Hmm, maybe I should just concentrate on the interview!
Rachel, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my writing life on your fabulous blog.
Guess I’ll jump right in...
I’m a writer of historical fiction and romantic adventure set in Scotland, England and Normandy.
I wrote my first story in my mid-teens - a Regency romance about a young, impoverished girl travelling the length of Cornwall to a rich stranger’s manor to look after his sick child. Of course, the plot came straight from a Victoria Holt novel!
Over the years, other stories followed, never completed. A move to Aberdeenshire in the late ‘90s gave me new impetus - here I suddenly lived in a country with a fascinating history. To improve my writing and research knowledge, I took various historical study courses (e.g. Scottish Studies, Tudor Studies) and completed a Certificate in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. But it wasn’t until two years ago that I completed my first manuscript, a romantic Scottish historical. Highland Arms is now published from The Wild Rose Press.
1) Which authors inspired you to write?
I fell in love with historical fiction and romance when, in my teens, I read Victoria Holt, Georgette Heyer and M.M. Kaye. The vivid settings, flawed characters and suspenseful storylines got me hooked.
Lately, I’ve admired the works of Sharon Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick and Blythe Gifford. All three have the wonderful talent of vivid historical storytelling.
2) Describe your writing space?
I have converted our spare bedroom into my writing office (with hubby’s help!). The walls are covered with photographs of castle ruins, landscapes and historical maps. A sheepskin rug under the desk keeps my feet snug and scented candles help me escape reality. Sometimes I use medieval or Scottish folk music to get me into the mood but at other times I find it distracting.
The window overlooks a stable yard and, less than two miles in the distance, the Pentland Hills rise up high.
Sometimes, when I’m hidden away in my little office and hubby is out walking, my cats join me, jostling for a space on my lap or the desk. A cup of green tea or glass of wine complete the set-up.
3) Tell us about Highland Arms, your recent release?
Highland Arms is a romantic Scottish adventure which was great fun to write as I know the region around Glencoe / Ballachulish so well. Set shortly after the failed 1715 rebellion, Highland Arms tells the story of Rory Cameron, a Highlander hellbent on another uprising, and Catriona MacKenzie, a Lowland lass desperate to escape her scheming brother. But they are both closer to danger than they think when her curiosity leads her to discover a plot against him. A race for their lives ensues.
4) Treat us to an excerpt!
With pleasure! Excerpt from Highland Arms:
Yes, she’d just have to convince Auntie Meg—and Rory Cameron—that she simply had to stay.
Her mind made up, she rose and wrapped a thick blanket around her shoulders. As her bare feet touched the wooden floor, she hissed at the chill. With no maid to call upon, she left her room and went downstairs in search of the kitchen. The thought of a warming cup of tea raised her spirits. Then she’d continue to set her plan into motion.
She pushed the kitchen door open and stopped short. Standing by the mullioned window, in front of a large bowl overflowing with water, was Rory Cameron. He turned as he heard the door.
Catriona caught her breath, and grabbed the handle, letting go of the blanket.
Water dripped over his head and down his torso, trickling in small rivulets over his kilt held by a broad belt with a round silver buckle in a Pagan design of interlacing swirls. The light curls of hair on his tanned chest glistened with moisture. His shoulder-length hair was unbound, falling softly over taut muscle. A dry smile told her she was staring at him. Again.
She swallowed hard. “I...” She stuttered. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Cameron.” She averted her gaze to her feet. “I was just looking for a pot of tea. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
The insufferable man laughed as he grabbed a piece of cloth and began to pat himself dry. “I don’t think you did.” He shook his head, sending strands flying before rubbing it vigorously. “And it’s Rory, remember?” He grinned. Catriona stood rooted to the spot. Words failed her. Her mouth went dry.
“But tell me...” He went on. “Do you always venture into the kitchen so early? If so, you’d better get dressed next time.”
Transfixed by his mocking gaze, her cheeks heated as she became aware of her own state of undress. What an impression was she giving him with her hair falling loosely over her shoulders, and the blanket barely covering her modesty?
Oh, dear God, the blanket!
5) What comes first, plot or characters?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. For me, it’s the location and the plot. I take my inspirations from some incredible places I’ve visited.
Take Highland Arms as an example. The setting had to be Glencoe / Ballachulish in the Highlands which is my favourite corner in Scotland. The dramatic scenery and history was simply too tempting to overlook. I developed an outline of the story - patriotic Highland smuggler meets curious Lowland lass - and only then did I work out the characters.
Rory, my smuggler, was a far tougher nut in the original version but my fabulous editor at The Wild Rose Press helped turn him into a more likable guy. Catriona, the lass, had to endure so much at the hands of her brother that I decided her character was more sensitive than feistier females in novels of similar setting or era. But her curiosity which leads her into danger makes up for it.
6) Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Yes, I was halfway through a medieval historical, now part one of my ‘Anarchy’ trilogy, when I hit the wall. I didn’t know where the story was heading. So after much deliberation I put the manuscript aside and focused on a new story - Highland Arms was born. Only last year, after I secured a contract for Highland Arms, did I return to the ‘Anarchy’ story to suddenly find the path clear. It all went smoothly from then on, in an entirely new and more adventurous direction (and gaining inspiration for two sequels).
It’s important not to give up on a project but to take a break and cast your mind away from it - and from that wall. The more you try force yourself into finding a way through it the less likely you are to succeed. A break, even a new project, provides plenty of chances to approach it later with a fresh mind. You’d be surprised at the result.
7) What is next in line for you?
The ‘Anarchy’ project began seven years ago when I lived in South Wales where I joined a re-enactment group, the Knights of Longshank. The fun of such events, and my newly-acquired skills as an archer, combined with the stunning Welsh/English Borders landscapes, inspired a 12th century story that takes the characters from England to Normandy. I’m currently in the process of editing and hope to find a home for it soon, ideally through an agent.
Currently on the backburner is another Scottish romantic adventure set on the Isle of Mull early on during the Wars of Independence.
8) Where would you like your career to be in 5 years?
I’d like to find an agent and have my trilogy, and other works, published. I’d love to write full time, not just on the side. My day job is manic and I often have to stay late and work weekends over the summer so my writing suffers during that time. Here’s hoping... :-)
9) Where can we find you?
These links are good places to start:
Facebook Highland Arms: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Highland-Arms/126843920719546
Highland Arms is available in e-book format from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Thank you for having me here, Rachel.
You're welcome, lovely lady! Fantastic interview and where you live sounds absolutely gorgeous. I am thirty-seven years old and yet to visit any part of Scotland - shameful! Maybe I should make a New Years resolution to go there in 2012. Hubby and I could definitely do with a weekend away... :)