Read Raw Ltd
Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland
What first inspired you to write?
I grew up as an only child in Bridge of Weir, but attended school in Greenock. I didn’t see much of my friends outside school hours; as a result, I soon learned to be self-contained at an early age. Reading played a big part of my childhood – my mother was a keen reader of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction, and she was a big influence in this respect.
I was weaned on Enid Blyton, before moving on to the ‘Jinny’ books penned by west of Scotland author Patricia Leitch and fantasy such as Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ series and the ‘Narnia’ books by C S Lewis. Historical fiction courtesy of Rosemary Sutcliff was thrown in for good measure, but in my teens I read mainly fantasy and science fiction, with J R R Tolkien being an early favourite.
Perhaps it was inevitable that I would eventually start writing my own stories. My early efforts were Lord of the Rings and Star Wars fan fiction, and that was how I served my apprenticeship. By the time I was ready to move on, I’d already learned a lot, which may be why my first determined attempt at writing a novel didn’t end up languishing in a drawer.
What inspires you now?
My greatest inspiration comes from history and archaeology, and the past in all its seemingly infinite variety. I suppose that the crux of the matter is that I’m inspired by people, how they interact with each other, and how this interaction shapes the physical - and in particular the cultural - world within which they live their lives. That’s why the genre of historical fiction has particular appeal for me, though it may also explain why I retain an interest in science fiction.
I’d already developed an interest in writing fiction when I made the decision to study Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. At the time, I thought it would help me with finding source material for my writing, and this certainly proved to be the case: my first success, the science fiction short story Busman’s Holiday (which won the 1988 Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in Science Fiction prize) was inspired by an undergraduate lecture on Iron Age society with its warrior elite, although the warriors in my futuristic Scotland were in this case replaced by bus drivers.
Now I find that things have turned around to some extent. I’m a practicing archaeologist who explores the past through the medium of fiction as a means of engaging with it in a different way, moving beyond the boundaries of what is possible through dry historical or archaeological discourse.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Take your time. And think tactically. No need to speed things through – just work hard, and above all make sure you hone your craft. It takes years to create an individual voice, and it’s not really something that can be rushed. Learn to edit, to step back and examine your work from a distance, and never submit something until you’re absolutely sure that there’s nothing more you can do to improve it. Make sure, too, that you research your market carefully, and remember that writing and publishing is a business. Be professional in your attitude, and remember that rejection is never personal.
What are you writing
My second novel will be published in 2017, so I’m using the interim period to work on my third, which I’m hoping to finish next year. This particular project is providing me with a refreshing break from straightforward historical fiction. Technically, it’s ‘time-travel’ fiction, but I decided at an early stage that I didn’t want to churn out the standard fare of ‘heroine escapes dull humdrum life in the present to find handsome, smouldering Alpha-male hero’ in the past. Instead, I thought I’d do things a bit differently by bringing my hero back from the past into the present, where (after a bit of culture shock) he finds things are much more pleasant and in the end, he finds himself a refugee from antiquity. This isn’t surprising, since the hero in question was born and raised in Ancient Sparta c. 460 BC…
It’s been quite a challenge to write as I’ve tried very hard to make my Spartan as authentic as possible: he’s bisexual and religiously devout and very conscious of the fact that his culture represents (what he thinks) is the pinnacle of Ancient Greek achievement. He’s also cautious, and patient, and careful, which puts him at odds with the clichéd view of Spartans seen in modern works of popular fiction. All in all, he’s quite alien in his outlook, but at the same time, because he is grounded in a rational enquiring culture, he can understand when something out of the ordinary is a product of engineering or science.
Writing this book has definitely appealed to the science fiction fan in me, as in a way this work blends the two genres that I love most: historical fiction and science fiction. In that respect it’s been very invigorating and also rewarding to work on. Plus it’s nice to work on something which features a huge slice of contemporary culture for a change.
What are you reading now?
I’m about halfway through the latest work in my Dorothy Dunnett marathon, which is something I’ve been working my way through intermittently over the past two years. I would definitely describe Dorothy Dunnett as the historical fiction writer’s historical fiction writer, though I don’t always see eye to eye with her on the local history of the west of Scotland! The volume which I’m reading just now is Caprice and Rondo, which is Book #7 in the House of Niccolo Series.
Who is your favourite literary character?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I think it has to be Elizabeth ‘Bet’ Yeager in C J Cherryh’s novel Rimrunners. I love the depth and texture of her Union-Alliance universe in particular, and the way in which the same character can be portrayed as evil and malicious in one book, but can come across as totally reasonable in another when the narrative is written from their perspective. It’s an approach which I think is lacking in a lot of historical fiction, and it’s something I wanted to address with Fire & Sword and its follow-up.
What future projects do you have planned?
I’ll be continuing my series of novels set in late 15th century Scotland, but I’m not entirely sure what the structure of the next book is going to be yet. The way I write is very organic, and I only establish the story in its complete form once I’ve fully researched the history which underpins the plot, and often not until I’ve written the first draft. That’s the point where I start to draw together the various subplots.
I have a large number of projects planned, which I hope I’ll have time to write before I expire! I’d like to write a series of books set at different points in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, and I’ve thought about writing novels about Bonnie Dundee and the Wolf of Badenoch. Where I’m going to find the time for all this, I don’t know…
What interests do you have outside of writing?
I always keep busy. I enjoy working in Scottish archaeology, where my special interests include artefact analysis and historic building recording. Outside work, I’m a keen gardener, and I also enjoy horse-riding, hill-walking and cycling, too. It’s easy to get lazy and stagnant when you’re stuck at a computer every day, so I think it’s important to get out and see the world.
Any last words of wisdom?
I think it’s always wise to remember that every writer follows a trajectory in their career, and we’re all at different stages. Sometimes it feels very disheartening when you’re at the bottom of the heap wondering how to get onto the next level, but everyone else has been in that same situation at some time or another. Bearing this in mind, it’s important to listen to those who have gone before and to be prepared to follow their advice.
Louise Turner first found professional success with the short story Busman's Holiday, which won the 1988 Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition. First published in the Glasgow Herald newspaper in July 1988, it has since been reprinted three times. In 1989 it was featured in Starfield: Science Fiction by Scottish Writers (ed. Duncan Lunan), apppearing alongside works by celebrated Scottish writers including Janice Galloway, Alasdair Gray and Naomi Mitchison. More recently it appeared in We Tried to Run a Bus Company, but... by George Watson (Routemaster Owners and Operators Association, 2011).
During the early 1990s, writing took second place to completing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Glasgow, with Star Wars fan literature being the main creative outlet. Louise had a number of short stories published in US-based fanzines during this period, as well as some longer works.
A career in archaeology soon led to an increased awareness and interest in Scottish history, and in the late 1990s, Louise began writing what would become her debut historical novel, Fire And Sword. Set in the late 1480s, Fire And Sword is set within the period of upheaval which followed the death of King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn. It attracted interest as far back as 2005, but circumstances (and hurricanes) conspired to impede its progress, until eventually it was published by US small press Hadley Rille Books in September 2013 as paperback imprint and e-book.
Louise continues to work with Hadley Rille Books, who in February 2015 published a companion short story to Fire And Sword called The Lay of the Lost Minstrel, and who will also be publishing her follow-up historical novel, The Gryphon at Bay, in the spring of 2017. You can visit her website here http://www.louiseturner.co.uk/