It’s an exciting day for my friend and guest Mairibeth MacMillan. Her second Viking romance novel The Viking’s Warrior Bride is out today and I’m chuffed that she has popped by for a blether about it. Mairibeth writes competition-winning flash fiction, short stories, poems and historical romance novels with Tirgearr.
Please tell me about your Brother of Thunder series.
The series centres around four Norse cousins, who consider themselves to be brothers on the battlefield. They have fought side-by-side for many years and have moved together from the Norselands to what is now Scotland, but in the ninth century was the kingdom of Strathclyde. This was a Brythonic kingdom and the people living there spoke a language similar to Old Welsh. Historical sources about the kingdom are few and far between and almost entirely written by foreigners so while there are some historical facts to work with, there are also very few details available and many assumptions have to be made when trying to piece together a story. The mix of languages spoken by the various characters complicates the situation further and I’ve had to make some compromises so that the setting didn’t become over-complicated and would be understandable for a modern reader.
The four cousins: Tormod, Bjorn, Arne and Ulf are all very different as are the brides they eventually choose. I try to work from the premise of assuming that people in the past weren’t so very different from people today, so some of the themes reflect current issues to some extent. There is nothing really new under the sun, after all! I enjoyed creating a world and working out as many every day things as possible, although many remain guesswork.
You are studying a related qualification. Is that giving you new ideas?
Yes, I have just completed two modules of an MLitt in Viking Studies which has been great fun and completely fascinating. Being able to spend at least three hours every week talking about vikings in Scotland and Ireland with like-minded people really helped with lockdown! I’ve tried to incorporate some of the new information I have learned into the stories, but one thing I have realised is that early medieval historians and novelists are not as far apart in their methods as I thought before I started the course!
You are a member of the RNA (and a fellow Scottish Chapter member) and have been through the New Writers, Scheme. The Viking’s Cursed Bride was on the Joan Hessayon 2020 shortlist. What are the benefits of the NWA and RNA membership?
While I was on the NWS, the main benefit was the reader’s report that I got each year. I put more than one manuscript through this and each time, received very helpful information from my reader. Sometimes when you first read that kind of report,I t can seem quite negative and disheartening, but it really is invaluable if you actually want to progress as a writer. I really appreciate the Facebook groups where I can ask questions and get help and/or support from fellow writers — both published and unpublished. I have been so impressed with the incredible range of skills and backgrounds which fellow RNA members come from. There is always someone to help with a query!
Place is an important inspiration for you. Can you tell me a little about that, and your favourite places?
For me the setting always comes first. I like to imagine what happened in that particular place at various times and explore the relationship we have with the world around us. Dumbarton Rock is a favourite because it is so atmospheric. It’s signposted as Dumbarton Castle, but any castle is long gone. I’m originally from Paisley, a town which has more listed buildings per square metre than any other town in the UK and I love to go back each year for Doors Open Day and wander about. I also spent a summer in the Rocky Mountains and really must go and visit again!
Congratulations on finaling in the Jane Austen Foundation’s short story competition last year. The top three stories are available on Audible. What’s it like you have your story made into an audiobook?
Thank you! It was really strange. The reader of the story has quite a different accent from my own and the pronunciation of “loch” in the audio version always makes me smile. It was wonderful to hear it brought to life and I hope that the sales really help the work of the charity which helps to provide e-Books in the Global South.
You are judging this year’s Federation of Writers (Scotland) Vernal Equinox contest. That must have been an exciting invitation, especially since winning their first short story contest was an early success in your writing journey…
It was very exciting! The competition hasn’t closed yet, so I haven’t seen any entries yet but I’m looking forward to reading them. A few years ago I made friends with fellow writer, Lesley Traynor, who is an expert at pushing me out of my comfort zone and encouraging me to try new things. She also shares my interest in everything Norse which is nice! I still remember seeing the email from the FWS and not quite believing that I’d won. I had to read it quite a few times times before it sank in.
What is your top tip for writing flash fiction?
I have a few tips! It’s too hard to pick just one. First — focus on a clear image. Second — make sure it is a story — there has to be some kind of change or conflict, it’s not enough to write a description, no matter how beautifully worded. Third — cut every word that doesn’t need to be there. Be ruthless!
Thank you Mairibeth!
The closing date of the Vernal Equinox contest has been extended to 14 May 21.