Monica McCarty and Scotland’s Famous Fairy Flag

FairyRoom is thrilled to welcome New York Times bestselling author Monica McCarty whose twelfth novel comes out at the end of this month. Her debut novel, Highlander Untamed (Ballantine, 2007) significantly involved the famous legend of the Scottish highlands surrounding the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle, which is an heirloom of the Clan MacLeod (and the subject of a future article here on FairyRoom!). Though Monica is primarily an author of historical fiction, she incorporated the Fairy Flag and its legend of fairy lore and magical properties into her novel.

Recently Monica took time out of her busy writing schedule to talk with us about writing the Fantastic element into her otherwise straight historical fiction. Welcome Monica!

You write historical fiction, not fantasy. What part of bringing a fairy story into your novel appealed to you?

I love how the lore gave that little touch of the mystical to the story, and how it reflects on the beliefs of people at the time. Besides, it’s fun. Who doesn’t like a fairy story?

In chapter 8 of Highlander Untamed, your character tells the legend of the MacLeod Fairy Flag. How true to the actual tale did you stay?

The back of Dunvegan Castle (which used to be the front) with the sea gate below, from Monica McCarty’s photo collection. For more of Monica’s own images from Dunvegan, including a close-up of the sea gate, please see the very bottom of this interview.

I like to stay pretty true to the legends in my books, especially with something like this. As I recall, most of the versions of the Fairy Flag legend I found were pretty consistent. Where I had a choice, I went with what fit my story better. Similarily, in both Highlander Unchained and The Hawk, where I used old tales — the story of Lady’s Rock and the story of Bruce’s spider respectively — I tried to stay true to those legends as well.

I haven’t written any other specific fairy lore in my other books, but I have alluded to the common-for-the-time beliefs held by the populace, and mentioned that many of the ordinary folk believed in fairies. For example, in The Chief, I have my hero, Tor, training men in secret at an abandoned broch (an ancient stone circular building). One of the reasons he chooses it is that the villagers avoid it because they think they are inhabited by fairies.

Was learning about the Fairy Flag what sparked the book’s plot, or did you realize you needed some lore and you went hunting?

I was doing research on different clans to possibly write about, when I came across the MacLeods and “The War of the One-Eyed Woman.” It was actually that story that propelled me into writing Highlander Untamed — one of those you-can’t-believe-it’s-not-fiction, only-in-Scotland kind of stories… But the MacLeod clan was so rich in lore, including the story of the Fairy Flag, it gave me a lot to work with in terms of plotting. Sacred relic of the clan? Well, of course, my heroine has to try to steal it, right?

I presume you have seen the actual Fairy Flag on display. What were your impressions?

The Dunvegan Fairy Flag, and other MacLeod heirlooms. This photo was taken sometime before 1927.

I’ve seen it twice. A number of readers who’ve visited Dunvegan mentioned how cool it was to see in person. Only a small fragment remains, but it is really neat to see. Not surprisingly, if you’ve read Highlander Untamed, it reminded me of a silk shawl. It’s framed and hanging in the Great Hall. My impression from the locals around Dunvegan is that they are proud of their clan heritage in general. I think they love the old stories, and consider them part of the history. Our guide on Skye loved regaling us with the stories — not unlike my storyteller in Highlander Untamed, actually. (Hmm…wonder where I got the idea for that character?)

Thank you for visiting FairyRoom, Monica!

Monica McCarty is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of twelve (& counting!) Scottish historical romance novels. Her interest in the Scottish clan system began in the most unlikely of places: a comparative legal history course at Stanford Law School. After a short, but enjoyable, stint practicing law, she realized that mixing a legal career with her husband’s transitory career as a professional baseball player was not exactly a match made in heaven. So she “traded” in her legal briefs for Scottish Historical Romances with sexy alpha heroes. When not trekking across the moors and rocky seascapes of Scotland, Monica can be found in Northern California with her husband and two children.

Read an excerpt of The Recruit on Monica’s site. Look for it on October 30 or preorder it from these popular bookstores:

The courtyard at Dunvegan Castle. Below, the sea gate, from both approaches.