One Sweet Moment is much more than a romantic novel set in 1820s Edinburgh. It is also a window into the lives of the poor and rich members of society in this city of two halves. When troubled orphan Kate meets upper-class university medical student Andrew, their lives will never be the same again. But will their love be strong enough to survive the class divide?
An accomplished historian and novelist, Maggie Craig brings to life the dreadful living conditions within the vaults beneath the South Bridge and takes the reader on a thrilling journey to the past. I thoroughly recommend One Sweet Moment.
I asked Maggie the following questions:
Do the vaults still exist in present day Edinburgh?
Oh yes, and there are several sets of them. My story is set in the South Bridge vaults, which run at right angles back from Edinburgh's Royal Mile, under the street we now call South Bridge. A couple of tour companies will show you around these dark and atmospheric spaces and there are one or two pubs where you can experience a section of the vaults.
The fictional Pearl Fisher in One Sweet Moment has its real counterpart in Bannerman's pub in the Cowgate, a popular student howff. Go in there and you can see the vaults and the foot of the underground close which features in the book.
How much research did you have to do for this novel?
Quite a lot; time-consuming but not difficult. I absolutely love the research. I spent time in the vaults getting the lie of the land and imagining the story, looked up the original plans for South Bridge and contemporary accounts of the Great Fire of Edinburgh of 1824 in Edinburgh Central Library, read John Prebble's The King's Jaunt for so many wonderful details of King George IV's visit to Edinburgh in 1822, a pivotal event for what you might call Scotland's public image.
One particular aspect of the research I enjoyed for this book was looking up the newspapers of the time. You can get so much period detail from the adverts, whether they're telling you about a shop on South Bridge Street way back when called The Gilded Balloon, or that a cargo of melons has just been landed at Leith from Holland, or that the dressmakers are recommending gold or silver lama [and that's how they spelled it] for your new gown for the royal visit.
I was surprised to find your hero using the F-word in 1820. Was that deliberate?
Well, the F-word was certainly in use at that time. It has a long if not illustrious history. Robert Burns used it in his bawdy verse and it appears in Francis Grose's 18th century dictionary, The Vulgar Tongue. Richard has to mind his ps and qs at home so when he's outwith that rather polite domestic sphere, he tends to let rip. I didn't consciously make that decision, the earthy language of the book is just how the story told itself.
Language is an important strand in the book. There's a scene where Richard apologizes to Kate for using a much milder swear word in front of her and she snorts in derision. As a girl who works in an oyster cellar, she hears foul language every hour of the day but she's touched by his apology, it shows that despite the social gulf between them, he sees her as a young lady, worthy of his respect. The foul language her uncle uses towards her, in contrast, shows that horrible man's contempt for her.
Did you have any problems with the publisher allowing some Scottish dialogue?
No, this is really funny. One Sweet Moment is published by a London house and they were all for the use of Scots. The use of Scots versus Scottish English and Standard English is something I enjoyed very much while I was writing.
I should say that the book isn't written in Scots but some characters are quite broad in their speech although not difficult for a non-Scot to understand, I don't think. I always do my best to make things clear from the narrative context or by how another character replies. I love Scots, it has wonderfully descriptive words whose Standard English equivalents sometimes just don't sound vibrant enough to Scottish ears!
Other characters do what many Scots do. Having a guid Scots tongue in your heid is a compliment but the ability to switch registers and adjust according to the situation and to whom you're talking is inbuilt. Again, it's another strand of the book, that as Kate and Richard get to know one another they start adopting each other's words and turns of phrase and I had a lot of fun with this.
Are you writing any other novels in this period?
At the moment I've gone back in time to Edinburgh of the 1740s, writing a novel set in the run-up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745. I'm spending some time in 1820s Scotland in my current non-fiction WIP, looking at the Radical Rising of 1820. It was a fascinating time, hovering on the cusp of the modern world but carrying so much of the baggage - and colour - of the older one.
Thanks a lot for those brilliant answers, Maggie. You’ve given us some great insight into the novel and its setting, as well as useful research hints.
Maggie Craig is an accomplished author of Scottish historical fiction and well-researched non-fiction. Find out more about Maggie and her other books on her website. All her books are available on Amazon.