Thursday 2 February 2012

Author Spotlight: Myra Duffy

A very warm welcome to fellow Scottish writer, Myra Duffy. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Myra through our local writing group and I’m delighted to introduce her, and her writing, to a wider audience. You can read more about this interesting writer at the end of the interview.

Myra’s second Alison Cameron novel set on the lovely Scottish island of Bute, Last Ferry to Bute, is a truly absorbing mystery, with enough twists and turns to satisfy any reader of cosy crime and mystery. I particularly enjoyed the fact that protagonist, Alison, is an ordinary wife and mother who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also brought back memories of wonderful family holidays on Bute.

Last Ferry to Bute


When her mother’s friend, Jessie, expresses some concerns about her safety in the exclusive Hereuse Nursing Home where she now lives, Alison reluctantly agrees to investigate. She also is persuaded into helping with the arrangements for her college reunion on the island, resulting in frequent trips to Bute.

Then the mysterious deaths begin and Alison is soon caught in the middle of several strange occurrences. Between trying to discover if Jessie’s worries have any foundation in fact, and concerns over the smooth antiques dealer with whom her besotted daughter is working, Alison is soon out of her depth. Then she is confronted with some mysterious deaths. Can she find out the answer to her questions before she too is in danger?

Myra kindly agreed to answer the following questions

You also write short stories and non-fiction, Myra - which do you prefer and why?

I’ve always enjoyed writing non-fiction because it comes from personal experience and I feel confident about my areas of expertise. The non-fiction I’ve written to date draws on my experience of initially managing a section within a large organisation, then latterly managing a small organisation and dealing with the problems that can arise from limited resources and both paid and voluntary staff. I hope to write an updated non-fiction management handbook for small organisations at some stage.

In recent years I’ve concentrated on fiction. I’ve always written fiction, but mostly for my own interest rather than with a view to publishing, though winning a number of prizes over the years has been very encouraging. Short stories tend to come to me almost fully formed - a sudden idea - and I like to write character based short stories with a sting in the tale. But mostly I prefer to write novels, though they are more difficult and more time consuming, of course. Over the length of the novel you have time to develop both character and plot. My Bute novels feature the same main character, Alison Cameron and I’m getting very well acquainted with her.

Do your management skills help you to organise your writing time?

I would love to say - absolutely! However, it’s not quite as easy as that. Managing characters in a novel is even more difficult than managing people in real life, though in theory you should have much more control. But the discipline of management has helped me in planning and keeping to a plan. For example, I set myself the task of writing 50,000 words in a month for the Write a Novel in a month initiative last November (NaNoWriMo) and I did complete it, though by the end I was writing some 6,000 words a day. Probably that would fall into the category of ‘Just in Time’ management!

Why did you choose to write 'cosy crime'?

The main interest for me in any crime is the puzzle - who did it and why. I suppose this springs from the development of the characters and I like to keep the reader guessing as long as possible, though there are plenty of clues in the novel.

Bute is an ideal place to set such stories. It’s a small island off the West coast of Scotland with a population of no more than 6,000 people, except in the summer when the population is swelled by many visitors. This gives me all the benefits of a location that has strong associations for people in the West of Scotland (many of whom spent childhood holidays on Bute) and indeed with the many people of Scottish descent throughout the world. It allows me to focus in on the characters and use a kind of shorthand for the locations. And in a small place you have lots of opportunities for local gossip and intrigues to help move the plot along! I prefer not to write about violent crime, as I write the kind of books I like to read.

How do the islanders feel about your Alison Cameron mysteries being set on Bute?

Some of them are rather bemused, I think. But everyone has been very supportive, very helpful. And I do know a number of people living on the mainland, having read the books, decided to take a trip to the island. So I suppose I’m doing my bit for island tourism, though I am very careful to have a large disclaimer about the characters not being based on anyone I know. I do use real locations, but often change details for purposes of the plot.

I must add that the island isn’t the hotbed of crime that my novels suggest. In fact there is very little crime and it is a beautiful place with lots of unspoiled beaches and excellent walking, including the West Island Way. A lot of money is being spent on upgrading facilities, including the Art Deco Rothesay Pavilion which features strongly in the next book.

Do you have a favourite writing place?

I write in the attic, which isn’t nearly as Spartan as it sounds! I have a PC facing a blank wall to avoid distractions. But I can write anywhere and often write some of my novel on the ferry to Bute.

What are you working on now?

My current novel, the work-in-progress, is for the moment called Last Dance at the Rothesay Pavilion and the plot centres on the renovation of the Pavilion. During the last war Bute (especially Rothesay) was a very busy place as many army and navy personnel, including some from Canada, were stationed there and there is a fund of stories about what went on. Ettrick Bay, for example was used as a practice run for the D-Day landings. I’m weaving some of this history into the novel and I hope the twist will please readers.

Any tips for new writers?

Join a writers’ group! There’s no doubt in my mind that joining Erskine Writers a few years ago was just the impetus I needed to take my fiction writing seriously. Everyone has been so supportive, I’ve learned lots and the opportunities to enter competitions and receive advice from the judges have given me exactly the kind of help I needed. Writing can be a very solitary business and apart from the opportunities to develop your skills, a writing group offers a great social focus.

Thanks for those great answers, Myra, and for being my guest today! All the best with your novels.
Last Ferry to Bute is available from Amazon (UK), in print, and at the special e-book price of £1.99 for a limited period. Also available from Amazon (US). The previous Alison Cameron mystery on Bute, The House at Ettrick Bay, is also available from Amazon.

You can pop over to Myra’s blog to read a little about Bute and perhaps hear what Last Ferry to Bute protagonist Alison Cameron has to say for herself.

A graduate of the University of Glasgow, Myra Duffy’s early career was in Education, with teaching posts (secondary and Further Education) in London, Madrid and Glasgow. She then held further posts in Educational management, finally as Director of the Scottish Wider Access Programme (West).

Myra has written in a variety of genres since early childhood and still possesses a copy of her earliest novel, Jewels in the Snow, written at Primary school. She also wrote plays and on Friday afternoons the teacher allowed her to recruit classmates to act them out, or sometimes they were performed with glove puppets, a much loved Christmas present. Her first real success was winning a national writing competition at the age of thirteen. She continued to write and be published in local magazines during her schooldays and wrote short plays, performed at the local church.

Because of her background in management, she is a well established non-fiction author, specialising in educational articles and in management training handbooks for small organisations. Recently she’s had the opportunity to devote more time to her first love – fiction. Myra has been a prize-winner in a number of competitions run by Erskine Writers, of which she is currently President and also had some success in the competitions of the Scottish Association of Writers (at their annual conference). A number of short stories have been in publications such as My Weekly and the Ireland’s Own anthology.

Myra’s preference is for writing novels and to date these comprise When Old Ghosts Meet (published 2009), and the first of the Bute novels The House at Ettrick Bay (published 2010). Her latest novel, Last Ferry to Bute (published 2011), is also set on the Isle of Bute. Both Bute novels have the same protagonist - Alison Cameron, an ordinary woman who finds herself involved in extraordinary events.

The work in progress is provisionally titled Last Dance at the Rothesay Pavilion but Myra says she “is struggling with a bearded man who keeps appearing and I’m not quite sure what he intends to do!”


Joanna said...

This was such an interesting interview. Thank you, Rosemary and Myra.

Jane Richardson said...

What a super interview! I love the idea for the story setting. That's me heading over to Amazon right now to get this on my iPad - just what I'm looking for in this wintry weather, a good whodunnit to snuggle up with. Best of luck with the book, Myra!

Jane x

Bill Kirton said...

Great, open interview. Always a pleasure to hear how others set about their writing - and a reassurance when it sounds familiar. (And I'd really like to read 'Jewels in the Snow'.)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks so much for your support again, Joanna!

Hello, Jane - thanks for coming over. I'm sure Myra will be delighted to hear that!

Thnaks for your comment, Bill - I'd like to read that too!

Anonymous said...

Lovely interview, Myra. Gives encouragemnt to all we aspiring authors hoping to make the breakthrough.

Bill Daly

Joan Fleming said...

Great interview, Myra and Rosemary. I really enjoyed Last Ferry to Bute (it certainly kept me guessing!). Looking forward to the next one.

Unknown said...

A terrific interview, ladies. Thanks for sharing.

Last Ferry to Bute sounds a great read. I'm off to check it out.

Gill Stewart said...

Really interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The books stand on their own but I'm one of those people that likes to know a bit of their background, which is just what this has provided. Thank you.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Bill D!

Kept me guessing too, Joan!

Hello Shirley - thanks for your comment!

Hi Gill - Good comment. I like a bit of background too!

Chris Longmuir said...

Great interview Rosemary and Myra. I've been to Bute a couple of times and I like the place as well. Note to myself, must remember to pop over to Amazon and buy the ebooks.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Chris!

Myra Duffy said...

Many thanks everyone for your kind comments. I'm really thrilled that Rosemary invited me be a guest on her blog.
As for 'Jewels in the Snow'I could make it available as a limited edition at a suitable price (assuming I can read my childish handwriting).

Patsy said...

Sounds an interesting story - but the title alone is enough to catch my attention!

Vikki said...

Enjoyed reading the interview and I'm away to download the book now Myra onto my kindle! I like the fact you write in an attic (and on the ferry) Both of them sound like appealing places to hide away for some creative time

Janice said...

What a fabulous and indepth interview, Rosemary. I was hanging on your every word there Myra - and then you pulled me up sharp with the mention of the bearded man - who is he and what does he want!? (Gulp!)

Wishing you great success with your Bute novels!

Janice xx

Diane Fordham said...

Thank you Rosemary and Myra. Congrats on your achievements Myra. I really like the sound of this book and am sure it will do well. :-)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

It's a good title, Patsy!

Thanks for commenting, Vikki!

Thnaks, Janice - I want to know who he is!

Hi Diane - thanks for that!

myra duffy said...

The bearded man is beginning to worry me a little bit -not that I have anything against men with beards!

Talli Roland said...

Congrats to Myra! And I agree with her advice to writers to join a writers' group. It's invaluable!

Paula Martin said...

I spent 3 holidays at Rothesay in my late teens/early twenties, so the setting of your books really appeals to me, as I loved the island.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

It's good advice, Talli!

I would never have known you'd been to Rothesay, Paula - that's where I spent my childhood holidays!

Anonymous said...

Well done.Fantastic interview.
Must buy the books now and visit Bute !!!

Myra Duffy said...

I'm sure you'll be made very welcome on Bute!

Gwen Kirkwood said...

I enjoyed this interview so much Myra and Rosemary. I looked on Amazon to see whether Last Ferry was available in print but apparently not. The Kindle edition is a real bargain - if only I had a Kindle!

I learned a lot about you too Myra and that always interests me. I intend to catch up with Alison Cameron eventually.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your comment, Edna!

Thanks, Gwen - yes, it is available in print too.

Myra Duffy said...

I just hope Alison is busy solving the problems in Last Dance at the Rothesay Pavilion and not letting all these kind comments go to her head!