Some time ago I was invited to a Book Group which had just finished my second novel A House Divided as their monthly read. I gave a wee talk and they were able to ask me questions and I had some for them which gave me some really useful feedback. After a lovely evening, including a supper (of which I probably ate too much!) they very kindly presented me with a book token as a thank you for coming.
I wanted to save it to buy something special that I wouldn’t have bought for myself and last week I found the absolutely perfect book for anyone interested in history and especially for an historical novelist. So to give a wee flavour of it, here are some photos. I took them on my phone so they don’t do this stunning book justice for the maps are gorgeous, and they cover every county in England, Wales, the whole of Ireland and include one map covering all of Scotland. They were drawn by a man called John Speed in the late 16th century and as you’ll see include town plans, and coats of arms of important people / families in each county as well as other quirky things, such as sea monsters.
It is fabulous and will provide hours of reading / pouring over / enjoyment time (not to mention the possibility of displacement activity… I’m going to have to ration myself.) So far though I’ve just been sitting stroking the pages and thinking how lovely these maps are.
Aside from their beauty, the skill in surveying that these represent is amazing, given the equipment available at the time. Somehow, a bit like modern versus classic cars, modern maps don’t have quite the same appeal.
This story goes way back – it’s the first story I had in print in a magazine for which I was paid the going rate. So it has a special place in my heart. As did the illustration that the magazine commissioned for it and I’ve always wished that I could have bought the original, which captured exactly the sense I had of the main character. I contacted the artist at the time and they were going to send me a print of it (which would have been lovely) but whether they did, and it got lost in the post, or something happened which caused them to forget, I don’t know. Sadly, when I moved house sometime later I lost my copy of the magazine, so now don’t have a copy of the picture at all.
The idea for a story can come from anywhere and anything. In this case, I was on a bus on my way into Belfast to shop and as we passed an area of housing obviously scheduled for re-development, I saw a street much like the one below, but in which every house but one was empty, with all the windows bricked up.
It raised lots of questions – Who lived there? Why were they still there when everyone else had gone? What would it be like to be that last person in the street? What kinds of problems might they encounter? How or would they cope with them? What might they do in the end when they had no choice but to move out?
The answers to these and other questions formed the core of the story and gradually the character of Agnes was born. Often, as an author, you become very fond of your characters, and this was definitely the case for me with Agnes, as I got to know her, and developed her personality and her back-story. And having formed her I then needed to get inside her skin in order to work out what the end of her story would be.
The final piece of the jigsaw arose out of the Northern Ireland context, and my own childhood, but I was pleased to discover that when this story first appeared in a magazine in the UK, someone from England wrote in to say that the story spoke to their particular circumstances also.
This story can be found in my new short story collection, Dust Blowing and Other stories.
Afghanistan is a country that has fascinated me since I was about 8 years old. The vast open spaces, the austerity of the landscape, and the relationship of that area to ancient civilizations such as the Mogul Empire and the huge derelict cities of the plain captured my imagination.
Sadly I’ve never been there, to experience the amazing and often difficult terrain for myself, and probably, courtesy of the political situation, will never be able to. But I can go via the imagination and I hope that in Dust Blowing, set in modern-day Afghanistan, I can take my readers with me.
As for the story itself – it developed, as stories often do, out of a dilemma which the main character in Dust Blowing faces. And as often the case there is no easy answer. As there is no easy answer to the question it raises – is there such a thing as mercy-killing, or is killing someone always murder?
I’d love to hear others’ opinions, both on the main question, and on the story itself if you’ve read it.
The collection is available via the following sites
and signed copies can be ordered direct by contacting me here or on FB.