The year is 1839, and Mary Shelley – the woman who wrote Frankenstein – is living alone in a tiny cottage on the banks of the river Thames in Putney. As she sorts through the snowstorm of her husband’s scattered papers she is reminded of their past: the half-ruined villas in Italy, the stormy relationship with Shelley and her stepsister Claire, the loss of her children, the attempted kidnapping of Claire’s daughter Allegra from a prison-like convent in Florence. And finally, her husband’s drowning on the Gulf of Spezia as they stayed in a grim-looking fortress overlooking the sea. What she has never confided in anyone is that she has always been haunted by Shelley’s drowned first wife, Harriet, who would come to visit her in the night as she slept with her two tiny children in a vast abandoned villa while Shelley was away litigating with lawyers. Did Mary pay the ultimate price for loving Shelley?Who will Harriet come for next?
When and where do you prefer to write?
The Artisan Roast in Glasgow, at a certain old wooden desk in the corner. I finished my latest two titles at this spot: ARGUING WITH THE DEAD and WHEN WE GET TO THE ISLAND, a YA novel about a Syrian boy and a girl in care, on the run across the Highlands (released later this year.)
– Do you have a certain ritual?
Not really. I just pick up my pen when I feel like writing. But I suppose I do have to be disciplined as well. I need to walk the dog first to get the cogs turning.
– Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?
A pot of Earl Grey with a jug of creamy oat milk, and I have to drink from a china cup and saucer. I also love Empress Grey Tea, but that’s because I’m so posh. Parma Violets are a bonus.
– What is your favourite book?
The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. Life-changing.
– Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
Am tempted to write a piece of narrative non-fiction or nature writing called TO THE NORTH. I also like experimenting with microfiction and short prose poems.
– Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
Yes…. All the time. Real people are fascinating. I ought to do it more.
– Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
Yes. My current notebook is a beautiful green leather volume which my son bought me for Christmas. It contains a mixture of nature journal, observations, ideas, and a general celebration of life. If I hear a snippet of amusing or illuminating conversation while I’m writing in the notebook, I add that to the record, and comment on what’s going on around me.
– Which genre do you not like at all?
I’m open to reading anything if it’s well-written and if I can get into it, but I suppose I’m not a fan of Mils & Boon type formula fiction.
– If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
Oooooh, that’s a difficult one. There are so many people I’d love to co-write a book with. The artist Kate Leiper would be one, as I love her paintings and drawings.
– If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
I’m going to cheat here. As I often write historical fiction, I’d like to time-travel. For example, it would be fascinating to see how different the Scottish landscape looked to Mary Shelley in 1814 when she stayed on the banks of the Tay. (I’ve written about this in my novel ARGUING WITH THE DEAD, released this month). The trees would have been so different. Larger species, I think. Even then, they were conscious of human-beings spoiling the
environment and taking away the wild. The Caledonian forest with its huge trees was still largely unfelled and they began to chop it down in the Napoleonic Wars during Mary’s lifetime. Mary Shelley and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft were aware of the loss of forest.
And in answer to your question… I’d be happy to travel to Norway, Iceland, Finland, to observe the wildness of those landscapes. I’d particularly like to visit Tove Jansson’s little island where she wrote her Moomin novels.
Thank you, Alex Nye and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
Hello, my name is Alex Nye and I write books for both adults and children. I loved writing when I was a child, and in 1981 I won the W H Smith Young Writers’ Award, run and judged by the poet Ted Hughes. I still feel thrilled that he read my piece about a biology lesson, and judged it fit to win out of 33,000 entries from across the UK. I studied at King’s College, London, and afterwards did what I love doing best – writing books. I’m also a Creative Writing Mentor with the Scottish Book Trust and Writer in Residence at Castlebrae High in Edinburgh. My first book Chill won Scottish Children’s Book Award (then called the Royal Mail Award). Chill, and its sequel Shiver, published by Floris, are inspired by my time living on Sheriffmuir in a remote cottage during a winter of severe blizzards; they are ghost stories for 9-12 years, good for use in schools, particularly when touching on Scottish history and the Jacobites. I find huge inspiration from Scottish history and the landscape here, which I love. My third book, Darker Ends, is a modern ghost story set in Glencoe, but is interlaced with the historical background of the 1692 Massacre. This is a teen novel, suitable for 11-15 years, although I find that many adults enjoy my fiction as well.
My fourth book, For My Sins, is a historical novel for adults about Mary, Queen of Scots, sitting in her prison cell at the end of her life, stitching her tapestries while being haunted by the ghosts of her past. This would also be useful to History students at Higher, Advanced Higher and University level.