Where did you get the inspiration for The Return of the Heir?
I love all things Scotland. My family knows that. I’m always reading books about Scotland or planning my next trip. About ten years ago, my brother-in-law brought me an article about the Fairy Flag. At the time, I was deep in other projects, but the Fairy Flag intrigued me as did the MacLeod clan, Dunvegan Castle, and the Isle of Skye. I’ve been there and absolutely fell in love with the isle. It was easy enough to believe in fairy magic after seeing so many beautiful landscapes and learning about the lore of the isle.
That’s one of the hardest parts of writing…not letting yourself get distracted by other things! So, I put the article into my potential stories folder. Then, after I finished up my current projects and was thinking about what to write next, I remembered that article. I spent the next few months researching the MacLeod clan and the Fairy Flag. All kinds of elements needed to build a story-world started falling into place, and I knew I’d found my next series, The Guardians of the Isles.
How do you relate to Gwendolyn, your heroine, and how do you hope readers will relate to her?
Every one of us has had bad things happen to us at some point in our lives. And every one of us has had to figure out how to rise from such an event. I wanted Gwendolyn to embody the spirit of a survivor. I want readers to follow along on Gwendolyn’s journey as she finds the strength to heal from her trauma and as she learns that her trauma has not lessened her but made her stronger. I hope many readers will see themselves in Gwendolyn’s strength and determination and that they will cheer for her as she receives the gift of true love after everything she’s been through.
How do you relate to Alastair?
I am a peacemaker. That’s always been my role in my family and in my life. So I truly understand Alastair’s need to sow peace at a time when there was very little. As the new laird, and having survived his own trauma, I wanted Alastair to need Gwendolyn’s strength to help him become the leader and the man he is supposed to be. She teaches him that a peace-first approach isn’t always feasible, but at the end of the day, he will always have peace at home with the woman he loves.
Are your characters set before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?
When I start writing, I have a basic idea of who my characters are, what they want, what they fear, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The rest of it, we discover together along the way. It’s always nice to be surprised by your characters. It keeps writing interesting.
What did that development process look like for The Return of the Heir?
Since The Return of the Heir is the start of the Guardians of the Isles series, it took almost a year to research and write the first book. I had to build my story world that would encompass the three MacLeod triplets and their family. One of the main characters I needed to research was the story’s location—Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. The castle has changed a lot over the centuries and I needed to understand what it looked like in the 18th century before it underwent a major restoration. I have pictures all around my office of the front, back, sides, and interior of Dunvegan now and in the past. I made a map of Dunvegan and all the places on the property that I use in the stories. I also made a map of the Isle of Skye and put all the places the characters visit on it so I could keep things straight in my mind from book to book. Now that I think about it, I should probably put that map into the books for all of you!
I have a story world binder that contains all the characters with descriptions, details, and notes as the books move along in the series. I also have three three-inch binders filled with research. I print out or make photocopies of everything so that I can have it at my fingertips. Finding first sources for research is very important and I want to remember where I found what. After all the research, writing the story is the easy part!
What was your favorite scene to write and why?
An enjoyable task for any author is to put your characters in complicated situations and see how they work out a solution. In the following snippet, Gwendolyn and Alastair have just learned that their previous betrothal is still valid despite the fact that Gwendolyn had been missing and presumed dead for the past five years. Alastair, not knowing Gwendolyn was still alive, allowed the Isle council to arrange a marriage for him in the hopes of maintaining peace amongst the clans. Now he has two brides and must decide what to do about the situation, as well as find a way to deal with his grief over what happened to Gwendolyn five years ago.
Gwendolyn stood by the window, looking out over the rear courtyard. The strong sunlight streaming through the window highlighted her skin with a burnished glow, making her appear even more ethereal than she had looked when Garrick had thrown her image with the pane of glass. The gown she wore hugged her small waist and fitted snugly over the swell of her breasts. She was of medium height, but she appeared much taller, for despite all she had suffered, she carried herself boldly, proudly, and with grace.
He could feel himself harden just looking at her. She was his if he wanted her. The thought brought a bittersweet smile to his lips.
She turned, and seeing the evidence of his desire, her cheeks flushed. “Thank you for encouraging Samuel to join the others in sword practise.”
“Every young man should know how to defend himself and those he cares for.”
“And women do not deserve such consideration? Are they not in need of protecting themselves and others as well?”
He lifted a brow and drew closer to her. “Anytime you would like to learn to wield a sword, only say the word and I will teach you.”
She lifted her chin in challenge. “You would teach your enemies how to fight?”
“You, dear Gwendolyn, are not my enemy.” He wished she looked less challenging and more vulnerable. He was having a difficult time recalling her recent suffering when he was having his own immediate physical response to her presence. Without being conscious of what he was doing, he gently took her chin between his forefinger and thumb, tipping her face up to his. He moved his thumb from her chin to her lower lip, rubbing lightly against its inviting fullness. He realised what he was doing and released her, his hands falling to his sides.
She swallowed roughly and looked away, drew a breath, then turned back to him. “What are you going to do about being betrothed to two women?” In her eyes he saw both fear and uncertainty. She was no doubt thinking of not only her survival, but that of her siblings.
“What would you like to happen?”
Her glance slid away. “I have no opinion in this matter.”
“That’s not true. I believe you have several opinions and I’d like to hear them.”
“I cannot decide your fate.”
He arched a brow. “But you’d like me to decide yours?”
Gwendolyn’s teeth pressed hard into her lower lip. “It’s not just myself I need to consider. I’m afraid for Arabella.”
“She’ll recover in time. I will spare no expense in seeing her returned to health. Besides, the progress she’s made so far proves your sister is a lot like you—strong and determined.”
“I thank you for your support of Arabella. As for myself, I’ve had to be strong my whole life. Which is why I know I can survive losing you if that is what you choose. Can Beatrice do the same?”
She had neatly managed to turn this conversation back on him. “Beatrice has not suffered the way you have. That fact alone is more than enough of a reason to choose you as my bride. You need the security marriage can bring to your life and that of your kin far more than Beatrice does.”
Her brow furrowed. “Why did you agree to a marriage that the council set forth?”
He winced at the words. “Is it that obvious that the match between Beatrice and myself is not a love match?”
“Those are your words, not mine, and you still didn’t answer the question.”
He shrugged. “The entire council seemed to welcome the match in order to facilitate peace amongst the clans.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You would sacrifice your own happiness for the council?”
She had laid his decision out before him with simplicity, but the situation was quite complex. He could either have love and marriage with major conflicts amongst the clans, or he could have peace between the clans and a marriage that was lacking. “Peace amongst the clans is vital,” he said, his expression grave.
He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “Might we talk of other things?”
“Would you tell me what it was like for you in the tower?”
“Why would you want to know that?”
He offered her an encouraging smile as he motioned to two chairs near the bookshelves. “I’ve heard talking about a tragedy, or a time of great emotion, can be very cathartic. Perhaps it will help you move forward with your life, in whatever form that takes.”
She pursed her lips, thinking. “It was very dark and very cold.”
When she said nothing more, Alastair’s anger flared. “That is all? Pray tell, did you like being chained to a wall? Or not knowing if or when someone might come to feed you, or bring you water?”
She tensed and her cheeks flamed. “Nay, I didn’t enjoy being chained to the wall like an animal. I hated not knowing when or where Garrick would appear, or wondering if this was the day he would finally kill all of us. I was hungry, thirsty, desperate, and so alone. Even though we had each other, I still felt as though I was in a cocoon, wanting to die, and wanting to live with equal measure. After the first few months, when I’d become more settled into our bizarre reality, the desire to live started to override everything else. I wanted to live to feel the sun shine down upon my face once more, to feel the soft grass slip between my toes. I wanted to live for my brother and sister, to see them grow up and to one day run free as I had done for many more years than they ever had.” Gwendolyn drew in a ragged breath. “Is that what you wanted to know? What it’s like to be a prisoner?”
Agony coiled in his chest. “I wanted to know what I did to you by not protecting you on our wedding day. I should have walked into the chapel beside you. I’ve replayed that day over and over in my mind hundreds of times.” He looked up at her miserably.
She reached out, took his hands in hers. Her delicate fingers folded around his larger ones.
He held tight as if she were a lifeline. “In every scenario, I failed you. For that I am so terribly sorry.”
“Neither of us is at fault. We cannot live backwards. It is how we move forward into the future that matters.” At her gentle smile, Alastair felt as though a suffocating weight had been lifted from his chest.
The anxiety that had shadowed her eyes since yesterday vanished, replaced with a glimmer of hope.
What are you currently reading?
I always read several books at once and pick up each based on my mood at the time. I’m reading a research book titled, From Montrose to Culloden by Sir Walter Scott. For pleasure, I’m reading Readying to Rise, a collection of essays about social justice by Marcus Harrison Green, and Six of Crows, a fantasy novel, by Leigh Bardugo.
About the Author
Gerri Russell is the award-winning author of historical and contemporary novels including the Brotherhood of the Scottish Templars series and Flirting with Felicity. A two-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award and winner of the American Title II competition sponsored by RT Book Reviews magazine, she is best known for her adventurous and emotionally intense novels set in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Scottish Highlands. Before Gerri followed her passion for writing romance novels, she worked as a broadcast journalist, a newspaper reporter, a magazine columnist, a technical writer and editor, and an instructional designer. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four mischievous black cats.