Jennifer M. Calder - Author Picture

Jennifer M. Calder - Author

JENNIFER M CALDER studied English Language and Literature at Edinburgh University. From childhood she had a fascination with words and story-writing. During her time as a full-time mother she wrote for her own children. On returning to the classroom Jennifer taught in England, where her expertise lay in the field of children's literacy. Later came a career-change into another area of 'word work' : copy-editing and proofreading for academic publishers. But when Jennifer returned to her home in the Scottish Highlands – coming back to the sea, heather and hills of the magnificent landscape that inspired The Secret of Skara Vhore –she made the decision that she would concentrate on her own writing.

The Secret of Skara Vhore is her debut novel. The second novel in this trilogy will appear in 2017.

A Q&A with Jennifer

Why did you write The Secret of Skara Vhore? The idea of an island story had been with me for a long time. The setting had to be the Scottish highlands that I have known all my life. For me, I have always found it a dramatic landscape, its legend, folklore and mystery, so inspiring. I wanted the story to be not only an adventurous quest but also a story of hope – especially for my main character. Katie is a distrustful and deeply unhappy teenager because of traumatic circumstances in her childhood. As a teacher I met a lot of troubled children who I hoped would win through to peaceful and fulfilling futures and at least in fiction I could make it happen for Katie.

What do you enjoy most about writing? It's a great moment when the pictures in my head begin to flow into text on to the page and characters begin to take on a life of their own. At the end it's also a feeling of achievement to look back at what was once a ream of blank paper and see descriptions and twists of plot that weren't even ideas when the first sentence was written. That feeling is also an encouragement when confronting the next project. It makes the unknown less daunting and more exciting. I do like working with words. I enjoy doodling with the structure of phrases, sentences or paragraphs until I'm happy with the way things click into place. But sometimes this makes me a bit of a time-waster and I berate myself to stop fiddling and leave it!

What book(s) or authors have had the most influence on your writing, and why? From a young age I was an avid reader and eager writer. Then, when I met Jo in Louisa M Alcott's Little Woman, I immediately identified with her and was inspired by her. It remains one of my favourite novels, I love being absorbed in novels which beautifully and expertly combine landscape and character: Dickens' London, Hardy's Wessex, and there is the powerful Scottish classic, A Scots Quair, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. As an adult I was deeply impressed and moved by this powerful and inspiring trilogy depicting life and land. Another book, among a host of adventures and folk tales that I read over and over as a child, was one whose title and author I only half-remember but the sense of gripping enchantment has never left me and I've always tried to put something of that power into my own work. I have deliberately never tracked down that novel, being too afraid that grown-up eyes might break its inspirational spell. The setting was a Scottish island and I had hoped that someday I would write my own island story. The Secret of Skara Vhore is the result.

What books are you reading at the moment? How did you choose them? I like good thrillers and have just finished Ann Cleeves' Orkney books. Two other recent reads, in a different genre, have been Anne Fine's powerful Blood Family and Room by Emma Donoghue. I also like non-fiction and I am enjoying a slow journey through The History of Art by E H Gombrich. It's a wonderfully detailed and readable book, but a book to be savoured and not rushed. And on my shelf also sits: Tim Jackson's Prosperity without Growth - Economics for a Finite Planet. I am looking forward to Bill Bryson's latest work The Road to Little Dribbling. I keep meaning to re-read his History of Everything. It shows that knowledge is wonderful and fun, and so I think it should be a school textbook. I also want to fit in a re-read of Language Death by Nancy C Dorian - a study of Gaelic dialects. Gaelic was my father's first language and I've recently started learning it.
My family and friends are great readers and there is a lot of recommending and swapping around. And I'm lucky to have an excellent local independent bookshop.

You have another book planned can you tell us a little about it? The Second Book in the trilogy (the title is the last thing I decide on) is either in my head, or on my computer, and all notes and printouts are safely locked away. I never say anything, show anything, discuss anything until I've completed the first draft. With The Secret of Skara Vhore my family kept nagging me to share something with them. So at last I said they could read the first two chapters. But they didn't like my trick. Chapter 1 is seven lines long, and Chapter 2 is twenty-three lines long! But running alongside work on The Second Book I'm finishing a book for younger readers: Alasdair and the Green Ring. This adventure again takes place in a magical highland setting. Alasdair’s little sister is stolen by the faerie folk and he must bravely set out by himself to bring her home.

What do you do when you're not writing? I love going out into the countryside that has always influenced my writing, roaming the hills or along the seashore. I’m a regular at lovely folk-singing get-togethers at a cosy pub tucked away in a glen. And I also enjoy ceilidh dancing, a much wilder version of Scottish country dancing. Playing golf is almost a must-do condition of living here and I do manage a round now and then on the links, but more for a good laugh than a good score.

Featured Books, with extracts, by Jennifer M. Calder

The Secret of Skara Vhore
Jennifer M. Calder
‘The Secret of Skara Vhore' is an adventurous fantasy quest, where a tantalising waft of folklore skims the pages. 13 year old Katie has always been alone, has always been different, but when she discovers long lost family members on...
Lovereading Price: £7.99 - Saving £2.00 (20%) Featured in: 13+ readers | YA readers
Format: Paperback | Released 28/11/2015
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