Tuesday 6th April means it's time to welcome my guest Yvonne Marjot, the Ocelot Press author of Book of the Month for April - The Calgary Chessman. Yvonne has very kindly allowed herself to be asked lots of lovely questions and she has some great tips for you whether you're a reader or writer, or both as many of us are!
Can you please tell my readers a little about yourself?
I was born in England, grew up in New Zealand (where I ran wild in the hills and forests behind our back garden) and eventually washed up on the Isle of Mull in Scotland as a lone parent with two tiny boys and a grown-up daughter who had already left home. Now my boys are both away to new lives on the mainland, and my daughter (and grandson) live just down the road from me. I’ve always loved to write, although it doesn’t pay the bills, and living in Scotland has proved to be an inspiration.
What inspired you to become a writer/author?
The first books I remember consciously imitating were the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson. Tove has a great grasp of character, and character has always been at the centre of my stories too. The grown-up book I most admire is Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, with three wonderful character arcs, and exemplary ecological science underlying her stories.
Nancy says: My elder daughter got a copy of Moomintroll when she was little and I loved reading it with her. After daughter 2 had had her fill, it ended up in my little classroom library that my pupils could access if they had completed their work. It's still upstairs and a very battered copy, indeed.
What is the best thing about being a writer/author?
Reading! Any excuse to read a good book. Honestly, I think every writer would tell you the same: we write because we love to read.
What is your writing routine like?
I run the public library, four afternoon/evenings a week and all day Saturdays.
I try to write in the mornings three days a week. During the pandemic I’ve
found it difficult to motivate myself to do any writing at all, though I’m
focusing on editing the Calgary Chessman series for republication (with Ocelot
How much time is spent on research?
Loads! If I’m stuck with the writing I can take a nice break by looking something up, or reading an author who’s written something similar. Because I try to get the history/archaeology right in my fiction I read a lot of non-fiction as well as indulging in fiction as much as possible.
Nancy says: I indulge myself too much with lovely engrossing research. It's so easy to find that time for writing slips away...
How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?
Almost none. I need to know my characters before I start, and I usually write (or at least plot) the climax/ending, so that I know what I’m writing to. Someone described my technique as ‘mosaic’ which is a very polite way of saying ‘all over the place’. Sometimes I have several important scenes written, and then have to patch them together. Plan? Synopsis? They come after the first draft.
What do you think is most important when writing a book?
The plot needs to make sense, the story arc needs to rise, climax, and resolve. But the really vital thing is character. I want my readers to believe in those people, to sign up to their lives and their beliefs, at least for the duration of the book. I like my characters to feel as though they are really speaking to you off the page.
Nancy says: Your characters really do speak directly to the reader, right from the beginning of the books.
is The Calgary Chessman about?
Archaeological mystery; Contemporary romance; Memoir of survival
Cas Longmore, a New Zealander recently divorced from her English husband, has ended up living in the family’s summer home on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. Life is tough but she’s loving her new independence. One day, walking on the beach at beautiful Calgary Bay, she discovers a mysterious object buried in the sand. Finding out what it is, and the people she meets through this discovery, go a long way to making her feel more connected with the world. In the meantime, her son Sam comes home from boarding school with a startling revelation of his own.
What inspired it?
Back in the mists of time (about twenty years ago) I watched a TV program about the British Museum’s top ten treasures. One of them was the Lewis Chessman. Later that night I had a nightmare about being chased by a faceless monster at Calgary Bay. I woke with the idea for a book, and the rest (eventually) was history.
What writing advice would you have given yourself when you started?
Do it for love. Be as organized, professional and hard-working as you can be, but ultimately do it because you love it and can’t imagine stopping. Isaac Asimov once said, “I write for the same reason I breathe: because if I stopped I would die.” And I really feel that’s true.
What writing advice would you give to an aspiring writer or a new author to the block?
Be prepared for many years in the wilderness. Most writers don’t make any money (or, at least, not enough to give up the day job) so you need to love this expensive and demanding hobby. Find your tribe: the people online who think like you, and will support and challenge you. Work hard. And love it.
Nancy says: All excellent advice, Yvonne!
What is your all-time favourite book and why?
Favourite book by a dead author: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which inspired me from childhood to this day. I reread it every year. Favourite by a living author: Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. This is the book I wish I’d written—lush and loving, and with impeccable background research credentials.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished a fab Space Opera published in 2020: Arkady Martine’s “A Memory Called Empire”. Not so much big space-ship battles and mayhem, more psychological warfare and strange human interactions. It’s set in The City (whose name also means “The World”): a vast urban complex run by an AI where a murder has just taken place. In some ways it reminds me of the best of Asimov – and in particular his detective Elijah Bailey, who took basic common sense and ‘earthman’ prejudices into an alien situation to solve a detective mystery.
What is on your To be read list?
I’m working my way through the ‘Falco’ series by Lindsey Davis, more hardboiled detective fiction set in the Roman Empire at the time of Vespasian. A favourite re-read.
Nancy says: I read some of Lyndsey's Falco books in the 1990s, when the first ones were fairly new and found them so refreshing. Books about Roman life that were humorous were such a novelty to me. Then I followed them with Andrew Wishart, again so entertaining. At the time I never imagined I would also write about Roman Britain but in quite a different style and tone.
Where can readers find you, Yvonne?.
Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living in the Inner Hebrides. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition. Her archaeological romances, beginning with The Calgary Chessman, are published with Ocelot Press, along with her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air.
She lives on the Isle of Mull where she is volunteering during the Covid19 pandemic, but normally runs the local public library. She has three grown-up children and a very naughty cat.
Thank you for a really great interview and some excellent tips. I'll have to get back to Mull and visit you after the pandemic. Mull is a favourite island of mine and even more so if we can meet up again, even for another quick visit. For my readers, here's a photo Yvonne has sent on of the two of us on the hillside a little bit above Mull when I made a short visit in 2015. I can't say exactly how much Yvonne has changed since then but I'm almost white with messy lock-down hair!