Friday, 20 April 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Louise Turner

Aye, ken it wis like this...

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!

Louise Turner
Hello Louise! It's fabulous to have you visit. Can you please tell us what inspired you to write about your chosen era?

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.

Nancy says: I think probably most historical authors don't consider what might sell. They just get on with writing the stories that are bursting to come forth

I was unemployed at the time, so for financial reasons I stuck close to home.  I live in the west of Scotland, 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.

The Collegiate Church of Castle Semple, Lochwinnoch,
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 Scotland, its 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, 1989).

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 reign Scotland.

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. 

Scotland during the late 15th century was as full of intrigue as Renaissance Florence or Tudor England.  It was also a time of change, which must have had a profound impact on those who lived through it. The role of the knight was eclipsed by the rise of artillery; government was increasingly the role of professional lawyers and notaries. Did this give a certain nostalgia to the chivalric past, embodied by the popularity of Malory’s Arthurian tales? Urban centres were becoming increasingly important, and literacy was becoming widespread, leading to a more robust legal system and, ultimately, challenges on the authority of the Church.  Despite having all this going for it, it’s a period which in Scotland remains ignored, because it just isn’t on the commercial radar. Which is a great shame, I think, because it has much to offer both readers and writers, and it should certainly be better appreciated by those interested in Scotland’s past.

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:
Amazon UK: 

Amazon US

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. 


1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for having me, Nancy - it was a pleasure!!!


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