Thursday, December 15, 2011

Music, Medieval Scotland, and Time travel: An Interview with author Laura Vosika

Today, I'm talking with Laura Vosika about her tale of two men and time-travel to medieval Scotland.


1) Tell us about your book.

Blue Bells of Scotland is the story of two men, polar opposites but for their looks and love of music, who trade places in time. Shawn, a celebrated musician and philandering, gambling, drinking, self-centered scoundrel, finds himself caught in medieval Scotland with the fate of a nation on his shoulders, while Niall, a devout Highland warrior, must navigate the roiled waters of Shawn's life--amorous fans, angry mistresses, pregnant girlfriend, and a conductor ready to fire him (an ominous notion to medieval ears!)--trying to get back to save his people.

2) What inspired this book?

Strangely enough for a book about a gambling, drinking philanderer, I was inspired by a children's novel and a piece of trombone music. In the Keep of Time was a childhood favorite, about four siblings who go into a Scottish tower and come out in medieval Scotland. One of the things I liked about it was that it neither romanticized nor condemned the time. It showed the good and the bad of a very different time and place. I hope I've done the same in my writing. Blue Bells of Scotland is a theme and variations written to show what trombones are capable of. It's based on an old folk song by the same name, which talks about noble deeds and streaming banners, and those always make good stories. Throughout the series, I have loved getting to know some of the great deeds of the Scottish heroes of the Wars of Independence.

3) Most time travel books tend to focus on one party traveling to one point, but you've set-up a temporal exchange. Why did you decide to approach your story this way?

Well, it was a combination of inspiration, wherever that comes from, and a what-if sort of thing that evolved. The story started off about Shawn--a man who's taken the wrong path in life, hurt a lot of people, and has the power to continue doing it, who is suddenly confronted with the loss of that power, and people who don't have to put up with him. But as I researched castles in which Shawn might wake up, the image I had was instead of a man from the past waking up in ruins. It happened to be Castle Tioram I was looking at, at the time. I wondered what was happening back in Shawn's time, if he disappeared, and of course the next thought was, What if they didn't notice he disappeared? What if someone else walked into his place? I have really enjoyed contrasting their two opposing world views, as the series progresses, and how they each learn from the other, how they overcome their differences to forge a deep bond of brotherhood.

4) You have a lot of references to music in your story, likely, I suspect somewhat influenced by your own musical background. That being said, books are a visual and not an auditory medium. Thus, properly getting across the feeling and sound of music with only words can be very difficult. Is this something you found challenging? Did your background in music help or hinder you (perhaps by making it more frustrating) with this?

It's interesting you ask this question. I'm pleased to have heard from readers that I describe the music so well they can almost hear it, or even, in some cases, that they feel as if they've experienced it. But no, although I certainly take my time and work at it, I don't find it a challenge.

I have spent years in music, performing on multiple instruments ranging from flute and harp to trombone, in every imaginable setting from soloing to large groups, from playing on docks and street corners to concert halls, from orchestral to jazz. I've experienced music as a student, performer, teacher, and director. I know the experience of music well, I have a thesaurus (and I'm not afraid to use it!), and when I'm writing about a piece I'm less familiar with, I turn it on and play it over and over on youtube, listening and watching. (I can guarantee my kids love hearing the same song 38 times in a row. Really!) I put myself in my characters' heads, with what's been happening in their lives, and experience it as they would. Then I write. And apparently, it's working.

But of course, the wonder of our new technology is that we're no longer limited to words on a page. I have a page on my website ( where readers can listen to the pieces mentioned in the book, and I have already had some conversations with others in the field of e-books about creating more multi-sensory books, where, for instance, the music might actually play when the reader comes to the page where the song is mentioned.

5) How much research did you do in preparation for this book?

As a writer, I'm probably guilty of parsing words, but in prepartion, not much. I just started writing, and researched as I went. However, hundreds of hours, perhaps into the thousands, of research go into my books. I use every possible resource on the web, from sites to forums, to tracking down whatever experts will talk to me. I try to get multiple sources confirming my research. I'm on a number of forums and discussion groups about medieval history, Scotland, weaponry--all kinds of neat things. I use youtube to watch trebuchets fire repeatedly, to see how they're built and operated. I use google maps both for aerial views and to go down to street level and see the places where my scenes are set.

I use the library, own a couple shelves full of books on medieval Scotland, history, even the languages of Niall's time. I have been studying Scottish Gaeli, and have books on both old and middle English.

Before Blue Bells was published, I flew to Scotland and went to every location mentioned in the book, asking questions wherever I went. I put on my brother-in-law's SCA leather boots, much like what Shawn would have worn on hs trek, and climbed Sron na Claichain in Killin, to get an idea of exactly what Shawn, unused to hiking, would feel like after four days of it. (Let's just say I was in quite a bit of pain after only one day of it!) We drove as far into the area Shawn hiked as the roads allowed, but unfortunately didn't have enough time to hike his actual path ourselves.

Maybe it's redundant to say after all of that, but I love the research part of writing!

6) Blues Bells of Scotland is the first of a trilogy, with your second coming in 2012. Were you set on having this as a trilogy from the beginning?

No. I wrote the first book, handed it out to family and friends, and the response I got back was, "I liked it, but you quit in the middle. I want to know what happens next." I thought I'd put a rather final ending on it, and went back in surprise to see what they were talking about. Then I saw how the ending I wrote didn't actually spell out what I intended. I liked their interpretation. So I wrote what happens next.

And as of only a few days ago, The Blue Bells Trilogy has become The Blue Bells Chronicles. Blue Bells covers only about two weeks in the lives of Amy, Shawn, and Niall, while The Minstrel Boy covers a full year in the present, and two years in the medieval half of the story line. So it has now become two books, and quite likely, the original book 3 of the trilogy, which also covers about a year in the present time and two years in the past will most likely be broken into two books, as well, making a 5 book series.

I'd also like to put together a collection of non-fiction stories about the people and places of the Blue Bells Chronicles, and one reader has already informed me that she would like recipes in that book! I'm looking forward to having more time to work on that.

Thank you for having me on your blog!


You can see more from Laura at her blog .

Blue Bells of Scotland is available in physical and eBook formats at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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