Monday, January 2, 2023

Check out Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard’s fabulous novel – Sisters of Castle Leod #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub @EHBernardAuthor @cathiedunn

Sisters of Castle Leod

by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Publication Date: January 19th, 2023
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Cover Art: (c) Alison Hale, oil on glass painting
Pages: 293
Genre: Historical Fiction / Biographical Historical Fiction

**Finalist in the 2022 American Writing Awards**

Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era. 

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate. 

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.

Welcome to The Coffee Pot Book Club blog!

Before we begin, please introduce yourself.

Thanks so much for inviting me today, Cathie. I think the best way to introduce myself is as a lover of historical fiction, which I’ve been reading forever and writing not quite that long, but close to a decade. Though I got somewhat of a late start as a novelist, the book featured today, SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, is my third published work of historical fiction. 

What inspired you to write Sisters of Castle Leod?

The sisters themselves were my inspiration, but it all started with my own spiritual journey. I was at a point in my life when I wished for a bit more inner clarity about my spiritual beliefs, such as whether I really believe the soul continues to exist in some form after our physical death. So, always interested in history, I started reading about 19th century spiritualism. Eventually, I came across the name Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie, who, in the early 20th century, was well-known as a spiritualist and a writer of mystical romance novels. Then I discovered she had a sister, Lady Constance, who was a champion swimmer, big game hunter, and famous for scandalizing British society with her public displays of Isadora Duncan-style barefoot dancing. 

Lady Constance Mackenzie
(c) Public Domain

The Mackenzie sisters, both fascinating, were complete opposites, which made me suspect I was onto something that would make an intriguing historical novel with plenty of drama and conflict. And, although I don’t have a sister myself, I was excited to explore that kind of relationship.

When researching this novel, did you come upon any unexpected surprises?

I was drawn to the setting of the Scottish Highlands partly because of the region’s rich folklore, and I loved researching that part of the story. Probably the biggest surprise, or should I say gift, was when I came across an archived newspaper article describing “the legend of the stream.” According to the article, published in a London paper in 1901, it had long been believed among the Mackenzies that if the course of a certain stream on their Highlands property in Dingwall were to be altered, certain dire consequences would follow. After Sibell suffers a terrible and unexpected tragedy, she is shocked to discover that the course of the Dingwall stream on her estate had recently been altered without her knowledge or permission. In the novel, she blames her sister. I saw this as a grand opportunity, if perhaps a fictionalized one, to explain the origins of the well-documented tension between Sibell and Constance that tainted their relationship for years. 

Which of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

In my Author’s Note at the end of the book, I tell of the night I woke up to see what appeared like a figure in a hooded red cloak hovering near my bed. At the time, I had been trying to decide whether to write the first-person narrative of SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD from Sibell’s point of view or in the voice of Constance. Though the shadowy image persisted, I finally became tired and, deciding it was nothing more than a figment of my imagination, went back to sleep.

Sibell Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromarty
(c) Public Domain

The next day, I happened to start reading one of Sibell’s romantic novels, written in 1910—a book I had never opened before. In the very first chapter, the main character wore a hooded scarlet cloak! I couldn’t help asking myself, was this some sort of message from beyond? I guess I’ll never know, but I decided to relate the sisters’ story through Sibell’s eyes. It felt almost as if she had told me herself. So, I would say that I have a special place in my heart for Sibell, though I also came to love and admire Constance as a bold young woman, ahead of her time. 

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

As an American author, I wondered if it might be difficult to write in the voice of an Edwardian-era Scottish countess. But I have always had an affinity for 19th and early 20th century British literature, and I grew to feel a strong connection with Sibell, so the voice of the novel was not so hard to find. Still, when writing about real people in a work of historical fiction, an author can’t help but worry about representing them fairly, if not always factually. I struggled with some tough choices about personality traits and relationships--decisions which, in the end, I was forced to make largely by instinct. But that’s part of the fun of being a novelist rather than a biographer.  

The variety of settings in the novel presented another challenge. There are scenes in the Scottish Highlands, London, Venice, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), and Tyre, Lebanon. I made a special trip to the Highlands and had the pleasure of receiving a personal tour of Castle Leod by Sibell’s grandson, the 5th Earl of Cromartie. From him, I learned about the castle ghost known as the Night Watchman, about whom the earl was quite matter-of-fact. As for the other settings, I know London and Venice pretty well, but I revisited them with the sisters’ story in mind. Though I would have loved to travel to Istanbul and Tyre, it wasn’t practical at the time, so I had to rely on remote research in creating a picture of those locales, which is always challenging. 

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard with the 5th Earl of Cromarty at Castle Leod
(c) Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

What can readers expect from you next? Do you have an exciting new writing project?

After completing a novel, I always feel sort of in limbo. It takes a while to clear the mind after working so long and hard to finish a book. But, so far, I’ve considered the possibility of writing a sequel to my first novel, THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, which is a historical thriller about a young woman in Edwardian-era New York City who has plans to become a doctor but instead finds herself entangled in a web of deceit and murder. Or I might consider a story with a dual timeframe. In fact, I’d love comments from your followers, Cathie, as to whether they enjoy dual timeframe stories, where the action is split between two main characters living in different times but somehow connected. As a writer, I think it might be fun to try it out.        

This title is available on #KindleUnlimited.

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

A former touring musician/songwriter and public relations professional, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, "a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller" (Readers’ Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a "resonant novel ... about the birth and demise of ragtime ... luxuriously crafted" (Publishers Weekly). 

Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Awards, and Arizona Literary Contest; they have received 5-star ratings from Readers’ Favorite, Book Readers Appreciation Group, and historical fiction Discovered Diamonds. 

Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

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