This is another one for my notebook and compost heap. This is the rough outline of a historical fiction novel I started, but have decided not to proceed with. I love historical fiction, and the ones that I respect and admire typically are written by an author who has spent many many years researching the history. Traveling this path for awhile (I’ve poured many many hours into this project) I’ve learned something about myself, I’m not really an aspiring historical fiction writer. The thing that speaks the to me are moral and ethical issues. This is one reason I am so drawn to historical fiction, but developing my skills as a historical fiction writer is not the direction I want to go.
So with that in mind, I’ve decided to make public all my notes and story outline that I’ve created so far about this story I wanted to write. You can find them all under the category “James MacAvoy.” I hope that someone will write an inspiring historical fiction novel about the Highland Clearance. There’s some out there, I haven’t read any of them yet.
Here’s the story….
The story starts where it ends…on the ship. He’s sitting in the lifeboat and flashes back over his life.
The William Brown was a ship that was heading for America. On board, in addition to the cargo it carried for profit, it also carried the lives of immigrants making the journey in hopes of creating a better life. The careless of the captain as they traveled through the ice fields, near the very location where the Tiatiac would sink 71 years later, the William Brown struck an iceberg.
Had the captain followed through with the typical practice of that time, they could have navigated the ice field without casualty. But the drive for money drunken his judgment. To safely doge the floating ice, the captain of the ship would need to take down the sails causing the ship to move at a painfully slow pace so that they would increase their abilities to avoid striking solid ice. But the faster you are able to make it from one shore to another, the wealthy you are.
So the William Brown struck an iceberg, and the ship went down. There were only two lifeboats on board and something like 20 crew and 70 immigrants. All the crew survives. The captain is nearly the first one of the sinking ship, followed by his crew and then the immigrants that can get on board. Sadly, the ones that go down with the ship are the families, the parents traveling with children. The individuals who make it to the longboat are those who push and shove their way in.
There’s nearly 44 passengers on the longboat (the other life boat carries only the captain and his crew and one passenger). The longboat is way above it’s capacity and in order to keep it afloat they have to continuously bail water out of it. Fear of sinking and death overtakes people and soon Francis Rhodes, first mate, commands his crew to start throwing individuals overboard in order to save the lives of a few so they all don’t drown.
Alexander William Holmes, one of the sailor’s obeys his superior’s orders and with three other crew members begins tossing men overboard to their death.
At this point in the book I want to explore the idea of obedience, and it is always an act of moral courage to be obedient and to do your duty? As a sailor it was their duty to follow with exactness the command of their captain. So if their captain tells them to kill an innocent human being by tossing them into the freezing waters, is it morally honorable and justifiable to obey? I think not, and this is one issue I want to bring out in this book. The need to think and act for yourself rather than being acted upon.
One of the men they tossed overboard is James MacAvoy. When the sailor approached James he said, “Please, give me a moment to make my peace with God.” Then after a few minutes in prayer he said, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” Then buttoned up his coat, nodded to them sailors and jumped overboard without their help. Spoiler alert, this is how the story ends. The whole book is about James MacAvoy. He is the main character.
But the book starts back in the Highlands of Scotland. I don’t know Jame’s background. I’m assuming he is Scottish, and so I had to wonder, why would he be leaving his homeland in 1841? What was going in in Scotland at that time? So I put James in the Highlands. He in born in 1807 during the Highland Clearance.
The Highland Clearnance was a time when the owners of the land were looking for ways to make their lands more profitable. At the time the farmers of their land were raising cattle. The land was not idea for cattle and was unable to support all the cattle. As a practice, the farmers would kill half of their calves born each year because there was not enough pasture for all the cattle. Furthermore, due to the economy at the time, cattle was so much in abundance it was nearly worthless, much like wheat during the dust bowl. Sheep was were the money was at. And so the land owners became pushing out all the cattle farmers, the people who have been living and working the land for years, whose father’s father’s worked the land. This was their clan, and they were fiercely loyal and devoted to their land. And now they were being forced off their lands so that the land owners could turn the mountain sides into pastures for sheep. And they brought in farmers from southern Scotland to care for the sheep. So not only did the Highlanders loose their land but they lost their jobs. There was no chance for them to raise their cattle on the rocky coastlines, or the moors and bogs where they had be relocated to.
These highlanders were religious and though they were loyal and devoted to there lands they were not violent. The majority of their religious preachers urged people to submit and stifle their cries of distress. There was nothing they could do. No one to hear their pleas. All misfortunes of the people were fore-ordained of God, and denouncing the vengeance of Heaven and eternal damnation on all those who would presume to make the slightest resistance. And so they were taught that the righteous devoted religious man would submit to their circumstances.
But there is one preacher, Alexander MacKenzie (based on a real person who was a preacher during that time and wrote about the Highland Clearances), who challenges the views of the time. Eventually James MacAvoy’s and Alexander MacKenzie’s paths cross and Alexander becomes sort of a mentor to James.
The book starts out with James losing his mother, told from James’ perspective.
And then the book jumps to Alexander Mackenzie talking about the Highland Clearances and his struggle with the destructive ideas and philosophies that are taught by the culture of his time and her fellow religious preachers. He’s a bit of a forward thinker and causes a lot of problems for his way of thinking and for challenging the culture (kind of like Christ, and every other person that pressured old traditional beliefs that were not serving the people well and were false.
We met up with James again as a teenager, who is struggling to makes sense of things. He felt confused by the seemingly two options he had to choose from: be the oppressor or be the oppressed. He shares a few stories of oppressors and his repulsion of those type of people, but feels that being the oppressor is not favorable either. Which is he going to choose. On the William Brown he has a moment of fear when he allows his oppressor side to take over. It is for that reason he finds himself on the longboat. Watching the ship go down, he can’t stop thinking of the Nicholas Carr and his wife and their five children, whom he got to know during their voyage. He is sick with himself for turning his back on them to save himself. He has been taking in the situation of the longboat and agrees that it must be lightened or else they all might perish.
James, now in nearly 40 years old, has been studying the young sailor Alexander William Holmes, and sees himself in him. This boy who wants to please others, who wants to be “obedient,” who fears disobeying his superior. He can see the turmoil in his face, and in part decides to jump to save Holmes as well, not his life, but to save him from participating in something that he does not truly want to participate in. Also, James jumps because he has matured emotionally to the point that he no longer wishes to give other power over him. He will act for himself and not be acted upon. If he is going to die, it is because it is his choice, not because someone chose it for him. And he is choosing it not out of fear, but out of his best judgment, out of his strength, our of goodness.
Why does James leave Scotland alone? There was a Martin MacAvoy on board the Longboat who also drowned. Who was he in relation to James?
James leaves Scotland because his ideas are causing so much strife for him that he decides to leave Scotland.
Was he married to a woman who lived in Ross who was beat by the police 31 march 1854 or who met the military at the glen to resist the summonses of removal.
As young boy, James witnesses his mother falling through the roof of their home. His mom survives, his baby sister does not. He adores his mother.
His childhood. He grows up in poor living conditions. They have little possessions, not always enough food. One of his neighbors is the old lady that just sits in her rocker all the time. His mom stands up to the people trying to relocate them (with all the other woman) and is beat and sent to Tain prison.
At the end of each chapter (actually at the end of the book, but in relation to the chapters the events happen) list the actually historical events and known facts and dates and names.
Provide maps. Maybe a list of Scottish terms. List of Historical people.
James meets Alexander Mackenzie who becomes his mentor.
James must leave Scotland due to his “teachings” that pressure the old way of thinking and challenges the traditions of his time and challenges the religious leaders of the Highlands. His passage is paid. James is mentored by Rev. John MacMillian. James is Murdo Munro.
Alexander MacKenzie, from time to time, is also narrating the story of the Highlanders.