Today is the turn of another Creativia author and Dundee Book Prize winner, Malcolm Archibald, to answer 20 of my questions. Check out the many books that Malcolm has written by clicking on his Amazon author page here:
1. Which of the many jobs you have done did you like the most?
Most jobs have highs and lows. I was a rural postman in the Scottish Borders for years and I miss watching the world wake up, watching the sun slowly rise over the valley of the Tweed and visiting the out-of-the-way farms and cottages that virtually nobody ever sees. Delivering to hill farms above the cloud base was fun; watching children’s faces when they receive Christmas presents made the long hours worthwhile. In saying that, working as a historical researcher had the thrill of finding material that had not been read for decades or centuries, piecing together a jig-saw of facts to reach a new conclusion [and always finding new material for a book in the bye-going] was endlessly fascinating, while lecturing had many ups. When one had a student who thought he or she could not do something, there was no greater pleasure than in helping them break the barrier so they realised they had a good brain there, despite what others had told them. That was perhaps the greatest pleasure of them all.
2. You write mainly historical fiction and non-fiction. Do you carry out all your research before you begin to write, or do you research as you go along?
Mixed! I always start with an amount of general knowledge about the subject, but as characters and scenes develop there is always a need to research more, looking for details. For instance in ‘The Darkest Walk’ I had to delve into the type of train that Queen Victoria travelled in, and the layout of a Chartist village, and in ‘Our Land of Palestine’ there was a need to find out about Jerusalem in 1915 and the organisation of the local Ottoman army. The only danger about that [danger is not the right word] is that research becomes an end in itself.
3. Which period in history interests you the most? Would you have liked to live in that time?
The nineteenth century, undoubtedly. There was so much happening there, so many changes; the world opened up, conditions improved for so many people, there was opportunity to move, to see new things, to experience mechanical and transport innovations, geographical discoveries, to sail on clipper ships and the first steam vessels, to see the development of steam trains and still ride a stage coach, to see the world opening up and hear about, or travel to, new places with exotic people. This century seems so dull with its push-button living and a monoculture that seems to embrace everybody.
4. Did it bother you being a mature student amongst teenagers when studying for a history degree?
A wee bit. I felt a bit out of place but there were major advantages: compared to working 50 or 60 hour weeks in the Post a student’s life was easy [although I was working part time as well] and having free access to the amazing university library and other resources was breath-taking. The lecturers treated me just like another student – and there were other mature students there. I had a gentleman of 80 in one of my classes; he bicycled to the university and back, got his degree and enrolled for another afterward. The last I heard he had collected four honours degrees in subjects as diverse as history, computing and town planning.
5. You won the Dundee Book Prize with Whales for the Wizard. What is this story about?
‘Whales’ is a novel set in Dundee in 1860, when the Dundee whaling industry was on the cusp of a revival with the use of steam powered whaling ships. It is based partly on truth, the story of a whaling ship that vanished in the Arctic but was discovered intact, hundreds of miles from where it disappeared. Of course I made it into a murder-mystery story to add spice.
6. Did any literary agents contact you after you won the Dundee Book Prize?
I am afraid not! Still hopeful. . .
7. Are any of your novels partly autobiographical?
I have little bits of me in some of them, yes. My Victorian detective, James Mendick, shares some life experiences with me in ‘The Darkest Walk’, while young Mathew Pryde in ‘Pryde’s Rock’ echoes part of my early life. However I am saying no more than that!
8. What made you choose Creativia publishers for your latest novel Windrush?
Word of mouth! I heard a lot of good things about Creativia. I heard they were fast, efficient, created excellent covers and had a good track record of sales. So far all I have heard has proven to be correct.
9. If you were alive in 2110 and had carried out historical research for a novel, how would you go on to describe the decade from 2006 - 2016?
It is too early yet to understand this past decade. We will have to wait and see what transpires; things that seem important today may only be a passing phase, while things that seem insignificant may escalate to become major troubles or quite the reverse. To me, it seems that the rise [or rather resurgence] or radical Islam is the most important thing, but combine that with the growing power of China and the recovery of Russia and it points to a whole raft of interesting scenarios. The USA having its first black President could be of monumental importance in the future, and the massive immigration into Europe could alter the demography of that continent for centuries: or the tide could turn and many could return home to the Middle East. In my own country, Scotland had a close vote for independence that could yet happen as the people are discontented with the present political set up within the UK.
10. What are you working on at the moment?
I have a number of on-going projects. I am working on the second in the Windrush series for Creativia, I am waiting for Fledgling Press to publish the next Mendick detective novel, I am waiting for Fort Publishing to publish a non-fiction book about Dundee I wrote last year, I am working on a piece of non-fiction on Midlothian crime and I am writing the last in a series of historical articles for a Scottish-American magazine.
11. What type of articles do you write for newspapers (I wrote one about 10 years ago, but The Daily Mail told me it was too controversial to be published!)?
Too controversial? That sounds like fun! What was it about – you have me intrigued! I write historical pieces, usually the slants of history that the mainstream history books do not speak of. Local history rather than the big things.
12. What’s the best day you’ve ever had as a lecturer?
No single day. My best experiences were when I saw the look of joy on a student’s face when they grasp something they believe was beyond them, or realise that Further Education is nothing like school and they matter, they are valued and the lecturers actively want them to succeed. I had one class in Dundee that sticks in my mind; they were all nurses and there were tears when we parted – not all from the students. It is possible to create a strong bond with a class; that makes it all worthwhile.
13. What book are you reading at the moment?
One that my son gave me: Lincoln Paine’s ‘The Sea and Civilization’, and one my younger daughter gave me: ‘The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean’ by David Abulafia – do you see a common thread there? In his next case, Mendick is at sea, while the next Windrush book is based partly in Malta and partly in the Crimea.
14. How do you market your books?
Badly. I am terrible at that. I have no major problems in writing books; that is what I do but my marketing skills are poor.
15. When you go hill walking, does it clear your mind, or are you thinking about the folklore and mythology associated with that area?
Both. The rhythm of walking, combined with the beauty and peace of the hills, the constant possibility of seeing wildlife and the always-changing weather [this is Scotland after all] chases away the normal worries of life, but there is amazing depth in the hills. Every animal and bird has its own fund of folklore [I wrote a short book about that once], every plant and tree had a use and a story and up here there is nowhere without a fund of legend and myth. We live in the shadow of a thirteenth century abbey that was burned by the notorious Wolf of Badenoch [see my Creativia published ‘Shadow of the Wolf’], with Pictish symbols stones, battlefields and fishing villages only a few miles away. There are tales of witches and covenanters, great floods and droughts, clan feuds and stage-coach crashes. . . there are so many layers of history and so many interwoven stories that one is never short of material.
16. After your youngest daughter moves out next week, how will you cope with an empty nest?
Oh – sad question. She has been gradually moving away as she has been at university for years – she obtained her Honours at St Andrews last year and is now completing her Masters in Dundee. Guess who is the proud dad? She used to come home for the summer and Cathy – my wife – was always emotional when she returned back south. Now she is moving into a permanent flat – and quite right of course- there is a feeling of good-bye. Cathy and I have been married upward of 35 years and always had children, so this is a massive change.
17. What’s number one on your bucket list?
That has never changed: my top priority is to keep Cathy happy. That is ongoing and will never change.
18. Can you sing in harmony or play a musical instrument?
Ha ha ha! When I had a rowdy class I always threatened to sing to them. One minute of my out-of-tune croaking and they were quiet as a spring night. I am the most tuneless singer the world has ever seen. When I try to sing at home the wife-woman puts me out of the room.
19. Did you take part in the Millennium celebrations in Edinburgh?
I was sick with the flu that night which spoiled things for the rest of the family. A pity: millenniums don’t come around very often and I may be a little old to enjoy the next.
20. Does it bother you to be in the middle of a crowd of people, or do you prefer to be on the outside looking in?
That depends on my mood, really. When I was younger I was an avid football fan [Edinburgh Hibernian in case anybody is interested – so I am used to disappointments!] so was happy in the midst of a raucous crowd. People and observing people, are tools of the writer. However I am a quiet living man so am probably happier outside looking in.
Thanks Malcolm for your brilliant answers!