home Furnishings Collection, the chemistry deepens as she and Alex discover their ancestral bonds to the star-crossed lovers Thomas Fraser—the “Lost Lieutenant”—and Jane Maxwell, the flamboyant 4th Duchess of Gordon, who died in 1812.
From the cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to the tartan and cashmere mills of the Scottish border country, the modern lovers grapple with the imminent threat of financial ruin to their respective firms, along with ancient wounds echoing down through time—and a heartbreaking mystery, hidden for more than two centuries, that will dictate their own destinies.
I have yet to prove if my theory of “genetic memory” is actually true, but I think my new novel might make you ask the same question of your own family history! At least, if you read That Autumn in Edinburgh, you’ll have a great “trip” to Scotland to think about it!
The novel is available as an e-book from Amazon/Kindle; B&N/Nook;Apple/iBooks; Kobo, and as a trade paperback from Amazon.
Includes a Readers Group Discussion Guide
“A deep, complex novel exploring love, betrayal, healing, and renewal in the human heart.” —Affaire de Coeur
“…[A] story so fascinating that it should come with a warning—do not start unless you want to be up all night!”—Romantic Times
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