I’m thrilled to welcome author Maggie Craig to Bookshelf Fantasies for a Q&A about her newest novel, Gathering Storm.
What’s it all about? Read on…
Jacobite Intrigue and Romance in 18th Century Edinburgh.
Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743, and Redcoat officer Robert Catto would rather be anywhere else on earth than Scotland. Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s Town Guard, he fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.
Christian Rankeillor, her surgeon-apothecary father and his apprentice Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon are committed supporters of the Stuart Cause. They’re hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, a hanging offence.
Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart. They’re on the run from Cosmo Liddell, bored and brutal aristocrat and coal owner.
As they pick their way through a labyrinth of intrigue, Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He know his duty demands that he must betray her.
Bringing to life a time when Scotland stood at a crossroads in her history, Gathering Storm is the first in a suite of Jacobite novels by Scottish writer Maggie Craig, author of the ground-breaking and acclaimed Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45.
Welcome, Maggie! I know you’ve written novels set in the 1800s and the 1900s, and now Gathering Storm, which opens in 1743. Do you have a favorite period to write about?
My heart belongs to the 18th century, the Jacobites of 1745 in particular. I find it a fascinating period of history. It was the Age of Reason and the beginning of the Enlightenment, yet men still marched out onto battlefields with swords in their hands. Gender politics were changing too. The relationship between 18th century men and women was shifting, allowing female characters more leeway in what they said and, to an extent, in how they acted.
What role does your non-fiction research and writing play in your fiction writing?
A huge one. While the main characters in my fiction are always imaginary – or so I think, I’m not always convinced they don’t tap me on the shoulder and insist I write their stories – I like to have them interact with real historical characters. Over years of research, those have become like friends to me. As anyone who reads Gathering Storm will surmise, I’m particularly fond of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, my hero’s mentor.
What inspired you to write Gathering Storm?
It started with the picture of a man’s face on the cover of a magazine. He was quietly handsome but he looked so sad. I put that picture up beside my computer and looked at it for a while, wondering what had made him unhappy. Then I sat down one day and started to free-write and before I knew where I was I was with Captain Robert Catto of the Town Guard of Edinburgh in pursuit of an illegal dissection.
I’m fascinated by some of the details of life in Edinburgh at that time. Were there really “underground” dissections and secret meetings of anatomists taking place at that time?
Absolutely. There was a strong religious objection to dissection because people believed in the resurrection of the body on the Day of Judgement, so you had to be whole for that. Anatomists were allowed to demonstrate dissection on the bodies of convicted felons who had been hanged, but only on a very limited number and only if the relatives did not claim the body. Edinburgh University was at the forefront of medical education in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and desperately needed more bodies for the students to learn from. That’s why Burke and Hare became active in the 1820s, robbing graves to meet the demand and then cutting out the hard work by simply murdering people. Anatomists paid good money for fresh corpses. Burke and Hare were caught when one medical student recognized the body lying on the slab as being the girl he’d been with the previous night, when she’d been fit and healthy.
You seem to have a great deal of sympathy for the terribly hard lives of the lower classes. What do you think readers would be surprised to know about women’s lives at that time?
I think working-class girls and women could be terribly vulnerable to young gentlemen who saw them as fair game. On a more positive note, readers might be surprised by how many women were active in business, running timber yards, shops and taverns. Sometimes that was because they were widows and had taken over the family business when their husbands died but many seemed to relish the opportunity.
Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you grew up, your family life, and how you became a writer?
I grew up in Glasgow, on the banks of the Clyde, the youngest of four children. My dad worked his way up through the railways to become a station master and we lived in the station house where he loved to tend his garden. He was a great story teller, as was my mother. We travelled all over Scotland on the train to visit relatives and my dad knew the history behind every stone. I learned about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Radicals of 1820 and the Red Clydesiders of the early 20th century at a very early age. One of my forebears on my father’s side was Robert Tannahill, the weaver-poet of Paisley. All my family write. We think it’s just what everybody does. I’ve been writing and publishing books for the past 15 years and now live in the north of Scotland with my Welsh husband Will and two cats. We have two lovely grown-up children and an equally lovely daughter-in-law from North Carolina who all live in Edinburgh so we spend a lot of time there.
What do you read for fun? What writers inspire you?
I love Nora Roberts. There’s nothing better in a snowy Scottish winter than reading about fabulously wealthy and beautiful people sipping cocktails in the Californian sunshine. I’ve always been inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, Daphne du Maurier and Dorothy L Sayers. I also love Diana Gabaldon, Barbara Erskine, Susanna Kearsley and Ian Rankin.
I understand that Gathering Storm is the first in a planned Jacobite suite of novels. What are you working on now, and what can we expect in this series?
My next book will be The Captain’s Lady, a time slip set between Glasgow and the West Highlands during the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Its main historical protagonist is Meg Wood, who makes a cameo appearance in Gathering Storm. It’s a one-off story. I’m then going back to Robert and Kirsty, to continue telling their story.
Can you give us a hint about what lies in store for Robert and Christian (Kirsty)?
Trouble. Moral dilemmas. Physical danger. The entrance of a bad guy. Oh, and he is so bad. They’re going to have to wade their way through hell and high water but there will be tender moments and wee Geordie Smart will be there too.
Thank you, Maggie, for your time and terrific responses!
Other books by Maggie Craig:
The River Flows On
One Sweet Moment
When the Lights Come On Again
The Stationmaster’s Daughter
The Bird Flies High
A Star To Steer By
The Dancing Days
When the Clyde Ran Red
Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45
Damn’ Rebel Bitches : The Women of the ’45
My thoughts on Gathering Storm:
I very much enjoyed this historical novel, which focuses on the build-up to the Jacobite rising of 1745 through the lens of a small group of people caught up in intrigue and conspiracies in Edinburgh. Taking place over the course of one very eventful week, Gathering Storm introduces us to both sides of the conflict through the individual characters who take center stage in the novel.
Captain Robert Catto is an enigmatic and conflicted main character, noble and full of purpose, yet also tormented by family secrets and a troubled past. He knows his duty and what he must do, but as he becomes more and more fascinated by Christian, it becomes harder for him to stand firm. Robert is also, it must be said, a man who does tend to give into his baser nature from time to time — so for those looking for the typical dashing, upright hero, Robert’s actions may not be at all what is expected.
Christian (Kirsty) is a strong-willed and intelligent young woman, who perhaps doesn’t realize when it might be best to not take a stand. She’s loyal to family and friends, but absolutely can think for herself and make her own decisions.
Because Gathering Storm takes place in a very compressed amount of time, it often has an intense, almost breathless feel to it, and the emotional connections happen quickly and unexpectedly. The action is quite compelling, and I liked the mix of politics, danger, and personal relationships.
Maggie Craig’s in-depth historical knowledge really shines through, giving Gathering Storm a ring of authenticity and a strong anchor in real events. For anyone interested in Scottish history, or for fans of historical fiction in general, I’d recommend giving Gathering Storm a try.
Title: Gathering Storm
Author: Maggie Craig
Publisher: Alligin Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Received from the author