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Tour: Sisters of Castle Leod by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Book details:

Book Title: Sisters of Castle Leod: A Novel

Author: Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Publication Date: January 19, 2023

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Page Length:293

Cover Art: oil on glass painting, © Alison Hale,

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**Finalist in the 2022 American Writing Awards**

Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era.

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.

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A Historical Novelist Strikes Gold in the Highlands

By Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard,


My husband and I love to travel, and we’ve been to many beautiful and fascinating places. But one of our all-time favorite trips was the one we took in 2019 to the Scottish Highlands. It was a “working” trip, meaning that I needed to do some hands-on research for my historical novel SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD (release date: January 23, 2023), and I enlisted Bob to help me. As it turned out, being on a research mission made the trip extra special for both of us.

Not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, we found a fabulous Scottish guide, John Marr, who got us from one place to another while keeping us well entertained. John picked us up every morning at our hotel in Inverness and followed whatever agenda for the day I had concocted, based on the preliminary research I’d done back home in Arizona.

One of the most exciting afternoons we had together was when we went in search of Tarbat House, the magnificent three-story stone mansion owned by Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie. Sibell is one of the “sisters of Castle Leod” in my novel; the other is her rather wild and crazy younger sister, Constance.Though it is mostly the relationship between the sisters that propels the novel’s gripping plot, the story is told in Sibell’s voice and from her point of view. Sibell adored Tarbat House and spent a good deal of time in residence there. Unfortunately, the mansion fell victim to an arson attack in 1987, and today lies in partial ruin at the end of a bumpy dirt road. I had found a map online purportedly showing the location, but it was not very accurate, and poor John ended up driving in circles, still with no sign of the house. But then, suddenly, there it was—a desolate-looking structure, its roof mostly gone, the entrance boarded up. A few young trees that had taken root inside poked their leafy branches through empty window frames, desperate for sunlight. It was a heartbreaking sight, given how magnificent the place once was and how much Sibell loved it. In fact, after she gifted Castle Leod to her oldest son, she lived in Tarbat House until her death in 1962. I had no trouble believing that her spirit still wandered within those desecrated stone walls.

Encounters with the spirit world were high on my wish list throughout our trip. Born in the Victorian era, Sibell was a spiritualist, and she claimed first-hand knowledge of a ghost that inhabited the 15th-century Castle Leod. The ghost was called the Night Watchman, because he appeared in the armor of a medieval sentry. The Night Watchman plays a subtle but important role in the story of SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, and, though my book is historical fiction, he is one of the elements based on research, not purely imagination. On my trip, I had the pleasure of a personal tour of Castle Leod by Sibell’s grandson, the 5th Earl of Cromartie, who told me about the ghost and insisted that he also has seen it. To me, as a novelist, the gift of that revelation was like striking gold!

The second part of our journey provided yet another opportunity to make contact with the spirit world. While in London, I visited the headquarters of the Spiritual Association of Great Britain. The earl had told me that, for a time, Sibell served as president of the organization. While I could find no record of her membership, it is certainly possible that she was affiliated with one of many similar societies popular during that era. I took the opportunity to schedule sessions with a couple of psychics, and I asked them to try and make contact with Sibell. They seemed a bit unsettled by what was undoubtedly an unusual request, as I had no personal connection with the deceased. However, one of them did make reference to a devastating fire; thinking back to my visit to Tarbat House, I wondered if she might have succeeded in tuning into something of significance to Sibell.

So much of a writer’s research can be done on a computer, but there’s something very exciting about actually walking in the footsteps of your characters. That’s why I loved this trip!

Is there a trip you’ve taken that stands out in your mind more than others? If so, where did you go and what made the experience so special?

A former touring musician/songwriter and public relations professional, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, "a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller" (Readers' Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a "resonant novel ... about the birth and demise of ragtime ... luxuriously crafted" (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Awards, and Arizona Literary Contest; they have received 5-star ratings from Readers” Favorite, Book Readers Appreciation Group, and historical fiction Discovered Diamonds. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

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Tour hosted by: The Coffee Pot Book Club

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