An interview with Prize winning writer Carol McKay whose new book ‘Incunabulum’ has been published in the end of March 2020.
LS: Welcome to the interview in my blog Carol. Let’s go straight into the new book. Explain the title please, as I had to look that word up.
CMc: Hi Leela. Thanks for inviting me to your blog. It’s a pleasure to be here. Ah, yes, ‘Incunabulum’. The title means an early printed book – usually one from before 1500. From the very earliest days of printing technology as opposed to illuminated manuscripts.
LS: Tell us how you came to write a post apocalypse novel? Was the idea always there on your mind? It is so topical that it seems almost prescient.
CMc: The ideas were brewing for a long time. I think we’re all fearful of pandemics. We have so much control and security, now, in the industrialised world, and can’t imagine our way of life becoming suddenly precarious. We don’t think of ourselves as vulnerable in the way that all the generations before us were (and the way that many, many people around the world still are). And yet, it thrills us to think of it. One of my early favourite books was John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, which is about life after what we assume to be the devastation of all-out nuclear war.
LS: Give us a flavour of the book. Tell us about Alice, the main protagonist and her quest.
CMc: I’m deeply interested in gender, and social class. If you remove the rules that govern normal society, conveniently destroying it through a pandemic, what happens? What would we be like if we had to start from scratch? It fascinates me. By referencing the incunabulum, I was trying to suggest that after the fictional pandemic, life for the characters has gone backwards, but will develop. There will be new technology and change again. Alice, my main character, is emotionally isolated and lonely. She was dissatisfied with her life before the pandemic. But she’s set in her ways, too. She has a lot of prejudices. The challenge for her is to see people afresh.
LS: I loved the nick names given to some of the characters they were so appropriate. Big Man, Wide Boy, Junkie. Who was your favourite character in the novel?
CMc: I used the nicknames as a kind of emotional body-armour for the characters. They’re all hurting, and don’t want to be exposed to any more hurt, so they shield themselves behind false names. I hope it’s not too confusing for the reader! Who is my favourite character? Oh, I think I love them all! Who did you like best?
LS: The use of Scots and Standard English works so well in the novel. Was that a deliberate choice?
CMc: Yes. It’s a big issue for me. The way we speak is an accident of birth and no language should be valued more highly than any other. Take three words we’re often told are slang – hame, stane, alane. Their pronunciation in Denmark and Norway is almost identical. And in German the words are heim, stein, allein. Home, stone, alone. It’s not slang. It’s just local language. Our mother-tongue: the right way for us to speak and be understood in our local community. But of course language is a tool of social class. Alice initially looks down on non-standard English, but hopefully her attitude changes as the book goes on.
LS: The setting of the book is Lanarkshire in Scotland. Why did you choose it?
CMc: It’s set in a place I know well. Part of it is set in Argyll, too, and it mentions other parts of Scotland. I walk these places, look at historical maps and try to absorb a sense of them: to get to know their social history.
LS: Now for some general questions. What is your writing day like? Strict routines? Do you have any advice to new writers?
CMc: I’m a bit lazy these days. I have some health conditions, so I take it easy in the early morning. Or maybe I just need the caffeine! I do like to write during daylight hours, and I like background music – but very much in the background. To new writers I would say – believe in yourself. Let your imagination flow. Go walks or wash dishes. Do routine physical tasks which move the blood round your body and oxygenate your mind. If you’re occupied with physical tasks, your imagination can be free. Observe the world around you. Oh, and don’t chastise yourself if you think what you’ve written is ‘rubbish’. Get words down. Someone said to me once, ‘the real writing is in the re-writing’. I like that. And I always say, ‘There’s a time to write, and a time to take in.’ You’re allowed to gaze out the window and dream.
LS: Do you write alone or in cafes, public places?
CMc: Oh no. No cafés. That’s way too public for me. Anyway, cafés are there for companionship and chat. And caffeine.
LS: What made you want to become a writer?
CMc: We didn’t really have books in my house when I was a child, though we had annuals, and weekly comics. At primary school in Drumchapel, way back in the 1960s, my class had to learn a poem by heart. I loved that poem for the way it opened my eyes and imagination. I could see everything the poet was describing! And I wanted to make readers hallucinate like that, too. The poem was William Soutar’s Aince Upon a Day. A poem in Scots about a wee snail! You can read it here https://www.williamsoutar.com/poems/aince.html
LS: This is a difficult time to launch a new book. Any surprises in the support you’ve had so far?
CMc: I’ve been humbled by the good things people have said about the book. They’ve taken my characters to their hearts, and told me they’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, which is beyond wonderful!
LS: Are you writing another novel or do you have plans for writing more books?
CMc: Och, my head’s full of stories! Just now, though, I’m doing the final edits to a poetry pamphlet which won a competition to be published by Hedgehog Press. It should be coming out next year. Can’t wait!
LS: Could you give us links to your website, and other sources where we can find your work?
CMc: My website is www.carolmckay.co.uk and I’m on Twitter at @carolmckaywrite
LS:Thank you for taking part and wishing you a lot of success with ‘Incunabulum.’
CMc: Thank YOU, Leela!
Check out Carol’s Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Carol-McKay/e/B003VIY324/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0