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A Highlander and his Books
A Third Chat with Randy and Carolyn Bruce

By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA email:

Q: 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?

A: 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 perhaps our next first edition will be in 2008.

Q: 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.

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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 not…yet!

Q: 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?

A: 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 Fourteenth Century.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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 year.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: The name of Book III is subtitled, “Bannok Burn”. It catches the eye because the normal spelling is Bannockburn. Why the change?

A: 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.

Q: 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?

A: We’re still talking to an interested producer, and we have a letter of intent, but to date, no contract. Everybody, THINK MOVIE!!

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!!

Q: 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?

A: 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 it.

Q: 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?

A: The “Rebel 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)

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