I’m delighted to be joined by Marie Macpherson today who is sharing ten things about herself. And trust me, this is one you don’t want to miss as it features battlefields and the KGB!
Many thanks to Joanne for inviting me to share #TenThings about myself on Portobello Book Blog. (The photos on her blog stir fond memories of days spent at Porty beach, Joppa and the pool.)
The first two parts of my trilogy on the fiery Scottish Reformer John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet and The Second Blast of the Trumpet, have been released by Penmore Press. I’m now working on The Last Blast of the Trumpet in which Knox clashes with Mary, Queen of Scots.
‘A giddy roller coaster ride with murder and mayhem, treachery and torture, infanticide and regicide galore.’ (Love Books Group)
- I was Born on a Battlefield
Which explains a lot. My father was from Porty but my mother was an Honest Toun lass and I was raised along the coast in Musselburgh Growing up on the site of the Battle of Pinkie, within sight of Fa’side Castle and Carberry Tower, sparked a passion for 16th century Scottish history, during the turbulent reign of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Reformation.
- I lived in the Soviet Union
I became so obsessed with Russian history and culture after seeing the film Dr Zhivago that I went on to study Russian language and literature at university. The great classics by Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky et al were a huge revelation to me. During the holidays, I worked as a tour guide for Sovscot, travelling all over the Soviet Union. Then, while researching my PhD thesis on the 19th century writer Lermontov, I lived in Moscow and Leningrad for a year. Life under a communist regime was an eye-opener but in the late 1980’s things were starting to change.
- I was interrogated by the KGB
Not just once but several times. I didn’t realise at the time, but I was living through one of the most tense moments of the Cold War, after the shooting down of Korean Airliner 007 (1984? 007? – you couldn’t make it up). There’s a spy novel in there somewhere. I also won the Moscow Marathon… by default but that is another story.
- I won my first writing prize aged 10 …
A story about my pet dog won a prize awarded by the RSPCA. But it was all downhill from there until 50 years later winning the Tyne and Esk Writer of the Year award spurred me into submitting my first novel to a publisher.
- I never set out to write fiction
I was researching the Treaty of Haddington when I came across Elisabeth Hepburn – prioress of St Mary’s Abbey, where this important treaty was signed. The story of the great-aunt of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, turned out to be a godsend but it could only be told as fiction. Coming from an academic background, I had to completely change my writing style and I struggled for a while until I found my voice. Fiction is so much more fun and liberating: I don’t need to add notes and references for each fact, and I can get away with a liberal amount of artistic licence. The devil is in the detail, however. Writing authentic historical fiction means immersing yourself as much as possible in the period to convey the sights, sounds and smells the clothes so as to avoid anachronisms that may jar with the reader.
- I never set out to write about the fiery reformer, John Knox.
See above. This controversial character is hardly the obvious choice for the hero of a novel but bit by bit he crept into The First Blast – even dictating the title – and has stalked me ever since. David Tennant has always been my actor of choice to play Knox, but with a tad more nuance than his Ayatollah-like performance in the latest film, Mary, Queen of Scots.
- John Knox – Rampant Misogynist?
He isn’t the most sympathetic character to be the hero of a novel, never mind one written by a woman. His notorious tract, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women marks him out as a misogynist. Despite voicing what most men of the time believed – and heaven forfend, some still do – that women were inferior beings, Knox was vilified for trumpeting it much more vociferously than most. However, his close relationships with women – including Prioress Hepburn, his two wives, his mother-in-law and several correspondents – reveal that he enjoyed female company – just not that of Catholic queens. His struggle to bring the Protestant Reformation to Scotland makes fascinating reading, more like an adventure thriller than a history.
- My Way … to publication
Like most authors I submitted my novel (with a convoluted title I’m too embarrassed to share) everywhere and anywhere until, it was taken up by an American publisher. At first, they wanted me to change all the Scottish words – which to my eternal shame, I did – but because it had then lost its ‘magic’, they told me to put them all back in. After their demise, Penmore Press now publish my trilogy.
- Screivin in Scots
Aye or nay? On the one hand, reviewers have criticised my heavy use of Scots but on the other hand, readers have praised the ‘beautifully comprehensible and convincing Scottish dialect’. I just try and stay true to the voices of my characters. You win some, you lose some…
- My writing process
…. has evolved over the years. In the dim and distant pre-PC past, I used to hang my Remington Rand typewritten pages on a washing line and walk up and down shifting text about. I would literally cut and paste – cutting out paragraphs and lines and pasting them with Prit Stick. Painstaking doesn’t describe the process. Now this scriever uses – or tries to use – Scrivener. Since I haven’t got to grips with all its enormous possibilities yet, my greatest fear is that it may all vanish into the ether if I tap the wrong key. One day I’ll take the time to work through the tutorials – or hang up the washing line again.
Find out more and connect with Marie
Penmore Press Page: Marie Macpherson
Amazon page: Marie Macpherson
Goodreads: Marie Macpherson
WordPress: Marie Macpherson
Facebook author page: Marie Macpherson
Watch the mini-documentary on YouTube: John Knox and the Birth of the Scottish Reformation:
Breathing Life into Scotland’s Past