In our regular Q&A, we ask a Scottish author to share some stories about their own life. This month, we are delighted to welcome Victoria, author of the acclaimed The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, whose spine-tingling new book Hag Storm is a must-read for lovers of spooky stories or Robert Burns.
News story: What is your new book about?
Hag Storm is a retelling of Robert Burns’s poem Tam o’ Shanter with a twist. Instead of hapless Tam’s encounter with the witches in the Auld Kirk, this version casts a twelve-year-old Robert Burns as the hero of the story.
Working on his family’s farm one day, Rab finds a magical hag stone out in the fields. Looking through its circular hole, he sees witches gathering overhead. Soon strange things start to happen – he finds disturbing corn dollies in the shape of witches and the devil in the abandoned Auld Kirk, and their farm animals start to sicken. Worse still, one night witches come flitting through the fields to take two of his sisters away.
Foiling their plan by a hair’s breadth, he realises he’s running out of time to save his family before the coven gathers at Halloween and the gates to the underworld are opened. It’s a race against time for Rab and his brother Gil to cure their family of the magical sickness that threatens them, and save their younger sisters from the clutches of the witches’ coven. Riding their trusty horse Meg, can they make it to the keystone of the Brig o’ Doon before the angry hordes from the Auld Kirk catch up with them? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Short story: sum up your book – in five words.
A spooky Scottish historical adventure.
Life story: How did you get where you are today?
I got here by a bit of a convoluted path! I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I can remember being able to hold a crayon, never mind a pencil. My parents took me and my brothers to the library nearly every weekend, and my mother read to us almost every night, putting on different voices for all of the characters so it was like going to the theatre! I read voraciously as a child and teenager, and was constantly thinking up new stories, plays and even comic books to write. A lot of my early stories were fan-fiction re-tellings of books I’d read, and films and TV programmes I’d watched, as this script I wrote to tell the story of The Wizard of Oz as a play shows.
Even though English and History were my favourite subjects at school, for some reason I ended up studying Physics at university! Having always wanted to travel, in the years that followed I trained as a teacher and lived, worked, travelled and taught in many different countries from Cameroon, Malawi, Zambia, China, America and Australia, to all over the UK. I never gave up on my first love of writing, though, and some years ago concentrated on producing work for submission to agents and publishers.
Since my debut novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle was published in 2018, I’ve been working full time as an author and creative writing teacher, trying to find time to still squeeze in some volunteering and studying along the way!
I volunteer as a Creative Writing Manager for Ignite Hubs (https://www.ignitehubs.org.uk/), a charity that provides an online learning platform for children, and for CharChar Literacy (https://charcharliteracy.org/), a charity working to raise literacy and numeracy attainment levels in Malawi. It all keeps me very busy!
Love story: What, do you really care about?
That’s a tough one, as I could write a very long list! I’m going to avoid clichés here and not mention any people (they know who they are anyway). I’ve already mentioned my love of travelling, and my love of books goes without saying, so I’m going to admit that, yes, I really am an old woman with old woman hobbies, and I love to crochet almost as much as I love reading books!
In an unashamed plug for a good cause, if anyone fancies helping to support the Scottish Refugee Council through buying a little present for themselves or someone special, then all of the money raised from my fox keyrings bought on Etsy is donated to them: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/596787354/
Adventure story: Tell us about your most exciting adventure yet.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a lot of adventures so far!
Instead of trying to do the impossible and pick the most exciting one, I’ll simply mention the most recent one. I’ve always had a big interest in history and archaeology, and in September I spent a week on Falkirk Council’s Big Dig in Denny, helping to excavate the site of slum housing which had been built to accommodate strike breakers at a paper mill in the 1830s.
After topsoiling, mattocking, and digging up several feet of industrial ash that had been deposited by the Council sometime before the 1950s to level the ground after the houses were pulled down, we finally started uncovering the foundations. The items we unearthed with our trowels included pottery, coins, marbles, china, and even most of a pudding boiler used to steam puddings. It was a great learning experience which brought me much closer to the history of the area not too far from where I grew up – I felt like one of the members of the Time Team!
Old Story: What were your favourite books when you were a child?
I was a big fan of adventure stories – I devoured all of The Famous Five and Secret Seven books before moving on to The Three Investigators and The Hardy Boys. I loved the sense of agency that the children and teenagers had in these books, solving adventures on their own without the help of adults. A big fantasy and science fiction fan, I read everything from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to Watership Down, The Triffids, and pretty much everything by John Wyndham and Isaac Asimov. I was a big fan of world-building, and would spend hours creating new worlds in my own head when I should have been concentrating on my school homework!
I also really enjoyed reading graphic novels as a child, especially Tintin and Asterix, and my love of comics meant there were always piles of The Beano, The Dandy, Bunty, Mandy and Judy to trip over. My experiments in fiction writing soon spilled over into creating comics of my own which I passed round my family and friends, pestering them to enter the many competitions I ran or post letters and suggestions to the magazine’s address (my bedroom!).
Bedtime story: What’s your bedtime reading at the moment? What’s next?
I’m a big Adrian Tchaikovsky fan, and absolutely loved The Children of Time. The sequel, The Children of Ruin has been sitting on my shelf for ages waiting for me to have enough time to read it in big gulps rather than tiny sips. I’m really looking forward to reading that next!