Hailing from the historic Honest Toun of Musselburgh, six miles from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Marie Macpherson (née Gilroy) developed a love for literature and languages from an early age. Brought up on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle, she was haunted by tales and legends from the past. The Ballads of the Scottish Borders stirred the romantic in her soul and the works of Sir Walter Scott kept her enthralled during the long, dark winter evenings (and more often nights, reading with a torch beneath the bedclothes).
While she studied French and German at school, followed by Spanish and Italian at university, none of them enthused her so much as seeing the film, Dr. Zhivago, which sparked a desire to read the works of the Russian literary giants in the original. After gaining an Honours Degree in Russian and English, she spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) researching her PhD on the work of the 19th century Russian writer, Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from Thomas the Rhymer of the ancient Scottish family of Learmont. Though she has travelled widely, teaching languages and literature across Europe from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her passion for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland.
Now retired from the hurly-burly of academia, her life in the foothills of the Lammermuirs is hardly quiet. With all the various activities organised in her village, from reeling at Scottish Country Dancing to hill-walking, from book clubs to film shows, she has to make time to research and write.
Having attempted various genres, she has found her niche in historical fiction which combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Her inspiration not only comes from historical records and documents but from the landscape of the Scottish lowlands where she tries to conjure up what life was like for the inhabitants of those now ruined castles and deserted abbeys. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drive her interest.
One of the main themes of her novel, The First Blast of the Trumpet (taken from the title of John Knox’s The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women) is how the sins of the fathers – and the mothers – are visited on their offspring. Being curious about the early life of John Knox, the Scottish reformer, set her off on a quest where she stumbled across Elisabeth Hepburn, daughter of the 1st Earl of Bothwell. At the beginning of the novel she is torn from the arms of her lover, the poet David Lindsay, and forced into the convent of St. Mary’s in Haddington. As Prioress of the Abbey, she is swept up by the flood of events following the tragic defeat at Flodden in 1513 and plunged into the political maelstrom, religious turmoil and amorous intrigues at the court of James V and Marie de Guise. But her most troublesome relationship is with her godson, the incipient reformer, John Knox. Though grounded firmly on historical fact, The First Blast of the Trumpet makes some startling claims and controversial conjectures, weaving together a colourful tapestry from tantalisingly sparse strands of information. But then isn’t that the advantage and, dare it be said, fun of writing fiction over history?