Interview: Manda Scott on writing

Manda ScottManda (MC) Scott was a veterinary surgeon and anaesthetist, specialising in neonatal foal intensive care before she turned to writing as a full time profession. Her first novel, Hen’s Teeth was a contemporary thriller and was short-listed for the Orange Prize. Her fourth novel, No Good Deed was similarly short-listed for an Edgar Award in the States. Since then she has written primarily historical fiction, starting with the Boudica: Dreaming series which have been translated into nearly 20 languages, and the Rome series of ancient spy novels which explores, amongst other things, the historical basis for Christ. She lives in south Shropshire with her competition dogs and competes in agility whenever she can.

Who and what inspired you to become a writer?

Reading in my youth was the inspiration. I grew up living in the worlds of Rosemary Sutcliff and Alan Garner, of Dorothy Dunnett and Mary Renault. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper was the first book I bought with my first ever book token and it’s still one of my favourites.

What attracted you to the genre that you write in?

That’s more or less answered above. I started in contemporary crime because that’s the field where I was able to write effectively without doing the kinds of research that are required for historical writing. However the Boudica series gave me the time and the money to spend the hours in the library, talking to living archaeologists and re-enactors, and to go and spend the nights in a round house: all things I couldn’t have done when I was teaching at Cambridge. So history is my main genre, although I still enjoy the contemporary thrillers: they make for a great change of pace.

Who do you most admire in the literary world?

In terms of her writing, Hilary Mantel is streets ahead of almost any other living historical (or literary) author. In terms of sales, I admire J.K. Rowling. In terms of their ability to market themselves and to write for the market, I admire Val McDermid and Ben Kane – both are people I’ve got to know fairly well and both are outstanding role models.

What, in your opinion, is the most pertinent attribute of a good writer?

The ability to throw work away. Which presupposes an instinct for knowing what will work and what won’t and being able to cut the latter until what’s left is the former.

Have you any sage words of wisdom for anyone wishing to become a writer?

I’d offer the two most important bits of advice I was given by Fay Weldon when I was a baby writer: Find your voice. Get a good agent. Both are vital. A good agent is your safety and sanity, your protector, help-meet and friend. Of course, finding your voice gives you the authenticity and integrity to write good work.

What is the worst aspect of writing?

The RSI. I recently read of ‘walkstations’ which are apparently the answer to RSI and am trying to figure out how to fit one into my tiny 14th century cottage.

Recommend a good example of writing both in your genre and outside it.

For good historical writing, look no further than Wolf Hall. If that’s not to your taste, almost anything by Robert Low, Andrew Taylor, or Robert Wilton is amazing. The latter won the HWA/Goldsboro prize for debut historical novel. If you want to read really, really good first novel, read it, or any of the other three on the short list: Mistress of my Fate by Hallie Rubenhold, Partitions by Amit Majmudar, or The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson. If you want to know more about them, I wrote a blog about them here. If you’re interested in historical writing, come along to the HWA (Historical Writer’s Association) forum.

Outside of historical writing, I am particularly fond of Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman, although both are somewhat of an acquired taste. I’d point anyone towards Robert Wilson for amazing crime thrillers, while Maggie Stiefvater’s new novel, Scorpio Races is one of the best YA novels I’ve read in a very long time. Patrick Ness’s series that starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go is similarly mind-blowingly good. There is a lot of YA writing that is broaching new ground now, and is fascinating.

 DAN HOWARTH

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Manda Scott fiction (UK)
Manda Scott fiction (US)

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