7 Intrusive Questions for Ailish Sinclair

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.

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7 impertinent questions for Ailish Sinclair

Set in the the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear , by Scottish Author Ailish Sinclair – out now in paperback and Kindle – is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

Now I know what you’re thinking – well that sounds terrific Wee Lassie, I would really like to read that! But why are you talking about it? Well, never fear my Wee Readers , I shall explain all. Recently I’ve received some very exciting news – fellow Author, Ailish Sinclair, has had her book – The Mermaid and the Bear – published. I was very excited anyway, as I am when any fellow writing Lassie gets her book published – especially when they mention me in the acknowledgements ( buy it and check it out, I’m mentioned under my birth name Charlotte) – and then something occurred to me. Ho, ho, I said, this is something my Wee Readers should know about, after all by your very nature you are readers. So thus, with the idea in place I approached Ailish herself, and formed a plan.

The basic idea for this post was an interview, which is kind of what we ended up with, but with a bit of twist. As we already knew each other, the questions didn’t have to be quite so formal, they could be…down right impertinent even. Okay, let’s start with a Wee Introduction: Ailish Sinclair is an author from the north of Scotland – like yours truly – who was trained as a dancer in London; before returning back up North, where she taught ballet and met her husband. She now lives beside a loch with said husband and two children, surrounded by castles and stone circles, where she writes and dances (yes, still) and apparently eats a lot of cake.

Ailish loves Stone Circles

Her book is refreshingly also set up North in the region of Aberdeenshire, in the late sixteenth century – during a period of our history that’s not often talked about by the wider world, or indeed Scotland itself: the Aberdeen Witchcraft panic of 1597. There’s a real feeling of authenticity when it comes to Sinclair’s writing: from the clear amount of research that has gone into every aspect of late sixteenth century life, right down to the accurate Scottish dialect that many of the characters speak in. I’m not going to harp on too long about this, since it’s neither the focus of the book nor this post , but it’s very rare to find Doric in a modern book – which if you’re like me and live in a place where that’s just how people talk , it’s nice to not be left out for once. Another inclusive detail in Ailish’s novel is the fact that her heroine – Isobell – is a plus sized women, and this is never treated like a problem, or something about her that needs to be fixed, by the narrative. All body type inclusion, yeah!

Alright, enough with the introductions already, on with the impertinent questions.

7. As a fellow Writing Lassie from up here in Scotland, would you say your book has something more, or deeper, to say about Scottish culture than can be found in other books?

I live in Aberdeenshire, where the book is set, and have done so for most of my life. I hope my deep love for the countryside comes across in the narrative, and that I’ve captured the way people speak and behave towards one another here. I had to tone down the local language somewhat to make it easier to understand. ‘Ken fit like?’

6. You’ve mentioned before in other interviews that you become quite intense with your research when you’re writing a Historical Novel. So, my question is, what’s the maddest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

Eating primroses? Sliding down dangerous cliff sides in bare feet? Cross examining the poor wardens in St Nicholas Kirk? I’m not really sure about the maddest. The hardest part was knowing when to stop. When is enough information enough? Research could go on forever, but once the story has formed firmly round it, and you know what sort of underwear everyone was wearing, it’s probably time to write the book.

5. Now that you’re getting published, and you can look back on your career with a clinical eye – what would you say was the first moment you felt like a real writer?

I actually think the most precious writing time is well before publication is even being considered. It’s that first draft. Anything is possible then. Fall in love with your story and your characters and they will lead you to all sorts of places you never imagined possible. So, to answer your question: when I was working on the first draft, and wanting to write it ALL the time, rushing home to get back to it, thinking about it ALL the time… that’s when I felt like a real writer.

4. As a confessed recovering Chocoholic, was it terribly difficult to leave the substance out of The Mermaid and the Bear?

Well, I felt deeply sorry for my poor characters that they couldn’t have any chocolate of course, but not so sorry that I withheld it from myself. I have to confess that I am, in fact, not in recovery, and have no intention of ever being so!

3. Your new novel – The Mermaid and the Bear – deals with the long-forgotten Aberdeen witchcraft panic of 1597. By choosing this subject you have brought the voices of women unjustly forgotten by history into the public eye again. What I want to ask is, is there a feminist undertone to your choice of subject matter; and if not, is there some other reason you were drawn to that particular area of Scottish history?

Given that 85% of those accused of witchcraft in Scotland were women, yes, there is definitely a feminist side to the novel. Women supporting each other, standing strong against misogyny, and believing they have the right to aspects of life that were the dominion of men at the time, and even now, do come into the story.

2.Okay, let’s dig a little deeper. If you were put on the spot, like I’m doing to you now, and you were forced to choose a person or persons (plural), that you really admired in that part of history. Who would it be?

Anyone who stood up to oppression and abuse. These people rarely make it into the recorded history of the time, so historical fiction provides scope to write about bravery, love and heroic acts as they might have happened. When bad events occur there are always those who stand strong and true, often among those who are persecuted themselves.

1. Alright final question, and then I’ll let you go. Would you say that the romantic hero of The Mermaid and the Bear – The Laird – resembles anyone you know in real life?

While aspects of his character were inspired by a local historical Laird, my fictional Laird is a little bit like my own husband. I am lucky to be married to a man who accepts people as they are, doesn’t judge anyone on outward appearance, and has an open heart and mind, just like Thomas Manteith!

Ailish Sinclair and Husband
Ailish and Husband house shopping

I love that final answer, it always make me well up – especially if you’ve read her mention of him in the acknowledgments.

If you’ve enjoyed these impertinent questions to the emerging Author Ailish Sinclair, remember to follow my wee blog if you haven’t already, and check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my Tumblr account – or sign up to the Wee Mailing List. However if you’ve also enjoyed the long suffering answers of Ailish herself, remember to follow her wee blog here and sign up to her Mailing List here. Also check her out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest , Facebook and Goodreads. And don’t forget to check out the The Mermaid and the Bear, now out on Kindle and Paperback where all decent books are sold. Until next time my Wee Readers, have a bonny day.

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