I’m very pleased to welcome Kathryn McMaster who is answering my Author in the Spotlight questions today. Kathryn’s latest book Blackmail, Sex and Lies tells the fascinating true story of Madeleine Black in Victorian Glasgow. More about that below. You can order a copy of the book online here.
Thanks for joining me Kathryn. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
I was born an only child to elderly parents. However, my mother was an avid reader who spent hours reading to me and buying me a large collection of books, many of which I still have. My father was not a reader. He thumbed through gardening magazines, but never gardened, and pored over home decorating magazines, but never decorated. The only books he would read were of true crime. It was those that I found and read late at night with the aid a torch, under the cover of blankets, looking at images and absorbing content no child of that age should see. However, it was these books that stayed with me fuelling my interest in criminology, psychology and forensic science. Ultimately, they lead to me writing in the genre I do; fictionalised accounts, based on various true crime murders, written under the name of Kathryn McMaster.
The choice of the pen name was deliberate. My maiden name was Steel, and for decades I had no idea that my father was actually the result of a love affair my grandmother Lee had with her McMaster cousin. Unfortunately, my father was never recognised by his legitimate father, however, as a direct descent of the McMaster family I am very proud of my Scottish heritage and wanted to legitimise the name in some way.
What inspired you to start writing?
I spent many years writing, on and off, over the years. However life was interrupted, children arrived, and duty called to follow my husband as he pursued his engineering career that took us to six different countries around the world. During that time I worked and taught English, either as a first language, or a second, depending on where we were. After we bought our farm in Italy, I was given the dubious honour of creating a running farm out of thirty acres of a long-abandoned scrub. With my husband remaining overseas, I filled the lonely hours by resuming my writing and looking for those dusty, long-forgotten manuscripts that lay in the boxes that had followed us everywhere.
Tell me about your journey to publication
After two years of being in Italy, I finally had a friend. She was an English girl recently widowed, living across the valley from me, and who needed to find ways to make money. We discussed a few ideas, some promising, others not so promising. One of those ideas was to create some colouring books for adults seeing as it was an emerging market that was gathering interest. That was when we first dipped our toes into the self-publishing pond that soon turned out to be a quagmire. The books didn’t do particularly well and I wanted to know why. We had a good product but few people were buying the books. After that, I attended an over-priced course on self-publishing and learned one or two gold nuggets that allowed me to be far more successful with my next foray into the publishing world. Since then, I have helped many authors giving advice on self-publishing, and have subsequently started a website called One Stop Fiction to connect authors with readers which is mutually beneficial.
Although I was contacted by an independent publisher that specialised in crime fiction, I turned down the offer of allowing them to publish my books knowing that I could make more money going it alone, and marketing my own books. I have never regretted that decision.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
My latest book is called Blackmail, Sex and Lies. It is a fictionalised account of the life and times of the Glaswegian socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, accused of murdering her working-class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. With so many true crime books out on the subject I decided to do something different. I researched the period, and that of Glasgow and Scotland, and keeping loosely to the facts, created a world within which Madeleine would have lived, and drawing on her letters to L’Angelier, wrote what she might have said.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The love story between Madeleine and L’Angelier took place within the Victorian era of propriety and strict social mores. Young, headstrong Madeleine broke most of them. She allowed herself to be seduced, perhaps even encouraged the seduction and horrors of horrors, even enjoyed sex, as seen in her letters that were publicly read out in court at her trial, much to her humiliation. The lies were to her parents, whom she had assured on numerous occasions that she was no longer seeing L’Angelier. The blackmail came from L’Angelier when he found out that Madeleine was seeing another suitor. In a jealous rage he threatened to show her letters to both her father and to her new suitor, William Minnoch, and to expose her licentious behaviour in order to prevent her from marrying another.
How did you celebrate publication day?
There is more work that goes on behind the scenes long before publication day, than the actual day itself. I always make sure that the book has been thoroughly edited, I am happy with the cover, the formatting, and I have enough people in my launch team who will read and review my book. Launch teams are vital for any successful author and without them the book could plunge into the rather large Amazon abyss. On publication day I always set the book to free, couple that with a number of paid promotions that will get the book off to a good start, and it is during this time that my review team, or launch team, will leave their honest reviews. Publication day is when I can finally sigh with relief and have that extra glass of red wine in quiet celebration.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do. My first book covered the awful murder of young John Gill of Manningham, Bradford. His little body so brutally mutilated it was first thought to be the work of Jack the Ripper. It was while I was researching this book that I came across another horrific murder of a young girl in the nearby town of Horsforth. She had been murdered and mutilated in roughly the same manner, but three years after the death of John Gill. After the Horsforth murder the local suspect was initially thought to be involved in the Johnny Gill murder, particularly as he was living not far from Manningham when John Gill was murdered. However, after investigation by the authorities, the connection between the two murders was disregarded. The Horsforth murder was a case that has stayed with me and one I wanted to revisit. At the moment, I am still in the research phase, and will be for a few more weeks, before I start putting pen to paper.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I have just finished reading a manuscript that is about to be published by the very talented British writer, Allie Cresswell. It is called Tall Chimneys and follows the life of the main protagonist, Evelyn Talbot from 1910 to 2010 whose life revolves around the Jacobean mansion, Tall Chimneys and the secrets that it holds. For those of you who enjoy beautiful prose and historical fiction covering family sagas, this one is for you.
What are you reading just now?
I am reading, Lamentation by C.J. Sansom.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
That’s a difficult question, as I have so many books that spring to mind. If I had to make a choice it would have to be a book I would never tire of that would provide introspection and inspiration, which would be The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Although not a perfect man, I would love to be Sherlock Holmes. I admire the way he was able to be eccentric with no recourse, neat and methodical which I am not, and able to make deductions from the smallest of clues. Every mystery writer hopes to have those same well-rounded characters blessed with fantastic powers of deduction just as Doyle did when he created Holmes.