This is the first of two blog hops I’ve been tagged for today: to coin an old cliche, blog hops seem to be like buses – there are none for ages, then two turn up at once!
I’ll begin by saying a big ‘thank you!’ to Scottish historical fiction writer Marie MacPherson (author of The First Blast of the Trumpet, published by Knox Robinson Publishing) for tagging me. If you haven’t already done so, go and read her book, because it’s great. As an added bonus, it’s full of Hepburns (Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell, would be very proud of her indeed). You can find out more about at:- http://mariemacpherson.
1) What am I working on?
I’ve recently finished the final edit of my second novel (Working Title: The Gryphon At Bay). The sequel to Fire & Sword, it runs almost directly on from the ending of its predecessor. It turns the spotlight onto the character who was very much the anti-hero of Fire & Sword: Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie. This time around, Hugh finds himself in a difficult situation when he oversteps the mark by taking out one rival too many!
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I like to think that my work is distinctive because it sees history as a series of interweaving events generated almost by accident. ‘History’ comes about through the actions of various individuals who all follow their own agendas and are moved by broader loyalties which may include political or family allegiance. In that respect, I don’t have ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies,’ because everything depends very much on the perspective of the individual who’s at the heart of the story.
A lot of the time, I get frustrated by historical novels driven along by narratives that give the impression that history is somehow pre-determined. It’s how individuals interacted with one another in the past that collectively generates what we see in the historical record, and this is something I try very hard to capture in my own work. I can’t say this approach is truly unique – I remember stumbling across a historical novel way back in 2004 which I avidly devoured because it encapsulated exactly that kind of fluid, constantly renegotiated past which I was trying so hard to capture within my own writing. The book in question was A Place of Greater Safety, and the novelist Hilary Mantel. A Place of Greater Safety remains my favourite historical novel, and quite possibly my all-time favourite work of fiction – full stop.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I’m fascinated by people, in all their complexity. I’m fascinated by their achievements and fascinated by the evils that they are undoubtedly capable of. I studied archaeology because I thought it might inspire me as a writer of science fiction – the jump to historical fiction was unexpected, but perhaps inevitable, because the more I learned about Scotland’s rich and complex past, the more I felt there was an opportunity to increase its popularity amongst a wider audience.
This is something which I think is especially true for the West of Scotland – so often, there’s a belief that ‘History’ is something which took place somewhere else, usually around Stirling, or Edinburgh. But there’s so much more to Scottish History than the Wars of Independence and Mary Queen of Scots, though it seems sometimes as if those periods are almost endlessly revisited while others, equally fascinating, are virtually ignored.
I want to follow less well-trodden paths and acquaint myself with more obscure figures – I find it more interesting when the gaps between the facts are more extensive and require more of a creative leap on the part of the author.
4) How does my writing process work?
Creating believable characters is the most important part of my work. With Fire & Sword, I made an in-depth study of the various individuals at the heart of the novel: John Sempill of Ellestoun; Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie; Margaret Colville; Matthew Stewart, Master of Lennox; Helen Campbell, and the rest. I acquainted myself with their biographies, I worked out who they married, who their close relatives were. This allowed me to map family – and therefore political – allegiances in detail. I noted certain facts about their family life – John Sempill appears to have been the only son in a family of five, while Hugh Montgomerie inherited his titles at the age of 12 from his great-grandfather. Little details like that informed upon the characters, helping to build them in my mind.
With the characters formulated, all that remained was to chart their actions and interactions throughout time and space. I rigidly keep to the facts as best I can when they are known (and I’m dealing with a very poorly documented period) and I gather together these facts by scouring the local historical accounts and also the secondary sources for any references to any of my characters so that I can weave a believable narrative which accounts for these facts.
It’s a very complex process, but it’s very fulfilling, too: these days I usually find it quite easy to convince my cast members to behave as expected and as a result, they independently re-create history as it actually happened! I never consider the process of researching to be over, which means, of course, that there are always times when I stumble across a Little Known Fact Lurking in some obscure source somewhere which can rattle my expectations and assumptions. So far (touch wood!), I’ve been able to work my way round all these nasty surprises.
And now it’s my very great pleasure to hand on the metaphorical baton to my next three authors – Gillian Pollack, Judi Sutherland, and Juliet Waldron – whom you can find out more about below.
Gillian Polack is a writer, editor, historian and critic. She has taught creative writing and history at the ANU, at various Writers’ Centres and to members of other professional writers’ organisations. Gillian’s second novel Ms Cellophane was recently published by Momentum and was shortlisted for a Ditmar. She has edited two anthologies and has seventeen short stories published. One of her stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award and three more have been listed as recommended reading in the international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories. You can find out more about her at http://momentumbooks.com.au/books/ms-cellophane/ or follow her blog at http://gillpolack.livejournal.com/
Judi Sutherland took a gap year after redundancy from the pharmaceutical industry, and studied for an MA in Poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since then she has written the first draft of a novel and quite a lot of poems. She has taught Poetry to the Petrifed in Newbury, Berkshire and will be the Poet in Residence at the Ampthill Literary Festival in July. Her blog is at www.judisutherland.com.
Juliet Waldron has lived in many US states, in the UK and the West Indies. She earned a B. A. in English, but has worked at jobs ranging from artist’s model to brokerage. Thirty years ago, after her sons left home, she dropped out of 9-5 and began to write, hoping to create a genuine time travel experience for her readers. She’s a grandmother, a cat person, and a dedicated student of history and archeology. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.julietwaldron.com