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Helen Harper

Tartan Memories

My mum died unexpectedly when I was a kid and, with my dad working offshore on an oil rig, looking after my brother and me full time proved to be impossible. Fortunately, this was boom time for North Sea Oil and he had enough money put away to send us both to boarding school. I say fortunately because it meant we were looked after and educated. The three years spent there aren’t particularly fond memories but I suppose that’s a blog for another time. In any case, being a posh prep school in Scotland, one of the things we had to buy in preparation were kilts to wear on Sundays and for special occasions. I have to admit that kids’ kilts are very, very cute. But I still vividly remember standing in the small shop with my grandparents and staring in horror at our family tartan.

The Harpers weren’t a clan on their own, you see. We were attached to the Buchanan clan and the Buchanan tartan is, well, rather lurid. In my memory, its predominant colour was brown although checking on google now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyway, we all very quickly made the decision to choose something different. I can’t remember what the end result was now but it was definitely something far different to what our family name called for.

That’s not to say, however, that it was a bad thing to be a Harper. Another memory I have from being a kid is my dad telling me with glee about a fantasy book he was reading. One of the characters stated quite categorically that he wanted to go to hell because ‘hell was where the harpers were’. Harpers with a small ‘h’ but still… the implication was that harpers – or indeed Harpers – had so much fun they were sinful. Indeed, we were thus named for playing the part of harpers. As www.houseofnames.com says, “In ancient times the harper was considered an important figurehead whereby Brehon laws stated that the elegance and music of the harp “deserved” a noble status.” Now I’m not particularly musical but I do like being elegant and noble!

Dodgy tartans notwithstanding, there is something very romantic about the whole idea of Scottish clans. From the sense of belonging to ancient hierarchy and deep-seated loyalty, there’s a mystique about them that extends beyond what I know of their history. Of course there are the famous stories, such as the shocking Glencoe massacre involving the Campbells and the Macdonalds, but there’s also a myriad of other lesser known tales. Delve into any part of Scottish history and it’s fascinating. It’s also ripe for any number of fantasy tales. After I left boarding school, I spent the rest of my childhood growing up in a small town called Stonehaven which, fascinatingly, lies at the top of an imaginary line drawn between the Highlands and the Lowlands. They say write about what you know and, while I don’t know magic or dragons or how to fight, my upcoming series Gifted Thief imagines a Scotland where the Lowlands have been given over entirely to demons and the Highlands are run by 24 magically inclined Clans. Officially the Harpers aren’t amongst them but I might find a way to sneak them in somewhere!

?Pre-order the first book of the Highland Magic series here at Amazon.



  • elegancesicy • 8th April 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Irish girl here. You are so lucky to know the stories! I grew up in a little rural area chock-a-block full of tales of the wee folk…not one can I remember! It’s good fun going looking for books on them though.

    • Helen Harper
      Helen Harper • 9th April 2016 at 8:57 am

      Definitely! And Ireland and Scotland are so similar with a lot of their tales ??

  • Teddy • 19th August 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Just finished listening to the audiobooks of the first three Highland Magic series – they’re just the thing to keep me from going crazy doing boring repetitive jobs at work – and I’m itching for more in this series.

    Any news on when the next book will be available?


    • Helen Harper
      Helen Harper • 20th August 2016 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks for getting in touch, Teddy! The e-book and paperback for book four are scheduled for December 1st. Hopefully the audio book won’t be too long after that but it depends on production times.

      • Teddy • 20th August 2016 at 3:20 pm

        Wonderfull news! I’ll keep an eye out for it appering in Audible.

        Meanwhile I’m listening to Bloodfire, and it’s shaping up to being that’s another series to work my way through.

        Many thanks


  • Sarah Marie • 22nd August 2017 at 7:14 am

    I have been doing research into my family background and a few years ago found that our family tartan is under Buchanan as well. Our family (on my father’s side) is of Norwegian & Lithuanian decent. I love the clan lore and history. Sorry about the plaid. I have a few “Ancient” Buchanan scarfs, the colors are so VERY different.

    • Helen Harper
      Helen Harper • 22nd August 2017 at 1:43 pm

      We must be (very) distantly related!! ??

  • Jani • 4th May 2018 at 1:07 am

    Hi. I was looking up tartans, and since my Mom was a Harper, her Dad was born in the Orkney Islands, that weird yellow tartan is my family tartan too. I’m glad I’m not the only one that doesn’t like it much!

  • Judith Harper • 3rd January 2019 at 8:20 am

    Hi Helen. What a shame you betrayed your rightful tartan because, really, there are several Buchanan tartans, as there are with most clans – ancient, modern, hunting, etc. The one you describe as ‘lurid’ was most likely the modern version and yes, it is bright. But then again, the Buchanan motto is ‘brighter hence the Honour” and although that doesn’t arise from the tartan, it does seem appropriate doesn’t it.

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