The Highwayman's Curse Interview
Was it always part of the plan to write a sequel to The Highwayman's Footsteps? Is there more to come?
I had a contract for the two books from the start, but I don't know about a third. It's lovely that so many people have said there MUST be, but it will depend on how well the first two do. This is a not very subtle way of saying, "BUY THE BOOK." I think a third would be a real challenge. I have some ideas but I honestly don't know if I'm up to it.
Although the story is told through Will's eyes, it is really the story of the family, and their struggle against Old Maggie's curse and Douglas Murdoch.
I think there are lots of elements to the story and I've found that interviewers fix on different aspects as being the most important. For me it is the story of Will and his enlightenment. But it also represents the forthcoming Enlightenment itself. At the same time it shows how very very far from real enlightenment we still are today, in the sense that religious bigotry and hatred have not disappeared along with superstition. It is the story of a boy and girl growing up alongside adults who haven't.
In the Highwayman's Footsteps, Bess was the strong, independent girl. Why do you think she was the one most drawn into the idea of staying with the family, working on the land?
I think at first she was tired, broken by the traumas of recent months and the loss of her house and possessions. But also she sees (mistakenly) some kind of honour in the way these people hold onto their hatred. She is like them in that respect because she has held onto her hatred of the redcoats for their part in the brutal deaths of her parents. By the end of the book, she has grown too, though she leaves it quite late!
The descriptions of the smuggling and the caves are very vivid. Have you visited caves like these yourself?
No and I have absolutely no intention of ever doing so! Luckily, I have an imagination.
When did you first hear about the stories of the Wigtown Martyrs?
I think I vaguely knew the story ages ago but I'd forgotten, so it was while researching the book that I quickly realised that here was a story far more interesting and horrible than the smuggling one I had planned to tell.
Some of the most powerful moments for me were the quiet times between the action, describing the grinding poverty in which the family live. How important was it to you to get this right?
Very, for my own sake apart from anything else. If I can't actually and almost physically feel the horror, I can't write about it. I can make myself cold and frightened and dismal by imagining it all in tiny detail - then I don't need to write all the details because I hope it will come out in the emotion of the scene. If I can't feel, I can't write. As you can imagine, it's not a terribly pleasant experience, but luckily I had my cosy house to come back to after some imaginary ordeal in 18th century ordure
How do you strike a balance with the Scots language used in the book? There's a particular contrast with the use of Scots and Will's very formal English, but I don't think that is central to the book.
Working out how to deal with the Scots/English language was incredibly difficult, and I am sure I haven't got it right. You would not believe the angst I went through. Some of the characters should be more Scottish, but it just wouldn't have worked for many readers, so I had to compromise. Actually, reaction seems to have been pretty sympathetic to this aspect so far, though I'm just waiting for someone to tell me I failed.
There's murder, drowning, trepanning... Do you have more gruesome ways to torture your characters at the back of your mind?
Is that a challenge?? Yes, I have barely started. And you forgot the leeches, hanging, snakes, suffocation ...
The historical background to the religious wars between the Covenanters and Episcopalians is quite complex, and one of the things I liked about the book was that not all of the issues were resolved. Even at the end, it's hard to say whether the 'curse' will really have been lifted.
Yes, it would not have been right to resolve everything. After all, here we are more than 300 years after those particular Killing Times ended, and the world hasn't stopped lurching from one religious conflict to another. We haven't learnt our lessons, and "forgiveness", that virtue so often claimed by religious people as their own, has been conspicuously absent in their behaviour. The curse is the curse of hatred, superstition, arrogance and ignorance. It hasn't gone away in reality so I can't make it go away in fiction. Will and Bess have done all they reasonably can and maybe made a difference to that particular family. Will their lessons be remembered? I like to think so. But then, I make things up for a living ...
- Add to BasketThe Highwayman's Curse - Paperback
On the run from the redcoats, the two young highwaymen, Will and Bess, find themselves in Galloway, Scotland, blamed for a murder they did not commit. Here they are captured by smugglers and become embroiled in a story of hatred and revenge that goes back for generations, to the days of the Killing Times.