A hearty welcome to Marie Macpherson, who’s here to talk about her fascinating novel The Last Blast of the Trumpet. I think this is an extraordinary and under-appreciated time in Scottish history, so let’s start with an overview of Marie’s critically acclaimed novel, the third in her trilogy.
Conflict, Chaos and Corruption in Reformation Scotland.
He wants to reform Scotland, but his enemies will stop at nothing to prevent him.
Scotland 1559: Fiery reformer John Knox returns to a Scotland on the brink of civil war. Victorious, he feels confident of his place leading the reform until the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots returns to claim her throne. She challenges his position and initiates a ferocious battle of wills as they strive to win the hearts and minds of the Scots. But the treachery and jealousy that surrounds them both as they make critical choices in their public and private lives has dangerous consequences that neither of them can imagine.
In this final instalment of the trilogy of the fiery reformer John Knox, Macpherson tells the story of a man and a queen at one of the most critical phases of Scottish history.
Thanks for coming to Author Chats, Marie. Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
What is the first book that made you cry? Many of the tales by Hans Christian Andersen made me sob: The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid and The Little Tin Soldier are real tearjerkers.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? I’d say Be true to yourself Don’t follow the trend for the sake of it. Follow your gut instinct. If it feels wrong – it is wrong.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? Learning to read was the first step to realising the power of language. I can still remember the wonder I felt watching squiggly shapes and symbols transform into letters that formed words to denote meaning. Later I experienced a similar feeling learning the Cyrillic alphabet to study Russian. Magic! I loved spelling at school and it’s no coincidence that the word ‘spell’ is used in the phrase to ‘cast a spell’ in order to exert control over someone.
For centuries, this magic power was used not only to influence others but to manipulate their thinking. The literate class–priests and politicians-denied women and the lower classes access to education in order to control them. For all his faults, Knox was an early democrat who sought to redress the balance with his vision to establish a school in every parish and free education for all children.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? A Scottish novel, Sunset Song, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Following on from the theme of the power of language, the heroine, Chris Guthrie is a divided soul. Academically gifted she loves to escape into the ‘magic land’ of books and aspires to become a teacher. But she is torn between the educated Chris who has to speak English at school, and the Scottish Chris who speaks Scots, her native language that is dearer to her heart, at home.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? A few early attempts that are not so much tucked away in the desk drawer but on files locked away in a very early apple mac computer that I can no longer open.
Tell us about your newest release:
What did you edit out of this book? I had to do mountains of research about Mary Queen of Scots so as to know as much as possible about the background and look for gaps that could be filled. Besides, I didn’t want to repeat her story but approach it from a different angle, the part that Knox and her half-brother James Stewart, Earl of Moray, played in her downfall and James Hepburn’s ill-fated attempts to thwart them. The first draft of 200,000 words had to be drastically pruned to around 133,000.
Did you have to make any ethical decisions when writing about historical figures within your book? How to deal with Knox’s marriages to 16 year-old-girls which nowadays readers might find shocking. Being in his late 30s when he wed Marjory Bowes was not considered too much of an age gap – it was quite common for older men whose wives died in childbirth to take younger wives. But his marriage to Margaret Stewart when he was in his 50s was remarked upon by Calvin and sent Mary, Queen of Scots into paroxysms of anger. For Margaret was not only very young, she was a noblewoman of royal blood who’d brought the lowborn heretic preacher into the Stewart clan. Laying the facts before the reader allows them to make up their own minds about his personal morality, I hope.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters? A fair hearing, a stage on which to play out their drama and being as faithful to the known facts as possible.
What was your hardest scene to write? Spoiler alert. The murder of Darnley, probably the most celebrated mystery in Scottish history, which is still a matter of heated debate. Since that fateful night, the truth has been shrouded in a smokescreen of conflicting evidence by witnesses with their own agenda.
What’s the best thing a reader has said about or written to you? A reader emailed me today to say that they loved the book so much they wished it had never ended … and were going back to read it again. That makes all the hard slog worth it.
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee – Both. Italian cappuccino in the morning and strong Scottish tea in the afternoon.
Dark or Milk Chocolate – Definitely dark, though I wouldn’t say no to a milk chocolate.
When were you the happiest? When I met my husband and soulmate, Matt, who sadly passed away a few months ago. I try to take comfort from remembering those happy times, but it’s hard through these dark days of lockdown.
Favourite Children’s Book – Heidi
Favourite Adult Novel – Anna Karenina
Marie’s books can be found at the following retailers:
Amazon UK • Amazon US • Barnes and Noble
Scottish writer Marie Macpherson grew up in Musselburgh on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle where tales and legends haunted her imagination. She left the Honest Toun to study Russian at Strathclyde University and spent a year in the former Soviet Union to research her PhD thesis on the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though travelled widely, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her enthusiasm for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland.
Writing historical fiction combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drives her curiosity.