by Jane Yolen and Robert J Harris
Philomel Books

We never planned to write an epic spanning seven centuries of Scottish history, but that's how it turned out. It began when Jane suggested to me that we should work together on a novel written from the viewpoint of Nicola, a girl jester at the court of Mary Queen of Scots, whom she had discovered in one of history's little footnotes. Jane and I had already written a few short stories together, but now we were embarked on something a lot bigger and a lot more difficult.

The amount of research alone was daunting. Our story began in France, where Mary was married to a sickly prince who then became king. To tell this part of the tale, we had to research all the personalities, history and culture of the French court and give an account of the terrible religious wars dividing the country as the Catholic monarchs tried to keep the Protestant Huguenots at bay. With the death of her husband, Mary crossed over to Scotland to become queen there. This meant we now had a whole new set of characters and an entirely different political and religious landscape to research. In Scotland the Protestants were in the ascendancy and it was the Catholics who were oppressed.

The many months of hard work were well worth the effort, however, for the book was enthusiastically received by readers and critics, and featured on many school reading lists and awards lists. Our publishers, therefore, were very receptive to more. By now Jane and I had begun writing our Young Heroes series and were becoming an accomplished team. When she found another historical snippet about Edward I of England's plans to throw his enemy Robert Bruce's daughter into a specially built cage, we had the basis of another exciting drama. The resulting novel, 'Girl In A Cage' once again proved hugely popular.

In the historical notes at the end of 'Girl In A Cage' we told readers how our heroine Marjorie later gave birth to the first of the Steward line of kings, who were to rule Scotland for centuries, a line that included Mary Queen of Scots. It was much later, however, that I suggested to Jane that having dealt with Robert Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots, we could round off a trilogy of legendary Scottish figures with a novel about Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Our publishers were enthused enough to ask for not one but two more Scottish novels. 'Prince Across the Water' would continue what had now become a tale of the Stewart dynasty with the adventures of Prince Charles Edward Stewart. We decided that the fourth book would deal not with a specific historical figure, but with an event, the Highland Clearances. However, now that we viewed this as a 'Stewart Quartet,' we wanted to link it to the Bonnie Prince and his failed rebellion of the previous century.

We decided that Prince Charlie would give Duncan, the hero of Prince Across the Water', a gift in thanks for his help. This precious brooch would then be passed down to Duncan's grandson Roddy, the hero of 'The Rogues.' The Blessing, as it is referred to in the tale, becomes a symbol of continuing Scottish culture and the unquenchable spirit of her people.
Roddy and his family become part of the Scottish diaspora, leading the Scots to make an imprint on global history far out of proportion to the country's size and population. To us this felt like a fitting ending for an epic story which has been ten years in the making.
But that doesn't mean we won't return to Scotland again

The Scottish Quartet by Jane Yolen and Robert J Harris:

Read Bob's thoughts on working with Jane Yolen