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What would the clan system look like in the 21st century?
That’s the subject of a trilogy of adventure novels set on the west coast, with the final book published this month. And here’s a clue: there’s blood involved.
BloodLine is the third fast-paced thriller in Nick Bastin’s trilogy, following BloodBond and BloodFeud, set in an alternate contemporary Britain where Bonnie Prince Charlie won the Battle of Culloden.
The Highlands and Islands of Scotland have become the independent Free Republic of the Gaels, and Oban its capital.
‘Following his unexpected victory at the Battle of Culloden in 1746,’ the publisher Chiselbury explains, ‘Prince Charles Edward Stuart became King of the Gaels and split the Highlands and Islands of Scotland from the rest of Britain.
‘Upon his death, Am Poblachd Shaor nan Gàidheal, The Free Republic of the Gaels, was declared.
‘Since then, the Gaelic Republic has maintained its culture and language, ploughing its own idiosyncratic furrow to the present day, a constant irritant to its larger and more powerful neighbour.’
In this extract titled Brighid’s Choice, we find clan feuds alive and well.
‘The stair disgorged her into a wide entrance hall,’ Nick writes: ‘One corner was filled with a concert grand piano and pictures lined the walls. In front of the piano, in a wing backed chair, sat a sleeping figure.
‘From the tartan panel on his forearm, she could immediately see he was a MacLean, and from his face that he was about seventeen.
‘Too young for late night shifts on watch, too young for fighting too. The ambition of others had dragged him from his teenage years too soon.
‘She wondered what she should do with him. She didn’t doubt that Shonique or Kirstie would have probably cut his throat, after all, he was the enemy, wasn’t he?
‘For a second she paused and looked at the sleeping youth, his face carefree and untroubled by the years. He should be at school, chasing love, drinking and carousing, unthinking of tomorrow.
‘Instead he was here, part of an occupying force, killing and burning strangers from their homes. For why? A victim of the ambition of others.
‘Could she like Judith bring the sword of justice to sleeping Holofernes’s throat? She tiptoed past him; it was his lucky night; she was no murderer.’
Nick Bastin, a PR adviser, lives in London with his wife, three children and two cats, but his mother’s family comes from the West Highlands and Islay.
It was an Islay relative of his, the 19th century Celtic folklorist John Francis Campbell, that triggered his interest in Gaelic.
He met his wife, who is from the Isle of Skye, studying Gaelic at an evening class in London – she was always much better at it than he was, he says.
In 2007 he co-authored a Very Canny Scot – Great Daniel Campbell of Shawfield and Islay, a biography of one of Scotland’s leading figures of the early 18th century.
Explaining the inspiration behind his trilogy of thrillers, Nick told The Oban Times: ‘I have a deep respect for what the people of the Gàidhealtachd were doing.
‘It was a different country to the rest of Britain. It had no roads, nowhere to stay, and an unknown people speaking another language, but there was a strong culture.
‘All that changed after the Battle of Culloden.’
He wondered what the Gàidhealtachd would look like today if the clan system was updated to the 21st century.
What would they be doing now?
‘I started writing the first one in 2018,’ he said: ‘When you have the arc, the characters, what they are going to say, it comes very quickly. The Gaelic Republic was a play on the Lords of the Isles,’ he said. ‘Oban has a great location at the centre of the country, and a harbour.
‘What I enjoy most is people with no connection to Gaelic getting an exposure.
It is really rewarding to have complete strangers getting in touch saying: ‘That was great! When’s the next one?”