My next guest hails from the beautiful country of Scotland. Please help me welcome Lawrie Johnston! Let’s find out a bit more about her background before we learn about her inspiration and writing process.
I am a retired teacher of history. For most of my life I have read studied and taught history in various parts of Scotland. I have a BA in History from the University of Stirling where I majored in African history. In contrast I contributed to nonfiction local history books when I lived in the southwest of Scotland. Now that I am retired, I have had the time to research aspects of the First World War and this has resulted in my first historical fiction novel “Who Served Well”, which I hope will be the first of many. I have started to write my second novel which is set in medieval Scotland at the time of The Wars of Independence.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Lawrie: As an historian and history teacher I have always been fascinated by the events of the First World War. It was such a pivotal moment in world history and its consequences far reaching. In its aftermath it inspired a plethora of novels, poems, plays, and films. I devoured these with pleasure. More recently and just shortly after I retired, I was given the opportunity to research a small local war memorial in a little parish called Bargrennan in the southwest of Scotland. There were around nine names on the memorial which would be a significant proportion of the young men in such a small sparsely populated area. I noticed two of the young men had died on the same day at the same battle. One had emigrated and served in a Canadian regiment. The other served in a local Scottish regiment. I wondered if they had met again during the war and that was the start of the story.
Betty: What, if any, new writing skill did you develop while working on this story
Lawrie: I was so used to writing nonfiction I really enjoyed developing fictional characters, fleshing them out, giving them emotions and situations. Thinking about how they would respond. So I think I have developed my imaginative writing skills.
Betty: Did you struggle with any part of this story?
Lawrie: Generally, I find writing dialogue quite difficult. I think you must read it aloud to judge if it sounds natural and plausible. You have also to carefully consider if it is time appropriate. I know soldiers swore a lot so that wasn’t a problem.
Betty: Which character(s) were the easiest to get to know? Why do you think?
Lawrie: That would be Tam, one of the central characters in the story. Like anyone he has his good points and flaws. Essentially, he is caught up in events which he does not fully understand but remains positive and optimistic.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Lawrie: A great deal. From researching war memorials to nonfiction books about the First World War for information about battles, troops movements, and field hospitals to name a few. I visited several museums and libraries, too.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Lawrie: For the book as a whole three drafts. There were some chapters or bits of chapters which were revised further.
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why no
Lawrie: As this was my first novel, I did not plan the timing as well as I could have. There were several gaps in my writing, so overall about three years. I am working on my second novel now and have estimated a two-year turnaround from start to publication
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Lawrie: Always a strong cup of coffee before I start.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Lawrie: I used the phrase “the following morning” too often. I am very aware of that now.
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Lawrie: Not really as I try to be myself. I do admire Hilary Mantel a great deal. I think she is in a class of her own when it comes to historical fiction. Her advice to other authors was excellent.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Lawrie: Mainly at the dining room table.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Lawrie: I am a retired history teacher and loved my job. There are elements which I still miss.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Lawrie: To date it would be the publication of my first novel. Opening the first box of books was exciting. Seeing my book on retailers’ websites and reading good reviews was also very rewarding.
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Lawrie: For relaxing then crime fiction, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid are go-to writers for me.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career
Lawrie: I have no illusions that I will make a fortune from my work. That people have enjoyed and taken something from my book is reward enough for me.
Who Served Well is an exploration of the devastating effects of the First World War through the eyes of three young friends from Galloway, southwest Scotland. The idea for the book comes from research I did around local war memorials. The stories of the individuals on the memorials inspired me to create the fictional characters in the book. I hope the reader will become immersed in those events and battles of the war where local men and women made a significant contribution. The essence of the book is deeply rooted in the people and places of Galloway. Andrew McDowall, Tam Murdoch, and Kathleen Marr make their own way through the war but are linked by their past and also by their present.
Knowing that the story stems from historical memorials may just mean your readers will want to travel to those sites, too. I’d go back to Scotland in a heartbeat! Thanks, Lawrie, for stopping by and sharing your debut novel with us!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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