Today, I welcome Julie Doherty to the blog. Julie is talking about Scent of the Soul, a novel set in twelfth century Scotland.
Do you base any of your characters on real people?
Yes, and since I write historicals, that means carefully threading plots through known events.
SCENT OF THE SOUL features Somerled of Argyll, twelfth century progenitor of many of the Highland clans so popular in fiction today.
My second novel, SCATTERED SEEDS, features Edward and Henry McConnell, two of my ancestors. Like so many eighteenth century Ulstermen, they pinned all hope on a new life in “Amerikay.” How could they know war was about to break out on the frontier with the French and their Indian allies?
Many of my characters are based on people I’ve observed during the mundane activities of my daily life. For example, there’s a scene in SCENT OF THE SOUL where my heroine feels Somerled’s presence before she sees him.
Blackness closed in around her until the room disappeared and took the music and murmur of the crowd with it. She rocked on her heels, unsteady in the infinite shadow, with nothing for company but the king’s scent and her own thrashing heart.
She knew when he moved closer. The heat of him seared her back. Her ears rang, and she felt sick.
Twenty years ago, I experienced this at a gas station when a man stepped into the checkout line behind me. As we inched toward the cash register, I felt an incredible energy emanating from him. There was nothing sexual about it—just a magnetic pull, like I already knew him somehow. Did we know each other in another lifetime? Were we somehow connected? I’ll never know, because I paid for my gas and ran like my pants were on fire.
Who is your favourite character in the book you’re showing us today?
Man, that’s hard. I love Somerled, because he’s so perfect in his imperfection. I love Breagha, because she’s so innocent and trusting. And even though Semjaza (the demon who comes between Somerled and Breagha’s happiness) is downright vile, I adore him because he’s so interesting. Just when we think he can’t sink any lower, he introduces us to a new level of wickedness.
Of everyone, though, my favorite character is Raam, Semjaza’s son. He grew up motherless in a dark lair, the target of Semjaza’s incessant abuse. Because he’s never known love, when he finds it, he’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep it, even his very life.
He writhed and arched his back as his first pain seared through him like molten silver. It did nothing to weaken the joy that swelled his heart. Her face swirled above his, and her tears splattered against his jerkin. He closed his eyes.
If death is the price for even a single moment like this, he thought, it is worth the cost.
What’s your favourite scene and why?
I loved writing the scene where one monk kills another, because I was furious at someone in real life that day.
Raam flipped the cowl off his head with enough violence to tear it in two. “You piece of maggot-infested dung!” He kicked the monk’s corpse, still raging over the dead man’s infatuation with the girl. “May the kites”—he booted—“peck out”—he booted again—“your eyeballs!” Its gaunt limbs flailed as it rolled into a ditch, its expression testifying to the forest canopy that death had come as a terrible shock.
I mean, you just can’t do that in real life, but in a story? Heck, yeah. Better than six weeks of therapy.
I also loved the scene where aged Elisad refuses to relinquish my heroine to the three warriors sent by the king, because it shows the depth of an adoptive mother’s love.
Breagha squealed and tightened her embrace. Elisad pulled her deeper into the corner. “Ye’ll be takin’ this lassie out o’ here o’er my festerin’ corpse!” She shrieked the words, but they sounded muffled to Breagha, whose right ear pressed against the old woman’s bosom.
“Wife, ye old fool,” Harald said, taking another step toward the corner, “the king has sent—”
Breagha heard the scrape of iron as Elisad lifted the fire poker from its peg.
Instantly, the room rang out with the high-pitched sing!-sing!-sing! of three drawn swords.
“Woman!” Harald’s voice raised an octave. He placed a hand over his heart. “Odin’s lost eyeball, ye know as well as I that they’ll kill ye dead!” He turned to the warriors, “Gi’ me time to reason wi’ her. The woman’s got a wicked temper.”
What was the hardest scene to write and why?
First, you should know that bringing my Irish husband to the USA required a four-year immigration battle. During that time, he couldn’t enter the USA, so I had to go to him. My boss allowed seventeen paid vacation days per year, so I was only able to spend one week with my husband every six months.
The worst of it was when our weekly visit ended and we faced another long separation. I will never forget the depth of despair I felt each time my bus pulled away from my beloved.
I relived that heartache while writing this scene:
Somerled grew smaller on the jetty. The helmsman began to sing a Psalm, and sixteen of Argyll’s men put their backs into their work, their oars boiling the waters of the sound. She fell backward against an oarsman’s knees. In the moment it took to regain her balance, the mist had taken Somerled from her.
The second hardest scene is the one where Breagha is hiding inside a tent, surrounded by her attackers:
She dropped the flap and hid under Somerled’s cloak, crawling as far away from the tent entrance as she could. She could hear little else but the rush of blood in her ears. She was dizzy, and her body convulsed. She whimpered, trying against all odds to remain quiet. She covered her ears, and then uncovered them, unable to decide if she wanted to hear anything.
In 2010, I suffered a home invasion that gave me the tools to write the above paragraph. You just can’t imagine what goes through your mind when you’re kneeling behind your bed, certain you are going to die.
Where do you want to be in 10 years’ time?
The one thing I know for sure is that I still want to be living next to my neighbor, Dan. The other day, Dan brought me a bottle of wine, some Celtic cheddar cheese, and smoked salmon—for no other reason than to feed my muse. Every writer should have a guy like Dan living next door.
Seriously, though, in ten years, I would love to be writing full-time, maybe even editing. It must be wonderful to wake and know that you can devote your entire day to your craft.
For now, my day job as a legal assistant pays the bills. (B-O-R-I-N-G) I’m glad for the regular paycheck, but working full-time (and the accompanying 35-mile commute) means writing time is hard to come by, and marketing time is virtually non-existent. I sometimes rise at 5:30 a.m., write during my lunch break, and then again from 6:30 p.m. until bedtime. I’ve even been known to write during traffic jams or while on hold at my job. (Shh, don’t tell the police or my boss.)
I can only hope that in ten years, when I introduce myself, the person I’m addressing will ask, “Julie Doherty? The Julie Doherty?”
Meet The Julie Doherty
Julie is a member of RWA and Central PA Romance Writers. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing, shooting longbow, traveling, and cooking over an open fire at her cabin. She lives in Pennsylvania with her Irish husband, who sounds a lot like her characters.
Back Cover Blurb for SCENT OF THE SOUL:
In twelfth century Scotland, it took a half-Gael with a Viking name to restore the clans to their rightful lands. Once an exile, Somerled the Mighty now dominates the west. He’s making alliances, expanding his territory, and proposing marriage to the Manx princess.
It’s a bad time to fall for Breagha, a torc-wearing slave with a supernatural sense of smell.
Somerled resists the intense attraction to a woman who offers no political gain, and he won’t have a mistress making demands on him while he’s negotiating a marriage his people need. Besides, Breagha belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance Somerled can’t afford to lose.
It’s when Breagha vanishes that Somerled realizes just how much he needs her. He abandons his marriage plans to search for her, unprepared for the evil lurking in the shadowy recesses of Ireland—a lustful demon who will stop at nothing to keep Breagha for himself.