“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.”
It’s fantastic to be participating in the blog tour for The False Men by Mhairead MacLeod. I’d like to thank Kelly Lacey at #LoveBooksGroupTours for inviting me on the tour and to Mhairead for her detailed and really fascinating replies to my questions
As a Scottish blogger with a Scottish History teacher for a husband, I was intrigued to see the way that the Highland Clearances would be portrayed and how this dreadful time in history would be portrayed. I was delighted to be invited to do a Q & A as it was great to be able to go ‘behind the scenes’ with Mhairead and see what was behind the creative process in writing this historical novel with strong connections to real events.
What is your first memory of a piece of writing that made you feel proud? How old were you and do you still have it?
When I was eleven I won a national essay competition. All I can remember is that it was about a golden eagle, and I was more surprised than proud! I didn’t keep a copy, sure it wouldn’t win.
I grew up in a magical house in Scotland. It was very old with a large garden. I’d spend hours exploring, looking for secret passageways in the thick walls. It was then I fell for history and historical fiction.
Your book, The False Men mixes the real events and a fictional narrative very skilfully – did you discover anything in your research that really surprised you and which aspects did you find most difficult to bring to life…
One of the joys of writing historical fiction is that it involves a process of discovery. Past lives fascinate me, especially where there is reflection in the present. Initially I was drawn to this particular story by the bravery of the young woman who my protagonist is based upon—and her love story. But while researching for it I was confronted by the horrific events of the Highland Clearances. The Clearances decimated the area I’ve written about, and this was only one of many communities in Scotland affected. These Clearances were undertaken brutally, and in writing the relevant scenes I wanted to respect the memory of those people. It’s clear from reading newspaper and government reports of the time that they handled their situation with dignity and resilience.
I still feel great sadness when I see abandoned crofts in an empty landscape. On the west coast, there’s one that used to belong to my ancestors.
As a Scottish blogger, do you have a favourite Scottish writer or novel and what is it about them that makes you love them?
It started with Sir Walter Scott—I was intrigued by the Scottish romantic adventure—but there are so many wonderful modern Scottish writers now, it’s hard to choose. Aside from the realistic precision of Ian Rankin and Val McDermid’s crime novels, I’m drawn to novels set in an enigmatic time, such as The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone, and those that combine history with social questions, such as Joseph Knight by James Robertson. I think it’s wonderful that Robin Robertson’s book of poetry was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Which book -from any country or decade- do you wish that you’d written and why?
I wish I’d written To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Her story-telling style cuts to the heart. And I love Ian McEwan’s Atonement—the way he tells the historical story from the point of view of three different characters and every page is filled with insights and vivid language.
Your book is very poetic in places, do you read a lot of poetry and which poets would you say have inspired you as a writer?
Although I’ve had some poetry published, I wouldn’t consider myself a poet at all. I really woke up to poetry in my first year at university—I was drawn to the Romantic poets, such as Keats and Shelley, and later the imagery of Yeats’ work. I love the flow, beauty and power of lyrical writing.
Also, I’m married to an Australian poet who I think is very good (all bias aside!).
Where do you write and do you have a regular writing routine?
I have a small writing room and my desk is so packed with the piles of books and articles I’m accessing for research, I have to push them aside as I add more. The windows look out onto greenery, but because my eyes are focused on the screen, I rarely have time to take in the fairly wild garden. I’m reminded to do better (and to watch my grammar) by a little badge which lies beside my laptop. It says, hopefully, i write good.
I try to write something most days, even if it’s just 100 words or so. When I was working full-time I’d get up at 5am and write as much as I could before work. At night, my brain was too tired to do any more, but stories and ideas were constantly circulating. If I get stuck for ideas, I’ll go for a walk or do something banal, like housework or cooking where I can think and try to resolve plot and character problems. And since I stopped lawyering full-time, I have a busy routine which involves learning ballet, singing in a choir and going to drawing classes.
What’s your next writing project and can you tell us a little bit about what to expect – will it have any parallels with The False Men – for those of us that loved it?
I’ve recently finished a draft of a novel set in the tropical frontier of Australia in the 1920s. It centres on a young Scottish woman who’s had to leave Scotland to escape the consequences of something she’s done and now has to keep secret. She becomes a nurse with the goal of establishing the first private hospital in the region. It’s a different time period and scenario to The False Men, but the challenges facing the protagonist are just as problematic. So again there is an Australian-Scottish connection and the protagonist is inspired by an actual person.
I’m currently working on a time-slip novel set in both current-day Australia and early medieval Scotland. I’ll be back in Scotland next year to do some more research, which I’m very excited about.
Writer On The Shelf
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.
Mhairead’s Website: https://www.mhaireadmacleod.com
Facebook: Mhairead MacLeod