Alba Obsessed

Jana Laiz

Glendaruel, Michael Russell

What’s a nice Jewish girl from Long Island doing with an obsession for all things Scottish? I’m not sure I can explain. I can only tell you that it all started that day in the mid-1980s when I heard The Thistle and Shamrock with host, Fiona Ritchie, for the first time. I can’t tell you what was playing on the radio; I can only tell you that it felt like coming home. Like I remembered something very deep, so deep I couldn’t place it, but there. This knowing. It was almost a physical pain, a longing.

I became obsessed with the music of Scotland. I bought albums. Archie Fisher, Cilla Fisher & Artie Trezise, Jean Redpath, Dougie MacLean, Dick Gaughan, Silly Wizard, The Tannahill Weavers, Battlefield Band, Ossian, Andy M. Stewart. I listened like a woman possessed. I began to sing to myself (I’m no singer).  I seemed to understand what the Scots words meant. I read Robert Burns. I read Scottish folklore and legends of Tamlin and Arthur. I contemplated leaving NYU and going to Gaelic College in New Brunswick, Canada. I took penny whistle lessons and Celtic harp lessons. I went to concerts and festivals, and fell in love with live music. I read all there was to read about Scotland. Guidebooks became my thing. I watched Scottish movie upon Scottish movie; Gregory’s Girl, Comfort & Joy, Dear Frankie, Local Hero… you get the picture.

I was in the midst of all this craziness while studying Chinese and working with Asian refugees in New York City.

But my love for things Scottish never diminished and in the mid-’90s I began to write my Scottish/American fantasy, The Twelfth Stone. It took years to write in the midst of raising a family and working full time. But as soon as I would I put on Dougie MacLean’s Perthshire Amber, among others, I was transported to a land I had visited only in my imagination. And the writing flowed.

Later, I found a Scotsman and his Gaelic speaking, bagpipe-playing wife to be my consultants on the book. After reading my manuscript, they were shocked to learn I had never been to Scotland. They “knew” my characters. I was thrilled.

The Twelfth Stone came out last year to wonderful reviews and an award or two. I’ll be taking a trip to Scotland in May 2014 with my Gaelic speaking consultant (and now best friend) and I know it will be like coming home.