One of the first books I read this year, I’m so excited to be closing out the blog tour for the brilliant Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayers. My review will be live on the blog later today, but for now please enjoy this guest post by Ross about some of the inspirations behind the novel.
‘Mary’s the Name’ took quite a while to write. This is because each element of the story came to me slowly, over several months. Firstly, there was…
Mary Sutherland, I owe it all to her! I wrote a piece for my creative writing class about a wee girl going to the bookies with her granpa, and I knew then she deserved a bigger story. Her voice felt fresh to me, perhaps because it was my first time writing from a female point of view.
Granpa was next. I wanted to explore a grandfather/granddaughter relationship, but what kind of relationship would they have? They say ‘write what you know’, so I made their relationship similar to that of my family: Granpa always teasing Mary (and Mary being able to hold her own!). They’re relatives, but they’re also best friends. What friends don’t make fun of each other? Granpa uses more Scottish dialect than Mary, but he’s definitely rubbed off on her.
(I’m not going to say too much here. You wouldn’t want me spoiling the book, would you?) So, Mary goes with Granpa to help him at the bookies, where he works. Good start, but what happens next? How about Granpa’s been up to no good, and he needs to escape Stirling? Great, but where could he run away to?
I needed somewhere remote, where Mary and Granpa could hide, but somewhere with enough potential for Mary to explore and meet new people. Where did I turn? To Google of course, and a search for: ‘best Scottish islands’. I had a browse through a few, but when I saw the harbour houses in Portree, I knew it had to be there. Mary would love those houses, and particularly the pink one. It also made a good excuse for a trip to Portree!
When I submitted the book to Cranachan, there was pretty much no Scottish dialect in the book. This wasn’t because I didn’t want it, only that, from a practical perspective: the more universal the language was, the greater chance I had of finding an agent/publisher, no? Most of them are in London, and I didn’t want to turn them off immediately. Who needs artistic integrity? Fortunately, Cranachan are passionate about dialect and gave me free reign. These are working class characters, and it right good represent them correctly.
Suffice to say, it took well over a year for all these elements to ‘click’. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. I’d question any writer who claims the entire story, characters, plot and location came to them in one Eureka moment. Once I had the character of Mary, the rest of the inspiration for the book came as I was writing. Most of the surprises in the book surprised me too!
I hope people will enjoy all of these elements while reading ‘Mary’s the Name’. If the book feels like one cohesive piece, I’ve done my job!