Rabbie Burns and a first Burns Supper

Robert Burns

Robert Burns by Alexander Naysmith

Having lived in The Scottish Highlands now for four years, I thought it was time to celebrate Burns Night in traditional style. A Burns Supper, no less.

Now, I know I am not the first one to write about Burns on this blog. Scotswoman  Joanna  gave the lowdown on Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) and his comic poem Tam O’Shanter in an earlier post, which you can read here. She also gave us her own modern take on it, in a short story.

The first “supper”

This was in fact a memorial dinner. It was held on 21st July 1801 at Burns Cottage (built by Burns’ father and where the bard was born) in Alloway, South Ayrshire. The idea obviously caught on. A Burns Club was formed in Greenock and held a Burns Supper in 1802, and in 1810 London held its very own Burns Supper. Rabbie was doing well!

the first Burns Supper

So, when our local pub, the Badachro Inn, decided to hold a Burns Supper, we had to sign up for it!

For starters, what to wear?

In honour of the occasion the Other Half decided it was time to gird his loins. Literally. That meant a trip to Inverness to buy a “proper Highland dress.” He opted for the Black Watch tartan, one of the universal tartans that anyone can wear. Since it matches my own outfit, we looked a fine pair, don’t you think?

Black Watch tartan for Burns Supper

We arrived early

a Burns Supper welcomeIt was a full house!

The inn’s eating area was decked out in readiness, with place names, tartan napkins and even a wee dram from the neighbouring Badachro Distillery for each of us! However we weren’t allowed to the tables until the appointed time, when local piper Fraser Wotherspoon arrived to pipe us in.

Once everyone was seated and our host had welcomed us with a few words, one of our resident clergy said the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Let the feast begin

After a first course of soup, Fraser Bagpipes, piper at Burns Supperpiped in the Haggis.

I have been told that, in the past, Burns Suppers were all male events and could be pretty rowdy affairs, more like a stag party.  Not so on this occasion.

Ladies were not only invited, they played a major role! Beginning with the Address to the Haggis. This was delivered with great verve and assurance by Ruthie.
(I was particularly impressed by the way she wielded the knife to stab the beastie!) Now, the bard might have written in Light Scots, but it can be hard going. So here’s a link to the whole poem AND a translation. (Very useful for some of us!)

After raising our whisky glasses in a toast to the haggis, we all settled down to enjoy our meal.

Then came the speeches

Glasses recharged, we listened to the keynote “Immortal Memory” address. This is a rather more serious consideration of the art and life of Robert Burns, which ended with everyone rising for a toast to the immortal memory of the Bard of Ayr. Another of our lassies then gave a spirited rendition of Tam O’Shanter. (Quite a feat of memory, it’s a very long poem!)

Even more hilarity followed with the Toast to the Lassies and a Reply from the Lassie, before the evening wound up with a few closing remarks and – of course – a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Farewell with Auld Lang Syne

Carriages were called and everyone began to wend their way home. We were weary, but very happy.

Reflections on my first Burns Supper?

Larger and more formal suppers took place around Scotland that week (and indeed the world) I am sure. Our small Highland community celebrated in the best Scottish tradition of friendship and hospitality. The Bard’s life was celebrated with music, song, laughter and consideration.

I think we did him proud.


The Duke's Family for Christmas Sarah Mallory

Heroines, Heroes, Failure and Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand map with pinThis blog doesn’t normally touch politics but today (Friday) I learned that Jacinda Ardern is resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand. She has decided to leave the job after more than five years because, she said, she “no longer has enough in the tank to do it justice.” It’s a frank and honest statement. Possibly even heroic? But is it failure?

Can heroes admit to failure?

handsome dark-haired young man with beard and faraway gazeAnd then I started thinking about the heroes we write and wondering whether any of them would get away with making a statement like Ardern’s. Does an alpha hero (say) ever admit that he’s no longer up to whatever it is he does? That he’s a failure? Or that he would be if he continued?

Can’t say I’ve met many in the fiction I read, especially not in contemporary romances. Romantic heroes may occasionally fail at some task, sure. But don’t they usually learn from their failure and go on to bigger and better things?

And, even when they do fail, do they confess it to the world at large? Or do they keep that chiselled jaw suitably clamped and say nothing?

The key question, I suppose, is this:
is a hero a failure—unheroic—if he admits he is no longer up to the job?

Is failure OK for heroines but not for heroes?

Now, there’s a loaded question, wouldn’t you say? But is it a fair question?

Female climber clinging to the edge.

Is this what “being up to the job” means?

I can remember only one other politician who resigned on grounds of not being able to keep doing the job.

Yes, it was a woman. Are you surprised?
Estelle Morris was the Secretary of State for Education for England back in 2002. She resigned because she felt she was “not up to the job”.
A heroine? Or a failure?
Or perhaps both?

Woman chained to her working desk

Maybe this is “being up to the job” for a heroine?

Somehow, I can’t see many (any?) real-life male politicians doing what Morris or Ardern have done. But maybe I’ve missed some?

Cartoon brain lifting dumbbellsThe Guardian article I’ve linked to at the top of the blog reminds us that Nelson Mandela insisted on stepping down after only one term as President of South Africa. Because, they write, “even successful leaders need to know when it’s time to go.” But President Mandela’s refusal wasn’t because he was a failure. He did it for a higher purpose: in order to ensure a democratic transition. In my book, that qualifies him as a hero. But there aren’t many like him about, are there? Not in real life, sadly.

And possibly not many heroic failures in romantic fiction either? Can you think of any?

Romance is fantasy land…and can’t include failure?

happy young womanWe read about alpha heroes in romantic fiction and we’re often carried away by the love story. Especially as we know that the heroine—whoever she is and however lowly—will end up with the alpha male in the end. HEA. Happy sighs. But…

Ask yourself a question, just once in a while. Could you stand having a man like that in your own life? Your real life? Do you love the love story only because it’s set in a fantasy land with a fantasy hero?

I find myself wondering, subversively, whether the alpha hero would remember to take out the bins.
Yes, OK. I know the alpha male hero has money coming out of his ears so he probably has a minion to see to the bins. But it’s still a fair point, to my mind.

No doubt he could defend the heroine if they were beset by hostiles but, sometimes, it’s not heroics the heroine needs. Sometimes, she needs help with practical, down-and-dirty chores. Like smelly bins.

And I will admit to having a reminder on my computer about the need to remind my own personal hero that Wednesday is the day for him to put out the bins. If I forget to remind him, then the failure is my fault, of course, not his. (And no, it is NOT nagging. No way.)
So that’s all right, isn’t it?

sunrise over rubbish dump with birds

NOT what the Maitland rubbish bin looks like…

Stories with acknowledged failure in them?

I’m sure I’m a failure here, but just at the moment, I can’t think of romantic failure stories where the hero fesses up and changes course completely. I’m sure that’s just brain failure 😉 on my part. Can you help me out here? I really do want to be proved wrong.

Joanna Maitland author

Joanna, failed bin nagger?

What Writers Read

This Christmas a writer friend has given me a fascinating little book called What Writers Read. It’s one of those charity collections – in this case to support the National Literary Trust – in which a bunch of supporters get together to produce something to promote the cause and raise funds.

This time it is 35 essays by various writers, some of whom I have been reading most of my life, some I’ve never heard of, about their experience of reading their favourite book. And most of the pieces I have read so far are genuinely about the experience.

What Writers Read –  Discovery

Oh, they talk about their chosen book, of course they do. But these are not puffs for the beloved tome. Even less are they weighty reviews, weighing plot, character and impact.

For instance, William Boyd on Catch 22 assumes we will already know the book. And on that basis, he  gives us a chilling insight into his teenage self going home to a war zone. I sat up straighter in the chair, gripped by anxiety, as he described going round the book store at Heathrow. Continue reading

Underwear: what was worn under Regency gowns?


See-through petticoat with flounced hem

What underwear did ladies have beneath their Regency gowns? Generally, not much. I’ve blogged before about see-through gowns and the Regency petticoat but what else was underneath?

The go-to reference book for underwear is The History of Underclothes by C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington which starts at the medieval period and finishes at 1939. The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington



As you can see from the cover, it includes corsets and bustles and much, much more. And it includes underwear for men. That gent in the middle of the cover is wearing a Jaeger nightgown, dating from the early 1880s.

The lady to his right is wearing “cami-knickers in crêpe-de-chine” from 1922. (No, they didn’t look like knickers to me either!) The lady to his left is much earlier, of course. She may look fully dressed, but she isn’t. That’s corset, chemise and underskirt, dating from about 1780. And French!

Regency underwear

Continue reading

Happy New Year with our Sophie Weston serial

Audiobooks, explosion of delightA very happy New Year to all our visitors. May 2023 bring you health, wealth and happiness and, for the authors among us, booming sales.

As we said in our Christmas blog, the hive is on holiday until next weekend. But we don’t want to leave you with nothing, so we’re repeating the Christmas and New Year serial that Sophie wrote a year or two back.

The first episode is below. The link to subsequent episodes is at the end of each. It’s like binging on box sets of Downton or Bridgerton. Feel free to read all the episodes at a sitting. You know you want to!

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fog

There was fog over the rooftops when Liv looked out from her bedroom window for the last time. She kind of loved this view of her bit of London. Like Mary Poppins and her sweep, she saw Victorian chimneys, with a distant church tower and, even further away, a block of Edwardian apartments. Continue reading

Christmas greetings and a variant on 12 days

Fire Oranges Happy Christmas 2017

The Libertà hive is again taking Christmas and New Year off. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 8th January, 2023.

2023?? Gosh, where did 2022 go?

However, we don’t want to leave you with nothing so, for those who haven’t seen it before (and for anyone who’d like to see it again), we are repeating Joanna’s 12 Days of Christmas, Botswana style.

Enjoy and do sing along. With love from all in the Libertà hive.

Twelve Days of Christmas, Botswana-style:
you may wish to sing along as you read 😉

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

a raptor in a bare tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Continue reading

Research Pitfalls and Pleasure

I have always found researching the back ground for my stories to be the greatest fun. But it is not all joy. Worse, it can be counter-productive.

As this year is on the brink of turning, I have been taking stock of my writing habits and also my output. Well, a little. Not the full audit, you understand. Just a gentle canter through those things that I have done, and those that I have left undone. And why.

And the reason, I fear, is often Research.

So I thought some people might be interested in my conclusions on research, its pitfalls and pleasures.

Pitfall 1  Getting Lost in Research

Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter rant: INTO and IN TO?

Did you know that INTO and IN TO are not interchangeable?

Recently, I read the paragraph below in Jonathan Bouquet’s weekly column in the Observer. Jonathan Bouquet (a subeditor on the paper) is almost always on the side of the language angels, but this time…?

goblinOxford University Press has announced its shortlist for word of the year. Its choices are #IStandWith, Metaverse and goblin mode. The first two I am familiar with, but the last… completely stumped. I’ve never seen it or heard it. Apparently, it is “a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives into and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations”. I think it used to be known as slobbishness. (Observer, 27 Nov 2022)

The source of the definition is not specified in the column. It appears to be dictionary.com but the Observer (or Jonathan Bouquet himself?) has misquoted it. See my added red emphasis.
The dictionary.com definition is actually:

Goblin mode is a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives in to and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations. (dictionary.com entry dated 7 Jun 2022)

Subeditors hanging head in shame?
Oh dear.

One would have thought that such an august organ—the Observer was first published in 1791—would know better by now. But in the same edition, I read the following in an opinion piece by no less a person than Isobel Hardman, the Assistant Editor of the Spectator:

…more planning reforms are on the brink of failing, with ministers and whips alike expecting Gove to cave into rebels led by Theresa Villiers who want to make top-down housing targets merely advisory.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Continue reading

Off-Putting Endings — how not to finish a book?

Inspforget the starsired by Joanna’s recent blog on ways to put a reader off at the start of a book, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few pet peeves about off-putting endings.

Call it book-ending Joanna’s post 😉

For me, there is nothing more disappointing than settling down with a book, enjoying the story and investing in the plot and characters. You read to the last page…  And then it leaves you flat.

I have to confess to a vested interest here – a book I read recently which turned out to be one of a series.
Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say.

Female climber clinging to the edge.No, only the cliff-hanger ending left so many loose ends in the main romance and the plot that I felt thoroughly let down. I also felt I was being hustled into buying the next.

I didn’t.

Having invested quite heavily in the story so far, I wasn’t prepared to have it happen again.

Solutions to off-putting endings

Continue reading

A pearl anniversary…

One score and ten years ago…

Busy fizzWith apologies to Abraham Lincoln – I couldn’t resist – it is thirty years ago, almost to the day (it was actually December 2) when my first book, An Image of You, was published.

It was my fourth attempt to write a book for Mills and Boon. I do, somewhere, still have my first rejection letter. I seem to recall the word “wooden” used to describe my characters, and a suggestion that I read books by Elizabeth Oldfield and Vanessa Grant. As you can tell, it is ingrained in my memory.

The book…

I later had the enormous pleasure of meeting Elizabeth at author lunches, along with so many fan-favourite romance authors. But back to that precious moment. The arrival of my first box of books. I’d been out somewhere and when I came home the box was sitting on my desk, with my husband and daughter staring at it, waiting for me to open it. Continue reading