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Two Marys…

The other day Fledgling Press sent me the first draft proofs for ARGUING WITH THE DEAD, which is to be released on 31st July, all being well. Writing an introduction to the book has also given me a chance to reflect on … why another Mary?

Mary Shelley, the narrator of ARGUING WITH THE DEAD, has a strong literary and historical connection with wild Scotland. What fascinates me most about Mary Shelley is how Nature is a huge source of inspiration for her. Mary loved wild landscapes, mountains, rivers and bleak snowy heights, places which were still seen as hostile and unappealing in the early nineteenth century when Mary was imagining the scenes of her famous novel, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. She used wild landscapes – a Hebridean island at one point, and also the Mer de Glace at the foot of Mont Blanc – as a backdrop for her Monster and his terrible tragedy.

People have often misunderstood the idea behind Frankenstein, in part due to the cliched Hollywood portrayal. Mary feels deep empathy for her Monster, who is rejected by his Creator, the scientist. Having created a being out of cobbled-together body parts, Dr Frankenstein is utterly repelled by what he has made, while the Creature himself struggles to acquire language, culture and education. The Creature is, however, doomed to eternal isolation, rejected not only by his Creator but by everyone he comes across. The only person in the novel who accepts the Monster and welcomes him into the fold of human intercourse is a blind man who cannot see what the Creature looks like. The novel poses the question (echoed in a poem called Basking Shark by Norman MacCaig) Who is the real Monster? Without knowing it, Mary Shelley used poignant symbolism which still rings true to this day. Her Gothic tale can be used in schools and colleges to offer profound understanding on issues like equality, inclusion, respect, the importance of education, science and belief, and of course medical and scientific ethics. From that point of view alone, it is an amazing text.

But it wasn’t just the novel itself which inspired me to write ARGUING WITH THE DEAD. It was Mary’s turbulent and difficult life, full of contradiction and conflict, hope and despair.

It was no surprise that Mary came to write a ground-breaking novel. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote A Vindication of The Rights of Woman (a hugely significant text, which was neglected by successive generations until eventually being re-embraced in the 1970s).

Mary’s life was filled with losses and bereavement. She travelled extensively, and witnessed the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars at first-hand. She was a woman of profound ideas influenced by everything she saw and felt. To some extent she was more fortunate than most. Mary found a voice at a time when most women were silent.

Little did she realise that her novel would find its way into the global imagination in the way that it has. Her novel came from a deep place, and that is why it resonates today.

ARGUING WITH THE DEAD bears some similarities to FOR MY SINS. Both have a strong and sensitive female protagonist who is also the narrator, and suffers much in the course of her life. Both have a colourful and eventful history. Both have links with the Scottish landscape which I love, and both are haunted by their past losses. But that is where the similarity stops.

The seeds for my first historical novel FOR MY SINS, about Mary Queen of Scots, were first planted a long time ago, in the fallow soil of childhood when I read the novel A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, and I suppose I could date my passion for Gothic literature back to this early encounter with a traditional children’s book. It is a fascinating novel set in an ancient farmhouse, where the heroine opens doors and slips back into the sixteenth century, and to the time of Anthony Babington, who saw the imprisoned queen as a tragic heroine to be rescued. He was executed for his efforts. The tragic and romantic appeal of this story planted the first seeds of my love for Scottish history, particularly the tragic queen, when I came to write my own novel FOR MY SINS, where Mary is imprisoned at the end of her life, stitching her tapestries while being haunted by the ghosts of her past.

What I hope to do, both in ARGUING WITH THE DEAD and FOR MY SINS, is to inhabit the mind and heart of a significant woman of the past. I hope I have done my two Mary’s – one a queen, the other a great novelist – justice.

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In which I talk about Mary…

01-for-my-sins-20mm-spineThis has been a pure labour of love, begun when I was 22, living in Edinburgh in a bedsit on Buccleugh Street, tramping the cobbles, in search of inspiration. That’s when my first drafts of this novel were written. Even back then in 1990 I called it FOR MY SINS, a quote from the very last letter of Mary, Queen of Scots (which I photographed in the museum), and I knew exactly who my Mary was – what her voice sounded like, what her insecurities and fears and hopes were, and her bravery. I knew what she felt, what she thought, what she regretted. I never thought I would see this novel published. I revisited it in later years, then my son Micah was born, then Martha, and life moved on. I didn’t forget about it – I knew it was a novel which should have seen the light of day and sat on bookshelves. I believe in it immensely even now – especially now. Two years ago, I opened a cupboard and it literally fell at my feet. Bouf! Don’t forget me. Now I have a cover I love, I’ve just sent off the dedication and acknowledgements to Fledgling, and it’s to be released in February. My first novel for adults – the first I ever wrote! I simply cannot tell you what this means to me… apologies for outburst of emotion! It’s been rewritten and rewritten, and this is its final form.

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DRAMA AND MAYHEM

While the wind wails outside my window – it’s June in Scotland – I’ve put the final full-stop on the first draft of DARKER ENDS for my publisher Fledgling Press. It’s set in Glencoe so the howling gales are appropriate, I suppose. Now I’ve started on my fourth novel. When I met with Clare at the NLS the other week, I happened to mention the Mary Queen of Scots novel I wrote when I lived in Edinburgh 25 years ago as a young student, and her face lit up. She wanted to see that too. I then remembered that I’d moved house several times since, and might well have lost my only original copy. So I went home and did a frantic search. Found it in the attic and hoovered off 15 years of dust, trying not to rip the title page with the nozzle. Spiders ran for cover and I laughed in delight – before hoovering up one or two of said spiders due to phobia.

I wrote that novel FOR MY SINS with an absolute passion in my twenties. I’m happy to rediscover that passion, and that’s what I’ll be working on over the summer. And to relax?

Amateur Dramatics! I’ve got the lead in a one-act comedy called What’s For Pudding? Bossy insufferable woman with a club book and an abrasive manner set in the 1980s! It’s such a giggle, especially all the backstage drama. One of the more controlling members of the group decided to do an impromptu health and safety test on the opening night. Tried out the smoke machine under the stairs and set the alarm off 5 mins before curtain call. Fire brigade arrived looking fed up and tempers flared! It was very funny…

Anyway, back to serious matters. I have been searching for book cover ideas for DARKER ENDS with the help of several pupils from various schools during workshop visits. Here are one or two

cover ideas for DARKER ENDS created by pupils

cover ideas for DARKER ENDS created by pupils

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

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ALEX NYE IS BACK!!! (That makes me sound like Batman!)

DARKER ENDS is on its way! To get to the point, I’ve just signed a contract with Fledgling Press for my third book!  I met Clare at the National Library where I’ve been giving workshops on the Jacobites.She said I would recognize her as she has ‘purple hair’. I’d say plum, but definitely in that area. We shook hands over the cheese scones and pots of Earl Grey, and I felt as light as a feather, as if I could float up to the ceiling. It’s been six years since I’ve signed a contract for a new book – and this was a long time in coming. I’m delighted. So I’ve got a new website to prove it, and this week is busy busy with a school visit to Lawhead Primary in Fife on Thursday, then the YAY Festival in Cumbernauld on Friday (THE FIRST EVER BOOK FESTIVAL FOR YA FICTION IN SCOTLAND!) inspired and organized by my friend Kirkland. Then a mad dash in the evening over to Edinburgh for the launch of the Children’s Book Festival there! Authors are busily exchanging emails on how to manage public transport around Cumbernauld in a sensible fashion – while I try to work out how to send a group email without sending it back to myself!!!!