I am delighted to be able to welcome back to 'The Secret Writer', the author of four highly acclaimed historical thrillers S.G. Maclean. Long time followers of this blog may just remember that I had the great privilege of interviewing Shona on my Blog back in 2011. For those who are interested, I will provide the link to that interview at the end of this post.S.G. MacLean has a PhD in history from Aberdeen University, specializing in sixteenth and seventeenth century Scottish history and lives in Scotland with her husband and four children. The Devil's Recruit, Shona's fourth novel, follows three highly acclaimed historical thrillers, 'The Redemption of Alexander Seaton', 'A Game of Sorrows' and 'Crucible'. If you like historical fiction then I can highly recommend all four of these novels as truly amazing reads!
A very warm welcome to you Shona, and can I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us again here at ‘The Secret Writer’, especially as the latest novel in your Alexander Seaton Series, ‘The Devil’s Recruit’, is being launched today!
Thanks for asking me – the site seems to have gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years!
Shona, can you briefly bring us up to date with what you have written since you last visited ‘The Secret Writer’?
Mmm. In 2011 I had just finished Crucible of Secrets and was getting down to the research for what has become The Devil’s Recruit. It’s a story centred on the events and characters surrounding a ship filled with recruits for the 30 years’ War in Germany, docked off Aberdeen in the year 1635. The soldiers are not the only strangers in town, and Alexander Seaton gets caught up in the search for one of his students who has gone missing, and for the murderer of a young woman found dead in an artist’s garden. Matters are complicated by the fact that not all of the strangers are in fact strangers …
Can you explain to us, without giving too much away, how you developed the story that is contained within ‘The Devil’s Recruit’?
I began by looking at the records of Aberdeen for the 1630s, and my interest was caught by a variety of things going on in the town in the period – recruiting ships at anchor of the harbour, the purchase by a famous artist of the town’s former public gardens for his own use, the existence of a French school in the town. I started to wonder how these things might inter-relate. There were also one or two real historical characters, and some locations around the town that I had never used before, and which I thought had a lot of potential for interest and suspense.
When you are drafting a novel, how do you place yourself into the period of time that you are writing about?
The most important thing for me is trying to think myself in to a character’s head. The best way of doing this is by reading contemporary accounts – letters, diaries, journals. I try to understand what really mattered to them, and then approach my plot in terms of how I think they would have conducted themselves. Location is also very important to me. I will visit the places I am writing about (although, to be honest, the visit to a place often prompts the desire to write about it). I will walk the streets – so many street lay-outs, regardless of the survival or otherwise of buildings – haven’t changed much since the C17th. For those which have, I try to find old maps, and think my way back in to the locations. Music, art, architecture, museum pieces, all have their part to play in creating the tapestry in to which the plot is woven, but it is the mindset of my characters and the ‘feel’ of a location that matter most to me.
For those who are interested in the art of writing a novel, can you briefly share with us how you develop the conversations that your characters have with each other within your stories?
Uhm, pass? Quite seriously, I generally find that if I’m having to work too hard on a conversation, then it’s not working. I know this won’t ring true, but it is, absolutely, and I’ve heard other writers say the same thing: sometimes I don’t know what a character’s going to say until it’s on the screen in front of me. This is particularly true of my own favourite character from the Alexander Seaton books – his old friend and mentor Dr Jaffray. Jaffray says what he wants to say, and I take it from there. I really think he is an amalgam of my father and his friends and customers (he was a hotelier in the Highlands, the public bar, men only, being his particular fiefdom) and what Jaffray has to say comes from them. So that is probably key – listening to how people actually talk to each other. Don’t turn conversations in to straightforward exchanges of information. Think about what your character’s agenda is: how will he or she couch what they say to another character? Are they old friends, relaxed in each other’s company? Is there hostility, tension between them? Think about that before you decide how to transmit the information you want to impart.
Can you possibly give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making?
Well, there are still about 3 Alexander Seaton books I want to write, but I am changing tack for the next couple of books to start work on a new series and character: Damian Seeker. Seeker is an enforcer for Oliver Cromwell in the London of the 1650s. He’s a very different character from Alexander, much less wracked with doubt about what he does, and definitely does not wear his heart on his sleeve; nevertheless, there are chinks in that armour … The first Seeker book will centre round characters and events in a coffee house in the City of London. I was down there researching last week. Very sore feet!
Shona, I am absolutely delighted that you have been able to visit my blog again. Thank you, it is very much appreciated! Can I wish you every success with your latest novel ‘The Devil’s Recruit’ and I do look forward to reading the new books that you have lined up for us in the future. Have a fabulous day!
Thank you very much.
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Just click on the following link for my 2011 interview with Shona Maclean: