Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

History- Leap o’the cask and the Dun Bonnet June 30, 2014

I discovered this article about regional history around Loch Ness that includes the actual recorded story of ‘Leap o the Cask’ and the ‘Dun Bonnet’ as it shows up in Diana Gabaldon’s books.  The story IS about a James Fraser.  This is the kind of historical coincidence that tends to give one goose bumps.

I found the reference here:

James Fraser, 9th of Foyers, was on very friendly terms with Simon, 13th Lord Lovat, later to be executed for his part in the 1745 Rising, and on that account, Foyers joined Lovat in supporting Prince Charles during his short reign in Edinburgh as King James VIII. After the disastrous battle of Culloden in 1746 the ill-fated Prince Charles fled westwards and took refuge in Gorthleck farmhouse on the Foyers estate but was soon alarmed by a party of Red Coats and effected his escape by jumping out of a window. Foyers also escaped from the battlefield and his efforts to elude capture were every bit as romantic as those of Prince Charles.

Foyers was excluded from the Act of Parliament pardoning treasonable offences committed in the rebellion, and was forced to live in hiding for seven years after the rebellion. One of his favourite haunts was a cave, a mile to the west of the Falls of Foyers. One day, on looking out of the cave, the laird saw a Red Coat secretly following a girl bringing food for him and, as to avoid capture was a matter of life and death to him, the laird shot the soldier who was buried where he fell. So Foyers’s whereabouts could be kept secret, the inhabitants used to speak of him by the nickname “Bonaid Odhair” (Dun Coloured Bonnet).

After the Battle of Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland’s troops brought much misery and brutality to the district. The estates were plundered and burnt on a scale never before known on account of the proximity of Foyers to Fort Augustus, where Cumberland and his troops were garrisoned. Many people starved to death and many outrages were committed on their persons. At a change-house, An Ire Mhor (a large piece of arable land), on the road to Inverness near Foyers, a group of soldiers, including an officer, raped a young girl living there with her grandmother and, when the old woman tried to defend her grandchild, she was strangled to death. At a funeral, taking place in Foyers cemetery, one of the starving mourners grabbed a loaf of bread off a passing provisions cart heading for Fort Augustus – uproar followed. The offender was arrested and the troops fired indiscriminately into the funeral party, killing at least one and wounding many others. The bullet holes in the grave stone of Donald Fraser of Erchit, buried in 1730, can still be seen to this day. Another outrage was committed on a boy taking a cask of beer to Foyers in his hiding place – when the boy refused to tell of his master’s hiding place, the soldiers cut off his hands.

I’m particularly bemused that one of the bibliographic sources is History of the Frasers by Alex MacKenzie. It makes you wonder if it was printed by A. Malcolm, doesn’t it? 🙂

Here’s a link to some photos of the actual Dun Bonnet cave:


The Inverness Outlander group were able to go explore the cave.  Here’s a link to their blog post and photos of the day:  Diana said she wouldn’t have gone on this trip because she is too claustrophobic.  🙂



quote- the mind December 26, 2013

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n

Milton said that in Paradise Lost in 1667.  That’s 344 years ago, and as fine a statement on mental health as ever I’ve heard.

If you’re not clinically depressed, it expresses the simple concept that your  attitude to the situation is what’s important, not the situation itself.

I’ve known a lot of people over the years who are constantly saying negative things about their hard-working, diligent spouses.  For whatever reasons, they feel that bashing their spouse is acceptable sport.  Inevitably, their relationships crumble, and they blame the spouse for the divorce when in fact, their own attitude is what doomed the relationship.

Speak what you want to be true, and you will make it so.  Articulate thankfulness, appreciation, and passion and you will create those things.  

It may only be in your mind, but your mind controls the body.

If you are clinically depressed, this quote expressed the simple concept that your perception of the situation transforms it.  Other people may see simple delights, while you see complicated anguish.  Your perception is valid, but don’t let it ruin you.  See your doctor.  You’d be willing to medicate for a heart condition, your brain deserves just as much respect.

Your mind controls the body.  Make sure it’s healthy.


quote- Jodi McIsaac on truth in storytelling November 7, 2013

Filed under: Literature,Quotations,Reading,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 3:03 am
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“So it’s not just stories you want, then” Maggie said, eyeing Cedar keenly.  “You want the truth.  Well, there is truth to be found in stories, that’s for certain.”

“Not all stories are true,” Eden piped up from her father’s lap.

“They’re always true about something, little one,” Maggie said, passing Eden another cookie.  “If not about what actually happened, then maybe about the person telling the story–or about the person hearing it…”

(Jodi McIsaac Into the Fire p. 136)

I particularly like the last sentence there, because half of the story is in the reader, and the connections s/he makes with it.  More than that though, is the very fact that the reader picked that story says something, as does that the writer wrote that story.  Subconsciously intentional choices are all around us. 😉



interview with children’s author Ann Walsh September 17, 2013

  •  Let me introduce you to the amazing Ann Walsh, a prolific BC writer of nine novels for kids and young adults. An has also co-written a non-fiction book about forestry, and was editor of two short story anthologies. Her most recent novel is Whatever.

What inspired you to begin writing?

I always wanted to be a writer. Then one day I found myself fast approaching 40 and realized it was time to get on with my dream. So I took a 6 day writing course in Wells, just outside the restored gold rush town of Barkerville, with a wonderful teacher, Robin Skelton. Wells forms the setting for much of my first book, and I still carry a picture of Robin in my wallet, with the photos of the grandkids.

The first book you published was a lovely teen novel called Your Time, My Time that was set in the historical town of Barkerville. Having read the book, I’ve never been able to go past the old Barkerville cemetery without getting goosebumps. You’ve written four stories set in Barkerville. Can you discuss the importance of special places in inspiring story?

Thank you for those kind words. Barkerville still gives me goosebumps, the whole town, not just the cemetery. The first time I ever saw it, in the early l960s before the road in was paved or even more or less straight, I knew that it was a special place, one where the past and present nearly touched. In YTMT my protagonist, Elizabeth, expresses that feeling. She says “It’s as if the old times are jealous of the new and want to be, not the past, but the here and now.” Or words similar to that. That feeling of the past ‘looking over your shoulder’ still haunts me in Barkerville, and in some other historic places.

In your own books, who is your favourite character? Why?

Percival Theodore MacIntosh and Moses (from Moses, Me and Murder) and I have travelled together a lot, and done many, many school presentations together. They are my most entertaining characters. But my favourites change. Right it is Janie Johnson, an elderly (that means older than me) woman who is a central character in my new YA, Whatever.

What author do you read over and over again?

Arthur Conan Doyle; Shakespeare

You’ve recently been studying in Victoria. Why do you feel continuing education is important for an author?

Books need fertile ground in which to grow. A stagnant brain isn’t receptive to the seeds of ideas. I loved re-discovering Shakespeare’s words and themes and had an introduction to Women’s Studies. My brain woke up and a book was finished.

Do you have a favourite writing quotation to share?

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

`Gene Fowler

What do you like about writing for children and teens?

Recently I met a young mother and her two small children. She had been searching for a copy of Your Time, My Time to re-read because it had made such an impact on her when she was a teen. I signed a new copy of the book to her young daughter, even though it will be many years before the toddler can read it. When you write for young people your audience is always new and always changing. One day a teacher contacts you, one day a grown-up fan, one day an Indo-Canadian boy translating for his father who has limited English but who wants to know if a certain part of Shabash! is true. It’s a wonderful audience to write for, and young people are generous in their praise. My favourite quote, make by a young girl who must be in her 20s by now, is “Ann Walsh, do you know you’re world famous in Kamloops?”

What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you because you are an author?

A difficult question. I’ve driven all over BC usually by myself, met people I’d only heard of like Margaret Atwood, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Farley Mowatt. I’ve danced with Pierre Berton, and eaten breakfast with Robert Munsch. I’ve learned so much, about writing, about people and about myself. It’s been a wonderful career, and I wish I’d started when I was younger so I’d have longer to write. However, I’m not done yet!

Which of your books was the easiest to write? Why? (or if you prefer, What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?)

Moses, Me and Murder! was easy and fast to write (after all, most of the story is true, there wasn’t an decision to be made about the ending for me to wrestle with.) However, it took over 5 years to sell to a publisher and got scathing reviews from ‘literary’ reviewers. It was first published in 1984 and, much to my delight, has just been re-issued as a new edition with a different publisher.

Which of your books was the most challenging to write? Why?

Whatever was difficult for me because in it I deal with the issue of aging as well as the Restorative Justice process.

What is the most asked question when you’re doing author visits in schools?

In every session someone asks at least one of the following three questions: “How old are you, how much money do you make, where do you get your ideas?” I now answer them before the question period begins—seventy one, not very much and anywhere I can, in case anyone else wants to know.

Thanks, Shawn. This was fun!

(Note from Shawn:  I am SO JEALOUS that you danced with Pierre Berton and had breakfast with Robert Munsch!)


The truth about history May 8, 2013

Filed under: Literature,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:35 pm

A post from last November…

Shawn L. Bird

“A story can be new and yet tell about olden times.  The past comes into existence with the story…  Beginning at the moment when you gave it its name…it has existed forever.”

Michael Ende.  The Neverending Story (Large print edition, p. 305).

I’ve been reading The Neverending Story for the last few days.  I came across this quote today, and it struck me as being rather profound within the context of the historical fiction workshops I attended at SIWC.

The history described may be factual, but its interpretation is imagined.  Scenarios are created.  Some may have happened ‘sort of’ like the author imagined, or maybe not. However, once the reader has that account in his head, it becomes the story of the history.  It becomes the reader’s experience and it colours his/her understanding of history.

I was on London’s Tower Hill last spring, and saw a plaque commemorating the…

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Fictional truths March 3, 2013

March is Literacy Month in the world of Rotary, and there is an interesting article in this month’s  The Rotarian magazine.  It quotes cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley saying,

…reading more fiction enables you to understand other people better.  Fiction is about exploring a range of circumstances and interactions and characters you’re likely to meet.  Fiction is not a description of ordinary life; it’s a simulation.

Well, duh.  Any writer could tell you that.  My husband, who has a psychology degree, vets my characters and makes sure I am keeping consistent psychological profiles and responses.  I write teen fantasy, mind you.  Even those of us crafting fictional worlds do so with care.

Our worlds are crafted to give our readers an opportunity to explore another life, other responses, other realities.

I find it vaguely amusing that the professional business world may not have realised that there is a reason literature is in the curriculum.  It would behove more of our leaders to pay close attention to the lessons of Orwell’s 1984, for example.  A more well-read population should also be quicker to recognise the danger signs they’ve seen in literature.  That’s why I’m a high school English teacher.  Along side the history teachers, I aim to provide warnings and inspiration.  To raise the next generation to see with clear eyes and communicate their vision with well-chosen words.

Later in the article they quote Oatley quoting Aristotle, “History…tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people.”  He adds that fiction “measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

Hear. Hear.


Work cited:

Bures, Frank.  “The Truth about Fiction.” The Rotarian.  Vol 191 No. 9  March 2013.  pp.29-30.

PS. It behoves me to mention that ‘behove’ is the British spelling of ‘behoove.’


literary strip tease? November 1, 2012

Filed under: Literature — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:51 pm
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 “…what is it about literary endeavour that strips a man of all dignity?

Ian Weir in Daniel O’Thunder  (p. 73)


NaNoWriMo update: 1670 down, 48,330 words to go


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