An author from Little Harbour has caught the attention of Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series.
Margie MacKay’s novel, Iain of New Scotland, features the foreword from Gabaldon, whom MacKay herself is a fan of.
“I had read the series primarily for the history,” said MacKay, whose book launched Sept. 12 at the McCulloch House Museum and Genealogy Centre. “I’m interested in everything related to Gaelic culture, so isn’t this lovely? My book is the same era as the Outlander series, just from a different perspective. It’s just prior to the American Revolution.”
The novel was MacKay’s COVID-19 project and features 13-year-old Iain Robertson and his family upon arrival to Pictou County from the Ship Hector.
“I’m a great believer in promoting local history and I wanted to do something to recognize all the people on the Hector,” said MacKay. “Life was not easy for a lot of those people. I’m a descendent of several passengers, so this is kind of a tribute to the people who were on the Hector.”
The book, while a work of fiction, includes a number of artifacts, including a key brought over by her ancestor Roderick MacKay.
“I feel if you have something concrete to pass around, people want to be able to feel it. There are pictures of these artifacts in the book as well, to make it a little more real,” she said.
The main character, Iain, is a blend of several people MacKay has known throughout her life.
“He was a fun character to do,” she said. “A kid’s adventure is different than an adult’s, and sometimes their viewpoint is a lot different.”
In deciding on the type of book she was going to write, MacKay says she thought one from the perspective from a 12 or 13-year-old could be “quite interesting.”
The idea, however, was put on the backburner for a few years. The author would work on it periodically here and there, but finally realized during the pandemic “I think I have some time here.”
The research, says MacKay, was fun to do.
“There’s lots of tidbits from my growing up that I remembered. One of my grandfathers spoke Gaelic and I learned little tidbits through my mother’s speech. I can still hear her.”
MacKay uses her ancestors’ experiences to weave the tale of the first Gaels to settle in Nova Scotia, as well as the connections made with other people, including Mi’kmaq.
“When the Hector settlers arrived that first winter, if it wasn’t for the Natives they probably wouldn’t have survived,” she said, adding it was important to include those contributions. “Those Gaels didn’t know how to make snowshoes, they didn’t know how to make maple syrup … they just didn’t know. The Natives really helped them.”
Because it’s an historical novel, MacKay wanted to make sure her inclusions were correct so she worked with two Mi’kmaw language consultants from Eskasoni. They helped translate dialogue, name a Mi’kmaw character, and reviewed cultural content.
“It adds another level to it,” said MacKay.
The book also highlights the Gaelic language through dialogue and excerpts of real Gaelic songs and blessings. A glossary, name pronunciation guide, and song list is included in the book.
When asked if there might be a sequel to Iain of New Scotland, the author didn’t rule out the possibility.
“There’s so much history here. There are some incredible stories of people who came across that didn’t make it in (to the book). You never know.”
While researching for the book, MacKay said she had already known much of the history, although it was smaller details that were more interesting to her. Caribou are featured in her book, however caribou no longer exist in Nova Scotia.
One thing she found interesting to learn was the sound caribou—which are first cousins to reindeer—make when their tendons move over their bones.
“They make a clicking sound,” said MacKay, noting Twas the Night Before Christmas possibly references the sound with the line ‘there arose such a clatter.’
“It’s fascinating. Females and males both have antlers. It’s very interesting to learn, and I just file it away for another time.”
Being a retired teacher, MacKay feels it’s important to have something for younger people to read to help understand history a little more, which she hopes Iain of New Scotland will do.
“It’s a great way for anybody to learn something about history,” she said.
MacKay’s book is available at the McCulloch House Museum and Genealogy Centre, as well as Bradan Press online at www.bradanpress.com.