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An Interview with S.G. MacLean for Feature Friday: The story behind The Bookseller of Inverness

I'm so pleased to bring you this wonderful interview with author S.G. MacLean on the story behind her novel The Bookseller of Inverness and the map included in it.


A black and white illustrated historical map of Inverness and surroundings in 1752
My map for The Bookseller of Inverness by S. G. MacLean

Contents

To date, one of my favourite maps I’ve ever drawn is this one, for The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. MacLean. Not only was Shona one of the loveliest people to work with - providing me with reams of information and research that made it easy to create this map - but the book was set in an era that I happen to love reading about and researching myself: 1752, six years after the Battle of Culloden. A time of mysterious rumours surrounding the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a wounded Scotland rebuilding from the ashes of war.


The Bookseller of Inverness invokes intrigues and mystery in an area meticulously researched and vividly described (Shona grew up in the Scottish Highlands), which together meant that after reading the book I couldn’t wait to get to work.


And I’m so, so excited to introduce you to the author today: S.G. MacLean, who’s going to tell us a little bit about the book, and give us the story behind the map.


1. Hi Shona! Thank you for joining me today. I absolutely loved drawing this map for you, and thought that The Bookseller of Inverness invoked place incredibly successfully. How did

you decide on the location and extent of the map, and the places that the book would

feature?


Hello! Well, I love the map, and I point it out at all of my talks, it’s really an integral part of

the book for me now. I wanted the map to show the extent of my characters’ adventures, as

the book is not just set in Inverness. It was a real thrill to me to have places like Dunlichity -

the site of a beautiful old church where my grandfather was minister – and Castle Leod, a

typical fairy-tale Scottish castle near to my home – represented on the map as they are

locations in the book. I had wonderful walks and cycles in the course of my research for the

book, and I felt that including some of the lesser-known locations in the action, and having

them portrayed on the map, was a way of paying tribute to the time and the people I was

writing about.


2. There are several places that actually exist on the map, but one place: Iain’s book shop in

Inverness, is entirely fictional. What’s the story behind his book shop, and were there any

real-life examples you based it on?


The bookshop on the map is based on a lovely little house on Church Street in Inverness,

the area with the oldest surviving buildings in the town. the idea for the book actually first

came to me in a building a few doors down the street - Leakey’s bookshop, which is a vast

secondhand bookshop housed in an old church. The first time I visited Leakeys, I learned

that it was built on the site of the old Gaelic church in Inverness, where Jacobite soldiers

were kept in atrocious conditions after the battle of Culloden, before being put onto prison

ships for trial in the south or taken out into the nearby Old High Kirkyard and shot. Leakeys

is said to be haunted by their ghosts. It was the consciousness of the spirit of those times

that made the story form in my mind and the location in which it came to me that made my main protagonist a bookseller.


3. The inclusion of an illustrated map adds a unique visual element to your novel. What

inspired the decision to incorporate a map, and how do you believe it enhances the

reader's experience and understanding of the historical context?


I think it was felt that it was important to have a map, and one that showed more than just

the town of Inverness so that readers not familiar with the area would have some idea of

the extent of my characters’ adventures. I also wanted it to show places relevant to the

wider back story because, again, I know the history of the Jacobite risings is not known to

everyone. The nature of the place is so important to the understanding of the story, and I

think the map really adds to that understanding.


4. Historical fiction often grapples with balancing historical accuracy and creative storytelling.

How did you navigate this delicate balance in The Bookseller of Inverness, especially

considering the specific historical events and characters involved?


For me, it’s really important to be respectful of the history and as with most eras, you don’t

need to read very far into the history of the Jacobite cause until you come upon incredible

human stories, often of people now lost to the anonymity of history. It’s one of the reasons

my books tend to have almost entirely fictional characters. I can create stories and

backstories from the lived experience of the times, as read in printed and archive primary

sources and then set them in a fictional plot. My main problem with this one was not going

down any (or too many) of the rabbit holes I came across in the process of my research –

things that revealed amazing true stories that would have been very tempting to shoe-horn

into mine, but which would have knocked my own plot askew.


5. A fun one to end on: which is your favourite part of the map and why?


A black and white line drawing of Castle Leod in Scotland, a small part of the map for S G MacLeans book
Shona's favourite part of the map: Castle Leod

I think my favourite part of the map is probably Castle Leod. It’s just about six miles away

from my house – I can cycle to it if I want. The present earl and countess were very

encouraging of my plan to feature the castle in the novel, and the place itself is an absolute

dream for an historical novelist. So many incredible stories, so many wonderful architectural

features. I mean, a secret tunnel! … and the illustration on the map just somehow captures

the feel of it perfectly.


I’d just like to say again that I really love the map – it’s one of the things that makes the book very special to me. Last week, for World Book Day, I was talking to five classes at a local primary school. The Bookseller of Inverness is really aimed at adults, but the gave me a way in to talking about the novel in an accessible manner, and the children loved seeing places familiar to them portrayed on it. Thank you so much – it’s been a hit all round!


Thank you so much Shona! And don't forget to drop a comment below if you fancy asking any more questions about the map; I'll be happy to answer!


If you liked this interview with author S.G. MacLean, and you fancy another behind the scenes story of a map for a novel, then head to my interview with Andrew Caldecott, whose wonderful novel Simul features a map of part of Oxford University, marooned among fields . . .


You can also read about this map from a design point of view, by checking out this blog.


As always, thank you for reading,

Nx




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