Margie Lawson

Make your writing soar


Clans of Scotland

Want to write a novel set in Scotland? A New York Times bestseller?? How about a series? Scottish stories are wildly popular after the successful novels of Diana Gabaldon: Outlander, Fly in Amber, Voyager, followed by six more huge books which tell the adventures and trials of Jamie Fraser and Claire.  

Gabaldon placed her story in the mid-18th century at the end of the clan system in the Scottish Highlands. Her characters bravely fought the last of the Jacobite rebellions. In this course you will learn about the background, the 16th to 18th centuries, which led to the tragic defeat at the battle of Culloden.

What made Highlanders so attractive to readers all over the world? Welsh people wonder. After all they too speak a Celtic language. Just because Highlandmen wear kilts? Yes! However, the kilt is not an ancient garment. Want to know more?

If you were to visit Edinburgh in the 18th-century, you’d find out that Lowlanders thought Highlanders savage, a ready source of rebels, far less civilised than the ‘red Indians’ of the New World. Tartan or any chequed fabric was associated with Highlanders and the Lowland poor. Ministers of religion complained that women could hide under a tartan shawl and go to sleep during sermons. You’ll learn how the Highland image was ‘rehabilitated’ in the 19th century.

Sheila Currie will provide information about the names of the clans, their locations, and their feuds and fights. You’ll also gain insights about daily life: making a living, keeping families strong and how to marry. Marriage was different in the Highlands. Very different.

How do you know you’re in Scotland when you read a Scottish novel? How much background should you include? Will you sprinkle a little magic in your story? Writing a great Scottish story means more than a list of dates. Blah. What are the sources for learning all this? Yes, you need history, but also folklore, a few words of Scottish Gaelic, customs, and insights into the society of the Scottish Highlands—the clans.

What you will learn:

  • The historical background from the 16th to the 18th century: the life-threatening events, the feuds and fights
  • How to name your characters and their lands
  • How to dress your characters—it changes through the centuries
  • How to place your characters in a village or a castle among ancient stone monuments
  • What to put on the first pages of your novel which show your readers that they are no longer in Kansas

Every lesson will include questions or writing exercises to help you write a very special Scottish novel. You’ll also receive research projects, writing exercises and feedback as well as a chronology and bibliography.

Who should take this course:

  • Writers who have never visited Scotland (but want to)
  • Writers who wish to deepen their knowledge of Scotland
  • Experienced writers who want to write a Scottish novel which is resonates with knowledge of the Highlands
  • Writers who want to know what Diana Gabaldon knows

Course overview:

Lesson one: Scotland in 1100

  • Nations who lived in Scotland: Scots, English, Norse & Welsh
  • The landscape: the giants who made the hills
  • Gaelic Scotland
  • Gaelic Royal Inauguration: kings were not enthroned or crowned in church
  • Kenneth MacAlpine and his Law
  • The real MacBeth (or as real as we can research)
  • Sources for historical characters

Lesson two: David I & 1000 Anglo-Norman Knights

  • Who were the Normans? Was French spoken in Scotland
  • What were Normans doing in Scotland?
  • What was feudalism?
  • Were the Highlands feudalised?
  • What was a knight?
  • Were there knights in shining armour in Gaelic Scotland?

Lesson Three: World building

  • Highlands & Lowlands: more than bumps & dips in the landscape
  • Burghs & castles in Inglische-speaking regions
  • Making a living in the Lowlands
  • A bit about Gaelic: clann means ‘children’
  • Assembly places & villages in a Gaelic-speaking region
  • Making a living in the Highlands
  • Were there roads and bridges suitable for carriages? How about pubs?
  • Research & create a landscape for a clan   

Lesson Four: The ‘Clan System’

  • Responsibilities & Expectations of:
    • Chiefs
    • Household Men (aka warband)
    • Gentlemen
    • Tenants
  • How did the ‘clan system’ work?
  • Who are the secondary and minor characters: inhabitants & itinerants
  • Feuds
  • Bonds of Friendship
  • Examples provided from books & films: Rob Roy
  • Create character profiles

Lesson Five: The Major Clans

The origins and history of:

  • Clan Donald
  • Clan Campbell
  • Clan MacKenzie
  • Clan Chattan
  • Clan MacKay
  • Clan MacLeod
  • Creating a fictitious but believable clan

Lesson Six: Women

  • The ties that bind: friendship, marriage & fosterage
  • Trial marriage with a money-back guarantee
  • Marriage
  • Children & Fosterage
  • Witches and wise Women
  • Healing & herbs
  • Create character profiles
  • Novels about women by J. Kearsley, S. Fletcher

Lesson Seven: A taste of Ireland

  • The clans of Gaelic Ireland
  • The men of learning: poets, pipers, harpers, genealogists, historians & seers
  • Galloglasses (mercenaries from Scotland)
  • Raiders & Traders

Lesson Eight:  Disasters & Wars

  • The Wars of the Three Kingdoms
  • The Jacobite Rebellions
  • Emigration
  • Romanticism and tourism
  • Choosing a background for your story
  • Examples from books: D.K. Broster, N. Tranter


  • Questions about sources, particular clans and events are welcome
  • You may send your first three pages for feedback


Sharron Gunn writing as Sheila Currie

Sheila Currie lives in a world of thousands of books, fiction and non-fiction. Visiting friends worry about avalanches.

She was born on the east coast of Canada where there are many other people whose families came from Scotland and Ireland. Her love of those countries led her to study in Nova Scotia, Canada and then in Scotland where she obtained an M.A. in Scottish History and Celtic Studies from the University of Glasgow. She was fortunate enough to have a summer job selling Gaelic books door-to-door in the West Highlands and Islands. She went from one cup of tea to the next–a wonderful opportunity to talk to local people and hear their stories. 

She has taught history and Gaelic at university and for Hearts Through History Romance Writers. At long last she has published The Banshee of Castle Muirn, the first book of a trilogy–set in magic and historical Scotland.




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