Itâ€™s not every historian that has a medieval wedding and gets married with a sword to hand. But Simon Forder, aka â€˜The Castle Guyâ€™, has proven himself to be committed to the cause. After 8 years of research, he has recently published â€œFortress Scotlandâ€, the first volume of at least 4, which concentrates on fortified sites in the Moray Lowlands and Findhorn Valley. Catriona and Rene from the Greater Speyside team met with him at Brodie Castle to find out more about his book, his ambitions and why he is the guy to go to regarding all things castlesâ€¦
Can you explain how and when your interest in castles began?
As a child, my Father had a very anti-war mentality. Whilst my peers were running about with toy guns, Dad encouraged us to get more involved with medieval play so my brother and I would run about as knights on horseback fighting each other with swords! During our childhood, we visited a lot of castles and that was actually my reason for later choosing to go to university in Wales as there is an abundance of castles there.
When did you become â€œThe Castle Guyâ€?
The writing of Fortress Scotland involved contacting a lot of property owners to ask them questions, arrange visits etc. My introductory line was always â€œHi, itâ€™s Simon, the castle guyâ€. It then seemed logical to turn this into a brand â€“ something I needed anyway. The reason I started writing about castles was because I felt there was a lack of information out there when I went to visit castles myself. As a result, I started to do a lot of personal research and there eventually came a point where I realised I had such a vast body of research stored up but serving no purpose. I decided other people should have access to the information and so I began writing the books.
How would you phrase your own job description, as â€˜The Castle Guyâ€™?
An author and historical consultant; someone who can be taken seriously as an historian.
Youâ€™ve recently released â€œFortress Scotlandâ€. Can you explain the concept of this book?
This book is the definitive guide to fortified sites in the Moray Lowlands and the Findhorn Valley. Itâ€™s a detailed insight into 85 different sites regarding what was there, what is currently there, and what happened in between.
How did you seek out the sites you wrote about?
There are many sites for which there is no evidence whatsoever. However, Iâ€™ve gained list sources and maps from a variety of places: there are historical maps in the National Library of Scotland where you can zoom to see more of a particular area. Iâ€™ve also used Pont maps which are pictograms of what places were back in 1590. From that Iâ€™ve seen town halls and castles that no longer exist so what I try and do is find out who owned the land, and then build up a history of what happened.
Do you have plans in the pipeline to write more?
There will be three more volumes of this book, of which ¾ of the research has already been done. Iâ€™m also in the process of writing spin-off e-books with a focus on history from a family perspective. For example, Iâ€™m currently writing about the castles and houses of the Innes family, and in doing so, I am telling the history of the family through the history of the houses.
Are you interested in your own familyâ€™s history?
Iâ€™m interested in knowing more about my grandparents and great grandparents because I knew them but Iâ€™m not motivated at the moment to look any further beyond that.
Who is your target audience?
Anybody who has a serious interest in castles. My e-books are for anyone who has a serious interest in the history of their clan.
You mentioned you had to contact a lot of property owners. Have you found them to be helpful?
There are three kinds of property owners. 90% of owners are very interested and go out of their way to help â€“ I like that! There are a small number who donâ€™t care because they donâ€™t actually live on the sites, they just own the land. They are happy for me to walk in their field as long as I donâ€™t scare the sheep! The third group is an even smaller group who predominantly have not been locals and have refused to interact, regardless of which means Iâ€™ve used to contact them. Thatâ€™s frustrating but Iâ€™ve had to accept it although I believe that those who live on historic sites have the responsibility to maintain the sites and allow those who are interested to learn more.
Is your book listed on Amazon?
It is listed, but itâ€™s not currently available as the final copy is still in the process of being printed. When itâ€™s available, I plan to send out a flyer to everyone who has been involved in the past 8 years of research to let them know. However, I do have some slightly less-than-perfect copies which are available at a discounted price. Contact me to find out more! Also, every copy of the book that is bought directly from my website will be signed.
Do you have a favourite style of castle?
In 90% of the sites I have researched, I have found something that has been of particular interest. However, having said that, there are two particular styles which I like. First is the Z plan tower house because itâ€™s quaint, curious and there are so many variations. The second is one that I believe has not yet been formally identified as a â€œtypeâ€. The sites are dated to the 10th and 12th centuries, and are developments of the Pictish forts, in that they are bigger than a Pictish fort, but they have not yet reached castle status. They are an indication of the continuity of social and political identity from the Pictish to medieval periods.
If you had to recommend one Scottish castle to visit, either well-known or off the beaten track, which would it be?
Thatâ€™s a difficult question but Iâ€™d say Urquhart Castle because despite being in ruins, many different phases of occupation can be seen over a long period of time. The fact it overlooks Loch Ness helps too!
How can people find out more about what you do?
Predominantly at the moment, it would be by keeping up to date with the website. I write regular journal entries about what Iâ€™ve been up to, as well as historical events. A newsletter is something that may come in the future.
Which social media platforms do you use and do you find them effective ways to promote what you do?
We see from your Facebook page that you also sketch castles. Is this something you do professionally?
There are two types of drawings in â€˜Fortress Scotlandâ€™. Either they are my own hand-drawn copies of pictures that already exist which I ensure contain some differences from the original, or I have drawn an interpretation of what I think a site might have looked like. I can draw buildings like nobodyâ€™s business and would be more than happy to do this for others!
What has been â€˜The Castle Guyâ€™sâ€™ biggest achievement to date?
This might sound daft but my biggest achievement was not publishing the book itself; rather it was being able to acknowledge to myself that what Iâ€™d written was actually good enough to publish. It was a big step to put it into the public domain for criticism.
What are your future plans and ambitions?
There are many! With the writing of the books and e-books, I hope to prove that Iâ€™m a serious historian. I really enjoy what I do and find great satisfaction in finding out information and transmitting that information to those involved. Iâ€™d like to be the go-to guy for castles and historical buildings.
More specifically, Iâ€™d like to be given historical building projects where I find out the history of a building and pass it on to the owner, or produce entire brochures about a particular building. I would like to connect with selling agents and write the historical aspects for them because both investors and those interested in heritage will want to know the history before purchasing. Iâ€™d also like to do more public speaking.
Finally, I hope to develop my website so it is mobile friendly and can use geo-location so when people discover a site, they can look on the website app and the app will tell them what they are looking at, based on their location.
So there you have it, that was â€˜The Castle Guyâ€™. Thanks for talking to us, Simon!
This interview took place in the Tea Room at Brodie Castle, open Sun-Thurs, 11-4.30, until 31 October.