Today I am delighted to host author Rebecca McKinney. Rebecca is here with a guest post for us. The Angel in the Stone is out now on Kindle and e-book.
R.L. (Rebecca) McKinney is a native of Boulder, Colorado but came to Edinburgh as a student in 1994 and never left. Her first novel, Blast Radius, was published by Sandstone Press in 2015. She lives in Midlothian with her husband, children and two spoiled cats.
Having returned to his childhood home in the West Highlands, Calum leads a quiet life. More than two decades after his brother Finn fell to his death, he still relives the event and struggles to find peace of mind. It isn’t so easy, however: his mother, Mary, has Alzheimer’s Disease and his estranged daughter Catriona has arrived out of the blue. Unexpectedly, Calum has his mother and daughter living with him and the house becomes a crucible of old resentments, disappointments, unspoken revelations and fragile but enduring love. Together and separately, Calum, Mary and Catriona retrace the events that have brought them to this point and made them who they are.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: the life of a writer is not glamorous. At least, my life as a writer is not glamorous. It’s ordinary in a suburban middle-aged, middle-income sort of way. Most days look a bit like this: get up, get kids up, put a load of washing in, feed kids and cats, go to work (it’s the day job that pays the bills), come home, make tea, feed kids and cats, wash up, nip to the supermarket or go to the gym, hang out crumpled washing that’s been in the machine all day, stare at the computer for an hour, have a bath. Sleep. Get up. Repeat, ad nauseum.
Where does writing feature in this picture? See that hour spent staring at the computer? Two-thirds of that was probably Facebook. So that leaves about twenty minutes of writing on an average day. Sometimes I’m lucky to get that. If I’m doing really well on my days off, I may squeeze in two or three hours. No wonder it’s taken me until my mid-forties to produce two novels.
But at the same time, in some little corner of my brain, I’m always writing. I may not be rattling the keyboard, but I’m gathering words, stories, images and feelings. I’m storing them like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter, and every so often they coalesce into a pile I can’t control and come tumbling out. When I’m on a roll, I can write until midnight on a school night and get up at six the next morning. It’s both an escape and a deep-dive into my own psyche, like some kind of alcoholic bender except not so hard on the liver. It’s my coping strategy and my therapy, as well as my art.
The characters in my stories are everyday heroes. Their lives are familiar to me, and I hope to my readers. Their struggles and their triumphs are recognisable. They don’t track down serial killers, save the world from destruction, marry the prince or live happily ever after. What they do is survive in a tough world, and sometimes I think that is the most remarkable feat any of us can pull off.
The same is true for the people in the stories that have inspired me. There is an earthy, honest, slightly tarnished goodness about the characters I love best. These come from the novels of writers like John Steinbeck, Louis Grassic Gibbon, Annie Proulx, Kent Haruf, Barbara Kingsolver. They come from a genealogy of folk, blues, country and rock songs that tell of hardship, loss and quiet redemption. When the narrator of Bruce Springsteen’s song Thunder Road says to his sweetheart, ‘You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright, and that’s alright with me,’ you know there’s no fairy-tale romance here, but one of the best rock songs of its time (or maybe of all time
My second novel, The Angel in the Stone, is a story about three generations of one family, the Macdonalds: Grandmother Mary, her son Calum, and his teenage daughter Catriona. In the summer of 2014, all three of these characters find themselves at pivot points in their lives: points from which they cannot simply continue but have to confront big, life-changing decisions. They converge in the family home in a remote West Highland village, and their relationships are fraught with tensions, unspoken resentments and the long shadows of past events. Meanwhile, around them, Scotland considers its own place in the world and prepares to make a fateful decision about its own future. The book is about identity—how we define ourselves in our own minds and in relation to others—and about the meanings of dependence and independence in all our lives. Because none of us can be everyday heroes on our own.
The Angel in the Stone is published by Sandstone Press and available in paperback and e-book.
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