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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - February/March 2003
A Highlander and his Books

Rebel King, Hammer of the Scots
Book One, A Novel

Hammer

Written by: Charles Randolph Bruce & Carolyn Hale Bruce

Reviewed by: Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

For those of you who enjoy Scottish novels, particularly historical ones, this is a great book to settle down with in front of a fire on a cold, rainy, winter’s night. Get yourself a glass of wine, a wee dram, or a cup of cappuccino to warm your soul. The book will, too! Other than Sir Walter Scott and Nigel Tranter, I normally do not make a habit of reading historical novels, and already you have a heads-up as to what I think about this book. I must confess that I was a little slow getting around to reading it. After all, it is a 407-page book! I take my reading time very personally. I do not casually read a book; I devour it like a leg of lamb or a beer-can chicken from my oft used backyard grill. Rebel King, Hammer of the Scots was no exception. I actually found myself eagerly returning to the book until the last page was read. When I had finished the book, I wished there had been more than the 407 pages. We’ll get back to this aspect later in the review.

Mel Gay, also known as Beth’s husband, introduced me to an interesting man at our Clan Chattan tent last October during the Stone Mountain Highland Games. Charles Randolph Bruce wanted to chat about his book. He spoke passionately and eloquently about what he and his wife, Carolyn, had written concerning "the chronicles of Robert de Brus, King of Scots". In a letter from Mr. Bruce, he described the book as "a fast-paced telling of the Scottish Wars of Independence, beginning only months after the unjustly and horribly meted out death of Sir William Wallace, subject of the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart." While this is a story informed Scots are familiar with, there are many others who have carelessly passed it by over the years. Both groups would do well to spend time with this book - the former to refresh their memories and stir their hearts once again, with the latter learning what they have put off far too long. Randolph and Carolyn Bruce have written a wonderful book worthy of the Scottish communities’ attention. Thanks, Mel!

Mr. Bruce informed me that the book "started out to be a ‘family’ story that grew into a ‘Scotland’ story". From my perspective, this is a book for anyone who enjoys an exciting and jam-packed book of suspense and intrigue. Simply put, it is an exciting, well-written novel. I’m glad I read the book, and I firmly believe if you read the first chapter, you will read the entire book like I did. It ends with the death of "the Hammer of the Scots", Edward I. We learn the story will continue with a sequel or two. Knowing this action filled account of the heroic Robert de Brus will continue is, to me, the best part.

Professionally, Randolph and Carolyn Bruce are both commercial artists, an added bonus for all readers. Their book is graced with artistic talent at the beginning of each chapter where you will find pencil drawings of the main characters - a very nice touch. Personally, the authors are parents and grandparents like so many of us. But, unlike so many of us, they have portrayed the beautiful story of Scotland’s quest for freedom in words and drawings. The good news for this modern man is that the ancient story will continue as this talented husband and wife team weaves their magic formula again – hopefully in the near future!


 

A CHAT WITH RANDOLPH AND CAROLYN BRUCE

By: Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA 30327-1862, USA <email: jurascot@bellsouth.net>

 Q: Do you mind telling our readers what type work you both do? Give us a brief note about your family and background.

A: (Carolyn) Both of us come from professional backgrounds of advertising, copywriting, and commercial art and illustration. In fact, we met while working in the same art department at a now-defunct printing company many years ago.

Our separate families migrated into the mountains of western Virginia around the time of the Revolutionary War, if not before. Both of us have Scottish ancestry with surnames like Bruce, Agnew, Fraser, Dunn, Thompson, Ingram, Preston, and others.

Q: Randolph, how and why did you and Carolyn decide to write a book, an historical novel, about Robert de Brus, at this stage in your lives?

A: (Randolph) Oh, it started way before Carolyn and I met. I was about four or five years old when my grandfather first told me that I was descended from Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland. It meant little at the time, but I always sort of thought of myself as being part of King Robert’s family.

Fast forward to about ten years ago. Carolyn and I were in the library, and I happened upon a book about Scotland that included the story of The Bruce in a very condensed form. Inspired, I thought it would make a great movie, and in a short time, I had written a screenplay. After a fruitless quest to attract attention for the idea in Hollywood, I threw the manuscript in a drawer. Along came Braveheart and its short shrift of poor ol’ Robert and Scottish history (for instance, Edward II’s wife was but a child in France when The Wallace was rampaging). For years, I’d look at my unsold script and growl a lot.

Then in 1999, I was on a trip and put a tape from Nigel Tranter’s "Bruce" trilogy into the dashboard player and settled back to listen as I drove. Tranter was a well-known author and authority on things Scottish. But, listening to the tape I found myself growing angry - this was not the Robert de Bruce that I knew from my research and knowledge of my stubborn Scottish ancestors! I decided then that I would take my research and write the story of the Scottish hero as I saw him.

Q: I understand that the two of you wrote this book even though there were unusual circumstances about where each of you lived. Would you care to explain?

A: (Carolyn) We actually reside in Virginia Beach, Virginia, but have lived 250 miles apart for the past five years. My mom is elderly and though she does very well, is not able to stay by herself for long periods of time. So, when Randy had written a couple of chapters on this novel, he sent them by email for me to read. I thought they were great, offered to "edit" for him, and he accepted. Well, I not only edited by added my two cents’ worth. I sent them back to him, he liked what I had done and, before long, we were writing the book jointly…though still apart! But that’s how the book, all 407 pages, actually got written.

Q: Word on the street is that this book might be considered movie material. Any truth to that at this time that you care to tell us about?

A: (Randolph) We would love to see our novel on the screen, and a number of our readers have long thought that our book would make a terrific movie. We are working on several possibilities, but at present, we haven’t anything concrete. So if anybody wants to make us a serious offer, negotiations are still open.

Q: Do you plan sequels to Hammer of the Scots, and if so, how many?

A: At present, we plan to complete a tetralogy. The second of the four, now in its early stages, is "working" titled, Rebel King, Winter Blood. We hope to have it out in late summer of this year. The third volume will tell the story of The Bruce through the Battle of Bannockburn, and the fourth, the Irish Campaign. There is occasionally talk about a fifth volume, but we haven’t made that decision, yet.

Q: What is the best way to purchase this book since you have created a new publishing company to print and market your book? Who should an interested party contact to buy it?

A: Hammer of the Scots is available through many Scottish clans and societies, and from our website: http://www.Robert-de-Bruce.com. It is also in several independent bookstores, and we are working on getting it into the national chains. Just ask for it at your favorite bookstore; if they don’t yet have it in stock, they should have it before long, or they can special order it for you. (Writer’s note: go to the top of this article for the ISBN number to take to your bookstore.)

Q: Thank you for your cooperation in this "chat" interview. Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

A: We appreciate the opportunity you have given us to present our book to your readers. We have given much attention to historical facts, though sometimes Scotsmen may differ on what those facts are. Some of the story takes Scottish lore into account, and some minor things and characters are made up to move along the story. But we have tried to be true to the Scottish people and the way we think they would have managed during this heroic, horrible, inspiring period of our history. We have great hopes for the series, and its success all depends on whether or not people read our book. ‘Tis a great story. Read it! (1/7/03)


 

The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - October/November 2004
A Highlander And His Books

 


BOOK 2

Rebel King, Book Two, The Har’ships
By Charles Randolph Bruce and Carolyn Hale Bruce

Reviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA.

One thing is for sure – from a personal perspective, you and I will never know the hardships that Robert the Bruce endured over the years fighting to free his beloved Scotland. However, you can thank the authors of this book for bringing that message as close to home as possible.  Charles and Carolyn Bruce continue their rich and exciting tradition of the oft-told story of Robert the Bruce in Rebel King, Book Two, The Har’ships.

If you liked their first book, Rebel King, Book One, Hammer of the Scots, you will love The Har’ships, a book of sheer enjoyment. This husband and wife team should feel proud of their second volume. It does not miss a beat, and the story actually picks up a month from where the first left off.  It is a fascinating story of adventure and high drama. In literature, books like this are called historical fiction. In baseball lingo, they are called home runs! On top-ten book lists, they are called best sellers. This is one of those books!

When I think of historical fiction, I naturally think of the father of the historical novel – Sir Walter Scott, the greatest writer of his century. Nigel Tranter, who wrote approximately 129 books during his lifetime, was a worthy successor to Scott. The Bruces have not earned that comparison…yet…but when they are through with all four of their books on Robert the Bruce, maybe the subject should be revisited.  However, in my opinion, their first two books do rival the wonderful trilogy on Robert the Bruce written by Nigel Tranter in 1969, 1970, and 1971 respectively.

Once again, this talented couple has done the Scottish community a great favor. Their current book is just as readable as the first one and just as enjoyable. If you find yourself pulling for the underdog (and who doesn’t?), you will love this book. It is the fascinating story of a small, out-manned, under-armed group of courageous men who willingly give life and limb to win back their freedom and their Scottish kingdom, both stolen by Edward I, the dreaded King of England who dubbed himself “The Hammer of the Scots”. What is rightfully theirs cannot be denied. This book sizzles with excitement, and you will too!

An important feature of the book is the inclusion of the many character illustrations – 42 in all. The drawings are exceptional and add a greater dimension to the book. Check out the list of models in the front of the book, and you may find a name familiar to you.  I did!  My buddy Mel Gay is listed. The “Mel man” never looked so good! And on another personal note, my good friend, Tom Burns is listed in the credits as one whose expertise helped make the book a better one. Tom succeeded!

 


A Highlander and his Books
A Third Chat with Randy and Carolyn Bruce


BOOK 3

By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA email: jurascot@earthlink.net

Q: Well, Randy and Carolyn, we meet again. I’ve never interviewed anyone three times, and now I wonder if this is the last time. Is Bannok Burn going to be the final book on Robert de Brus or will there be a sequel or two? If there are others to follow, what will they cover since Brus is now on the throne, and when can we look for them to be published?

A: We are happy to chat with you again, Frank. Our original intent was to publish four books in the series, which would create a dilemma for us at this point since in our research we have found many additional fascinating facts and historical events around which we really want to build more into the story of this great period in Scottish history. Of course, ahead of us lie the momentous events of the Irish Campaigns in 1315, the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, and the rest of the lives of all of the main characters… every bit as intriguing but perhaps not as well known as the stories we’ve already told. At this point, then, we can say there will be at least one additional novel in the Rebel King series, and hopefully more. To this point we have been able to publish one novel every two years, so perhaps our next first edition will be in 2008.

Q: You dedicate this book to your children and grandchildren, “present and future”. You go on to say, “Your ancestors were at Bannock Burn”. Not many can make that statement, so tell us about your side of the Bruce family.

A: When Randy was a small boy playing in the living room floor of the Bruces’ Straley Avenue home in Princeton, West Virginia, his grandfather, Charles Leonidas Bruce, called him from his toys and told him about his heritage. Though he didn’t have any notion of what it all meant, he listened politely as his granddad told him he was descended from Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Not knowing who Robert was or what it meant to be ‘descended from’ anybody, it was very much a ho-hum response… something like, ‘Okay’. It wasn’t until years later that the statement really hit home and he began to realize its import. We are continuing our research into both our lineages, and so far among our direct ancestors we find the surnames Agnew, Ballard, Bruce (of course), Cannaday, Chesney, Davidson, Dunn, Fraser, Ingram, Johnson, Johnston(e), Kerr, King, Nichol(s) Preston, Smith, Thomas, Thompson, Wright and others. With so many Scottish roots nourishing our tree, we feel safe in declaring to our offspring that they had ancestors at Bannok Burn.

Q: I’ve always been curious as to what made you two decide to become publishers. Would you do it again? What challenges have you faced publishing your own books? Would you encourage other writers to do the same?

A: After we had our manuscript for Rebel King, Book One, Hammer of the Scots all but complete, we followed the rules of the publishing industry and began the search for an agent to try and sell our novel to a publisher. After a couple of months, we had a contract with an agent and continued polishing the manuscript while he hawked our wares. An uneventful period followed as we heard only occasionally from the agent and after some months, he said he had presented us to those he thought were likely publishers and would after six months or so, make the rounds again. This seemed a lackadaisical sort of business, and we asked for our contract to be voided, with which he complied. We sent out package after package to publishers large and small, only to be rejected, most as “not of our genre,” though some had never been opened! We thought to ourselves that, if publishing was so successful that they didn’t need to open the package to see what was being offered, it might be a good business to enter!

We did acquire a publisher interested in our novel and contracted with the firm, which had offices in New York and the UK. Then, after September 11, 2001, so many of their employees decided to return to the UK that their previous schedule for publishing our book was protracted beyond the time we felt we could wait, and the company graciously allowed us to have our contract returned to us without penalty. After discussing the tremendous risks and investment it would take, we decided to publish our own works.

Would we do it again? Yes! We certainly could not have come this far without the help we have received from our friends and the Scottish community in general, and we’ve never worked so hard or risked so much. But neither have we had so much fun. There is a great deal to be said for the excitement that comes from setting a lofty goal and working to reach it. The greatest difficulty we experience is in trying to do the creative and the nitty-gritty at the same time. There just are not enough hours in the week to get the day’s three “Rs” done, i.e. research, ‘ritin’, and red tape, and there’s nobody else to do it. Yet, we do encourage other writers to publish. We wouldn’t advise anyone not to follow his or her dreams. However, it’s important to remember that we collectively had many years of experience in advertising art and copywriting, marketing, and printing, and that practical knowledge has been an immense help as we have made our way.

Q: Sir Walter Scott is one of my favorite Scottish writers. He was a very successful author, known and revered the world over, the most successful writer in the world during his life, but when his publishing company went south and bankrupted, Scott was forced into financial ruin and nearly lost all of his possessions. What makes you two think you will be different from Scott?

A: We aren’t, except of course that he was world-renowned, an icon of Scotland and a poet beloved by all, and we are definitely not…yet!

Q: While we are on Scott, father of the historical novel, would you consider your books to be historical novels? Your characters seem to be a mix of both fact & fiction. Are they truly representative of the historical characters in the days of de Brus?

A: Yes, we consider our books to be historical fiction or novels, and most but not all of our characters are names out of Scottish and English history. The battles we mention were actually fought in much the same way as we describe them…at least as far as our research has shown.

As for the personalities of the individuals involved, we take as many indications of their strengths and weaknesses as we can from among the historical records and endeavor to build believable, real people. All of the major characters are based on our readings about the actual historical figures, but we’ve been known to, and called to task for, changing things about an historical personage or two. When it is done, it is to move the storyline along, and for no other reason.

There are others about whom we found the briefest of mentions and built histories for them, such as the character of Cuthbert, who was mentioned by John Barbour in his epic poem about the Bruce. According to Barbour’s account, Cuthbert scouted the earldom of Carrick before King Robert invaded the region in early 1307. We had him do so in our version of that event. With the exceptions of his name and the single scouting event, Cuthbert was made from whole cloth. Yet he’s a good character, and we have kept him among the king’s most faithful soldiers in the latest book, which takes place some seven years after the invasion of Carrick.

For every event in the history books there are at least two versions, Scottish and English, and multiple variations thereof. Somewhere among the most factual memories of the opposing “truths” lies what really happened. In a land where few could read, much less write, that’s a lot of opinions and viewpoints that have been handed down. We strive for the version or combination of versions that make the most sense to us, and from these we try to weave a plausible story.

To directly answer your question, our characters, both historical and fictional, are constructed from our understanding of the medieval existence on those islands. They are blended and intertwined so that our story weaves a tapestry that gives a reasonable portrait of the people and their times. But in the end, we can only guess at the harsh realities of the Fourteenth Century.

Q: Speaking of historical facts, you have named the site of the battle “Cock Shot Hill” instead of the traditional “Gillies Hill”. What on earth in your research of 14th century Scotland could lead you to do so?

A: According to our research, the hill above the battlefield was called “Cock Shot Hill” at the time of the battle. It acquired the name “Gillies Hill” many years afterward, in remembrance of the gillies and others who were said to have hunkered there until called forth at battle’s end by King Robert. These gillies were referred to by John Barbour as the “small folk” (meaning people of lower rank and lesser importance to most historic endeavors).  Today, some say these were Templar knights called into the fray at this point.

Q: This year (2006) is the celebration of the 700th anniversary of Robert de Brus being crowned King of Scots. Did you two plan on publishing Book III in connection with his anniversary or did it just happen?

A: It just happened. We probably would have put it off for another six months or a year if it weren’t for our readers, who kept asking us when book three was coming out. We were quite amazed and very pleased at their interest, and so pushed the book’s completion ahead. Still, we’re glad we did get it released this year.

Q: I notice you have the artistic drawings once again at the beginning of the chapters. How do you select people as your characters as to drawing them? Do you seek their permission to portray them? Who draws these figures?

A: These character studies are all drawn by Randy, who works from photographs that he takes of cooperative friends and strangers. Of course, he adds different clothing, hair styles and/or beards to make each character match his idea of what the individual should look like. We understand that this is a rather unique feature in a novel of this sort, but for Randy, having been a professional artist since he was 16, it was a matter of being unable to create a book without adding some art. It seemed to work and many of our readers have commented that they like having a face to go with most characters.

Without fail we get written permission from those who model for us, even those whose features won’t be easily recognized after Randy has altered them to suit the story.

Q: The name of Book III is subtitled, “Bannok Burn”. It catches the eye because the normal spelling is Bannockburn. Why the change?

A: For many years after the momentous clash it was simply called the Second Battle of Stirling. The immediate site of the battle had been long known as “Bannok”, or even Banok, and the stream or “burn” flowing through it was generally referred to as Bannok Burn. Because the swift-flowing burn had been a very critical element in the Scots’ battle strategy and an equally great part of the outcome of the conflict, the name eventually was morphed to Bannockburn. We titled our book “Bannok Burn” to be more correct to the time of the story.

Q: I keep hearing from time to time that a movie may be made about your books? Any truth to this or is it just talk on the street? If a movie is made, who would you like to see play Robert de Brus?

A: We’re still talking to an interested producer, and we have a letter of intent, but to date, no contract. Everybody, THINK MOVIE!!

About the role of Robert de Brus… We know a lot of young “leading men” that we would not like to see play the part! In a conversation with the possible producer, he strongly suggested an unknown, but we really don’t have anyone in mind…excepting the Sean Connery of about forty years ago! Would that not be the best!!

Q: When you are working the Highland and Scottish Games, what question do your readers generally ask? And, as far as you can tell, who reads your books the most, men or women? Why?

A: We tell people who have not heard of us and our series that they are about King Robert Brus who fought for the independence of Scotland in the early 1300s and usually they will ask how close to history have we kept the story.

We probably have as many readers of one gender as the other, possibly because we write without prejudice, meaning that we don’t adjust the story to “fit” either gender’s expectations. We just write it as we see it.

Q: As always, you have been as courteous in dealing with me regarding the book review and this chat article as anyone could desire. What concluding words do you have for our readers?

A: The “Rebel King” series is written about a great saga, a heroically epic story and a colorful period of Scottish and English history. As we tell folks, “we just put the words to it”. It started out to be a family story…that became a Scottish story…and in fact is an inspiring world story.

 


A Review by T. A. Bruce for the Blue Lion (Bruce International Society Newsletter)

     Robert the Bruce, King Robert I of the Scots, who lived 700 years ago, was the monarch of a small country on the fringes of Medieval Europe, and never commanded large armies, but his fame is still very much alive here in the Twenty-first century, as one of the two Scottish national heroes.  His life has been the subject of much myth-making as one of the greatest lights of a country that has provided many great lights to the world, far beyond what might have been expected given its size and population.  His most influential biographer, Archdeacon John Barbour, in his epic poem “The Bruce,” tells of his great bravery, his magnanimity, and his brilliance at the art of warfare.  It can be said that Robert the Bruce invented what is today known as guerilla warfare.

     With all of the above in mind, it must have been a daunting task to set out to compose a novel, which, by definition, must find most of its value in the entertainment it provides, about such a national hero.  Charles Randolph Bruce and Carolyn Hale Bruce have done a very admirable job in blending fact, and admittedly some myth, into a very entertaining story that leaves the reader eager for the projected next part.

     The title may require a little explanation.  The term “Hammer of the Scots” refers to King Edward I of England, who had the Latin phrase “Malleus Scottorum” posted on his tomb in Westminster Abbey.  Before long the reader finds out the reason for the inclusion of the phrase in the title, though; Edward I is the main obstacle in Robert Bruce’s quest to become King of Scots and to restore an independent Kingdom of Scotland.  The book commences at the beginning of 1306; Edward has set himself up as ruler of Scotland, and his ruthlessness and military power will fall like a hammer upon anyone who opposes him.

     As the story progresses it becomes apparent, in the novel as it did in fact, that Robert Bruce is the only person who can hope to restore the old Scotland of David I and William the Lion.  Historical novels often have difficulty in capturing this kind of political truth and at the same time making the story interesting, but the Bruces do it quite well.

     Their description of Robert Bruce’s murder of his chief rival for the Scottish crown, which was a tremendous setback that would have been the end of any other claimant’s ambitions, is especially vivid.

     Another highlight is a very fine explanation and description of the chain of events that led to Robert the Bruce’s coronation being repeated, upon the arrival the day after the first ceremony, of a representative of the family that possessed the ancient right of placing the crown upon the head of the Scottish kings.

     As always, the devil is in the details.  There are several anachronisms and inaccurate uses of terminology.  For example, mention is made of the ancient Pictish practice of warriors painting with blue woad before going into battle, but this practice was long abandoned by the 14th century.  These anachronisms will for the most part concern only the specialist, and do not seriously detract from the story. 

     This book, which is planned as the first of four, ends in July, 1307.  There is much more to look forward to in future installments, including the Scot’s great victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. 

     To quote R.W. Munroe: “How through ‘toil and weariness, hunger and peril’ (in the words of the Arbroath declaration of 1320) he won the independence of his country as well as his own right to the throne is a story and an achievement which has made the name of Bruce dear to the Scottish people. ”(Munroe: 9)  With Rebel King, Book One: The Hammer of the Scots my kinsman Charles Randolph Bruce and his co-author Carolyn Hale Bruce have proven themselves storytellers worthy of this awesome story. 

Quotation from: Munroe, R.W. Kinsmen and Clansmen. Edinburgh: Geoffrey Chapman Ltd., 1971.   

Reviewed by Thomas Allen Bruce

High Commissioner of the Chief of the Name of Bruce
Commander of the Most Venerable Order of St. John
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Life Member of Bruce International and served as National President from 1994-2000

 

 

 

The Book Reader

    "In this golden age of publishing, the reason the Bruces decided to publish their own historical fiction of Scotland is rather unique. They sent the manuscript out to agents and publishers...and often the envelope was returned unopened. "We figured, if they were too busy even to open their mail, it must be a good business to get into!" Give the Bruces credit for gumption, insight and downright genius for writing this grand tour of fourteenth century Scotland - its a graceful, exciting and unsettling picture they present.

    In a world sliding headlong into enslavement, the rulers use torture and death to instill obedience: "Fear," says one ruler, "is the driver of folk's wits and souls."

    Written with passion and deep erudition, this powerful, multifaceted history that takes us into one of the most thrilling and important moments in the Scottish struggle for freedom.

 

Book 1

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Book 2

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Book 3

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