Readers like to know more about the person behind a book, so here’s my non-writing life in a super condensed version. “Writing and me” is covered below.
Parents emigrated from England to Australia, where I was born. Grew up in Perth, surrounded by beaches, desert, blue water, and flies. Met my husband Alistair at high school (he ferried me home on the handlebars of his bike.) Gained college degrees in archaeology and public relations. Worked as: checkout chick for KMart, cocktail waitress, PA, mine worker, archaeologist, PR consultant, freelance writer — and author! Most bizarre job: driving 50-ton tip trucks through an open gold mine on the edge of the Western Desert. Very, very hot. Best job (before author): Digging up a Roman army fort in Germany. Very, very cold.
Boomeranged back and forth from Australia to the UK for many years. Finally convinced my husband, a Scot by birth, that I had to live in the misty highlands of Scotland or die. Moved to a little glen on the west coast, in Argyll, near to where my first trilogy was set. Now surrounded by snowy hills, hairy cows, heather, Gaelic, fiddles and pipes — and the dreaded biting midge. Bring back the flies!
Hobbies: Sitting by the fire watching the rain. Listening to my husband play cello and guitar at the folk music session at the local pub. To hear him sing one of my favourite Scottish tunes, click the Play button below:
Walking and running in the hills trussed up like an Atlantic fisherman in full rain gear.
WRITING AND ME
Readers are always asking about my past and how I came to write. Below are some general questions and answers about my reading and writing background. For more detailed information about how I got published, and how I write and research, go to the “For Writers” page. There is also information there about research and suggested links, and the text of my historical fiction writing workshop.
- Did you always want to be an author?
- What were your favourite books?
- Why were you interested in the Celts?
- How did you choose what story to write?
- Other life loves
Did you always want to be an author?
I first wrote soon after learning to read: at eight I’d make up stories about tribes of little people living on the beach. When I enrolled in college, I scanned the available occupations and looked longingly at “author”, but that was not seen as a real job, so I plumped for psychology. I soon got over studying frog nervous systems, so I switched to my other passion — ancient history — and entered archaeology. Now I marry my two loves, writing and history.
What were your favourite books?
As a child, I devoured books that mixed Celtic fantasy with the British landscape, my favourites being Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series and of course, C. S Lewis’s Narnia books. In the teen years, it was Tolkien: I read the entire Lord of the Rings at 15 when I was fortuitously struck down by flu and banned from school. Despite growing up in hot, dry Australia, I was obsessed with snow, blackberries, oak trees, misty hills, and above all, ancient history.
I studied archaeology at university, and anything on the Celts grabbed my attention. Because my parents were English, I always had an affinity with Britain’s landscape and myths. I also discovered a growing interest in Celtic spirituality. All these culminated for me in my favourite book, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I read when I was 20. Later, I fell in love with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
Why were you interested in the Celts?
I wish I had a logical answer to this — but I don’t! Bizarrely, although I grew up in beach-mad Australia, I always felt a deep connection to the mysterious Celtic lands of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Although it’s trendy now, it was not in ‘70s Australia! I have no Scottish blood: it just came from nowhere. I tell people this area of the world is my spiritual home, and that’s all I can say. Some things are beyond explanation.
Readers from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and even as far away as Panama, Mexico and Hong Kong write to say they feel the same draw to the Celts and the western lands of the British Isles. So I now call all of us “The Lost Tribe.” In the great tradition of Celtic reincarnation, I like to think we all got scattered as souls, and now live new lives all over the world!
How did you choose what story to write?
When it came time to choose my story, I thought about the major events in “Celtic” history. The peoples we know as Celts emerged into known history from the heartlands of Europe. They, or at least their language and culture, spread to the UK and Ireland, and their great enemies were the Romans. Thinking about these events, the Roman invasions of Scotland caught my eye. I had always loved Scotland since the first time I set foot there; I had family connections there; and few people set prehistoric books there.
Most importantly, focusing on the Romans invading Scotland instantly gave me some wonderful baddies (Romans); some brave goodies (Scots defending their homes); war and bloodshed, danger, forced partings between my characters, and the greater themes of freedom and sacrifice to play around with. The same forces that made Braveheart such a popular movie drive my Dalriada books, too.
Other life loves
My favourite places are the western parts of the British Isles: Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I love the craggy, misty landscapes; they ooze history and mystery. You can almost hear ghostly voices echoing across the lonely valleys, or the faint clash of swords (well, I can!)
I love the absolute silence of the Scottish wilderness, where you can hear what your heart whispers when it isn't drowned out by urban noise. I also love the wildness of the Atlantic weather, with waves crashing on windswept beaches. Then you can’t hear your mind at all, for it is lost in the roar and rush. These experiences inspire me to write.
I love hearing the music of Scots or Irish Gaelic being spoken, even though I don’t understand it. I love the cascade of flute, fiddle and bodhran drum enveloping me in a pub while I crouch by a peat fire, just listening. I love the stories, and the poetry of the language.
I love the western edges of continents, and I love wilderness. I grew up on a west coast (of Australia); I live on the west coast of Europe, and now I’d love to go to the west coast of North America, particularly Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. I loved Glacier National Park in Montana; and the Maine coast. Now I long to see much more wilderness in the US.
I love wolves and bears, above all other creatures (and dolphins…and otters…). On a trip to the Rockies I failed to see either bears or wolves in the wild, but will remedy that in future. I have seen otters here in Scotland, and swam with dolphins in the wild in Australia.
I love birch trees and rowan trees. Birch trees because they are silver and elegant, and their leaves quiver. Rowans, because they cling on in the bleakest of places, standing all on their own, and still manage to produce cascades of white blossoms and scarlet berries. I’m quite a loner, too, so I love them.
Musically, my husband says I am still stuck in the 80s, or at a push, the 90s (Radiohead, Coldplay, U2) Though I do love folk bands and singer-songwriters who are soulful and kooky.
I love dogs and cats, but have neither since we keep moving around the world. The one time we had a cat, we had to leave him with friends in Australia when we moved to the UK. And then he ran under a car (we love you Jake!)
I love food and wine, and therefore have been forced to begin running up Scottish hills. Afterwards, I love snuggling in a pub with my husband debating the plots of my books.