By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot,
Atlanta, GA, USA email:
Well, Randy and Carolyn, we meet again. I’ve never interviewed
anyone three times, and now I wonder if this is the last time. Is
Bannok Burn going to be the final book on Robert de Brus or will
there be a sequel or two? If there are others to follow, what
will they cover since Brus is now on the throne, and when can we
look for them to be published?
We are happy to chat with you again, Frank. Our original intent
was to publish four books in the series, which would create a
dilemma for us at this point since in our research we have found
many additional fascinating facts and historical events around
which we really want to build more into the story of this great
period in Scottish history. Of course, ahead of us lie the
momentous events of the Irish Campaigns in 1315, the Declaration
of Arbroath in 1320, and the rest of the lives of all of the main
characters… every bit as intriguing but perhaps not as well known
as the stories we’ve already told. At this point, then, we can
say there will be at least one additional novel in the Rebel King
series, and hopefully more. To this point we have been able to
publish one novel every two years, so
our next first edition will be in 2008.
You dedicate this book to your children and grandchildren,
“present and future”. You go on to say, “Your ancestors were at
Bannock Burn”. Not many can make that statement, so tell us about
your side of the Bruce family.
When Randy was a small boy playing in the living room floor of
the Bruces’ Straley Avenue home in Princeton, West Virginia, his
grandfather, Charles Leonidas Bruce, called him from his toys and
told him about his heritage. Though he didn’t have any notion of
what it all meant, he listened politely as his granddad told him
he was descended from Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Not
knowing who Robert was or what it meant to be ‘descended from’
anybody, it was very much a ho-hum response… something like,
‘Okay’. It wasn’t until years later that the statement really hit
home and he began to realize its import. We are continuing our
research into both our lineages, and so far among our direct
ancestors we find the surnames Agnew, Ballard, Bruce (of course),
Cannaday, Chesney, Davidson, Dunn, Fraser, Ingram, Johnson,
Johnston(e), Kerr, King, Nichol(s) Preston, Smith, Thomas,
Thompson, Wright and others. With so many Scottish roots
nourishing our tree, we feel safe in declaring to our offspring
that they had ancestors at Bannok Burn.
I’ve always been curious as to what made you two decide to become
publishers. Would you do it again? What challenges have you faced
publishing your own books? Would you encourage other writers to
do the same?
After we had our manuscript for
Rebel King, Book
One, Hammer of the Scots
all but complete, we followed the rules of the publishing
industry and began the search for an agent to try and sell our
novel to a publisher. After a couple of months, we had a contract
with an agent and continued polishing the manuscript while he
hawked our wares. An uneventful period followed as we heard only
occasionally from the agent and after some months, he said he had
presented us to those he thought were likely publishers and would
after six months or so, make the rounds again. This seemed a
lackadaisical sort of business, and we asked for our contract to
be voided, with which he complied. We sent out package after
package to publishers large and small, only to be rejected, most
as “not of our genre,” though some had never been opened! We
thought to ourselves that, if publishing was so successful that
they didn’t need to open the package to see what was being
offered, it might be a good business to enter!
We did acquire a
publisher interested in our novel and contracted with the firm,
which had offices in New York and the UK. Then, after September
11, 2001, so many of their employees decided to return to the UK
that their previous schedule for publishing our book was
protracted beyond the time we felt we could wait, and the company
graciously allowed us to have our contract returned to us without
penalty. After discussing the tremendous risks and investment it
would take, we decided to publish our own works.
Would we do it
again? Yes! We certainly could not have come this far without the
help we have received from our friends and the Scottish community
in general, and we’ve never worked so hard or risked so much. But
neither have we had so much fun. There is a great deal to be said
for the excitement that comes from setting a lofty goal and
working to reach it. The greatest difficulty we experience is in
trying to do the creative and the nitty-gritty at the same time.
There just are not enough hours in the week to get the day’s
three “Rs” done, i.e. research, ‘ritin’, and red tape, and
there’s nobody else to do it. Yet, we do encourage other writers
to publish. We wouldn’t advise anyone not to follow his or her
dreams. However, it’s important to remember that we collectively
had many years of experience in advertising art and copywriting,
marketing, and printing, and that practical knowledge has been an
immense help as we have made our way.
Sir Walter Scott is one of my favorite Scottish writers. He was a
very successful author, known and revered the world over, the
most successful writer in the world during his life, but when his
publishing company went south and bankrupted, Scott was forced
into financial ruin and nearly lost all of his possessions. What
makes you two think you will be different from Scott?
We aren’t, except of course that he was world-renowned, an icon
of Scotland and a poet beloved by all, and we are definitely
While we are on Scott, father of the historical novel, would you
consider your books to be historical novels? Your characters seem
to be a mix of both fact & fiction. Are they truly representative
of the historical characters in the days of de Brus?
Yes, we consider our books to be historical fiction or novels,
and most but not all of our characters are names out of Scottish
and English history. The battles we mention were actually fought
in much the same way as we describe them…at least as far as our
research has shown.
As for the personalities of the individuals
involved, we take as many indications of their strengths and
weaknesses as we can from among the historical records and
endeavor to build believable, real people. All of the major
characters are based on our readings about the actual historical
figures, but we’ve been known to, and called to task for,
changing things about an historical personage or two. When it is
done, it is to move the storyline along, and for no other reason.
There are others about whom we found the briefest
of mentions and built histories for them, such as the character
of Cuthbert, who was mentioned by John Barbour in his epic poem
about the Bruce. According to Barbour’s account, Cuthbert scouted
the earldom of Carrick before King Robert invaded the region in
early 1307. We had him do so in our version of that event. With
the exceptions of his name and the single scouting event,
Cuthbert was made from whole cloth. Yet he’s a good character,
and we have kept him among the king’s most faithful soldiers in
the latest book, which takes place some seven years after the
invasion of Carrick.
For every event in the history books there are at
least two versions, Scottish and English, and multiple variations
thereof. Somewhere among the most factual memories of the
opposing “truths” lies what really happened. In a land where few
could read, much less write, that’s a lot of opinions and
viewpoints that have been handed down. We strive for the version
or combination of versions that make the most sense to us, and
from these we try to weave a plausible story.
To directly answer your question, our characters,
both historical and fictional, are constructed from our
understanding of the medieval existence on those islands. They
are blended and intertwined so that our story weaves a tapestry
that gives a reasonable portrait of the people and their times.
But in the end, we can only guess at the harsh realities of the
Speaking of historical facts, you have named the site of the
battle “Cock Shot Hill” instead of the traditional “Gillies
Hill”. What on earth in your research of 14th century
Scotland could lead you to do so?
According to our research, the hill above the battlefield was
called “Cock Shot Hill” at the time of the battle. It acquired
the name “Gillies Hill” many years afterward, in remembrance of
the gillies and others who were said to have hunkered there until
called forth at battle’s end by King Robert. These gillies were
referred to by John Barbour as the “small folk” (meaning people
of lower rank and lesser importance to most historic endeavors).
Today, some say these were Templar knights called into the fray
at this point.
This year (2006) is the celebration of the 700th
anniversary of Robert de Brus being crowned King of Scots. Did
you two plan on publishing Book III in connection with his
anniversary or did it just happen?
It just happened. We probably would have put it off for another
six months or a year if it weren’t for our readers, who kept
asking us when book three was coming out. We were quite amazed
and very pleased at their interest, and so pushed the book’s
completion ahead. Still, we’re glad we did get it released this
I notice you have the artistic drawings once again at the
beginning of the chapters. How do you select people as your
characters as to drawing them? Do you seek their permission to
portray them? Who draws these figures?
These character studies are all drawn by Randy, who works from
photographs that he takes of cooperative friends and strangers.
Of course, he adds different clothing, hair styles and/or beards
to make each character match his idea of what the individual
should look like. We understand that this is a rather unique
feature in a novel of this sort, but for Randy, having been a
professional artist since he was 16, it was a matter of being
unable to create a book without adding some art. It seemed to
work and many of our readers have commented that they like having
a face to go with most characters.
Without fail we get written permission from those
who model for us, even those whose features won’t be easily
recognized after Randy has altered them to suit the story.
The name of Book III is subtitled, “Bannok Burn”. It catches the
eye because the normal spelling is Bannockburn. Why the change?
For many years after the momentous clash it was simply called the
Second Battle of Stirling. The immediate site of the battle had
been long known as “Bannok”, or even Banok, and the stream or
“burn” flowing through it was generally referred to as Bannok
Burn. Because the swift-flowing burn had been a very critical
element in the Scots’ battle strategy and an equally great part
of the outcome of the conflict, the name eventually was morphed
to Bannockburn. We titled our book “Bannok Burn” to be more
correct to the time of the story.
I keep hearing from time to time that a movie may be made about
your books? Any truth to this or is it just talk on the street?
If a movie is made, who would you like to see play Robert de Brus?
We’re still talking to an interested producer, and we have a
letter of intent, but to date, no contract. Everybody,
About the role of
Robert de Brus… We know a lot of young “leading men” that we
would not like to see play the part! In a conversation with the
possible producer, he strongly suggested an unknown, but we
really don’t have anyone in mind…excepting the Sean Connery of
about forty years ago! Would that not be the best!!
When you are working the Highland and Scottish Games, what
question do your readers generally ask? And, as far as you can
tell, who reads your books the most, men or women? Why?
We tell people who have not heard of us and our series that they
are about King Robert Brus who fought for the independence of
Scotland in the early 1300s and usually they will ask how close
to history have we kept the story.
We probably have
as many readers of one gender as the other, possibly because we
write without prejudice, meaning that we don’t adjust the story
to “fit” either gender’s expectations. We just write it as we see
As always, you have been as courteous in dealing with me
regarding the book review and this chat article as anyone could
desire. What concluding words do you have for our readers?
King” series is written about a great saga, a heroically epic
story and a colorful period of Scottish and English history. As
we tell folks, “we just put the words to it”. It started out to
be a family story…that became a Scottish story…and in fact is an
inspiring world story. (FRS: 8-1-2006)