Her debut novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013.
If you had to give an elevator pitch for your debut novel Sealskin, what would it be?
What happens when magic and reality collide?
Where did the inspiration come from to rework the story of the Scottish legend about selkies?
I’ve always loved this story. As a young woman I identified with the seal girl, losing her whole world and forced to marry a human. Later, I began to wonder about the fisherman, and how it was for him. Legends often have some grit in them, something that doesn’t quite add up, and there are pearls to be found if you look closely.
The story is set in the Hebrides, had you visited the island before you wrote your story? If not, how did you go about researching life on this remote Scottish island?
Yes, I’d been there a few times, read books – fiction and non-fiction – about the area, and watched BBC Alba whenever I wanted to hear Gaelic spoken and see some Hebridean scenery!
How did it feel to hear that Sealskin was nominated, and then won, the Exeter Novel Prize in 2013?
Very wonderful! It was an affirmation that someone other than my friends and writing companions thought it was worth reading, and that I could write well.
You've previously written and published two books on herbal medicine, how different did you find the writing/editing process writing a fiction novel rather than non-fiction?
Non-fiction is easier in some ways. The material is there; you just have to get it into shape. With fiction, you’re spinning it out of your own substance, so to speak. For me it was a slow process, though it doesn’t always have to be. Thank goodness!
Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate your publishing deal with Orenda Books?
Supper out with some good friends.
Finally what can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a novel which explores our relationship with fairies and with glamour. Not gauze-winged fairies, but the sort who plague lonely travellers and hardworking farmers, who steal things (and sometimes people), and who give gifts that are never quite what they seem…
Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous ...and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives - not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?
Based on the legend of the selkies - seals who can transform into people - Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice.