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August 16, 2018

Laura Vosika Reflects on the Appeal and Popularity of Her Blue Bells Chronicles Series


As historical fiction gains popularity with a broader range of readers, some who remember a time when the genre was shunned by publishers have asked “Why?” My answer is “Why not?” History provides us with everything we need for epic story plots --- suspense, mystery, intrigue, battles between good and evil, love and romance, even real superheroes. (Don't get me started on James Douglas!) With all this, it's no wonder millennials and 20somethings are becoming the fastest growing audience of historically based books and films. Sprinkled with fantasy and time-travel, a great story can capture the attention and satisfy the cravings of a generation of readers who grew up playing video games and reading Harry Potter.

This can begin to explain the incredible popularity of Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, Hillary Mantel’s WOLF HALL, and my own series of novels, The Blue Bells Chronicles, which tells the story of a modern man caught in the Scotland of Robert the Bruce --- the man who became king and took up the cause after William Wallace was executed. Readers are bonding with these rich characters from the past and finding they relate to social, economic and human conditions --- tragedy, family issues, challenging love relationships --- that mirror their own experiences today.

I believe the underlying themes in the Blue Bells of Scotland series and the epic trek through history resonate with today's readers. The power of hope, love and redemption are the anchors that make the history relatable and bring the rawness of characters from the Middle Ages to the forefront in a visceral way.

Human drama, mystery, romance and grand adventure are not immediately associated with ancient history, or the Middle Ages. Yet so many readers of the Blue Bells Chronicles tell me the books have ignited their interest in a forgotten time.  The five-book series chronicles the escapades of an unlikely duo set against the backdrop of modern celebrity, medieval castles and Scotland's greatest king.

At the center of the stories are the exploits of the honorable and chivalrous Niall Campbell, a medieval warrior, and his modern counterpart, Shawn Kleiner, a self-centered, arrogant and wildly successful classical musician --- two 24-year-old men born centuries apart but destined to share their lives. The emotional challenges that link a self-indulgent celebrity who lives the life of a rock star in the 21st century and a heroic, 14th-century medieval soldier who values honor, family and country continue to attract more than traditional historical fiction fans.

As a classical musician myself, music naturally surfaces in my writing. Shawn Kleiner plays trombone, an instrument that is underestimated and complex --- like Shawn himself. The story of his fame and celebrity gives readers a backstage look at the world of professional classical performance.  The lyrics to the folk song “Blue Bells of Scotland” were part of the inspiration behind the first book, BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND, about grand adventures and noble deeds. Each of the subsequent books in the series is named after a Celtic song: THE MINSTREL BOY, THE WATER IS WIDE, WESTERING HOME and THE BATTLE IS O’ER.

Besides being a traditional Celtic folk song, “Blue Bells of Scotland” is a theme and variations well-known to trombonists. Based on the original folk song, the piece was composed to demonstrate the range and surprising agility of one of the most difficult instruments to play --- to show that the instrument is capable of far more than people once believed. The comparison is given to Shawn by his girlfriend: he is capable of so much more than he shows the world. I think readers are drawn to this because we all want to know that we're capable of being so much more --- of continually growing and becoming deeper.

The most compelling historical/fantasy fiction are those rooted in actual historical events. An amateur historian, I work hard to be historically accurate in depicting the Scotland of the 1300s. I research every detail of the period’s culture and politics --- down to the seasonal weather and agriculture of the era and even what year buttons first appeared. I have made multiple trips to Scotland, visiting the locations used in the novels, including backstage at Inverness’s Eden Court Theatre and the ruins of Finlairig Castle.  I even climbed a mountain --- Sron a' Clachan --- in medieval-style leather boots to feel what Shawn felt, hiking mountains in 1314.

It is these kinds of details, I believe, that bring a book, a period in time and the intricacies of the human spirit to life. This appeals to today's readers who find, hidden within the story, a treasure chest of rich lessons to be learned from times past and from those who went before us.