Please welcome to the Tavern the lovely Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard! We're celebrating her new book release and tour, Sisters of Castle Leod. Grab a cup of mead and let's hear what Elizabeth has to say about the inspiration behind her new story...
A Message from Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard
Often when I’m chatting with a book club group, or maybe a personal friend, I am asked about the inspiration for my writing. It’s not the easiest question to answer, because so many things factor into the decision to tackle a particular story. In the case of my upcoming release SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD (January 19, 2023), it all started with a curiosity about the history of spiritualism. Or, to take it back a step further, I had been re-examining my own spiritual beliefs and, like many people, wishing for a greater sense of certitude. I have a longstanding interest in psychic phenomena, so I started reading about the wave of spiritualism that swept over Europe and America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is fascinating to realize how many noted scholars and scientists embraced the possibility of direct communication with the dead and sought to prove, or at least test, its veracity. Today, there remain many practicing spiritualists and psychics. I suspect, too, that many of us secretly engage in private conversations with our dear departed ones, even if we receive no reply. For years, I have been a student of the I Ching (Chinese book of changes), an oracle that purports to provide a direct channel for communicating with “the ancestors.” The famous psychologist Carl Jung believed that the I Ching, if nothing else, was an effective means of exploring one’s subconscious mind; by searching within, we might find answers to our most pressing problems.
In my readings about the spiritualist movement of centuries past, many names came to my attention. One of them was Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie—spiritualist, believer in reincarnation, and author of mystical romance novels. Sibell was born in the Victorian era, the older of two daughters of a Scottish earl. She and her sister, Constance, grew up in the 15th-century Highlands castle known as Castle Leod.
Lady Sibell Lilian Mackenzie
Lady Constance Mackenzie
I was drawn to the sisters of Castle Leod because both were fascinating characters yet completely opposite in looks, interests, and temperament. Sibell was petite, quiet and bookish, while Constance was over six feet tall, a champion athlete, and prone to scandalous behavior. As a child, I had once proclaimed that, when I grew up, I wanted to be either a nun or a Spanish dancer—aspects of my own character that I relate to even today. I saw that same duality of spirit represented by Sibell and Constance. I could relate to each of them, but, in the end, I chose Sibell as the narrator of my novel. Mostly because she asked me to.
It may be wishful thinking, or an overactive imagination … but I feel as if Sibell came to see me one night to present her case for telling the sisters’ story from her point of view. I woke up around two in the morning to see what seemed a figure in a hooded red cape hovering a short distance from my bed. Not being accustomed to ghostly visitations, I decided it was just a trick of shadow and light. But I watched it for a couple of minutes to see if it would change or disappear; it did neither, but I became weary and soon fell back to sleep. The next day, I began reading one of Sibell’s novels—she was a prolific and popular author of mystical romances—and in the very first chapter, the female protagonist dons a hooded scarlet cape. I had never opened this book before, and I couldn’t help thinking that my vision of the night before might be more than a coincidence.
I went on to write SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD with Sibell as my narrator, and I’m happy that I made that choice. Did my research into spiritualism help me resolve my own spiritual uncertainties? No, not really. But, as Sibell says in the closing scene of the novel, “… believing is not quite the same as being certain—but it’s all we have.”
Faith comes in many forms; it means something different to each of us. Do you think faith can ever be absolute, or must we simply learn to live with uncertainty?
**Finalist in the 2022 American Writing Awards**
Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era.
Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.
Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.
This title will be available on Kindle Unlimited.
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Meet the Author
A former touring musician/songwriter and public relations professional, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, "a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller" (Readers' Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a "resonant novel ... about the birth and demise of ragtime ... luxuriously crafted" (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Awards, and Arizona Literary Contest; they have received 5-star ratings from Readers” Favorite, Book Readers Appreciation Group, and historical fiction Discovered Diamonds. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.
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