Shirley McKay - Author

About the 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

Featured books by Shirley McKay

Candlemas

Candlemas

Author: Shirley McKay Format: eBook Release Date: 19/02/2016

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, finds himself drawn into the investigation to uncover the truth of the matter. At first it seems like Blair's death is the result of reckless surgical practice, but as Hew delves deeper into the life of the candle maker he discovers a web of extortion and deceit. John Blair was a man with many enemies . . .

Other books by Shirley McKay

Yule

Yule

Author: Shirley McKay Format: eBook Release Date: 25/12/2016

Yule is the fifth instalment of 1588: A Calendar of Crime, a collection of short stories published in step with the sixteenth century calendar.Despite prohibitions on celebrating Yule, the old traditions still persist among the tenant farmers on Hew's estate at Kenly Green. Hew defends a tenant against both Kirk and Crown when a violent accident befalls an unwelcome guest who has turned up uninvited to the feast.

Martinmas

Martinmas

Author: Shirley McKay Format: eBook Release Date: 08/11/2016

Martinmas is the fourth instalment of 1588: A Calendar of Crime, a collection of short stories published in step with the sixteenth century calendar.In St Salvator's college at the start of the academic year a young student claims that he has seen the ghost of a Spanish soldier. Giles and Hew dismiss this as the fevered product of a wild imagination; the students are unsettled by a spate of violent storms, and fears of the apocalypse readily resurge. In the close confines of college, they can be contained. But when a merchant dies, on the feast of St Martin known as 'killing time', with the words 'dead Spaniard' the last upon his lips, the terror of the students spills out to the streets, and Hew is called upon to rid the town of ghosts.

Lammas

Lammas

Author: Shirley McKay Format: eBook Release Date: 04/08/2016

Lammas is the third instalment of 1588: A Calendar of Crime, a collection of short stories published in step with the sixteenth century calendar.Lammas day, a day of celebration for some.Elspet, a serving girl at the harbour inn has been told for years by the inn's owner, Walter Bone, that she is ugly and that no man will ever want her. Then, after years of being shut away from the world she unexpectedly catches the attention of a young labourer and realises she has been lied to all these years. She meets her lover in secret at the Lammas day fair, but her dalliances do not go unnoticed . . .Hew Cullan finds himself retained by a man with a mind for murder. Walter Bone makes clear his intent to kill Elspet's lover, and seeks Hew's help to ensure his will is upheld when he is inevitably hanged for the act. But his jealousy has unexpected consequences. When Elspet disappears without a trace several innocent fair-goers and patrons are dragged into a web of suspicion, rumour and accusation. It falls to Hew to unravel the twisted threads and figure out the truth of the matter.

Whitsunday

Whitsunday

Author: Shirley McKay Format: eBook Release Date: 20/05/2016

Whitsunday is the second instalment of 1588: A Calendar of Crime, a collection of short stories published in step with the sixteenth century calendar. When a Lord Justice is found dead within the grounds of St Leonard's College an unfortunate group of students and teachers take it upon themselves to dispose of the body. However, when the supposed corpse vanishes from its hiding place it quickly becomes apparent that not all is as it seems at the College. Rumours of corruption, blackmail, murder and witchcraft begin to circulate as an invisible power struggle between rival colleges and a group of commissioners unfolds in St Andrews.Before long, Hew Cullan and Giles Locke are reluctantly dragged into the ensuing melee of investigation and accusation. Hew must not only protect an innocent man accused of murder, but also salvage the teetering reputation of a respected commissioner.

Candlemas

Candlemas

Author: Shirley McKay Format: eBook Release Date: 19/02/2016

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, finds himself drawn into the investigation to uncover the truth of the matter. At first it seems like Blair's death is the result of reckless surgical practice, but as Hew delves deeper into the life of the candle maker he discovers a web of extortion and deceit. John Blair was a man with many enemies . . .

The Wee Book of Fife

The Wee Book of Fife

Author: Shirley McKay Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/09/2004

If the Kingdom of Fife only offered the photographer picturesque old fishing villages like Elie, St Monance, Pitenweem, Anstruther and Crail, it would be sheer paradise - but there's so much more to it than that. There's the historic town of Dunfermline with its magnificent Abbey - the site of Robert the Bruce's burial. Formerly Scotland's capital and the place where the king in Sir Patrick Spens's poem famously drank the 'bluid-red wine', Dunfermline is the birthplace of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and has one of Britain's most beautiful public parks - Pittencrief Park. Situated a few miles south-west of Dunfermline is Culross. Here, amongst the narrow cobbled streets and the houses with their crow-stepped roofs and distinctive pan-tiles, you'll find yourself transported back to the sixteenth century. To the east is Fife's most industrial town, Kirkcaldy, and further round the coast is St Andrews, the home of golf. Scotland's oldest university, currently the place of study for a certain William Windsor, was founded here in 1413. And the beaches at St Andrews and Burntisland are justly recognised as two of Scotland's top beaches. So, whether you live here or are just passing through, The Wee Book of Fife is the perfect memento of a unique area.

Author Info

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http://shirleymckay.co.uk/

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