It's the classic question: 'Is your main character like you?' With Cass, the narrator of Death on a Longship, I set out to create someone who wasn't me.
I started by making sure she didn't look like me: small where I'm tall, dark-haired, with Siamese-cat blue eyes and freckles. I made her Shetland-bred, but of non-Shetland parents: an Irish oil-man father, and, for an exotic touch, a French opera-singer mother. She's the same age as my daughter, so that I'd get her younger memories right - where the discos were, and what music was popular.
My own hobby, sailing, was my way into her character. I'm a teacher, with a home and family, so I gave Cass my dreams of wandering. She's sailed three-masted ships under tropical stars, crossed the Atlantic and rounded the Horn. She sails solo between Shetland and Norway. She can even fix her own engine.
Creating a character is a stream of 'why' questions. This Cass had no fixed home, no family - why not? What was in her past, that stopped her risking a relationship? I wanted a darker character, so I decided on a lover who'd died - and that was enough to let me start writing. Then, as the book grew, the story of the 'selkie wife' swam out of my subconscious.
It's an old Shetland tale: the seal woman who's shed her skin to dance as a human on a moonlit beach - except that a young fisherman's watching, and hides her skin, trapping her in the land world. When Cass was a teenager, I decided, she was wrenched from everything familiar. Her father was given a job in the Gulf, and sent her to her mother, now pursuing her own career from an elegant flat in Poitiers, France. Cass felt ' heartsick for the tide flowing past in jagged waves, the sucking noise of the breakers on the shore, the tell-tales fluttering white on Osprey’s red jib ... These French girls were land people, and I was plunged in among them like the selkie wife who’d lived as a seal among currents, suddenly married to an earthling and having to talk of supermarket prices and new sofas with the other wives.'
Then I remembered how, through the ages, seamen have been seen as 'different'. Their clothes, their walk, vocabulary, all set them apart. Writing through Cass's eyes, I consciously took on her world, deleting all land comparisons. When she finds a dead woman on her foredeck, it looks 'like a marionette washed up by the tide, the manicured nails still gleaming like shells in the bloody mess the gulls had made of the exposed hands.'
That was the key I'd needed. Cass is used to a grey, blue, silver wilderness of sea and sky. She's fearless, self-reliant, quick-thinking, practical. This crowded green land world, with birds gossiping in the trees and people scurrying like ants, is alien territory, a temporary halt between voyages, so she's never tried to make it home, any more than you'd buy ornaments for a motel bedside table.
I realised how that feels on the London underground, during a visit to my daughter. I looked around me at all these serious-faced people, dressed in funereal black, not looking at each other, in this rattling box in a black tunnel, and didn't believe it. My reality is a wide sky over blue sea framed by green hills, with white houses set along the sea-weed fringed shore, and people who greet you as they pass ... That was Cass, that sense of detached incredulity.
So what about this lover? If he'd tried to moor her to the shore world, and she'd had to do something so desperate to break away that it haunted her even years later... I gave her a visible reminder - the scar across her cheek. Glancing in a mirror, or the way other people don't stare, makes sure she can never forget. Making her lover a Shetlander explained why she felt she couldn't come home.
I'd got fond of Cass by now, so it felt mean - but we authors are here to make life tough for our characters. What's interesting about an easy life where everything's going right?
The selkie wife story never ends happily. She's no choice about marrying the fisherman and having his children, but she slips out at night to stare at the waves. Then, at last, her skin is found. She catches it up, runs to the sea ... and is never seen again.
In Death on a Longship, the murder forces Cass to look at who she's become ... to ask herself if she wants to stay a selkie wife all her life. There could be a happy ending for her - if she can find the courage to grasp it.
Death on a Longship BlurbWhen she talks her way into a job skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, a place she hasn't set foot on since she ran away as a teenager to pursue her dreams of sailing. When a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass, her past and her family come under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae.
Cass must call on all her local knowledge of Shetland, the wisdom gained from years of sailing, and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear herself and her family of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.
Giveaway InfoMarsali is giving away THREE prizes; a copy of Death on a Longship at each blog stop on her tour, a 1st place grand prize giveaway at the end of the tour of some silver Viking-inspired jewelry from the Shetland Islands, and a 2nd place $15 Amazon gift card.
1) To win a book: leave a comment leave a comment here > > (open internationally for ebook or the US, UK, and Canada for a print book). Be sure to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you’re the lucky winner. This giveaway ends five days after the post goes live.
2) To win Viking-inspired Jewelry OR a $15 Amazon gift card: Click the link to go to the contest’s website and enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post. A first and second place lucky winner will be selected on October 1st. First place person gets to choose which grand prize he/she wants. The second place person gets the remaining grand prize. Open to every country.
Here’s the contest’s website >
Marsali’s BioMarsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.