Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Welcome to Yvonne Marjot!

On my Welcome Wednesday slot, I'm absolutely delighted to welcome Yvonne Marjot - poet and fiction author.

I met Yvonne through Crooked Cat Publishing. I've read many of the evocative poems she posts on Facebook and I really enjoyed reading her Crooked Cat published novel - The Calgary Chessman. I've no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who likes a contemporary novel that has mystery, history and also romantic elements. 

It's easy, when reading The Calgary Chessman, to imagine being on the island of Mull, the setting for the novel, and it's also easy to discern that Yvonne has first hand knowledge of it as well!

Today, Yvonne and I are doing an author swap since I'm interviewing her here and she has interviewed me on The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, her BLOG. (check later for my interview)
But, let's get on and read her excellent answers. Tell us 3 things about yourself that wouldn’t be covered in your bio.
I’m an obsessive reader. I read an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction, and I’m as happy to read romance as SciFi, to revisit one of my old childhood favourites, or enjoy the latest recommended read. My favourite living authors are Ursula K Le Guin, Neal Stephenson and Barbara Kingsolver, and the one quality I look for in all my reading is believability. If your writing’s good enough to drag me in and have me live the story, rather than just reading it, then you’re good enough to be in my pantheon. I love that moment when you emerge from a reading coma to find that hours have gone past while you were elsewhere.
I love to climb mountains. I’m much less fit than in my younger years, but I still do a lot of walking. My current ambition is to climb the local Munro, Ben More (3000ft) in every season in a single year. In 2013 I managed every season but winter, and in 2014 I fell coming down the mountain in spring and had to miss my summer and autumn attempts while recovering. 2015 is going to be the year – I’m sure of it!
I do voluntary work for Butterfly Conservation, Scotland. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve ever done that directly uses the skills I learned during my Botany degree. I wander about the more lonely parts of Mull, looking for the food plants of rare caterpillars, and then go back in the right season to see if I can find the moths or butterflies. I’ve been lucky enough to have been within centimetres of the rarest moth in Scotland (the Slender Scotch Burnet Moth) which lives only on the islands of Mull and Ulva.
Nancy: Climbing mountains hasn't been in my exercise programme for decades, but I can claim to have properly climbed Braeriach (#3 Scottish Munro) - I don't count Ben Nevis (#1) since the altitude level was already pretty high when I got out of my transport vehicle! I've been up Ben Macdui (#2) as well, but not quite to the top peak - changing weather conditions having forced a hasty retreat. In the late 1960s, there were no telephone bulletins or weather warnings. The local estate gillie (we camped on the Mar Lodge estate near Braemar) gave his opinion and walkers tended to stick with his knowledge of the area. 
Butterflies, on the other hand, are out of my ken  - apart from a very few common ones that I see in my Aberdeenshire garden.  
But back to the interview - what genre do you prefer to write in?
My personal favourite area is Magical Realism – although The Calgary Chessman and its sequels are set in the “real” world. In the book I’m working on at the moment (Fire Under the Skin) some things happen that seem perfectly normal to my characters, but we would definitely class them as magical or paranormal.
How many books have you published so far?

I’m a published poet, in magazines and e-zines, and my first collection of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing after I won the Britwriters 2012 poetry prize. The Calgary Chessman is my first novel, and its sequel, The Book of Lismore, will be coming out later in 2015. 

An excellent achievement, Yvonne! Were there any triggers which led to the plotline for The Calgary Chessman?

The Calgary Chessman arose out of a dream – that’s a cliché, I know, but it’s true. I’d been watching a TV program about the ten greatest treasures of the British Museum, one of which was the Lewis Chessmen. That night I had a nightmare about being chased by a faceless monster along the beach at Calgary Bay, one of my favourite places on the Isle of Mull. When I woke up, I thought to myself… what if I was walking at Calgary Bay and discovered something amazing? From that thought, the book was born. I think the “What if…?” question is very probably the most useful one a writer can ask.
Nancy: Yes, the 'what if...' kicked in for me in Book 2 of my Celtic Fervour Series when I pondered over 'What if Brennus isn't actually dead?' Brennus then became the main protagonist of Books 2 and 3. 
I've said earlier that you have excellent knowledge of the isle of Mull. Can you, please, give my readers more details of the setting of The Calgary Chessman?
The Calgary Chessman is primarily set on the Isle of Mull in Western Scotland, and features the tiny town of Dervaig, where I used to live, and the gloriously beautiful and isolated beach at Calgary Bay. I did a lot of background reading on history, geography and geology, to try to make my fictional version of Mull as realistic as possible. I also read as much as I could about the Lewis Chessmen, and about what life on the island was like around a thousand years ago, when the western seaboard of Scotland was dominated by powerful local families, some of whom were sufficiently wealthy and influential to be able to import luxury goods such as gaming pieces. In The Calgary Chessman we also learn a little about Cas’s childhood, growing up on her grandparents’ farm. This location will feature more prominently in later books. Cas’s grandparents live in the Abel Tasman area of New Zealand’s South Island, one of the few parts of NZ I have never visited. I couldn’t resist making it the location of her childhood home.
Nancy: I've been to Mull, and in fact I'm visiting it again in April 2015, but I've never been to New Zealand which sounds such a fascinating area of the world with many climatic differences. 
Can you tell my readers more about Cas, the main character of The Calgary Chessman? 
The story’s narrated by Cassandra Longmore, known as Cas, a New Zealander who has found herself washed up on the Isle of Mull after jumping ship from her abusive marriage to wealthy businessman Drew Longmore. She’s an emotional mess, and copes with her worries by taking long walks on the beach. We see through her eyes as she makes an amazing archaeological discovery; meets two very different but appealing men; renews old friendships, and copes with her teenage son’s life-changing crisis. Sam, her son, is a major part of the story and plays a larger role in later books. The archaeological mystery posed by Cas’s discovery is solved within the book, but her life issues are ongoing, and we’ll learn more about them in the next book.
Do the names for characters just pop into your head as soon as you start a book?
Usually I start with an idea – a What If? As soon as the answer to the What If? starts playing out in my head, I begin to get an idea of the kind of person who is caught up in the story. Once I’ve given them a name and an identity, they take over. I often find that as I’m writing my protagonists are dictating their own behaviour – they know when I’m trying to make them do something that isn’t in character.
I like to settle on names fairly quickly. I need my characters to seem real to me before I start writing, and that can’t happen unless they have a name. Sometimes I name a character without very much conscious thought, and later on the name turns out to have a significance I didn’t realise at the start. I’m quite sure that my subconscious has been at work there.
What does your heroine think when she first meets the main male characters in the story?
That’s an interesting question! There are quite a few heroes in Cas’s life, but I’m not sure she ever recognises them as such. She’s so accustomed to managing her own emotional needs, and so determined to make a success of her new post-divorce existence, that she just isn’t ready to let anybody in.
Her greatest hero, of course, is her friend Bernie, who offers sound advice, tea and biscuits, and a shoulder to cry on whenever necessary. Cas, characteristically, thinks more in terms of what she should be doing for Bernie than what Bernie has done for her. Like any good hero, Bernie’s there when she’s needed, and fades quietly into the background when she isn’t. We should all be lucky enough to have a friend like that.
Which time period is your favourite to research in?
I’m an archaeology fanatic. The older something is, the more likely I am to be interested in it. The Calgary Chessman’s archaeological mystery is set at the very beginning of the Middle Ages, which is a bit later than my usual areas of interest, hence the huge amount of research reading I had to do. As the sequels are published, the archaeological story moves further back in time, to areas where I’m much more comfortable. If there’s one era where I feel at home, it’s the so-called Dark Ages – the era when the foundation of our modern society was laid down, following the collapse of Rome and the rise of new political structures across the United Kingdom – when the darkness was held back by isolated, glimmering lights in scriptoria across Britain, where monks copied and disseminated the wisdom of the past, and made sure it wasn’t lost. And even further back, into the Neolithic and the times of the great tomb builders, and makers of carved monuments. It intrigues me that the further back we delve into humanity’s past, the more we learn that our ancestors were no less clever, subtle and creative than we.
Who's your favorite character in The Calgary Chessman?
I’m like a Mum – I love all my characters, despite their flaws. I’m very fond of Ewan – he doesn’t come off well in The Calgary Chessman, and we’re left thinking that he’s either selfish, weak, or just plain emotionally cold. Actually, he’s a deeply private man with a strong, personal moral compass – but Cas gets to him in a moment of weakness, and it causes trouble for both of them. There are two new characters in The Book of Lismore, both of whom are such a strong presence in the back of my head that they have novel-sized back stories of their own. They are Annette, whose secret I will keep to myself for now (you’ll have to read The Book of Lismore, but she is based, very loosely, on someone I once lived next door to, and whose story was equally emotive) and Jennifer Gray, leader of a police forensics examination team, whom we only meet in passing. Remember the old Sue Barton girls’ books: Sue Barton, District Nurse etcetera? I can just see Jennifer starring in her own spin-off series: Jennifer Gray, Forensics Examiner.
Nancy: I confess to warming to Ewan as well. You've now made me champ at the bit to read The Book of Lismore! 
More of those questions: What are you working on right now?
I’m nearing the first-draft stage of the first volume in a new trilogy, Fire Under the Skin, which is set in an imaginary post-apocalyptic future. It follows the stories of three protagonists, whose stories will eventually intersect: Garand, a man in late middle-age who has travelled the world over and ended up in a half-ruined suburb on the edge of a radioactive city; Rona, a woman from a closed culture of women who have isolated themselves from the rest of humanity, and who reproduce through parthenogenesis; and a teenage runaway, Tiris, who travels down the spine of this new world, trying to find her own place in the world, and narrating her travels as she goes. The tasks they have to complete will bring them together and the outcome, if they succeed, will be the survival of a world that is becoming ever more precarious. The title comes from a poem by Sappho, and as much as this is a Science Fiction series, it’s also about the many and varied kinds of love that exist, and the ways in which we humans find love in the most difficult and unpromising of environments.
Nancy: I see myself writing more contemporary stories, and more historical ones, but I'm not sure I'm cut out for Dystopian or future world sci-fi. It takes a special kind of imagination for that -  yet I do like to read it sometimes. 
Last questions, just for fun. What's your favourite time of year?
Whatever time it is! I have a special fondness for late winter/early spring, when every new day brings change. Living in Scotland, I’m far enough north that it’s really dark in winter, and each day after the solstice brings a growing sense of the light coming back into the world. It makes some pagan practices ( Shetland’s Up Helly Aa, or the Beltane fires) seem very sensible – we all need a way to push back the darkness and celebrate the return of the light. However, if you’d asked me this question in October, I’m sure I would have told you my favourite season is autumn: mists, brambles and all.
Nancy: Living in Aberdeenshire- I'm a bit like you, as well! 
What's your ideal location to visit?
I long to visit Greece. I’d like to do a tour of the oracle sites – Delphi, Baeae, Cumae, Lake Averno, Eleusis – and soak up the feel of ancient mystery. Or maybe just lie on a beach after dipping myself in the wine-dark sea. Growing up, my greatest desire was to visit Egypt and bury myself in antiquities, but I was very lucky to be taken there for a week about fifteen years ago. Trip of a lifetime!
Nancy: The closest I've ever got to mainland Greece,  so far, has been to Crete. Like you, I'd love to visit those you've mentioned. 
Do you have a favourite colour?
Purple. For clothes. For prose. What’s not to like?

Yvonne - Thank you  for a brilliant interview and I hope you like the 'purple-ish' font that I've used. *insert smiley face here *

Buy Yvonne's books from:

Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. Her first novel, 'The Calgary Chessman', was published in 2014 by Crooked Cat Publishing, Edinburgh.
She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, 'The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet', was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it's the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.
You can follow her work via the Facebook page and group The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the Wordpress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.

Nancy says: Yvonne - Your interview makes me want to head down to my cellar right now to find my reproduction Lewis chess set which was stored away from my granddaughter's sticky fingers last year!
Best wishes with all of your writing and thank you for visiting, Yvonne.



  1. ...a knockout interview... superb, m’Ladies :)

    1. Hello Nancy, thanks for conducting such an interesting interview. It was lovely to host you over on my blog as well. x Yvonne.


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