Long and Short Reviews welcomes Melanie Robertson-King, whose debut novel A Shadow in the Past is now available. Leave a comment for a chance to win a print copy of the book (US and Canada only please).
Melanie is currently working on the second book in the series, Shadows from her Past. I asked her to tell us a little bit about it.
“I’d love to tell you more but don’t want to include spoilers. Can I leave it at read the blurb of my current book, then think about the title of my work-in-progress? I think that will give you an idea of what the next book will be about,” she said.
Melanie grew up as an only child and books were her best friends.
“I still have a number of my childhood favorites on my bookcases today,” she admitted. “I guess it was a natural progression from reading to writing. Years later, I did the newsletter for an organization I belonged to which got me back into it. That led to writing short stories but I would say that my biggest inspiration to start writing seriously, with the idea of publication came after reading the first four books in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.”
Even though she’s been writing off and on since she was about thirteen, being an author as a career choice never entered her mind. When she was in secondary school, she decided she wanted to be an accountant. Off she went to college, but it wasn’t for her. Years later, she went back to school and studied computer programming—landing a job where she was able to use those skills in a limited capacity.
“In the end, while I’m still with the same company, I’m working in payroll where I work with numbers… lots and lots of numbers,” she told me. “Looks like I didn’t deviate as far from the accountant career as once thought since I report to accountants and have to defend my numbers.”
Melanie is from Brockville, Ontario, Canada, and still lives in the city. She likes it because it’s small enough you can know your neighbors well, but large enough you still have some anonymity.
“I live close enough to the downtown that I can walk to the shops down there. In addition, we have a beautiful waterfront (Brockville is on the shore of the St. Lawrence River) with a network of walking/bike paths along it and meandering through the city,” she said. “In the summer it’s a pleasant walk to start at our house and follow the entire network.”
Her father was raised in a Scottish orphanage after the death of his mother, but he wasn’t an orphan. In 1930, he came to Canada as part of the 100,000+ children who were sent out from the UK and became known as ‘home children.’ Her first published article was a piece on William Quarrier who founded the Orphan Homes of Scotland where her father had been raised.
A Shadow in the Past is set in the area in Scotland where her father was born (Aberdeenshire) and she mentions the orphanage in my book. Since she’s living in Canada, she had to do a lot of online research. She bought a number of books that would help her with the Victorian customs specific to Scotland and contacted people and organizations in Aberdeenshire (Aberdeen Central Library, Aberdeen and Northeast Scotland Family History Society, among others). She was also lucky enough to have traveled to the area a number of times before she started writing the novel, so she had many photos to look at and to help her remember the area.
“Google maps streetviews has been invaluable, too, but it took a long time for the heart of Aberdeen to be available,” Melanie told me. “Thankfully, it’s only a small portion of my book that takes place in the city proper and I had obtained copies of pages from the city directory for the year I needed.”
“Say your publisher has offered to fly you anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book,” I said, “where would you most likely want to go?”
“That’s a no-brainer. I’d be on the first plane to Scotland in a heartbeat, although I have visions of Paris creeping into one of my future books. I’ve been there, too, so have lots of photos and the city is well ‘streetviewed’. Still it’s not the same as being there and smelling the freshly baked baguettes and croissants wafting out of the patisseries. And Paris boasts two Scottish pubs – The Auld Alliance and The Highlander. So best of both worlds in one city. And once you’re in either France or Scotland, the high-speed rail through the chunnel gets you from one place to the other quickly.”
“As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s youth?” I wondered.
“My sixteen-year old grandson lives with me and although he keeps a lot of stuff bottled up inside, it gives me insight into what he’s going through and likely a lot of kids I don’t know. I keep my ears open at work and absorb the lunch hour/water cooler conversations with co-workers with teens.
“What challenges do you think teens face today that you did not?”
“I think the challenges are the same but the technology is different. Bullying has existed for years and will continue but with Facebook and Twitter and other social networks, the bullying of old has grown exponentially. Cyberbullying is something that is something that I never had to experience. I was bullied one year in elementary school (grade 2) and then in secondary school for the first couple of years. I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end and it’s not pleasant. I can’t imagine going through it all again and having it splashed all over social media. Peer pressure is still there as are recreational drugs but now there are a lot more to experiment with and (as in my teen years) the pressure is still there to take them. Mental health issues are out in the open more and once a bully gets hold of that, a kid’s life is screwed. When I grew up, people with mental health issues were shuffled off to psychiatric hospitals – out of sight, out of mind. Thankfully people are no longer sequestered to the asylum but were we really doing them any favors?”
Finally, I asked, ” What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?”
“I know it’s easier said than done but don’t let rejections bother you. Develop a thick skin because you’ll need it. Seek out and take advice from people who have been there, done that. Join a writers’ group and if none exist in your area, start one. Writing is a solitary occupation so surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help you. But even more important than what I’ve already mentioned is read and read lots. Read different genres. It will help you develop your writer’s voice and increase your vocabulary.”
The writing bug first bit when she was about thirteen, but the itch subsided and it wasn’t until a number of years later that she put “pen to paper” and began writing again.
Prior to returning to fiction, Melanie wrote articles for various publications for a number of years and has been published in Canada, the US and the UK.
In addition to writing, her interests include genealogy, photography and travel – especially to Scotland, although Paris rates high on her “must return to” bucket list as well. On one of her trips to Scotland, she had the honor of meeting The Princess Royal, Princess Anne.
Author Website: www.MelanieRobertson-King.com
Author Blog: Celtic Connexions
Facebook Author Page: “https://www.facebook.com/pages/Melanie-Robertson-King/221018701298979″>https://www.facebook.com/pages/Melanie-Robertson-King/221018701298979
Twitter Account: @RobertsoKing
Nineteen-year-old Sarah Shand finds herself thrust back into the past. There she struggles to keep her real identity from a society that finds her comments and ideas strange and her speech and actions forward, unlike Victorian women. When Sarah verbally confronts confining social practices, including arranged marriages, powerful enemies commit her to a lunatic asylum. After falling in love with the handsome Laird of Weetshill, Robert Robertson, she must decide whether to find her way back to her own time or to remain in the past with him.