Under A Storm-Swept Sky: Inspired by my long-distance treks in Scotland

In 2015, I got in my head that I wanted to walk Scotland’s West Highland Way: 96 miles from Milngavie (just outside of Glasgow) to Fort William. I’d never done anything like that before. And I’m from Long Island, NY, which is flat, flat, flat (I mean, except for that one hill in Cold Spring Harbor and that other one in Sunken Meadow Park—but they don’t really count). But when I get an idea in my head, I can’t let it go.

I wanted to make sure I did it the right way, so I did some Googling, which led me to Scarlet Trevett and her company Thistle Trekking, which does guided long-distance treks all over Scotland, with a few in Wales and England as well. After many emails with Scarlet, in which she patiently answered all my questions, I booked the West Highland Way for May 2016, and would be going on my own and hoping for a good group. I did the best I could to train, but those ten-mile walks on the flat bike path to Jones Beach were all but useless after the first, seemingly easy day. I struggled up nearly every hill and was in tears with my knees screaming in agony going down those hills. It was only thanks to a fun, supportive group and a guide with the patience of a saint that I finished.

I returned home and whimpered over my blisters for a few days. Then, while I was finishing up edits on A Star to Steer Her By (and planning to do the East Highland Way in Spring 2017, because as hard as it was, I kind of loved it), I thought about how a long-distance trek in Scotland would make a great setting for a romance novel. The heroine could be someone like me, who has never done a long-distance trek before. She butts heads with the guide, who doesn’t think she belongs there. I knew it had to be set on a really difficult hike, and while the WHW was difficult for me, it isn’t that difficult in the grand scheme of things (like if you have hills on which to train). So I looked through Thistle Trekking’s offerings, and saw the itinerary for the Skye Trail. Having been to Skye before, I knew how mountainous it was, and when I ran the idea past Scarlet to get her take, she agreed that the Skye Trail would be a great setting for my book, and kindly offered to help me out in any way she could.

The story developed further. I didn’t want the heroine to be careless, someone who would do a hike like the Skye Trail without any training or experience, so she’s doing it not because she wants to, but because she has to, for “reasons” (you’ll just have to read it! :) ). And the guide (who’s Scottish, because obviously) isn’t just a jerk (because he’s the hero, and we need to like him); he has his own demons to deal with.

And so the book was born. The publisher loved the idea and set a due date of September 1, 2017 for the manuscript, but I knew I couldn’t write it until after I did my May 2017 East Highland Way Trek (I needed the pain to be fresh). I added a few days on Skye to the end of that trip for research. I sent long-winded emails to Scarlet and to Alex, who had been my guide on the WHW. And I wrote like a maniac, finishing a first draft in 10 weeks.

The end result is Under A Storm-Swept Sky, which will be published on April 16, 2018, by Entangled Publishing. I can’t say enough good things about Scarlet and Thistle Trekking. If you have ever looked at photos of Scotland’s majestic scenery and thought “OMG, I would love to hike that,” then you should look them up. They do everything for you: organizing your accommodation, schlepping your luggage to the next B&B so you only walk with your day pack, arranging the guides (who are all certified mountain leaders and know what they’re doing). You get the benefit of a small group—and I know from experience that you can make long-lasting friendships with people you met in the group. Six of us from my WHW group (from the US, UK, and Germany) returned to do the EHW together, and we’re eyeing our next one for 2019!

Here are some photos from my hikes on the West Highland Way and East Highland Way!