My Friday series continues, where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm delighted to welcome another new guest, Louise Turner. She has yet another time period for us to enjoy today, and she's sent an excellent post and some great images to share with us.
Louise's path to writing is one that I find really interesting and, for me, is a prime example of the fact that authors all have different stories to tell about their writing journeys, and what might have come before publication- but I'll let Louise tell all!
I stumbled across the late 15th century quite by accident. My interest in creative writing led me to study Archaeology at university, because I thought it might give me ideas and inspiration. I then became a professional archaeologist,, but perhaps it was inevitable that eventually I’d try my hand at historical fiction.
But – what should be the subject matter? Perhaps I should have checked out what was selling commercially before putting pen to paper, but that never even occurred to me. I wanted a story. A good story.
I was unemployed at the time, so for financial reasons I stuck close to home. I live in the west of
where everyone knows the Wars of Independence and Robert Burns. The stuff in
between is pretty much ignored. But
there are some impressive historic buildings and monuments round here which
really should be better known, so I used them as my inspiration and decided to
look into the stories behind them.
Founded by John 1st Lord Sempill in 1504
Courtesy of Louise Turner
It was while reading a local history book about Lochwinnoch (the Renfrewshire village where I now live) that I came across John, 1st Lord Sempill. He featured just briefly, but piqued my interest. His father, Sir Thomas Sempill, was Sheriff of Renfrew, and he died defending King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn in June 1488. James III was murdered that night, and succeeded by his eldest son, James IV, who fought against his father.
John Sempill took up his inheritance during the regime change, and in the worst possible circumstances, but managed to become a peer just a few years later. How on earth had he engineered this transformation in fortunes?
Answering that question meant researching late medieval
important historical events, its principal characters. Thankfully, there were
some masterly works available which put the 1st Lord Sempill’s life into
context, in particular Norman MacDougall’s book James IV (Tuckwell Press,
Slotting everything into place, I learned that Sempill was a remarkable man. His was a very minor role, but seen against the broader political landscape, his actions are way ahead of their time. Late medieval
Scotland was notorious for its
feuding, where escalating tit-for-tat reprisals play out in response to insults
or offences, real or imagined, between groups or familties. The west of Scotland in Sempill’s time was
typical in this respect: it saw the germination of a particularly vicious feud
between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames which culminated in the murder of
the 4th Earl of Eglinton more than a century later. There’s no mystery behind these feuds: they
are symptomatic of a society which has absolutely no faith in the ability of
the official legal system to settle grievances fairly. In the case of the
Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, the Cunninghames used the minority of the
future-1st Earl of Eglinton to obtain certain lucrative offices which had
previously passed through marriage to the Montgomeries. By the time the future
1st Earl reached maturity, the Cunninghames were hand in glove with James III;
naturally, the future 1st Earl threw in his lot with James IV, who went on to
As the Montgomeries victimised the defeated Cunninghames, so the Sempills found themselves under attack by another local family: the Darnley Stewarts. Historic documents tell of burnings, hardship and destruction on Sempill’s familiars and tenants, and on Sempill himself, during the winter of 1488-9. Sempill could have fought back. Instead, he acted with great forbearance, negotiating his way back into a secure position and eventually getting rewarded with the return of his hereditary sheriff’s office and a Lordship. His actions arguably had implications at a national level. All over
Scotland, those who’d seen defeat
at Sauchieburn were making life difficult for James IV and his government. We always think of James IV as the
accomplished, secure Renaissance Prince, who led Scotland
onwards to great things until his premature demise at Flodden
in 1513. But at this stage in his reign, his coat was – as the popular saying
goes – on a very shoogly peg indeed. His
support of Sempill came at a crucial time: by defending him with the full force
of the law the unrest was contained, in time allowing James to become
established on his throne and to engage in the cultural achievements he should
be remembered for.
|Linlithgow Palace, |
A Favourite Residence of James IV-
Courtesy of Louise Turner
Historians can only follow the evidence so far. But inference is rich fare to the historical novelist: when I was writing my novels, the lack of historical evidence was in a way liberating, because it meant that inference played a major role. Inference must be reinforced with facts, and so I read copious works which chronicled the allegiances and notable exploits of all the various local families during this time. So far, I’ve found enough source material for two books: Fire & Sword deals with the winter of 1488-9 and how John Sempill negotiated his way back from the brink of annihilation, while The Gryphon at Bay explores the Montgomerie-Cunninghame feud and the murder of the Lord Kilmaurs by Hugh, Lord Montgomerie in 1489.
Nancy says: I so agree that many aspects of Scottish history have largely been ignored in the past. However, I'm now delighted to say that there is a growing interest in making more of it available to the general public via fiction, but also in non-fiction publications.
A little about Louise Turner
Born in Glasgow, Louise Turner spent her early years in Scotland where she attended Greenock Academy and later, the University of Glasgow. After graduating with MA (Hons) in Archaeology, she went to complete a Ph.D. in the Bronze Age metalwork hoards of Essex and Kent. She has since enjoyed a varied career in archaeology and cultural resource management. Writing has always been a major aspect of her life and at a young age she won the Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition with her short story Busman’s Holiday. Her second novel, The Gryphon at Bay, which follows on from the events described in her first novel Fire & Sword, is set in late 15th century Scotland and was published by Hadley Rille Books in March 2017.
You can buy Louise's ebook version from:
Find louise at the following places:
Thank you for contributing to my series, Louise, and for sending along such a very good post. I've recently read a little about the Cunninghames, and the Montgomeries, but there's always so much more to learn about that era. Best wishes with all of your current and future writing projects.