Hi and welcome to my stop on Mhairead MacLeod’s The False Men blog tour!
Interview with Mhairead MacLeod…..
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I was born in Scotland and now live in Australia with my husband. I have two children. I write historical novels and have university degrees—in Law and in Creative Writing—which formed the groundwork for my writing.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
For The False Men, the idea started when I heard about the real story of a brave young woman who lived in the remote islands west of Scotland. It’s her story of struggling for independence and love, really. When you write historical fiction I believe you really have to pay attention to historical truth. Of course, the joy of this genre is that a writer’s imagination is allowed to fill the gaps between what is known, what isn’t, and what can be plausibly assumed.
They say you should write what you know, but I also like to write what I don’t know. Writing historical fiction allows you to step into the past and explore it on a human level, through the individual experience of the characters. In The False Men, the landscape was a character in its own right and this was inspired by times I’ve spent in the Hebrides.
I got the idea for my current manuscript from a rundown building I saw in North Queensland, Australia, and the nurse who lived there a hundred years ago.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
My three main protagonists in The False Men are based on real people who lived in the mid-nineteenth century. My research covered both written records and oral history from people now living in the Outer Hebrides. Fictional characters evolve out of your imagination but I got a surprise when, a while after I’d created the character of Jess’s close friend and maid, I discovered that the historical Jess actually did have a very similar, close friendship with her maid, despite the class differences of the time.
How do you pick your characters’ names?
Names have to be relevant to the characters’ time and geography. For instance, if I’d called my 1850s protagonist Madison instead of Jess it would jar. I mostly used the real names of my main protagonists, but for fictional minor characters I drew on historical names to fit.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
My novel The False Men took quite a few years to write as it involved a lot of detailed research. My schedule is fluid but the number one rule is to try to write most days of the week. I have whole days when I spent hours writing, and often they start with a goal of writing just 100 words. Writing a novel is a marathon, but for me it’s a compulsion!
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
I’ll try to whittle them down to five. They do change and I often have favourites of the moment. My current favourites are quite different from each other:
A.L. (Alison) Kennedy
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would love to meet Thomas Hardy. I was a big fan of Tess of the d’Urbevilles and Far from the Madding Crowd. These novels really inspired me. For a Victorian, he had a great empathy with societal issues and understanding of romantic relationships. I’d describe him as a romantic realist. If I met him I’d ask him about his real Bathsheba, his real Tess, and what made him write from their perspective.
Were you a big reader as a child?
My first memories are reading The Arabian Nights and the Enid Blyton series, especially the adventures of the Famous Five. When I was a little older, I became obsessed with novels about Australian brumbies. I was about 13 when I discovered Georgette Heyer’s novels and I decided I wanted to write historical fiction.
When did you start to write?
There were a lot of false starts. As a kid I wrote bad poetry and song lyrics. I won a national essay competition when I was 11. I wrote my first novel (a children’s novel) in my early twenties and sent it off to a publisher’s competition. When it was rejected I didn’t look for publication elsewhere. I started writing seriously when I commenced my MA in Creative Writing degree in 2006.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
Wuthering Heights. I’d have kept Heathcliff and Cathy alive a bit longer. Heathcliff is such an intriguing and complex character. But then, that might have ruined a great novel.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
The butler Stevens, in Remains of the Day by Kazugo Ishiguro. He is so beautifully described I feel I know him intimately. I’d have invited him to coffee (probably tea for him) early in his career and given him a good talking to about it being fine to follow your heart, that snobbery can be dangerous. Because he’s such a fusspot I’d take him somewhere with silverware and starched napkins, like The Ritz. Mind you, if he took my advice that would ruin the plot.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a time-slip novel which I’m very excited about. It involves both medieval Scotland and modern-day Australia.
Tell us about your last release?
The False Men is based on a true story. It involves a romantic love triangle, and also platonic love between friends. But it’s not just about love, especially because it’s set in a time of social brutality and upheaval. The story revolves around Jess Mackay, the daughter of a wealthy landowner in the Outer Hebrides who falls in love with someone she discovers is not the person she first thought, and is then pressured by her father to marry a man she detests. Her world falls apart when her friend’s village is annihilated on the orders of the three men she now knows well. The story follows the brave choice Jess makes and its consequences.
Do you have a new release due?
I have a completed manuscript set in the 1920s, which is currently with an editor. I’ll put up any publication news on my website.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
I signed the publication contract for The False Men two years before it was published so I had lots of time to anticipate. Because I was flying to the UK to launch it a few days after publication, I ended up having a quiet celebration with my husband on the actual day. Celebration with friends came later with a glass of champagne.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
I have a website where readers are very welcome to contact me:
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Readers make the world go round!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Mhairead 🙂
North Uist, Outer Hebrides, 1848
Jess MacKay has led a privileged life as the daughter of a local landowner, sheltered from the harsher aspects of life. Courted by the eligible Patrick Cooper, the Laird’s new commissioner, Jess’s future is mapped out, until Lachlan Macdonald arrives on North Uist, amid rumours of forced evictions on islands just to the south.
As the uncompromising brutality of the Clearances reaches the islands, and Jess sees her friends ripped from their homes, she must decide where her heart, and her loyalties, truly lie.
Set against the evocative backdrop of the Hebrides and inspired by a true story, The False Men is a compelling tale of love in a turbulent past that resonates with the upheavals of the modern world.
About Mhairead MacLeod:
Mhairead MacLeod was born in Inverness, Scotland and spent her early childhood on the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
She now lives in Brisbane, Australia where she worked as an ethics lawyer, investigator and university lecturer. She holds Masters degrees in both Law and in Creative Writing.
An earlier draft of The False Men was short-listed for a HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development and also won a Hachette Manuscript Development Award.