Scotsploitation and Alexander Smith

If you’re new here: this isn’t about the Scottish poet Alexander Smith, it’s about the hero of my novel Dark and Deep. Sorry if you got Google-fused.

“Scotsploitation” is sometimes used to describe the currently popular genre of romance novels in which the heroine–nationality unimportant–“tames” a strapping, wild Highlander. This article in The Scotsman describes the genre for the benefit of its Scottish readership. They obviously think the phenomenon is pretty hilarious, which is great.

I have to share another interpretation of the term Scotsploitation that made my day when I found it on the web: exploitation of the Scots tongue by English writers in order to express less, hmm, refined thoughts and ideas. Here you can read a summary of the position, written in Broad Scots. I hope it makes you as happy as it made me.

I’ve struggled with the idea of Dark and Deep as both a romance and as a Scotsploitation romance. I think it fits better into the first category than into the second. While, as my friend and romance novel expert Diana Baxter pointed out, it most definitely begins with two people who are not in a relationship and ends with two people who are, it isn’t about “the taming of the Highlander” and Alexander Smith is, in fact, merely a nice quiet boy from Edinburgh for whom things go completely and permanently pear-shaped.

It is, however, a romance novel written by an American who doesn’t have any special knowledge of Scotland. So why did I make him Scottish? Well, it’s complicated. The easy answer is that I was writing Dark and Deep to help myself come down from my Outlander high, so a Scottish hero was a natural choice.

The more complicated answer is that I had originally intended to write historical fiction set in Scotland during and soon after the Norman invasion of Britain. A lot of exciting things happened in Scotland at that time. Malcolm III was king of Scotland; he’s the guy who killed MacBeth, so there are automatic cool points there. He was running slave raids south of the Scottish border (which was pretty soft at the time), and I thought it would be fun to have my heroine be kidnapped in such a raid and befriend a pair of local brothers, one of whom would help her and the other of whom would choose loyalty to his king over loyalty to, well, the Sassenach wench. In the years following the invasion many more things happened which would have provided fuel for my fictional fire, including The Harrying of the North and Malcolm III’s eventual oath of loyalty to the English/Norman crown.

As I researched, I slowly decided that it wouldn’t work. I just don’t know enough about the time and place. Readers of historical fiction are merciless on issues of accuracy, and that isn’t a place or period I knew anything about. I was therefore left with two Scottish brothers and a not-Scottish heroine. Frustrated, I sat down on the evening of February second and typed “We opened our eyes…” If you’ve read my book, you know where it went from there. One brother became Arthur Matheson and the other became Alexander Smith.

Since then, I’ve grappled with the decision to keep the brothers Scottish. I gave them other Scottish settlers to make them less self-conscious. I added some English settlers to make it more of a pan-British expedition. I made many of the American settlers natives of Appalachia, which has deep Scotch-Irish roots and which is the climatological/ecological/geological pattern for the area of the settlement.

I spent a lot of time gnashing teeth and tearing hair over the question of dialectic in the text. I originally wrote all of the Scottish settlers with no dialectic at all. Then I found myself cutting loose with the American dialectic and having fun with it. I went back and modified a lot of the Scottish dialogue, and took it too far–and unfortunately the early editions of the published book contained some of that. I’ve since toned it back down to a minimum of phonological variants and a few slang words. If you haven’t bought the book yet, you’ll get the good version if you do. If you have, Amazon will probably send you an email soon, asking if you want the updated edition. You do.

I do apologize for inaccuracies in the Scottish dialectic and any other inaccuracies about the Scottish characters. I’ve known and spent a lot of time around Englishmen; I’ve never known a Scot. Why did I insist on writing them into my book? Well… there turned out to be certain plot-driving reasons to keep them that way. But I won’t spoil those 😉

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