Thursday, June 5, 2014

Interview with an Author: Louise Turner and "Fire & Sword"

Howdy folks! Today I am pleased to have author Louise Turner on the blog as she talks about her novel "Fire & Sword."

Welcome to Caroline Wilson Writes, Louise! To start off, "Fire & Sword" is set in 15th century Scotland, which is not a very popular time period. Tell us why you chose that setting.

I was drawn first of all by a sense of place, and by a fascination in particular with the area around West Renfrewshire where I live.  I’d started reading up on the local history with a view to finding a suitable subject for a novel when my interest was kindled in the story of John, 1st Lord Sempill (or plain old ‘John Sempill of Ellestoun’ as he’s still known in Fire & Sword).  One of Sempill’s legacies is the Collegiate Church of Castle Semple near Lochwinnoch, a ruined late medieval church which houses John’s tomb. It formed the starting point of my research – I wanted to know more about Sempill, what made him build the church, and it was only when I started to look more deeply into his particular story that I realized just how extraordinary he was as an individual, even though he left very little trace behind him in the wider historical record.  He was clearly a man ahead of his time, placing his faith in justice and negotiation instead of resorting to the more traditional methods of burning and feuding, which were still the predominant methods of settling disputes in late medieval Scotland.

As an author myself, I'm always interested in hearing what inspires other authors to write. Where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in the past.  I find history fascinating, I find archaeology fascinating – even the plainest field or street tells a complex story, if you take the time to study it properly.  Above all, I find people fascinating, in all their contrasts and complexity. 

Writing historical fiction is great because it allows you to explore the past in much more depth and detail than you ever could as a historian or archaeologist.  There comes a point where the written record stops and supposition begins – the historian must stop here, but the novelist can keep on chasing their theories and ideas right on through. Then, if you’ve done things right, you find yourself reaching exactly the same place at exactly the same time with exactly the same results, but often you’ve stumbled across something entirely new and unexpected and yet which often makes perfect sense from the historical perspective.  It’s this process of discovery which has me hooked! 

Tell us a little about your writing process.

My first step is to build a historical framework which summarises the actual events as they happened and states who was where at which time.  This invariably starts off quite sparsely furnished – I’ll read an account of the general picture for my chosen period (late medieval Scotland, so far), then flesh this out by reading the family histories for the same period so I can establish what happened to the individuals at the heart of the novel.  After that, I look at the family accounts of the secondary characters who were resident in the local area, as well as those individuals who are in some way connected.  These days I also back this more detailed research up with studies of the on-line in the holdings of the National Archives of Scotland, which equips the writer with an understanding of the nuts-and-bolts legal dealings of the time, down to the individual fields and land parcels. 

I start to write the fictional version of events at an early stage in this process, but the first couple of drafts are usually very fluid.  It takes a long while for it all to ‘set.’  I rewrite a number of times: on each occasion I’ll weave in new findings from my research, making new connections and creating new layers within the plot, or resolving old threads from previous novels.  It’s a laborious process, but ultimately very satisfying.

Lastly, what is your favorite book or author?

As a reader, and as a writer, too, my favourite author has to be Hilary Mantel. Since  I write in the late medieval period, you might expect me to be a big fan of Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies.  Don’t get me wrong, I think both of these books are incredible, but my all-time favourite work by Mantel has to be her novel of the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety.  I came across this book way back in 2004 when I was working on an early draft of Fire & Sword - I remember feeling quite frustrated at the time because nobody seemed to be writing the kind of historical novel that I wanted to read. What I wanted was a novel with contemporary resonances which just so happened to be set in the past, but instead what I invariably was given was an animated tableau where the hapless characters almost seem like puppets pulled along at the mercy of History.

Then I read A Place of Greater Safety and I was totally blown away.  I prefer this earlier work to the Thomas Cromwell novels because Mantel shifts viewpoint characters more frequently and you get a greater variety of voices as a result.  The way the three main characters - Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre - interact together can be electrifying. 

It’s a subtle difference in approach, I suppose, but Mantel’s characters never come across as slaves to the whim of events and circumstances. Instead, history is created as a result of their actions and decisions.  To me, that’s exactly how history is made, and it’s an approach that I try hard to bring across in my own work.

Thanks for joining me today, Louise! Best luck with your novel and future writing endeavors. For more information on "Fire & Sword" please scroll on down!

Publication Date: September 19, 2013 Hadley Rille Books
Formats: eBook, Paperback

On the 11th June in 1488, two armies meet in battle at Sauchieburn, near Stirling. One fights for King James the Third of Scotland, the other is loyal to his eldest son, Prince James, Duke of Rothesay. Soon, James the Third is dead, murdered as he flees the field. His army is routed. Among the dead is Sir Thomas Sempill of Ellestoun, Sheriff of Renfrew, whose son and heir, John, escapes with his life. Once John’s career as knight and courtier seemed assured. But with the death of his king, his situation is fragile. He’s the only surviving son of the Sempill line and he’s unmarried. If he hopes to survive, John must try and win favour with the new king. And deal with the ruthless and powerful Lord Montgomerie…

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Fire and Sword

Praise for Fire & Sword 

“Louise Turner skillfully brings to life the conflict-ridden world of 15th century Scotland. Based on the true story of John Sempill, the narrative takes us from near ruin to an uneasy but satisfying final triumph. Thomas is a wonderfully flawed character, not your typical knight-in-shining-armor, but a young man plagued by uncertainty, prone to dark moods, and keenly aware of the ax hanging over his head. Hugh Montgomery, at once John’s nemesis and eventual ally, is simply delightful in his charisma and ruthlessness. The principle women of the story, Mary, Margaret, and Helen, bring fresh and varied perspectives to the events at hand, each one admirable in her own way. Honestly, I found nothing to complain about in this novel. It is expertly written, kept me turning the pages and reading late into the night. A fantastic debut, recommended for all fans of historical fiction, medieval times, and romance. I look forward to seeing what Turner has to offer next.” – Karin Rita Gastrich, Amazon Reviewer

Buy the Book
Amazon UK (Ebook) 
Amazon UK (Paperback)
Amazon US (Ebook) 
Amazon US (Paperback)

About the Author 
Born in Glasgow, Louise Turner spent her early years in the west of Scotland where she attended the University of Glasgow. After graduating with an MA in Archaeology, she went on to complete a PhD on the Bronze Age metalwork hoards of Essex and Kent. She has since enjoyed a varied career in archaeology and cultural resource management. Writing has always been a major aspect of her life and in 1988, she won the Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition with her short story Busman’s Holiday. Louise lives with her husband in west Renfrewshire.

Author Links 

Virtual Book Tour Schedule 
Please visit the other participating blogs for chances to win and to read reviews.

Monday, May 5 Review at The Mad Reviewer
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, May 6 Interview at Flashlight Commentary 
Monday, May 12 Interview at The Mad Reviewer
Tuesday, May 20 Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Wednesday, May 21 Guest Post at Historical Fiction Obsession
Monday, May 26 Review at The Most Happy Reader 
Tuesday, May 27 Guest Post at Book Lovers Paradise (with Kathy Fischer-Brown and Juliet Waldron) Monday, June 2 Review at Just One More Chapter 
Thursday, June 5 Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes 
Tuesday, June 10 Review at Princess of Eboli 
Thursday, June 12 Review at bookramblings
Monday, June 16 Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Monday, June 23 Review at Book Nerd 
Monday, June 30 Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

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