I just returned from helping my friend Nan man a clan booth at the Prescott, AZ, Highland Games on Saturday. This is one of the few non-book-promotion events I’ve done over the past three years, since my first book came out, but as I recently wrote to another friend, even non-book events become promotional activities for me these days. I seem to have no shame any more.
Doing a Highland Game was a blast from the past for me, I’ll tell you. Once upon a time, I owned a Celtic gift shop in downtown Tempe, Arizona. I sold lots of tartan and Scottish clan accessories, and I attended many a Highland Game as a vendor over the years. My customers at both shop and games were often very interested in their own geneology, and I became quite adept at helping people look up information on their clans or septs or the origin of their names. After a while, I learned a frightening amount of clan and thus Scottish, Irish, and Welsh history and lore.
I must have worked 50 games over the 11 years I owned the shop. I felt it was a necessity, since I could earn as much over a two day games as I could in a week at the shop. However, vending at a game was brutal. You pay a boat-load of money for the privilege of packing up a shop-worth of goods, display furniture and tents into a van, driving to California/Utah/New Mexico/etc., setting it all up to look like a store on a wet field at 4:00 a.m. in a freezing drizzle, working your nether regions to a nub, and then packing it all up again so you can be off the field by 8:00 p.m. And you’re so busy that you don’t get to see anything of the games, either. When I gave up the shop after 11 years to become a mystery novelist, I didn’t care if I ever attended another Highland Game again.
Forward to 2008. My friend Nan, who works for my publisher, is also the Regent for the Western Region of the Clan MacLachlan and attends many of the games out here as her clan representative. When her son and usual helper couldn’t attend the Prescott games this year, she asked me if I would go with her and help set up and break down her tent and generally keep her company. Since she was in a bit of a spot, I agreed, and it turned out to be quite interesting and -dare I say it? – fun. It helped quite a bit that manning a clan booth is not nearly the ordeal that vending is. The clan tents are 10X10 affairs, standing in a long row down one side of the field, and each is manned by a clan representative who is very happy to tell you all about your heritage, give you some literature, show you your tartan, sign you up for the clan society, and sell you a tee-shirt with your clan badge on it.
Long shory shorter, the MacLachlan booth was pretty busy all day. Nan is quite the expert on Clan MacLachlan, which I am not, but I was amazed at how much I remembered about general Scottish and Irish names and lore, (Red Hand of Ulster, anyone?) and how I still seem to be able to identify a tartan at 50 paces. And at long last, I was able to take an occasional break and walk around to see the caber toss, the pipe bands and musicians, and the sheep-dog herding. There was Highland and Scottish Country dancing, too, but that venue was located up a long hill, and since Prescott is at a high elevation and I’m not as ambitious as I used to be, I found it too uphill for me. We were able to pack up and leave at about 5:00 p.m., and made the drive back to Tempe in a couple of hours. We were both pretty tired, but nothing like the verge of complete physical breakdown I had come to associate with games.
The timing of this trip was interesting, because I’m just beginning a fifth Alafair book that has a Scottish character in it, and as you know, Faithful Reader, Alafair is of Scottish descent herself. The Prescott Games re-activated some dormant parts of my brain that are going to come in pretty handy.