Thoughts on the wild, the weird, and the romantic from author Joy Nash

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Joy Nash is a USA Today Bestselling Author and RITA Award Finalist applauded by Booklist for her "tart wit, superbly crafted characters, and sexy, magic-steeped plots."

» Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Into the books: Day 6, Doune Castle (Monty Python was here) and Gretna Green

***Joy's Book Link***

I decided to write The Grail King after re-watching my all time favorite movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, filmed in Scotland at Doune Castle

Started out the day with a flat tire. Luckily the morning rain had just stopped, so my husband was able to fix it without too much trouble while the kids and I conversed with the local sheep. Did I mention that there are A LOT of sheep in Scotland? I am sure there are more sheep than people. The cute, fuzzy little buggers are everywhere.

Once we got on the road again, our first stop was Doune Castle, made famous as the setting for the various castle-containing scenes in the timeless classic, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Doune is the Castle of the Taunting Frenchmen, Castle Anthrax, and the Castle of the Gender-Confused Singing Prince. When we bought our tickets, the lady at the desk asked if we knew this was the castle from the Monty Python movie. When we said, yes, we did, that's why we're here, she stunned us by asking, "Would you like some coconuts?" Then she pulled two sets of coconut halves out from under the counter and gave them to us. Apparently, they keep coconuts on hand for the Monty Python nuts who like to wander around the castle clacking them together as sound effects of trotting horses. Which, I admit, was exactly what we did. Here's a pic of my husband in the Doune Castle courtyard. Imagine John Cleese running up the staircase in the background, slicing and dicing wedding guests:

We had a lot of ground to cover that day, so we left Doune and drove past Glasgow heading south. A few hours later, at the Scotland/England border, there was one stop that I just HAD to make. Gretna Green.

Now, my husband on vacation is a drive-from-point-A-to-point-B-as-fast-as-you-can kind of guy. When I told him we had to stop at Gretna Green, he looked at me, gave an aggravated sigh and demanded, "Is this some romance novel thing?" (Very astute guy, my husband.) I told him that since I had read approximately 736 historical romances featuring elopements to Gretna Green, that there was no way I was going to breeze by on the M74 without stopping to take a look. Since my husband loves me, and since it was past lunchtime and we had to eat anyway, we popped off the highway and drove into the village. It's a big tourist trap with a huge parking lot, a dozen or so shops and restaurants, a nice garden, and of course, the famous Gretna Green Blacksmith Shop where "anvil priests" married eloping couples who handclasped over the anvils.

Gretna Green marriages came about because for about a hundred years, including during the Regency years, it was tough for underage lovers to get married without their parents' permission in England, but it was easy enough to marry young in Scotland. You didn't even need a real priest, only a witness. A blacksmith shop was the first stop over the border, so a few enterprising blacksmiths set up shop and started performing quickie marriages, with a convenient bed set up in the next room so the eloping couple could jump in quickly if the girl's enraged father showed up in town while the ceremony was underway.

Gretna Green is still considered a very romantic place to get married today. There are a number of "anvil rooms" where you can say your vows over an anvil. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the blacksmith shop, so I can't show you an anvil, but here's one of me and my husband in the romantic Gretna Green gardens, with the Blacksmith Shop in the background. Okay, I know it's really cheesy, but aren't we cute?

And here's an even cuter picture of some Highland "Coos" slumming it in the Border Lands out in back of the Blacksmith Shop parking lot:

Up Next: Vindolanda Roman Fort and Hadrian's Wall


Joy Nash

» Thursday, August 24, 2006

Into the books: Day 5, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle and Haggis for lunch!

***No book links today***

We'd reached the northern limit of our vacation, so we left Inverness and headed south, driving along the western shore of the famous Loch Ness. Of course, we had to stop at the Loch Ness Tourist Center, where we were sucked into a tourist trap that managed to be corny, charming, and informative all at once. An extensive exhibit featuring models, movies, dioramas, sound and light, took us through the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. We started in the Dark Ages with St. Columba battling the beast, continued through the ages with numerous sightings and photos, and ended with dozens of boats loaded with computers and sonar spread across the Loch looking for Nessie. We found out that Nessie couldn't be a leftover dinosaur, since Loch Ness had formed after the age when Scotland was part of the tropics. Numerous other theories were also debunked.

Spoiler alert!! At the end of the show, the narrator put forth the theory that the Loch Ness Monster was probably an illusion, the result of odd shadows formed by conflicting currents in the loch. Some of the more solid sightings might have been caused by clueless sturgeons that swim too far upriver from the North Sea and get trapped in the Loch. Nessie a sturgeon! Geez. Talk about a let down! I don't care what they say, I'm sticking with the live monster theories. Here's a pic of the REAL Nessie:

Urquhart Castle, a beautiful ruin set on a small peninsula overlooking Loch Ness is a short drive from the Loch Ness Visitor Center. We had a great time climbing around the ruins and searching the loch for monsters. Here's a pic of Urquhart Castle with Loch Ness in the background:

We continued south, stopping in Ft. William for a late lunch, where I gathered up enough nerve to order Haggis. For any of you who don't know, the recipe for Haggis is enough to turn your stomach: grind up a sheep's lungs, heart, and liver and mix it with oatmeal, beef suet and spices. Shove the whole batch in a sheep's stomach and boil it until done. Thankfully, there was no sheep's stomach casing on my plate, just the Haggis innards. It tasted like a very peppery sausage. It was actually pretty good, as long as you didn't think too long and hard about what was in it.

Driving east from Ft. William, we passed through some mountainous moors (very pretty and desolate) and into the Trossachs, where we stopped for the night.

Next Up: Doune Castle (Monty Python was here!) and Gretna Green



» Sunday, August 20, 2006

Into the books: Day 4, Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns and Cawdor Castle

Day Four: Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns and Cawdor Castle

***Joy's Book Link***

Clava Cairns is the site of Leanna's Sidhe Sex Magic tour in Immortals: The Awakening. Cawdor Castle is more inspiration for Kalen's castle in the same book.

After a long day of driving from Edinburgh, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast a few miles east of Inverness, not far from Culloden battlefield. It was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander that first introduced me to the Jacobite rebellion and the horror of Culloden.

In many ways, Culloden is Britain's Gettysburg. Many Scots families had members on both sides of the conflict. The battle was a brutal bloodbath. Also like Gettysburg, there's modern encroachment around the battlefield. The few acres that comprise Culloden and the visitor center has been preserved as moorland, a wild island surrounded now by tame farms, houses and shops. Still, you can imagine how it must have looked in 1746, when the moors extended for miles and miles. An interpretive center has wonderful exhibits and a movie explaining the battle. On the battlefield itself, flags mark the lines of the Scottish and English lines. There are a series of mounded trench graves, each with a single gravestone engraved with the name of the clan whose men are buried below. It's a very somber sight. You feel like you're walking on blood-soaked ground. Which you are. No book link for this site, but here's a pic of the battlefield. The monument in the distance on the left marks the center of the battlefield. You're looking at it from behind the English lines:

Not far from Culloden is a much older monument - Clava Cairns. Clava Cairns is the setting for Leanna's Sidhe Sex Tour in Immortals: The Awakening (8/07).

Clava Cairns is one of the best preserved Bronze Age burial sites in Scotland. There are three large cairns, aligned on a Northeast/Southwest axis with the midwinter sun. The cairns are three large mounds of rocks, enclosed with a ring of larger curb stones. They mark three ancient gravesites. Two of the graves are now open to the sky, and you can walk into the place where the bodies were once interred. Each of the three cairns is surrounded by a ring of standing stones, and some of the stones bear circular markings and gouges of unknown purpose. The site is in a valley, surrounded by large trees.

Clava Cairns was deserted when we got there, which was great, but soon after a busload of British tourists pulled up. I shamelessly eavesdropped on their guide, and heard him tell of one night when he came to the cairns and found a group of Neo-Druids dancing naked among the stones, and doing God-only-knows what else. So I decided my use of the site in The Awakening is entirely appropriate! Here's a pic of the Cairns. You'll have to imagine the frolicking neo-Druids on your own!

Leaving Clava Cairns behind, we drove on to Cawdor Castle. The castle was the home of the Thanes of Cawdor, which was MacBeth's title in the Shakespearean play. The castle couldn't have been the home of any real MacBeth, though, since it was built after the date of the fictional MacBeth. Cawdor is a true fairytale castle, very picturesque, with exquisite gardens all around. It's only open in the summer, as there's an actual dowager countess in residence during the winter. Certain rooms do have a very lived-in look about them, which makes the castle even more appealing. You can almost imagine living there. You and your army of maids, butlers, cooks and gardeners, that is.

I've used Cawdor Castle, especially the interior and the furnishings, as another inspiration for Kalen's castle in The Awakening.

Toward evening, we took a drive into Inverness. Having daylight last until midnight is very handy! Inverness is arranged on either side of the river Ness and is not as picturesque as Edinburgh--the buildings are a mix of old and new. Inverness Castle, which sprawls across a high hill overlooking the river, is very pretty, but we didn't go inside. Mostly we just looked around the shops and had a bite to eat.

Next up: Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, and Haggis for lunch!


» Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Into the books: Day 3, Dunnottar Castle

***Joy's Book Link***

Dunnottar Castle's dramatic setting is the inspiration for Kalen's enchanted island in Immortals: The Awakening

On Monday morning we said goodbye to Edinburgh after far too short a visit. I hope to make it back to Edinburgh someday--although I'll stick to summer when the days are 20 hours long!

My husband attacked the challenge of driving on the left side of the road. Those WIDE right turns take some getting used to! Also, every time I went to get into the car, I headed for the driver's side, which I was used to being the passenger's side. But I have to take a second her to compliment all the UK drivers we encountered during the whole two weeks. They were all extremely polite. Clueless as we foreigners were, no one EVER honked at us. Driving around any of the 3 zillion roundabouts they have in the UK, no one EVER cut us off. If only US drivers were so well-mannered!

Driving north from Edinburgh over the Firth of Forth bridge, we headed along the northeast coast and stopped at Dunnottar Castle, a few miles south of Aberdeen. Here's a pic of it:

I'd scouted out this castle on the Internet before the trip. This big rock has been a place of power since Pictish times. William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots have both slept at Dunnottar (but not together!). The castle was the home of the Earls Marischal of Scotland, who were entrusted with the security of the Scottish Crown Jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland. (We'd seen the Honours--crown, scepter, and sword--just a couple days before, in Edinburgh Castle,) In 1650, the castle withstood a siege by Oliver Cromwell's forces, who were eager to destroy the symbol of the monarchy. Dunnottar is in such a defensible position that the siege lasted eight months. Near the end of it, the Honours were lowered over the cliffs to the beach were serving women gathering seaweed smuggled them to a church some miles away, where they were hidden.

Dunnottar is mostly in ruins now (very romantic). There are only a couple rooms roofed and furnished, so it takes a bit of imagination to imagine what it would have looked like in its heyday.

Dunnottar Castle's position on sheer cliffs, with three sides facing the sea and a deep ravine separating the fourth side from the mainland, gave me the idea for the setting of Kalen's castle in Immortals: The Awakening. I've set Kalen's castle on an actual island, a bit farther off the coast than Dunnottar, and also off the north coast near Inverness, rather than the northeast coast. But the high, rocky cliffs and the dramatic sea battering them are the same. Here's a picture of me and my own personal romance hero, with the castle and the North Sea in the background:

Next up: Culloden Battlefield and Cawdor Castle



» Sunday, August 06, 2006

Into the books: Day 2, Edinburgh Witchery Tour

***Joy's Book Link***

Edinburgh will appear (briefly) in Immortals: The Awakening

If you ever get to Edinburgh, I highly recommend that you take one of the evening walking tours of the city. There are several to chose from--completely by accident, we hooked up with Cadies & Witchery Tours, based at 84 West Bow Street, not far from Edinburgh Castle. (tel: 0131 225 6745 or There were two tours that night--we chose the earlier one, which started at seven pm. Our tour, consisting of about twenty tourists and one rather strange-looking local man who was apparently a regular tour groupie, met at the top of the Royal Mile at the appointed time.

The atmosphere wasn't too ghostly--at 7 pm the sun was still shining high in the sky. In late June in Edinburgh, sunset is after 10:30 pm and the sky doesn’t get truly dark until after midnight.

Our tour guide was Doctor Alexander Clapperton, Deceased. Despite having been dead for over a century, Dr. Clapperton looked pretty young and healthy and not at all gloomy. He was attired in a long black coat and top hat. He had another cheery bloke for a partner, who during the course of the tour appeared in a half dozen different costumes--first a monk's robe and ogre mask, then medieval garb, then as a plague doctor, an executioner, and finally--a Highlander's kilt. Not sure where this guy had his clothes stashed--he kept dashing off as we walked around town, only to appear a couple minutes later in a new get-up.

The tour was great fun, the constant banter between the two hosts contained no shortage of the worst corny jokes. Dr. Clapperton asked what countries all the tour members were from and made a point not to show favorites. He (jokingly) insulted each foreigner's home country at least once. We spent a lot of time laughing (and groaning) on this tour.

We were treated to a quirky history of Edinburgh, heard some tales of ghosts, witches, and grisly executions, and learned useful tidbits like why the Scots and Brits refer to the bathroom as the loo. (It comes from the charming medieval habit of dumping your chamber pot out your window into the street below, preceded by the polite call of "Gardy-loo!" Gardy loo is a corruption of the French phrase "garde l'eau," or "watch out for the water.") Yum.

Here's a pic of my son, helpfully modeling a plague doctor's mask for our tour guide. Supposedly the herbs stuffed into the duck bill of the mask keeps the "quack" who wears it healthy.

And here’s another one, of the deceased Dr. Clapperton and his equally dead partner.

Next up: Dunnottar Castle


Joy Nash

» Friday, August 04, 2006

Into the books: Day 1, Edinburgh, Scotland

Okay, there are a few people on my case for slacking off on this blogging thing...(you know who you are--here I am blogging, are you happy now??). All I can say is--it's summer, it's freaking 100 degrees out, The Grail King has just been released, and my deadline for Immortals: The Awakening is getting closer and closer and closer... It's not panic time yet, but there's not much room for slacking off.

As promised, tho--I do want to share my experiences from my recent trip to the UK, where I dragged my family around the Scottish, Welsh and English countryside to settings from past and future books. What fun! Though my wonderful, patient, long-suffering husband, who put over 1200 miles on the car driving 70 mph on narrow roads--on the left side, no less!--might say the trip was just a little more stressful for him than it was for me and the kids.

So here it starts:

Day One: Edinburgh, Scotland

***Joy Nash Book Link

***Edinburgh will appear (briefly) in my August 2007 release, Immortals: The Awakening

We left the US on a Friday night and arrived in Glasgow on Saturday morning. Right away, I got the feeling that the Scots are a straightforward, no-nonsense type of people, not given to wordy euphemisms and equivocations. What gave me this idea? I don't know, maybe it had something to do with the cigarette machine I passed at the airport, emblazoned with the warning: SMOKING KILLS. All right, then. No wimpy Surgeon General warnings for the Scots.

It was about a 1-1/2 hour transfer from Glasgow airport to our hotel in downtown Edinburgh. (FYI, that's "Edin-burra" not "Edin-burg") Jet lagged though we were, we set right out for Edinburgh Castle, which floats over the town on a highly improbable-looking chunk of sheer cliff. A nice workout for the quads and glutes going up THAT hill, let me tell you.

We had an interesting tour around the castle, where I got to see my first real Scottish Man-in-Kilt! Actually, a whole bunch of Men-in-Kilts, (including bagpiper), ranging from a cute 2 years old baby man to a crusty 70 year old grandpa. They were all assembled for a wedding. How did the bride look? Hmmm, I don’t seem remember. Those groomsmen, however...

Hairy Scottish legs aside, my favorite part of Edinburgh Castle was the miniature "Cemetery for Soldier Dogs." Ok, I admit, it's kind of sappy, but I'm a dog lover. I got all teary looking at the flowers and thinking about "Scamp" and "Major" laid to rest by their grieving human soldier companions. Here's a pic of the tiny doggy gravestones:

Later, we walked down the Royal Mile, a long straight road that runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Lots of colorful characters there...street performers, bagpipers, students, tourists, et al... We met a Braveheart look-alike who was collecting donations for Leukemia victims. The guy is a professional stuntman, had a very sexy Scottish accent, and bore a more than passing resemblance to a young Mel Gibson. (Though given the recent bad press for the current Mel, the guy might well be lying low these days.)

Here's a pic of me and the latter day William Wallace:

That's all for Day 1! Next up: Edinburgh's Witchery Tour