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.

Writing from first person for each chapter. Each person telling the story from their perspective.

Main Characters

MacAvoy Family

  • James MacAvoy – his mom dies when he is a young boy, and his early childhood is filled with tribulation. Speaks Gaelic
  • Father MacAvoy – a god fearing man, a gentle man, his grief makes him kinder and more gentle. Goes from once providing his family with an income on his own, owning cattle and land, to becoming a hired laborer. Once was a farmer, possessed of land, and considerable property in cattle, horses, sheep and money and then descended to the rank of a hired laborer. Loose his son and a ship (that he traded his cattle for) to the sea, and become an “employee” of another fisherman. Strongly attached to the soil of the land. Unwilling to obey, but put up not active resistance, only passive resistance
  • Mother MacAvoy
  • Older brother William MacAvoy (went off to foreign lands fighting at the command of their chieftain the battles of his country) Unwilling to obey
  • Sister MacAvoy
  • Baby Sister MacAvoy


  • Alexander MacKenzie – radical preacher of his time. Questions many of the teachings of the traditional ministers. Feels call to bring others to God, and to speak truth, not tradition.

On the William Brown

  • Alexander William Holmes
  • Owen Carr
  • William Luden
  • Mrs. Margaret Edgar

As he watches Holmes and the first mate, he has a freeing realization, they are both cowards, the oppressed and the oppressor.

The story is written from James’ point of view, as he is sailing on the William Brown. It is told in present day William Brown, and then retrospects moments of his past.

James’s mother and baby sister die when his mom falls through the roof. He moves with his father to the shore. Eventually he loose his father to the sea. Alexander Mackenzie takes in this orphan boy and teaches him the way of God. He eventually earns passage to sail for America on the William Brown. He has spent his whole life watching the oppress and the oppressor and has come to learn what they both fear. Sometimes the oppressor is the oppressed. James is very thoughtful and reflective and willing to see the goodness in humanity while not becoming blind to mankind’s weakness and shortcoming that can hurt others. He learns that many comprise their integrity for love, acceptance, appearance, money, wealth, power, position, rank, and fear. He learns that holding to your integrity requires strength, because it is often not the easier path and comes with a cost. He speaks Gaelic. Can he even understand the sailor on the William Brown? He might have learned some English, though it would have been different than American English.

Chapter One: James MacAvoy 1814 maybe 1815

Setting: 1814, in Sutherland, Scotland. House burning down. Pregnant woman on top of house trying to take boards down. Her husband is off tending to the sheep or cattle. Her 10 year old son James MacAvoy (born in 1804) watches his mother fall through the roof and later sees the death of his sister who is born too early.

“John Mackay’s wife, Ravigill, in attempting to pull down her house, in the absence of her husband, to preserve the timber, fell through the roof. She was in consequence taken in premature labor, and in that state was exposed to the open air and to the view of all the by-standers.” (Stories, p.18)

(James’ father is Myron Richins and mother Maxine Richins) Highly intelligent, educated people. God fearing individuals. Great partnership. Love for their kids. Hard working. Seen less than the “rich” because they work the land.

Chapter Two: William Young

Buys valueless property in Morayshire called Inverugie. Years struggling to make ends meet and to create a life for him and his family. (Make people fall in love with his ambition and ingunious creativity to make something out of nothing and to beat the odds. Make them cheer for this underdog.) He’s able to make this land profitbale, and therefore is sought after by Sutherland to improve their lands. relectuant to move until they had a new place built.

William Young, a successful corn-dealer and land-improver, rose from indigence, but was natrually a man of taste, of an ingenious turn of mind, and a shrewd calculator….(see Stories, 22-23)

Chapter: Noble Family of Sutherland

Marriage of the young countess into a noble English family. Sutherland seemed wild, rude county, where all was wrong, and all had to be set right…a need to civilise it (Stories, p. 37). And the plan of improvment.

Chapter Next: Life on the Moors

Turning corn land into pastures, requires less labors. Less work. More unemployment.

A Man who had once been a farmer, possessed of land, and of considerable property in cattle, horses, sheep and money, should, without the most poignant feelings, descent to the rank of hired labourer. (Stories, p. 31)

30 pence in two seperate sums, was allowed for the houses destroyed.

Food: broth made of nettles, mixed up with a little oatmeal, or bleeding his cattle, making the blood unto a sort of pudding (stories, p. 36)

Chapter: From Cattlemen to Fishermen

extremest difficulty to keep the cattle which they had retained, from wandering into the better sheltered and more fertile interior. The cattle were continually impounded; and vexatious fines, in the form of tresspass-money, came thus to be wrung from the already impoverished Highlanders. (Stories, p. 41)

There efforts as fishermen were what might be expected from a rural people unaccustomed to the sea. The shores of Sutherland…could not be more perilous seas for the unpractised boatman to take his first lessons on; but though the casualties were numerous and the loss of life great, many of the younger Highlanders became expert fisherman. The experiment was harsh in the extreme. (Stories, p. 41)

James looses his father and his older brother to the sea

Paid Passage

James passage is paid for him to sail for America. The second phase (c.1815–20 to 1850s) involved overcrowded crofting communities from the first phase that had lost the means to support themselves, through famine and/or collapse of industries that they had relied on (such as the kelp trade), as well as continuing population growth. This is when “assisted passages” were common, when landowners paid the fares for their tenants to emigrate. Tenants who were selected for this had, in practical terms, little choice but to emigrate.

Second to Last Chapter: Onlooker

Watches the scene play out before him (maybe the small boy) and sees James jump and calls him a coward

Last Chapter: James MacAvoy 1841

James aboard the longboat. 1841. We go inside his thoughts as his processes what it about to happen and makes a choice out of strength not as a coward. He jumps, he acts for himself, he does not let another act upon him.

Chapter 1-The Rain and the Roof

It was the rain that I feared. It’s awful noise on the roof trying to claw it’s way in. My mind was too young comprehend the other elements that were far more powerful and where already destroying more than my protective roof.

Undeterred by the storm, mama remained on top of our house, carefully removing the boards of the roof leaving me all alone during the storm, and allowing the rain and wind into my sanctuary. I pulled the wool blanket closer to me trying to keep the rain and cold away. But still, the rain pelted my face mixing among my tears.

I felt lucky to be little enough to sit on papa’s lap when he returned from the heath pastures, close enough to smell the grass and cattle and sweat on his clothes. Because I was the youngest, I got to stay with mama when my brothers had to work tirelessly the land of our croft and racing against the seasons to store up enough fodder for the cattle until spring when they could feast upon the pastures. I was lucky for I got to stay by Mama’s side and listen to her sing the Gaelic songs about the mountain as she worked. Her singing how the power to protect me and to make the seeds she and I buried in the fertile soil grown into plants.

Oh, I see, I see the great mountains, Oh, I see, I see the lofty mountains, Oh, I see, I see the corries, I see the peaks beneath the mist. High mountains with lovely slopes
Folk there who are always kind, Light is my step when I go bounding to see them, And I will willingly remain there for a long while.

As I listened to her songs I wondered if it was her singing made our land magical or our land that made her songs magical.

But my luck was running out. I noticed my mama’s tummy was becoming more and more swollen. I had seen this happen each year with our cattle and knew that soon I wouldn’t be the youngest anymore.

Shortly after the new calves were born, they burned our heath pastures because they want us to leave. Dadaidh said that they had no more right to make us leave our land than a king has to expel his people from his country. But if we don’t leave they might put Dadaidh in jail like they did to Alexander Mackenzie. The people making us leave called in the soldiers from Fort George and put a lot of men in jail. I couldn’t figure out why they were putting us in jail when they were the ones taking our lands away, hadn’t they committed a crime? Why were they putting men in jail for staying on our lands? Wasn’t it wrong for them to tell us to leave and right for us to stay and protect our lands?

They’re telling everyone to leave. In Farr, the parish next to our, they pushed out families and their cattle off their crofts to smaller patches of lifeless land among on moors and the bogs. Dadaidh and my brothers had taken the horses up to Farr to help William Chisholm carry the timbers he had pulled down his old houses to build their new home with.

It is more work for Dadaidh now that the pastures are burned. The cattle roam the mountains looking for food and he doesn’t come home at night as often because of the distance they cattle must travel to find food. Most night it’s just Mama and me and her songs.

Dadaidh said we should leave, that’s why Mama was on the house during this storm taking down the timbers.

I huddle near the fireplace trying to stay warm, staring blankly at the dancing flames finially becoming oblivious to rain. And then I heard it. That awful sound that still haunts my dreams at night. But as awful as the sound was, the silence that followed was even more terrifying. The sound awoke me from the calming lullaby of the flames into a nightmare. There on the floor behind lay my Mama who had fallen through the roof.

I don’t what happened after that. Maybe one of Mama’s songs carried us away to the place where the mist kiss the peaks of the mountains and kept us safe until Dadaidh came home. Papa later told me that he had found me huddle next to Mama with the blanket draped over us. The embers of the fire had gone out. I don’t know how I got there. I don’t remember anything else from that night except for that awful sound of wood breaking and my mamma body hitting the floor. The baby in my mama’s tummy died that night they say. My mamma died a week later.

Their coft and home

John Mackay’s wife Ravigill, attempting to pull down her house in the absence of her husband, fell through the roof. She was taken in premature labor, exposed to the open air and the view of all the by-standers

The Notice

“The truly pious acknowledged the mighty hand of God in the matter. In their prayers and religious conferences not a solitary expression could be heard indicative of anger or vindictiveness, but in the sight of God they humbled themselves, and received the chastisement at His hand.”

“The people received the legal warning to leave for ever the homes of their fathers with a sort of stupor”

“A tenant from Strath had been to Rhives, the residence of Mr. Young, the commissioner, to pay his rent. He was informed that the rent for the half-year, ending in May 1819, would not be demanded, as it was intended to lay the districts of Strathnaver and Upper Kildonan under sheep…when first announced to other, these words were discredited by the people, notwithstanding their knowledge of former clearances.”

What do you do? If you resist you’ll be thrown into jail and be of no use to your family, but do you just roll over and let them take your land from you?

Those who were not religious “breathed deep and muttered curses on the heads of the person who subjected them to such treatment”

So James is watching this and the different reactions of the people and both look like unfavorable acts. He sees the doormat and he sees the jerk. Perhaps this preacher, Alexander Mackenzie takes him in and mentors him like in the Count of Monte Cristo

Fire on the heath

March 1814: Farr and Kildonan were summoned to quit their farms in the following May. A few days later the heath where they pastured their cattle was burned. This left the cattle without food. (page 39-40)

Venting Frustrations at the local Pub

which was reported to have for its objectes the murder of Young and Sellar, the expulsion of the store-farmers, and the burning of Dunrobin Castle

The Cattle

The cattle don’t have enough to eat. They burned the Highland fields so we had to move close to the shores, but there’s not enough grass among the rocky shores. It’s hard to keep the cattle together when they are used to roaming the land. The cattle were once our way of life but now they seem to be a source to end our life. Down here on the shores the homes are too close together and the cattle don’t know the boundaries. If they cross the wrong line, then we are fined for their tresspasing, but we have no money to pay the fines since we lost our land and our farm. Papa couldn’t pay the first fine with money, so he paid with our bed. The second find he couldn’t pay, he paid with his papa’s watch. The third fine was mama’s ring. After that, papa became a fisherman. The cattle don’t sell well either because everyone is trying to sell, but everyone wants sheep now, not cattle. So we have all these cattle that are making us poorer, it was hard to give them away. We kept one for food. The traded the rest for an old fishing boat.

It was hard to dispose the cattle at a fair price, the price having fallen after the war; for Napoleon was now a prisoner in Elba, and the demand for cattle fell and prices were very much reduced.


Fishing brought in food and money but was much more dangerous than raising cattle. The seas were fearsome and the waves dashed across the rocky shores. But it looked exciting. The idea of being on a boat was exciting and I begged my Papa to take me too. But he wouldn’t, he only took my older brother William. I was always being left behind.

Mackay lived in the Highland with us and now lived on the shore. He house was burned before they could get their boards taken apart. He traded his cattle too for a fishing boat. His second day out fishing was his last when a storm rolled in too qucikly. He couldn’t get the boat to shore. The rocks and the waves broke his boat apart. After that, I didn’t want to go fishing anymore. I don’t like the rain or the waves, they take too many lives.

The main source of food on the shores was cockles and by mixing cattle blood with oatmeal which was cut into slices and fried.

Life on the Moores and the Rocky Shores

Older brother

Moves to England for work or the Lowlands


Urging people to submit and stifle their cires of distress. There was nothing they could do. No one to hear their pleas. All misfortuners 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.