Scene of the Crime

Historical crime writer S.G. MacLean shares where she writes her novels. Her latest novel, The Black Friar is perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and The Three Musketeers, and is out now in hardback.

Posted on November 4, 2016 in Behind the Scenes, Scene of the Crime

When I was writing my first novel, The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, I learned that my desk had to be facing a blank wall. We lived then in a tall, old house, looking out over the Banffshire village of Portsoy and its lovely C17th harbour. My study was at the top of the house, with genuinely spectacular views, not only of the old harbour (recently used in the remake of Whisky Galore). On a clear day I could see right across the Moray Firth to my native Highlands. Result: one very homesick day-dreamer who didn’t get much writing done. After a couple of weeks, I got my husband to move my desk so that it face a wall instead, and ever since, regardless of where we have lived, my desk has faced a wall.

Now returned to the Highlands, my study is in a small room overlooking the garden. The wall I face is blank other than for the maps of consecutively, C17th London, C17th Oxford and now, C17th York I have used in the writing of the Damian Seeker series.

I love my bookshelves. Over time, they have filled up not just with books, but with writing-related photos and other mementos.

A favourite photo is one of my uncle Alistair (Maclean, the thriller writer), taken about 30 years ago, on his boat. I like the idea of him keeping an affectionately wary eye on me as I write.

The post card behind is of St Edmund Hall in Oxford, where Seeker stayed when he went to Oxford in the first book in the series. Only having been to Oxford once, long ago, it took a lot of research to reconstruct C17th Oxford in my head. After The Seeker won the Historical Dagger, I was invited to the St Hilda’s Crime and Mystery weekend. On the Sunday morning I woke up very early, and went out for a walk through the near-deserted streets. It felt as if all the splendour of Oxford had been laid on just for me, and the streets I had set my characters loose on were just as I had imagined them. It was a magical hour.

The Three Wise Monkeys belonged to my Dad. 30 years of working behind a bar taught him the virtues of ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. My mother loathed that ornament, and it’s a happy reminder of both of them. The books behind were gifted to me by my old History lecturer, Dr Grant Simpson, who taught me Scottish Medieval History and then palaeography. His eyesight has sadly failed over the years, and when he heard I was writing about the Cromwellian period, he gifted me these books.

Opposite the bookshelves, I have a print of a Visscher’s panorama of London in the 1600s which I refer to often. The humour and the contradictions of Raeburn’s ‘Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch’, above it, never fail to make me smile.


S.G Maclean’s latest novel, The Black Friar is out now in hardback


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