Hailing from the historic Honest Toun of Musselburgh, six miles from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, I 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, I was haunted by tales and legends from the past. The Ballads of the Scottish Borders stirred the romantic in my soul and the works of Sir Walter Scott kept me enthralled during the long, dark winter evenings (and more often nights, reading with a torch beneath the bedclothes).
My desire to learn Russian and read the works of the Russian literary giants in the original was sparked by seeing the film, Dr. Zhivago. After gaining an Honours Degree in Russian and English, I spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) researching my 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 I’ve travelled widely, teaching languages and literature across Europe from Madrid to Moscow, I’ve never lost my passion for the rich history and culture of my native Scotland.
And so it was natural, perhaps, that historical fiction, which combines my academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling, has become my niche. My inspiration not only comes from historical records and documents but from the landscape of the Scottish lowlands where I try 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 my curiosity.
One of the main themes of my 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 me off on a quest where I 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?