I’m really delighted to welcome Olga Wojtas to the blog today. Olga is the author of the wonderfully entertaining Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar which I read and loved earlier this year. (You can read my review here.) She is also the author of a new set of novellas under a pseudonym – more about that later. I’m so pleased she has agreed to join me today to tell us more about herself and her books.
Thanks for joining me Olga. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I was born and brought up in Edinburgh, where I went to James Gillespie’s High School – where Muriel Spark also went, and which inspired her to write “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” – she turned Gillespie’s into the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. I studied English, French and Russian at Aberdeen University, and then became a journalist. I worked for the Evening Express in Aberdeen, then the Times Higher Education Supplement, and went freelance a few years ago.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always written since I was a small child, although the least said about the angst-ridden teenage poetry the better.
Tell me about your journey to publication
I could never have written a novel without the help of a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust. It let me buy out time from my freelancing to focus on writing something longer. The breakthrough was when they put me in a recycled freight container in Argyllshire for a week, where there was nothing I could do except write. There was a scary duck that came and stood on the decking and wouldn’t let me out, so I ended up writing 22,000 words. That encouraged me to keep going. The SBT also gave me a mentor, the wonderful writer Linda Cracknell, who had herself made the transition from short stories to a novel, and she helped me through the editing process.
I don’t have an agent, so I just submitted direct to publishers. I’m a huge fan of Saraband and was completely overwhelmed to be accepted by them.
I’m now also writing a series of e-books, or rather novellas, set in a fictional Cotswolds village called Bunburry, featuring a hero with a tragic past who finds himself solving murders with the help of two Miss Marple types. It’s quintessentially English, and my name isn’t, so since my middle name is Helena, and I grew up in Marchmont Road, I’ve called myself Helena Marchmont.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
“Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar” is about Shona McMonagle, a 50-something librarian in Morningside Library and a proud former pupil of Marcia Blaine. Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Miss Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins. But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?
(You can order a copy of the book online here or it should be available from your usual book retailer.)
How did you come up with the title for your book?
It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? I was trying to get in a reference to the Marcia Blaine School link and also to Russia. I honestly wasn’t trying to plagiarise J K Rowling.
How did you celebrate publication day?
In a state of sheer disbelief. I’m still suffering from imposter syndrome – but if I wake up and find it’s all been a dream, it’s been a pretty good one.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do – I’m working on Shona’s next adventure, which takes her to a small village in fin-de-siecle France, where she naturally thinks she’s fighting vampires.
[I’m really pleased to hear that – can’t wait to read more about Shona]
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I really can’t! So many great books around at the moment! Very tough to get it down to these three: “Goblin” by Ever Dundas; “The Beast” by Alexander Starritt; “Cross Purpose” by Claire MacLeary.
What are you reading just now?
I’m re-reading “The Abbess of Crewe,” Muriel Spark’s novel which transports the Watergate scandal to an English convent. It’s been re-issued in a beautiful new edition by Polygon who marked 2018, the centenary of her birth, by publishing all 22 of her novels.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
If I’m allowed, I’d like the collected works of Wilkie Collins. But if I’m only allowed one of his books, then “Armadale,” which is suitably lengthy, amazingly cleverly plotted, and has one of the best ever villainesses, Miss Gwilt.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
Any of Dorothy Dunnett’s six Lymond Chronicles, set in the mid-16th century and featuring the dashing Scots nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond. To be played by someone gorgeous. David Tennant springs to mind. There’s also room for Tilda Swinton and Phyllis Logan.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I have an author page on Facebook, Olga Wojtas, and am on Twitter, @OlgaWojtas. I’ve also posted a couple of things on Instagram, but I’m still coming to grips with it. There I’m SparklyTights. Don’t ask.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
The aforementioned Miss Gwilt, because she’s intelligent, cunning, devious, a flame-haired temptress and a laudanum addict – what’s not to like? Although (spoiler alert) I would insist on a different ending for her so that she could have her own series.