The greatest work of fiction?

IT’S Valentine’s day. You weren’t optimistic enough to expect diamonds from your beloved, but after an afternoon sat forlornly hoping for even a small bunch of flowers to be delivered to your desk, you are really beginning to question why Scottish men can’t be a bit more romantic.

What it might surprise you to realise however, is that once you get out of Scotland, there are millions of lovelorn woman from London to Louisiana, fervently wishing they could get their hands on one of those very Scotsmen you have just written off.

As Mills & Boon celebrates in centenary this year, romances featuring handsome and heroic Scotsmen show no sign of diminishing in popularity. Whether you fancy being Tamed by the Barbarian or putting yourself in the trusty hands of The Glenmore Island Doctors (among the ten or so Scotland-set Mills & Boon books published last year), it appears there’s a Scottish fictional hero to meet (almost) every taste. Shelia Hodgson, Senior Editor at Mills and Boon says Scotland and Scottish men make “the perfect recipe for a romance” and according to a poll of readers for the association Romance Writers of America, historical Scottish romances came in at number eight in a list of the most enjoyable settings for a romance and there have been hundreds of such tales set in Scotland over the years. So just what’s the appeal? After all, it just takes a quick look round the average bar on Edinburgh’s George Street or Glasgow’s Bath Street to suggest that the country isn’t swarming with tall, dark and handsome barechested men waiting to wrap you in their plaid and whisk you off for unspeakable pleasures in some Highland castle.

Obviously, the point of these books is that they are dealing in fantasy. As Sarah Edwards, lecturer in English studies at Strathclyde University puts it: “The whole idea of romantic books are escapism. It’s about what people would like to think about Scottishmen, rather than what is necessary accurate, as well as ideas about otherness in terms of Scots being is some way different, or even exotic.”

Yet, fictional as these romances clearly are, they have to be inspired by some fact. Paula Quinn, an award-winning American romance writer who has written a series of novels featuring wild and heroic MacGregor men, says: “For me, as a writer and a reader, there is nothing more intriguing than a Highland hero. It’s association by terrain, by culture, and by sound. Scotland is a land of rugged, timeless beauty and windswept moors, resilient against centuries of subjugation. In my MacGregor novel Laird of the Mist I equated the hero, clan Chieftain Callum MacGregor, to the landscape from which he came.

“The terrain makes (Highland men) hard, tough, and robust. Their culture makes them proud, stubborn, and fearless. A Highland hero is the ultimate alpha male, confident in his own power and appreciative of the strength in his woman.”

Quinn’s landscape theme is echoed by Edwards who points out that from Byron to the Bronts there is a strong literary tradition of linking wild men with wild landscapes.

And Kate Ryan, writing for the US website, agrees that ideas about romantic Scots are tied to the land itself: “Every word that describes the landscape of the (Scottish) countryside also describes the character of the people: rugged, brutal, savage, tempestuous, captivating and hauntingly beautiful… All of which explains why Scots heroes are welcome to be lairds of our hearts in any century!”

Now, setting aside the questions raised by the fact that characteristics such as “brutal and savage” are being cited desirable in a man, most women I know, would be choking on their brose at the idea of describing their Scottish man as the “laird of their heart”.

However, it is not just Highland and historical Scottish heroes who frequent the pages of these tales of love’s trials. Within the genre, Scottish romances are divided into numerous subcategories: apart from historical these include contemporary, medical, time travel and even paranormal Scottish romances. And surely it can’t all be down to the fact that Scotland has a rugged landscape? After all, so does Greenland, but the literary world isn’t overburdened with tales of heroic Eskimos indulging in igloo-based passion.

One answer may lie in the Scottish accent. As Quinn puts it: “Let’s be honest, what woman doesn’t love the sound of a deep Scottish burr? It’s melodic, like bagpipes playing across the heather, bringing a smile to the lips of the listener.”

Indeed so desperate are some writers to tap into this, that within romantic writers’ circles, the Scottish novels are referred to as “Gonnae, Dinnae, Cannae” books, because of the overuse of these words by many writers desperate to give their work a Scottish feel. (As in, “Gonnae come doon the glen for a wee bit nookie Morag?” “Dinnae ye be so forward Donald, ye ken ah cannae – my faither would kill ye with his claymore!”… or words to that effect).

Thankfully, we do have our own Scottish romance writers who can appreciate the heroic aspects of the local men without such overenthusiastic forays into dialect. Glasgow-based author Morag Pringle, who writes contemporary novels for Mills & Boon under the pen name Anne Fraser.

From Mel Gibson’s William Wallace to Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane, the Scottish heroes who have captured women’s imagination share certain characteristics, says Pringle. “It is their bravery in the face of overwhelming odds that makes us love them – that and the fact that they represent the underdog. Also they are men’s men. They are physically powerful, resourceful, a little bit dangerous (certainly not safe and cosy) and very masculine.

“The Scottish heroes (in my books) are also always prepared to risk their own lives to help others – and in Dr Campbell’s Secret Son and the one I am currently revising – both the heroes are faced with situations where they put their own lives at risk. My Scottish heroines do too. They are equally brave when faced with danger.”

So would Pringle argue that there are real-life Scottish heroes out there just waiting to sweep a girl off her feet. The answer is a definite yes.

“For me, real modern day Scottish heroes would include our Search and Rescue teams who risk personal danger for little or no reward. You can add the RNLI and coastguards to that list,” she says.

So there you go, Valentine’s roses might be lovely, but according to the experts, when it comes to real romance what really matters is how much he’d be willing to risk for you. If the answer’s not a lot – then it’s surely time to be looking for another hero to give your heart to. But if he’d put himself on the line for you when it matters then perhaps don’t give him too hard a time for the lack of flowers – after all, it seems there’s plenty of women in other parts of the world just desperate for a Scottish hero of their own.