Hello Ailsa, thanks for inviting me to Bingergread Cottage. I probably have French ancestors, and I’m ashamed to admit this is my first visit to France.
I like to drink ginger beer, or a cold beer on a hot afternoon. If it’s a dreich day I’ll maybe ask for coffee (milk, no sugar). Any kind of home-made cake, or a bit of the local cheese or other specialities would be lovely. I’ll bring you a box of the local Island Bakery biscuits – some chocolate gingers, or lemon shortbread dipped in white chocolate.
It’s a bit nippy so here’s a frothy milky coffee and oooooooooo I love the bikkies!
If you like I’ll bring my cat, Jareth, who has a pet passport because he was originally a Romanian street orphan. He’s a long, skinny grey tabby with white and ginger patches, very vocal, more like a dog than a cat in many ways – he will happily roll over to have his tummy stroked. Bonkers. Was fostered with dogs and cats so pretty laid back about either. He and his sister (Salka) are also well known locally for letting themselves into other people’s houses to eat anything that’s not locked down. She once brought home a Yorkshire pud that was still hot.
I’m sure he and Piston will get on fine. Our lad isn’t sure if he is a dog or a human either. I’m sure he’ll enjoy the magic carpet ride too.
I write under my own name. I’m proud to own my books, and my name’s pretty unusual so it was an easy choice. So far I’ve had four novels published with Crooked Cat (the latest one, The Ashentilly Letters, is due out on 18th Nov 2016), and a book of poetry by Indigo Dreams Publishing. The first work I ever had published was a poem. In 1996 I entered the New Zealand Listener weekly poetry competition with a poem based on the line How Lovely to Have New Soup Spoons – and won a case of port..
I’ve made up stories and poems all my life – my mum used to complain that I couldn’t tell fact from fantasy. I eventually worked out that if I set my stories in fictional worlds then I wouldn’t get into so much trouble. I started writing The Calgary Chessman in 2001, but for years I carried on being the wannabe author with a half-finished manuscript under the bed (I’d been one of those since I was fifteen). One day in 2009 or so I had an idea for a sequel. So that forced me to get off my backside and actually finish the first book. Then of course came the process of trying to get published, and I experimented with self-publication, but in 2014 I was lucky enough to be offered a contract by Crooked Cat and I haven’t looked back since!
I have two great hopes as a writer. One is that I’ll become successful enough to make up for the fact that spending years as a wife/mother and a lone parent means I won’t have a pension. It would be even better if I could help my sons not have too large a debt when they finish university. But the real reason I write, and am never going to stop, is that I love to share my stories with my readers. I love to hear from them, on my social media sites (especially if they have something useful to tell me – don’t be afraid to point out any grammatical or continuity errors). The joy of e-books is that reading is more accessible than it’s ever been. Don’t get me wrong – I love a paper book – but about two thirds of my >1000 books collection is on my e-reader, and I couldn’t ever afford a house big enough for all those books!
For the last 15 years I’ve lived on a Scottish island – the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. It’s a beautiful place, and often turns up in my stories. The Calgary Chessman series is partly set here, beginning on the windswept beach of Calgary Bay. (My other home is in New Zealand – I grew up there, and it’s still my spiritual sanctuary.) I’m one boy away from becoming a crazy cat lady – although my kids would tell you I’m already there – just think of all the extra writing I’ll be able to do once the nest is empty!)
A good writing day for me involves getting up in the morning to feed the cats and go for a quick walk. Then I’ll sit down at the computer and start pounding out words (or eking them out if inspiration is struggling). At noon I walk down the hill to the bay, to buy my morning paper (papers don’t arrive until midday because they have to be driven up from Glasgow and then put on the mid-morning ferry). After a latte and a chat with friends (or a bit of Sudoku if I’m on my own) it’s back up the hill to spend some of time with my kids, if they can fit me into their busy lives. If the weather’s not too bad I go for an early evening run, and after tea it’s back online for some Facebooking and Tweeting. With friends all over the world, I find the internet a great way to keep in touch.
There’s an alternative perfect day – much rarer – which involves getting up at the crack of dawn, driving for an hour, and then walking for 2½ hours, to get to the summit of Ben More, smallest of Scotland’s Munros (mountains over 3000 feet). Autumn and spring are the best times to climb, as there aren’t any midges (you wouldn’t believe how many of them lurk on the summit during the summer). I haven’t managed to climb it in the winter yet. From the top you have a 360o eagle’s eye panorama from the Western Isles to Skye and Ardnamurchan, Ben Nevis and the mountains of the mainland, the paps of Jura and right round to Iona, Tiree and Coll. Or if the cloud ceiling is low you’ll see a lot of stones, and perhaps a couple of quizzical ptarmigan wandering past. There’s no finer place to be than the top of a mountain.
I do have a day job – for years I worked in the office of my local school, because I couldn’t work during school holidays, but now my boys are older I’ve been able to manage full-time work. At the beginning of December I’ll take on a new role, as Library-Assistant-in-Charge of our new community/school library. During part of the week I will work with school children from all over the island, and evenings and Saturdays the library will be open to the public. It’s a new venture, and I can’t wait to get started and really make a difference.
I have a great passion for the natural world (not just mountains) and I did my degree in Botany, studying a native forest reserve in New Zealand. I never stop learning – I love the research part of preparing a new novel – and recently I did an online course on forensic anthropology. I’d love to go back to university and take a course in Archaeology (instead of just writing about it) but it’s probably not going to happen. There’s not enough time in the day for all the commitments I already have!
Some unexpected extras
As a person who doesn’t pin herself to a particular spot on the gender continuum, and having had a number of friends who have followed difficult or challenging pathways through life, as well as those whose ethnic identities come from all around the world, I am always aware of the breadth of the human condition. Every book I write has characters who challenge the norm. Readers may not always know – sometimes the story remains untold, and the character simply interacts with my protagonists in some unremarkable way. After all that’s how it is in real life (that’s not to say minor characters won’t turn up in their own story sometime in the future, and some of my major characters have life paths that are only too visible) – but I always know.
I once fell down a forty-foot cliff, during a nightime tramping expedition in New Zealand. I lost all the skin on the fronts of my thighs, and shattered my rucksack by falling on it, but suffered no worse injury. On the same weekend, one of my friends went skating, slipped on the ice, and ended up with three pins in her elbow. Don’t let anyone tell you mountaineering is dangerous. So is crossing the road.
Although I was born in England, when I was ten my parents emigrated to New Zealand aboard a small and overcrowded passenger boat run by a Greek crew who mostly spoke no English. There were so many children aboard for the six-week voyage that some passengers set up a ‘school’ at which I learned a number of useful skills including judo, the structure of the limerick, and how to work out what change you have in your pocket without pulling the coins out to look at them. I wandered the ship alone at all hours, hanging over the side to watch phosphorescence and flying fish, had a brief but life-changing brush with the apartheid regime in South Africa – and experienced my first kiss. Don’t tell my parents!
The midges of Ben More
Oh the nastiest of midges are the midges of Ben More.
They lurk on the summit waiting for a bite,
and when the weather’s hot and the breeze is barely light,
they feast on weary climbers by the score.
Now the views you get from climbing are the just and fair reward,
for hauling your carcass up the endless height,
but for every golden eagle, and every gorgeous sight,
a cloud of midges tries to get on board.
My back is to the mountain now, and the shimmering slopes of scree.
A cool and soothing drink is on my mind,
but my face is red and lumpy: though I left the midge behind,
I’m already scratching its itchy legacy.
I should be filled with pride because I’ve climbed my first Munro,
but the only score I’m counting is: midges thirty, climber zero.
Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get news of upcoming books, and Crooked Cat is a great way to find out about great writing by a whole range of authors.
Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. 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 (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). Her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and her novels are published by Crooked Cat.
You can follow her work via the Facebook page The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the WordPress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.