My mum died unexpectedly when I was a kid and, with my dad working offshore on an oil rig, looking after my brother and me full time proved to be impossible. Fortunately, this was boom time for North Sea Oil and he had enough money put away to send us both to boarding school. I say fortunately because it meant we were looked after and educated. The three years spent there aren’t particularly fond memories but I suppose that’s a blog for another time. In any case, being a posh prep school in Scotland, one of the things we had to buy in preparation were kilts to wear on Sundays and for special occasions. I have to admit that kids’ kilts are very, very cute. But I still vividly remember standing in the small shop with my grandparents and staring in horror at our family tartan.
The Harpers weren’t a clan on their own, you see. We were attached to the Buchanan clan and the Buchanan tartan is, well, rather lurid. In my memory, its predominant colour was brown although checking on google now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyway, we all very quickly made the decision to choose something different. I can’t remember what the end result was now but it was definitely something far different to what our family name called for.
That’s not to say, however, that it was a bad thing to be a Harper. Another memory I have from being a kid is my dad telling me with glee about a fantasy book he was reading. One of the characters stated quite categorically that he wanted to go to hell because ‘hell was where the harpers were’. Harpers with a small ‘h’ but still… the implication was that harpers – or indeed Harpers – had so much fun they were sinful. Indeed, we were thus named for playing the part of harpers. As www.houseofnames.com says, “In ancient times the harper was considered an important figurehead whereby Brehon laws stated that the elegance and music of the harp “deserved” a noble status.” Now I’m not particularly musical but I do like being elegant and noble!
Dodgy tartans notwithstanding, there is something very romantic about the whole idea of Scottish clans. From the sense of belonging to ancient hierarchy and deep-seated loyalty, there’s a mystique about them that extends beyond what I know of their history. Of course there are the famous stories, such as the shocking Glencoe massacre involving the Campbells and the Macdonalds, but there’s also a myriad of other lesser known tales. Delve into any part of Scottish history and it’s fascinating. It’s also ripe for any number of fantasy tales. After I left boarding school, I spent the rest of my childhood growing up in a small town called Stonehaven which, fascinatingly, lies at the top of an imaginary line drawn between the Highlands and the Lowlands. They say write about what you know and, while I don’t know magic or dragons or how to fight, my upcoming series Gifted Thief imagines a Scotland where the Lowlands have been given over entirely to demons and the Highlands are run by 24 magically inclined Clans. Officially the Harpers aren’t amongst them but I might find a way to sneak them in somewhere!