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Shirley McKay Book and Novel

Shirley McKay - Author


Shirley McKay was born in Tynemouth but now lives with her family in Fife. At the age of fifteen she won the Young Observer playwriting competition, her play being performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. She went on to study English and Linguistics at the University of St Andrews before attending Durham University for postgraduate study in Romantic and seventeenth century prose. She was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger. Shirley works as a freelance proofreader.

Below is a Q&A with with the author.

1. Do you have a favourite character in the book? It has to be Hew, the hero of the series, though he can be exasperating at times. Meg and Giles too are perennial favourites. My books are quite heavily populated, and I enjoy the challenge of creating a panoply of new characters while developing old ones.

2. What was your inspiration to write this story? / Was there a particular moment of inspiration that pushed you to write this? Queen & Country is the fifth in the Hew Cullan series, and naturally evolves from the fourth book, Friend and Foe, which ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger. The inspiration for the series is the life and progress of the young King James VI, as he struggles to maturity, and this provides the context for the struggles in the books. Each book is framed, however obliquely, by a definitive historical event – in the case of Queen & Country, the death of Mary, queen of Scots.

3. What is your favourite scene or moment in the book? The final one. To say more would give the game away.

4. What inspired you to become a writer? Reading as a child. The lady in the children’s department of James Thin’s in the early 70s, who knew precisely the right book. Who could have forgotten her?

5. What keeps you motivated as a writer? Self-indulgence, really. The allure of imaginary friends.

6. What’s your favourite book, and why? I don’t have one. But I think Great Expectations has the most perfect plot.

7. Do you have a routine when you’re writing (i.e. silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?) I like to write at night, when I’m not disturbed.

8. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer? Write. There is no other way round it. And read, read, read.

9. How easy was it for you to find a publisher? I think there is a huge amount of luck in this. And I was very lucky, as it turned out. Polygon rejected Hue & Cry (the first book in the series) twice before accepting it, once it was revised. It would never have occurred to me that no need not mean no. But I have a persistent agent, to whom I am extremely grateful.

10. What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book? Finding words that say exactly what I want to say, in exactly the way I want to say it, where sound and sense pitch perfectly. This is comparatively rare.

11. Who are you generally writing for? One of three. [‘It is an ancient mariner, And he stoppeth one of three’]. On a good day, two of the three may be willing to stop.

12. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? A proofreader, as I am still. Not that you would believe it, if you saw my manuscripts.

13. What one thing would improve your life? Worrying less

14. Where would you like to be right now, anywhere in the world? At home, with my family.

15. Are any of your characters based on yourself or people you know? Not consciously. Some of my characters are based on historical figures, such as James VI. But as soon as they enter the world of the books, they are fictions.

16. If you could swap lives with one of your characters, who would you choose and why? I would not choose to live in the sixteenth century.

17. Have you ever regretted how you ended a story and wish you could change it? I find there is a point in each book – fairly late on – where the ending is fixed, and no other version will do. And once a book is published I feel quite detached from it. But because this is a series, when I fail to look ahead I sometimes write into a corner (or a cul-de-sac) which requires some ingenuity to extricate myself – or, more properly, Hew. I know that some readers were dismayed by the end of Friend & Foe, but it was setting up the stage for events in Queen & Country, where I hope at last all will be satisfied.

18. If you weren't a writer, what would your 'dream' occupation be? Something of worth to the world.

19. If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character? David Tennant, for Hew. For his emotional, human energy, and because he is a Scot.

20. Why are books important in your opinion? Because they hold inside them all that is human.

21. What are you reading right now? Sweet Caress, by William Boyd

22. Which authors do you particularly admire? Those who write human stories, which are also lyrical: Susan Hill, Kent Haruf. Character over plot.

23. If you had a superpower what would it be? Time travel. Is that a superpower? Because ‘what is now proved was once only imagined’.

Author photo © Peter Adamson

If you like Shirley McKay you might also like to read books by Shona MacLean, Cassandra Clark and Stuart Clark.

Featured Books, with extracts, by Shirley McKay

1588: A Calendar of Crime A Novel in Five Books by Shirley McKay
1588: A Calendar of Crime A Novel in Five Books
Shirley McKay
St Andrews in the 16th century is once again brought to captivating vibrant life. With allegations of ghosts, witches, the Spanish Armada and high jinks, the year 1588 is full of life… and death. If you adore the ‘Hew Cullan...
Format: Paperback - Released: 07/09/2017
1588: A Calendar of Crime A Novel in Five Books by Shirley McKay
1588: A Calendar of Crime A Novel in Five Books
Shirley McKay
December 2016 Book of the Month. St Andrews in the 16th century is once again brought to captivating vibrant life. With allegations of ghosts, witches, the Spanish Armada and high jinks, the year 1588 is full...
Format: Hardback - Released: 10/11/2016
Queen & Country A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Queen & Country A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
Another wonderfully readable mystery plunging you into the final years of Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots. This is the fifth in the ‘Hew Cullan Mystery’ series, beginning in 1586, it backtracks to the end of Friend and Foe before settling...
Format: Paperback - Released: 14/04/2016
Candlemas by Shirley McKay
Candlemas
Shirley McKay
On Candlemas eve an apprentice candle maker finds his master, John Blair dead in his workshop, and the evidence points to the surgeon Sam Sturrock. Enlisted by Sturrock's desperate apprentice, Hew Cullen, together with his friend and physician Giles Locke,...
Format: eBook - Released: 01/01/1970
Queen & Country A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Queen & Country A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
September 2015 eBook of the Month. Another wonderfully readable mystery plunging you into the final years of Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots. This is the fifth in the ‘Hew Cullan Mystery’ series,...
Format: Paperback - Released: 07/09/2015
Friend & Foe A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Friend & Foe A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
The fourth in the ‘Hew Cullan Mystery’ series spins a crooked web of devious plotting and deceit. It comes as no surprise to discover the author studied linguistics at the University of St Andrews, as a lot of love, care...
Format: Paperback - Released: 26/01/2015
Friend & Foe A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Friend & Foe A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
The fourth in the ‘Hew Cullan Mystery’ series spins a crooked web of devious plotting and deceit. It comes as no surprise to discover the author studied linguistics at the University of St Andrews, as a lot of love, care...
Format: Paperback - Released: 06/05/2014
Time & Tide : A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Time & Tide : A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
The adventures of Hew Cullan, the young 16th century lawyer continue in this 3rd instalment. A shipwreck in St Andrews leads Hew to Ghent where the discovery of a strange secret tests his principles to the limit. Perfect for fans...
Format: Paperback - Released: 05/03/2012
Time & Tide : A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Time & Tide : A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
The adventures of Hew Cullan, the young 16th century lawyer continue in this 3rd instalment. A shipwreck in St Andrews leads Hew to Ghent where the discovery of a strange secret tests his principles to the limit. Perfect for fans...
Format: Paperback - Released: 17/05/2011
Fate & Fortune : A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Fate & Fortune : A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
We loved the debut adventure Hue and Cry and the follow up is equally good. This time we find Hew Cullan the young 16th century lawyer disillusioned with the law but a move to Edinburgh turns things around when...
Format: Paperback - Released: 18/04/2011
Fate and Fortune: A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Fate and Fortune: A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
The second Hew Cullan mystery finds the young lawyer feeling disillusioned with the law but a move to Edinburgh turns things around when love and murder both cross his path. An appealing new historical crime series with an intriguing lead...
Format: Paperback - Released: 01/06/2010
Hue and Cry : A Hew Cullan Mystery by Shirley McKay
Hue and Cry : A Hew Cullan Mystery
Shirley McKay
For fans of Ellis Peters and C J Sansom we think we have found a new historical detective to follow, Hew Cullan a newly qualified 16th century lawyer. The opening chapters of Hue and Cry were shortlisted for...
Format: Paperback - Released: 22/04/2010

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Author Info

Author's Website

shirleymckay.co.uk/
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