What ho Wee Readers, today there’s a wee flash from the past for the Wee Writing Lassie. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while now may remember a wee post I called ‘7 impertinent questions for Ailish Sinclair’– where I interviewed my good friend Ailish Sinclair, about her then recently published book ‘The Mermaid and the Bear’. Which was a historic romance taking place at the height of the Witch Trial craze in the North of Scotland. Well flip forward to 2021, and the sequel to The Mermaid and the Bear, ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ hits the shelves.
Which is where I come in.
Now obviously I was beyond excited for this, I mean not only was The Mermaid and the Bear fantastic, but I got to personally interview the author which was a really good post for my blog. I know, I know, a selfish motivation for being excited for another’s success, but still the fact remains, I was damned excited to read this book.
Which I can tell you now was absolutely warranted; it is a fantastic book. But first before we go any further, let me just give you a brief (spoiler free) description of Ailish Sinclair’s new book: ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’.
Set in the 1740s ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ tells the story of Elizabeth Manteith of the Castle, who dreams of adventure, excitement and quite possibly true love. Well, she just might get all three when after a run in with some ruffians in the Aberdeen port, she finds herself kidnapped and sold as an indentured servant all away across the sea to America. After her indentures are sold to a plantation owner, she’s confronted with the hard realities of the world beyond her castle walls. And that’s all I’ll say – you’ll just have to buy the book to find out the rest.
Anyway, I knew that this would be an excellent time to do the follow up interview we always talked about. So off to her house I went. It was easy enough to
break in I mean let myself in legally, with a key I did not steal the last time I was willingly let in her house. And just a reminder to all you wee Readers, I did not break in to Ailish Sinclair’s house, no matter what you may later hear. I was safely at home, writing this blog post – and you’re my witnesses to that.
Anyway, onto the questions before I blurt out any other strangely specific denials.
Hi Ailish, how you’ve been doing?
Well, I was lying in the sun eating chocolate cake when you showed up out of nowhere. But you know that. I’ve been doing quite well, writing, cooking and gardening to my heart’s content.
That’s great, any hoo we should probably get started before those police arrive.
It’s okay. I didn’t call them in the end.
7. Hi there Ailish, good to have you back on the blog. So, you’ve got a new book coming out, and this one revolves around the kidnapping of children in Aberdeen during the 18th century. Could you tell us a wee bit about that, and why in particular you were drawn to that subject?
Traumatised voices from the past seem to follow me around. While I was researching the dark history of the Aberdeen witchcraft trials for The Mermaid and the Bear, I came across the kidnapped children and realised that theirs was a story waiting to be told. I don’t like the fact that aspects of history that are uncomfortable often get overlooked or swept under the carpet as it were. If we’re to learn from history we have to look it straight in the face and say: this happened, let’s remember the people that it happened to, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
6. In the past you’ve often talked about the extensive research you do while you’re working on a project; and of course, it shows in ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ whose world feels uniquely real to the time it’s set in. So, my question is, out of all the elements you had to research for the book, which was the most challenging?
Reading about what happened to those children was deeply distressing. At one point some of them were kept in the town gaol and their parents tried, unsuccessfully, to break down the door to save them. Having been in that dark and dank prison (now a museum), I could imagine what that must have been like, from both a child’s and a parent’s perspective, and it was truly terrible.
5. One of the things I loved about your last book was how it seamlessly blended the fictional characters in the setting with real historical people. And ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ has a real historic person as a potential love interest for your heroine. Could you tell us a bit about him, and what made you include him in your story?
Peter Williamson, or Indian Peter as he later became known, was a bit of a likely lad who wrote books about his adventures and worked hard to expose those who had made money from the kidnapping. His publications were very useful to me during the research phase and I developed a fondness for his plucky character, so into the book he went! I knew Elizabeth would like him too.
4. In ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ food seems to mark important milestones in your characters journeys – was this a deliberate choice on your part as the writer, and if so, why?
Yes. Food marks milestones in life, so why not in books? From special holiday food after a difficult time (and I like to give my characters many difficult times), to celebrations like birthdays and graduations, food is always there. It’s interesting, in life as well as fiction, to note who is invited or permitted at these occasions, who is offered the best food, who gets the fancy china, or, as happens to one poor soul in Fireflies and Chocolate, whose hot chocolate is rather spitefully salted, and why… can I offer you a piece of this cake Wee Lassie?
3. Mmm, salty. Anyway, your female characters are so very strong – well they have to be – and yet unlike in a lot of other modern media they still manage to have flaws; could you tell any future or just getting started writers out there, what your process is for writing such strong female characters?
I try to write them as real, rounded, whole people. We are all flawed. We all do and say stupid or ill thought-out things sometimes, so let your characters do that too. Draw from your own life. Get down and dirty on the page with the lads and lassies that you’re writing. Try and feel what they’re feeling and see what their true and immediate reactions to the situations you’ve placed them in would be.
2. I know that I personally found that the inclusion of Scots speaking characters, not just in this book but your last one, felt very special – as Doric and Scots is not usually a language encouraged in the traditional world of publishing. So, my question is, what inspired you to include these elements in your stories in the first place?
I suppose it’s all about being real again. My stories are, at least partly, set in Aberdeenshire so it would be inauthentic not to include the local language. Some of the Doric words are beautiful or funny and strange. They add richness and humour to the vocabulary, though I do try and have the more obscure phrases explained in the narrative so as not to leave anyone in the dark about what’s going on. In The Mermaid and the Bear Isobell has to ask Agnes what a ‘collieshangie’ is, and is told that it’s an uproar or noise. It’s one of the few friendly scenes between the two quines (girls!), and the word helped with that.
1. So, now that you’ve got a second book published, what’s next for Ailish Sinclair?
I’m writing a novel set in Iron Age Scotland just now, featuring the Battle of Mons Graupius. There’s no castle in this one, though much of it is set in the place where the castle from my other books will stand one day. Are you finished with that plate? You don’t need to put it in your bag, I can take it back now. Is that a key to my house?
Before I start my usual signing off message, I’d just like to thank Ailish Sinclair for being an extremely good sport when I mentioned the idea for this blog post to her. No, I did not break into her house just to clarify in case any policemen are reading this – that was part of the joke. What was not was the extreme excellence of Ailish’s latest novel. Seriously, I’m sending the word out now for all you Wee Readers, flip over to Amazon right now and buy that book. Go ahead, we’ll all wait.
You done it? Good.
If you’ve enjoyed this little trespass of mine, don’t forget to follow the Wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Tumblr and Pinterest for all the good stuff. Also, I recommend signing up for the Wee Mailing List by the 12th of July to find out what the eighth intrusive question I asked to Ailish Sinclair was . Also if you’ve enjoyed Ailish’s long suffering replies to my intrusive questions, why not follow her wee blog; and check her out on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Tumblr, and Pinterest for all the good stuff. Also she has a mailing list too. ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ is available at Amazon (both American and British) and from Waterstones. Until next time Wee readers, keep yourself safe and have a very bonny day. Also, before I forget for a second blog post in a row, if you’d like to support this blog and help me possibly get these posts out quicker, click the button below and buy me a Wee Cup of Coffee on Ko-fi. Also check out Ailish Sinclair’s Ko-fi page and buy her a wee cup too.