Tag Archives: Scotland

‘What You Call Free’ in the Grassmarket

During Book Week Scotland I’ll be joining fellow Ringwood Publishing author Lynda Kristiansen to talk about our novels within the context of Scottish historical fiction.

It’s such a thrill to speak about What You Call Free in the Grassmarket itself, where some of the most important action in the book took place.

And of course, having launched the book in March in lockdown, it’s wonderful at last to be able to meet and chat with readers in person.

Please do come along if you can.

Putting flesh on the bones

This story was on the news yesterday, timed for Halloween. Forensic artists have recreated the face of one victim of the Scottish witchhunt. Lilias died in 1704, possibly having committed suicide, after being interrogated and tortured for supposed witchcraft.


There’s a scientific wow factor about the story, but I find it really chilling.

She’s just an old lady, somebody’s neighbour, granny. She looks like one of us. You wouldn’t look twice at her in the street. She doesn’t look like a ‘witch’, but more to the point she doesn’t look like someone from THE PAST. She just looks like one of us.

I guess that’s what as a writer I’m often trying to do. To take away the sense of the other, to reconnect with people who walked through this landscape at a different point in time.

To put flesh on bones.


© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

Emerging Writer Award – Sackcloth on Skin

I’ve had another project going on in the background for the last two or three years: my novel, Sackcloth on Skin. It’s set partly in seventeenth-century Scotland, with a smattering of St Andrews in the 1990s and a 2013 road trip thrown in, and explores Scotland’s spiritual landscape and heritage.

In January I came across the Emerging Writer Award, a joint venture between Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre and the Bridge Awards, and decided there was no harm in applying. I sent them the opening few pages of the book together with an outline of the whole novel, and was overjoyed to be awarded ‘highly commended’.


There’s a long way to go, but it’s great to have a vote of confidence in what I’m doing with this book.

Very kindly they have awarded me a subsidy towards attending one of their courses, so I’ve booked on a course led by some of the writers I most admire and am somewhat nervously anticipating that experience! I’ve always been very much a solitary writer, particularly when it comes to my fiction, so opening up about this is extremely daunting – but it has to happen.

Looking forward to being able to share more as the months progress.

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.


Wallace and Bruce exhibition

And now for something a wee bit different:

Wallace and Bruce letters on show at Stirling Castle

Bruce letter


I’ve been working on the interactive to accompany this exhibition over the last couple of months. The exhibition brings together two extremely rare documents, one associated with William Wallace and one associated with Robert Bruce. Medieval documents aren’t instantly accessible to most of us, yet these two rare survivors have the power to link us directly back to some of the most exciting events in Scotland’s history.

The exhibition will set the documents in their national and international context, and the interactive helps you to explore both the actual documents and the story behind them.

It’s been fun to go medieval again!

The exhibition opens in Stirling Castle on 3 May. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.


I spent yesterday working in the ScotlandsPeople centre, doing some genealogy research for a client.

I love working there – climbing the steps into such a fabulous building and walking through the dome on the way to the search rooms. The system’s really easy to use, and it’s much better value than working remotely if you have a lot to do. Everything’s digitised, it’s simple to search, and you can whizz from generation to generation in minutes.

When I first started doing genealogy research, the original records were brought right to your desk. (It’s not that I’m that old, just that I started doing this when I was a teenager – yes, really!) After hunting through enormous index volumes to find the right entry, you filled out a slip and waited for the book to be physically located and produced – at which point you hoped you really had identified the right person, as otherwise you’d wasted half an hour or more. Any information had to copied out by hand, in pencil of course.

Now you log in, press a few buttons, and view the record instantly on screen.

It makes perfect sense, both for convenience and for preservation of the records … but I found myself thinking yesterday how glad I am that I started doing this in the days when you got to handle the real thing.

For me, that seemed particularly significant when looking at the first statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths in Rogart. My great-great-great grandfather, William Forrest, was schoolmaster, session clerk and registrar, and wrote many of the entries in these volumes. People came to his home, Rogart Schoolhouse, with their fee, and he brought out these books and recorded the information in them.


Modern school at Rogart

On one page of deaths from 1855 the first two entries are in his untidy handwriting – but an assistant registrar was called on for the third one. That’s because it records the death of William’s own little two-year-old daughter Hellen from meningitis, and his signature appears this time not as registrar but as bereaved father.

Rogart Church, where Hellen is buried.

Now that the original records are no longer routinely handed out, I feel privileged to have held the very books which were handled by William as he recorded the births and deaths of the local community and of his own family.

Somehow, it beats looking at a screen.

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.