Eilean Donan Castle – Writing Sad Stories

That’s the Sea Gate at Eilean Donan Castle, in the Highlands of Scotland, above. It’s two things at once. In the present day, it’s beautiful. But it’s said that people used to be thrown out of it, in acts of punishment or coercion. So, it’s terrible too. Sad, even.

And it’s the same with writing stories. Yes, they can be sad, and dark, and terrible. But they’re not only that. Or they don’t have to be. As with many things, in writing or life, it’s all about how it’s done.

A view from Eilean Donan Castle

view from Eilean Donan Castle

Writing Sad Stories

It was a recent review of FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE that got me thinking about this. Here’s the pertinent part of what the reviewer said:

I was somewhat hesitant to read this novel as I thought it would be too sad, but was glad to have chosen to read it as Sinclair did not disappoint with the telling of an exceptionally satisfying tale.

I felt the exact same hesitancy about writing the book. It was while researching local history for THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR that I stumbled across the information that 600 children and young people had been kidnapped from Aberdeen during the 1740s. They’d then been transported to the American colonies where they were sold into indentured servitude. It was terrible. It was sad. And, almost totally, overlooked. It wasn’t history that got talked about much. In fact, most people knew nothing about it. So, it was precisely the sort of story, sad or otherwise, that I liked to tell.

scenery on the way to Eilean Donan Castle
A photo taken somewhere between Glen Shiel and Eilean Donan Castle

Making Historical Characters Relatable

I wanted to bring those people from the past to life, to make them human and relatable. But, wouldn’t it be too depressing to open the door to those particular historical events?

Eilean Donan Castle door
The castle door…

The answer is: no. I don’t think so, anyway. I found the book great fun to write. In fact, I think it’s the least dark of my novels. The main character, Elizabeth, is so determined, and so easily enraged. She kicks sadness to the side. Mostly. She does have some despairing moments. I wrote about one of those times in response to a question on the Wee Writing Lassie Blog (see the whole interview here):

A young girl was found dead in First Mate Alexander Young’s bunk during the voyage from Aberdeen to America. History has not recorded her name so I called her Maggie, and her death has a deep impact on Elizabeth in several ways. It causes her terrible grief, informs her opinions of what ‘fine gentlemen’ can actually be, and provides a specific awareness of how much danger she and other women and girls are in at times.

The publisher had this to say about Elizabeth, or Beth as she becomes, in their press release:

Fiery and forthright, Elizabeth isn’t someone to be argued with. She knows her own mind, and isn’t afraid to speak it. Through her experiences, the reader sees her grow from a girl, into a woman with a powerful voice… a woman of her time, but very much of ours too.

The sun comes out over Eilean Donan Castle
The sun comes out over Eilean Donan Castle

Learn More

You can learn more about Eilean Donan Castle on the offical website here.

And more about FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE on the book info page here or on the links below:

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Review from the Historical Novel Society

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

A FIREFLIES flip-through and quote:


FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 600 children and young people who were kidnapped from Aberdeen during the 1740s and sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s proper derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate! Paperback and kindle on Amazon. “Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick #HistoricalFiction #romance #KindleUnlimited #booktok #kidnapstory

♬ 24/7, 365 – elijah woods

A Dancer’s Journey Series: unconventional romance

Swooning books: A Dancer's Journey series by Ailish Sinclair

Scotland’s all misty lochs and magical forests and perfect boyfriends, right?

When dance student Amalphia Treadwell embarks on a secret relationship with her charismatic new teacher, she has no idea of the danger that lurks in his school in Scotland…

My dance background and love of history and spicy stories are what inspired this wild mix of contemporary romance and ballet set in a castle. Readers of my historical fiction will recognise that castle and the stone circle in these books.

There are no cliffhanger endings in this series; each book completes a story, but then there is more. So much more. Read all the blurbs here

Series on Amazon UK

Series on Amazon worldwide

Book covers of A Dancer's Journey series by Ailish Sinclair: celebratory dance. Shoes ready for pointe work.

Sisters at the Edge of the World

Ethereal and spellbinding... says the Historical Novel Society of SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land…

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance!

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

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Eilean Donan Castle
A final, more iconic, image of the castle

Writer’s Tip Jar

30 Replies to “Eilean Donan Castle – Writing Sad Stories”

  1. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. The writer must feel the sadness for the reader to feel it. Glad you’re getting such great reviews. Stay healthy!

  2. I believe it’s important to bring injustices to light no matter how long ago they happened and no matter how sad they may be because every bit of history written is full of omissions.

  3. A very iconic castle, we visited a few years back on holiday and took lots of photos; then I kept seeing pictures and realised how well known it was. I like to think history and places have plenty of happy times that aren’t recorded. When people went about their daily lives and enjoyed sunny days.

    1. Yes, always happiness to be found too. Eilean Donan often pops up in films and on TV. I tried to share some lesser-known parts of it here 🙂

  4. I have heard about the child abductions/deportations. It’s my understanding that a lot of the colonists who eventually rebelled were descended from people who had not necessarily chosen to come over on their own. The American “founding fathers” still carried the rage of their ancestors.

  5. I loved this castle when I visited that part of Scotland – very beautiful area.. I had not heard of the kidnapping of children from Aberdeen.

  6. The comment about the 600 children from Aberdeen reminds me of my step father’s story. He was one of the Home Children sent to Canada between 1869-1932. They were orphans sent with the hope of a better life for them. Most of them ended up in rural settings. Dad would have been one of the last of them and ended up in an orphanage/school on Vancouver Island, just off the coast of southern British Columbia, a very beautiful place. Life is not always happy in those places but I think his experience was fairly positive under the circumstances. He made life long friends with many of them later having the bond of military careers. I have a booklet about the farm they lived on somewhere. It was called Fairbridge Farm School near a town called Duncan and brings up lots of hits on a Google search. Their story may even be worth a book someday.

      1. No, not me. I’m no writer. I’m a reader only. While I love a well written book I have zero aspirations for writing. The idea is all yours if you want it. Even pass on if it doesn’t fit your plans. I would love to have the world know about these kids.

  7. What a spectacular place, Ailish. The views are breathtaking. And I think that despite the fact that much of history is sad, you still need to bring it out into the open.

  8. I avoid sad stories, because I read to get out of the existing situations and move to new things. despite the sadness, that castle has a stunning view.

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