Please join me in welcoming author Louise Turner to Let Them Read Books! Louise is touring the blogosphere with her novel, Fire & Sword, based on the true story of a young man carving a name for himself in 15th-century Scotland. Read on to discover Louise's local inspiration for her story, and enter for your chance to win a copy of Fire & Sword!
Finding Treasure in Unexpected Places...
by Louise Turner
Scotland is famous for its castles. Eilean Donan’s the classic example, star of innumerable calendars and shortbread tins. In popular perception, it’s the Scottish Highlands which have become synonymous with Scottish castles, Edinburgh and Stirling aside.
Where I live in the lowland west of Scotland, the landscape is about as far from dramatic highland scenery as you can get. The area was heavily industrialised in the 19th century, marked still by centuries of mining and quarrying; in places it’s very urban in character. But there are still castles aplenty; though most of them are little more than piles of stone, perhaps with a few walls and a gunloop or two if they’re lucky. Some even survive only as a dot on the map marked Site of ___ castle.
I’ve been writing for almost as long as I can remember. At first, I wrote (and read) science fiction and fantasy, studying archaeology at university because I thought it would help me develop ideas. Perhaps making the transition to historical fiction was inevitable – why go out of your way to create entirely fictional stories when there are so many tales worth telling which actually happened? Writing historical fiction isn’t exactly a cop-out – to get it right takes a lot of research.
But when you’re a newly qualified archaeologist struggling to get by on a succession of intermittent temporary contracts, believe me, the research budget is reduced to almost zero. This was the initial reason why I thought I’d try my hand at seeking inspiration close to home. How much easier it would be if I could just step outside my front door and find the story I was looking for right in front of my eyes.
|The remnants of Duchal Castle|
I unearthed many possible contenders, but the story that most piqued my interest was that of John Sempill of Ellestoun. His father was killed in 1488, defending a king who was himself murdered and deposed by men fighting for his son and heir, the future James IV. And yet just a year after falling from grace, John Sempill redeemed his fortunes and was supposedly made a Lord of Parliament – John, 1st Lord Sempill.
The one or two references in the sources only made things more interesting – there were references to letters of fire and sword issued to Sir John Sempill (note the knighthood) a year after the battle which killed John’s father, even though John himself was in danger of being charged with treason in the winter of 1488. Of the crucial period which marked the point of transition in his life, the annals fell silent – not through any cunning conspiracies of silence, but rather because record-keeping was a bit ad hoc back then and standards of preservation in the past 500 years have been poor.
So I decided to further explore John’s story through fiction. And it proved more exciting than I’d ever thought possible. After starting off with the aim of writing a fictionalised biography of John Sempill’s life, the finished work ended up spanning a mere 18 months between the late winter of 1488 and the summer of 1489.
Called Fire & Sword (after those letters issued by King James IV), the plot moved beyond John’s immediate experiences, tracking the changing fortunes of several individuals who lived around Renfrewshire and North Ayrshire in the late 1480s. With John Sempill of Ellestoun and Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie taking the pivotal roles, the plot reached its zenith with the little known Siege of Duchal – a military operation which involved the moving of two huge siege guns (including the celebrated Mons Meg) all the way from Edinburgh to a castle in west Renfrewshire which is barely known by those who live in its vicinity.
Getting a novel published gives a tremendous feeling of achievement and satisfaction. But the publication of Fire & Sword was just the last stage in a long and exciting journey which quite literally brought the past – my local past – to life, changing the way in which I viewed the world around me. I’m not alone in this feeling: local readers also tell me that the novel has had a similar effect on them, which for a writer is a very satisfying feeling, believe me.
But I hope, too, that I can bring these stories to life for a wider audience, and help more people realise that there’s more to Scotland’s history than Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. History is everywhere, and the voices of those who once dwelled in even the most unlikely places can still be heard. All it takes is the desire to pause for a while, to look and listen, and to scratch away at the layers of accumulated history until at last the secrets of the past reveal themselves.
From the Back Cover:
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…
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.
For more information please visit Louise Turner’s Website and Blog. You can also find her on Facebook.
Fire & Sword is on a blog tour!