Sisters of Castle Leod

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Book Cover

GENRE

DRAMA

    Core Theme

    COMPLEX, ARISTOCRATIC SISTERHOOD.

    TIME PERIOD

    Early 20th Century

    COMPARABLE TITLES

    DOWNTON ABBEY, THE GILDED AGE, THE FAVOURITE

    CHARACTER LIST

    • SIBELL: The heir to Castle Leod, and older sister/protector of Constance. Spiritualist and writer.

    • CONSTANCE: Sibell’s younger sister. Rebellious and rambunctious.

    • EDWARD BLUNT: Sibell’s husband.

    • SIR EDWARD: Constance’s husband.

    • DEMETRIUS KHOURY: Spiritualist who bonds with Sibell.

    • DR. BELFRY: Spiritualist who treats Sibell after the death of her daughter.

    Logline

    Sisters of Castle Leod is an Edwardian-era story inspired by the real-life Mackenzie sisters, one an heiress and noted spiritualist, the other a rebellious barefoot dancer, whose sisterly ties are shattered by tragedy, scandal, and the enduring power of superstition.

    Target Audiences

    Age: 55+

    Target Gender: Female leaning

    Setting

    Scottish Highlands, London, Venice, and Tyre (Lebanon)

    Based on a True Story

    No

    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: with a Publisher

    Publisher: Black Rose Writing

    Year Published: 2023

    Starting Description

    Conflict between the Mackenzie sisters escalates when Sibell inherits their late father's Highland estates and titles. Soon, the birth of Sibell's daughter sets in motion tragic events that will pit sister against sister and propel Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.

    Ending Description

    The author has not yet written this

    Group Specific

    Information not completed

    Hard Copy Available

    No

    ISBN

    9781685130626

    Mature Audience Themes

    Information not completed

    Plot - Other Elements

    Philosophical Questions, Twist, Meaningful Message

    Plot - Premise

    Internal Journey/Rebirth

    Main Character Details

    Name: Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie

    Age: 27

    Gender: Female

    Role: Emotional

    Key Traits: Extraordinary Powers and Abilities, Gracious, Modest, Insecure, Perseverance, Strong Moral Code, Romantic, Educated, Empathetic, Faithful

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Lady Constance Mackenzie (aka Stewart-Richardson)

    Age: 22

    Gender: 22

    Role: Skeptic

    Key Traits: Confident, Educated, Decisive, Faithful, Honorable, Leader, Masculine, Patriotic, Skillful, Strong Moral Code

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Demetrius Khoury

    Age: 28

    Gender: Male

    Role: Tempter

    Key Traits: Charming, Complex, Educated, Masculine, Romantic, Seductive, Visionary, Sophisticated

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Major Edward Blunt

    Age: 40

    Gender: Male

    Role: Logical

    Key Traits: Confident, Educated, Decisive, Faithful, Honorable, Leader, Masculine, Patriotic, Skillful, Strong Moral Code

    Genre

    DRAMA

    Brief

    When one sister inherits the title, money, and castle from her father’s estate, it sets off a lifetime of tension with her rambunctious, younger sister. This story follows the sisters as they go their separate ways, only to come back together again and ultimately reconnect towards the end of their lives.

    Overall Rating

    FAIR

    Point of View

    FIRST PERSON

    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: FAIR

    Characterization: FAIR

    Commerciality: FAIR

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: FAIR

    Premise: FAIR

    Structure: FAIR

    Theme: FAIR

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    The book profile looks great! It’s succinct, and descriptive, while leaving just enough to the imagination. If there’s anything to note here, it might be that a story like this could skew a little younger, in terms of target audience. As written, it’s 55+ but it could appeal to women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, too. Aside from that, great job!

    Draw of Story

    The story introduces us to the dynamic of the sisters right away, which helps ground us in their world and foreshadows some of the relationship complexities to come. In the same scene, it also introduces the spiritualism theme which ensures that some of Sibell’s actions and behaviors later are rooted in her character development. Lastly, the setting is established well right away. We get a good sense of the period, the geographical location, and the characterization of Castle Leod.

    Possible Drawbacks

    For the most part, the story remains engaging from start to finish. However, from an adaptation standpoint it may be worth noting that the time jumps could be somewhat difficult to capture effectively on screen. In that case, it might be helpful to consider paring down some of the scenes after the first, which does a great job establishing the sisters’ dynamic, but before the children become adults. This could include Constance’s disapproval of Cazenove, and perhaps things like Sibell’s attraction to Mr. Higgins as well.

    Use of Special Effects

    THE STORY DOES NOT RELY ON SPECIAL EFFECTS

    Primary Hook of Story

    This is a female-driven story about complex sister dynamics, which is already a hook. But when we add in the aristocracy, and things like setting, it becomes much more immersive and allows for a level of escapism that we might not otherwise have.

    Fanbase Potential

    A story like this would likely appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, The Gilded Age, and The Favourite. It might also appeal to anybody who enjoys settings as characters, immersive, sweeping stories and anyone looking for a healthy dose of escapism.

    Awards Potential

    If adapted, a story like this could certainly have awards potential, both above and below the line. Above, we could look at categories like best actor, or best supporting actor. Below, we could look at things like costuming, set dressing, and perhaps things like score.

    Envisioned Budget

    LARGE BUDGET

    Similar Films/TV Series

    DOWNTOWN ABBEY, THE GILDED AGE, THE FAVOURITE

    What’s New About the Story

    The story does a great job of capturing the complex dynamic of Sibell and Constance, and of detailing how it ebbs, flows, and changes over the course of their lives. To make it more unique might mean doing a deeper dive into their differences, and considering leaning into the specifics of those differences a bit earlier. For instance, the story starts with spiritualism, but we don’t really go back there again until the passing of baby Janet. And we don’t get much on Constance’s dancing until later either. Given that these are both themes and the character development relies on them, it could be worth considering establishing them earlier.

    Lead Characters

    Sibell’s spiritualism and Constance’s dancing are both character-defining threads, which certainly helps them stand out, albeit a bit later in the novel. But one of the things that hooks us on these characters from the beginning is their dynamic. Another, broader thing is that both, in their own ways, are women ahead of their time, which is arguably a big reason why the two are unable to stay apart for long.

    Uniqueness of Story

    This story has a lot of potential, but in terms of adaptation, it doesn’t feel like a rare gem quite yet. It’s possible that the time jumps make this tale too sweeping to fit within the confines of a screenplay. To make it a more suitable candidate for adaptation might mean dialing in the focus on a certain portion of their lives. So, instead of seeing everything, we might see Sibell and Constance as children ever so briefly, to establish their dynamic, and then cut to adulthood. It might might things more approachable, more easily digestible, and certainly more budget-friendly, which is always front and center in the eyes of a producer.

    Possible Formats

    TV Series: Limited Run / Mini-Series, Streaming

    Analyst Recommendation

    WORK IN PROGRESS

    Justification

    The story is sweeping, taking us from Sibell and Constance’s childhood all the way up to, essentially, Constance’s death. This makes adaptation somewhat difficult because it doesn’t quite fit within the confines of a screenplay.

    Tips for Improvement

    Dialing in the focus a bit might help make this story a more suitable candidate for adaptation. That might mean choosing to mostly focus on adulthood, instead of trying to fit an entire lifespan into the confines of a screenplay. It might also mean choosing only certain storylines to include. For instance, if we look at Constance’s story on a macro level, we might not need to meet Jamie Robertson. In Sibell’s case, we might not need to touch on her attraction to the unavailable Mr. Higgins. The good news is that there is a lot to choose from, and plenty of ways to tackle this. So, please keep at it and best of luck!

    Brief

    When one sister inherits the title, money, and castle from her father’s estate, it sets off a lifetime of tension with her rambunctious, younger sister. This story follows the sisters as they go their separate ways, only to come back together again and ultimately reconnect towards the end of their lives.

    What We Liked

    The story does a great job of capturing the complex dynamic of the two main characters, Sibell and Constance, and of detailing how it ebbs, flows, and changes over the course of their lives. It also captures setting well, and the characterization of Castle Leod helps ground us in this world.

    Film: While the story has a lot of potential, it is very much sweeping and likely needs to be dialed in a bit to make a suitable candidate for adaptation. That said, focusing on just the adult lives of Sibell and Constance could make for an excellent, engaging screenplay. Their dynamic is interesting, as are their hobbies, marriages, and general dissatisfaction with their stations in life. Thematically, thing are sound, too. With a smaller lens, this could be one worth taking a look at.

    TV: In the wake of successes such as The Gilded Age, this story could be something to consider. At its core, it follows two, very different sisters over the course of their lives.
    While it does need some paring down, the drama is certainly present and the setting works as a character on its own.

    Key points:
    -Historical
    -Female-driven
    -Sweeping
    -Thematically sound
    -Complex family dynamics

    Synopsis

    January 1887: SIBELL (9) and her sister, CONSTANCE (4) are stalking the halls of their family’s castle, Castle Leod, looking for its resident ghost, THE NIGHT WATCHMAN. When Constance is 9 and Sibell is 13, Sibell learns that her FATHER names her as the heir to Castle Leod. When he dies in 1895, Sibell is only 17. Her mother plans to marry REGINALD CAZENOVE.

    Sibell’s ladies maid, GIBSON, helps her ready for a meeting with her uncle, the Duke of Sutherland and her father’s handsome solicitor, MR. HIGGINS. Sibell makes it clear that she wants to take care of the tenants, making life in Scotland just a little easier. Higgins promises to take her wishes to the duke. Sibell invites him to stay the night at the castle, but Higgins is expecting a baby with his wife.

    Sibell debuts in society, in 1897. In her second season, she meets PROFESSOR THOMAS BETHEL, and they banter. But to society, Bethel is not a suitable candidate for Sibell. While meeting and greeting her tenants, Sibell meets MAJOR EDWARD BLUNT, who claims to be able to bring electricity to Castle Leod. Later, she’s summoned to the horse barn, where she learns that Constance is involved with a stable boy, JAMIE ROBERTSON. Jamie is dismissed.

    Constance becomes upset that she must rely on others for everything she needs. Sibell agrees to allow Major Blunt to install electricity in the castle. He vows to remain entirely at her disposal. Soon, they announce their engagement. At the celebratory ball, someone hangs a mutilated deer from one of the trees. Sibell aims to get to the bottom of it.

    Sibell and Major Edward Blunt marry in 1899, with the Boer War looming. Edward is deployed while Sibell is pregnant. With no plans to marry, ever, Constance asks for permission to renovate an abandoned farmhouse. Sibell agrees.

    Sibell gives birth to a daughter, JANET. But Janet contracts pneumonia and succumbs before long. Soon, rumors of an urban legend begin to surface. If the course of a stream on Castle Leod’s property changes course, then so, too, does the heir. Sibell learns that Constance ordered a stream to be altered, causing the death of Janet, and making Constance Sibell’s only heir. Sibell ousts Constance, and refuses to see her again.

    Sibell travels to Venice to meet her mother. She becomes interested in the mystery of the Phoenicians. DEMETRIUS KHOURY, a spiritualist, says that he can bring Janet back. Sibell becomes distressed and leaves. The next morning, she receives a note from him, asking her to visit DOCTOR JOSEPH BELFRY in London. She begins visiting mediums, psychics, and clairvoyants in hopes of speaking to Janet.

    Constance has an accident that results in a brain injury. Sibell has no choice but to offer her a bed at Castle Leod. Meanwhile, Constance brings a suit claiming half of Sibell’s bequest.
    Later, The Night Watchman rouses Sibell from bed and leads her to a window. There, she sees Constance looping a noose through a tree. Sibell hurries outside, but finds no noose.
    Constance has no recollection of walking outside.

    Sibell learns that Constance is engaged to PERCY DESMOND FITZGERALD. But to Sibell, Constance doesn’t seem too thrilled about it. In Mr. Higgins’ office, Constance learns that her suit was denied and that Sibell controls all her money. They argue. Unbeknownst to anyone, Sibell submits two stories to a local magazine. She meets JOHN LUTHER, who commends her skill. She meets SIR GEORGE HUTCHINSON, the editor, for dinner. There, she sees Constance and learns that, despite her brain injury, she’s planned a hunting trip to Africa.

    Sibell finally visits Dr. Belfry and asks for his help allowing her daughter to be reborn. First, Dr. Belfry insists that she regress to her past life. Sibell sees herself as a Phoenician woman, MELITA, before Dr. Belfry pulls her out of the regression. At home, Sibell discovers that Constance’s former barn house has burnt down, and Sibell’s dog has been shot. The constable comes with a confession from Jamie Robertson.

    Sibell decides to visit the Mediterranean port of Tyre, to learn about the Phoenicians.
    Demetrius Khoury is one of her guides. He takes her to a set a ruin, where she has flashbacks to her past life… with him. They have been connected for centuries by The Link of Fire, a soul contract that binds souls together for eternity. Further, Demetrius can help bring back Janet’s soul, through a baby girl named Anath. Sibell becomes overwhelmed and promises never to see Demetrius again.

    In London, in 1904, Sibell finds out through the newspaper hat Constance married SIR EDWARD AUSTIN STEWART-RICHARDSON, at Castle Leod. Sibell gives birth to RODERICK, and Constance to RORY. Later, Sibell gives birth to Walter, and Constance to Torquil.

    Constance takes up dancing and sets the gossips afloat. Sibell tries to talk her out of performing publicly, but Constance refuses. She upsets the royalty and is barred from court.
    She decides to set sail for America. Sibell and Edward follow. In a New York jewelry store, Sibell finds a necklace that once belonged to Constance. She waits for the shop owner, none other than Demetrius Khoury. He tries extorting Sibell for money.

    Constance slips at her first performance, and Sibell puts her in the hospital. Sir Edward admits that they’ve been having money troubles. When she returns to purchase the necklace, Demetrius tells her that Dr. Belfry has been proved a fraud who operates on the power of suggestion. They reconcile and leave each other on good terms.

    Sibell writes a book on reincarnation. Sir Edward dies in combat during WWI. Constance tries to use his gun to commit suicide, only to find that the cartridges have been removed. By 1932, Constance is dying of cancer. The sisters promise to see each other in another life, finally at peace.

    About The Author

    Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is an award-winning author of historical fiction. Her 2023 novel SISTERS OF CASTLE LEOD, inspired by real people and events, is an Amazon Kindle #1 bestseller; Editors’ Choice, Historical Novel Society; Finalist, American Writing Awards; and Winner, 2023 Maxy Awards.