I’m very lucky today to have author Moira McPartlin answer some questions about Ways of the Doomed, her influences and writing.
It’s the year 2089 and everything is altered. The revolutions of the early 21st century have created a world divided – between the Privileged few and the Native (Celtic) underclass. Sorlie is enjoying a typical carefree Privileged teenage life until it is smashed apart by the cruel death of his parents and he is spirited away to live with his ice-cold grandfather at a mysterious island penal colony. Sorlie’s discovery that the captives are being genetically altered to remove all trace of their Native origins triggers a chain of shocking events that reveal his grandfather’s terrible secrets and, ultimately, the truth about himself.
What was the inspiration for the story?
The original story came to me as a dream. A full action technicoloured dream. When I woke I thought ‘Wow, that’s never been written about before.’ I wrote a short story but soon discovered that the world I needed to create to set my story in was bigger than I expected and so it grew. Some of the themes of the story comes from the two things that worried me at the time (and still worry me) – the rise in right wing politics and climate change. With these two themes to hand the ideas flowed into the plot line.
Was the setting important for the story?
Yes, the setting was everything. The story is set in Scotland in the year 2089. Most of the action takes place on Black Rock, an island penitentiary. I created a broken society where the population was divided into the Privileged class and their slaves, the natives. The natives are Celts who were early settlers of Scotland. I see in all societies that there is always a high class who oppresses a lower class and I wanted to show this. I drew inspiration from the old sites of the Highland Clearances and from the stories of St Kilda islanders, who, although not oppressed, lived a very harsh life on this isolated island situated forty miles west of Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean.
What made you decide upon it being set in the future?
I had no choice. The main theme of Ways of the Doomed is around manipulation of DNA. This may happen in laboratories at the moment but, as far as we know, governments aren’t using it for evil wrong doing. I chose the year 2089 because it is far into the future but still within the lifetime of teenage readers.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I didn’t really have a problem with this. I have always been good at empathising with all genders, class and cultures and I think that is the most important thing. I am a mother of sons and I have three brothers so I drew on many things from their lives. My first novel The Incomers was written from the perspective of a black West African woman and I found that harder to write.
Did you read any books in the same genre that Ways of the Doomed falls into and which ones were your favourites?
Yes, I did but I was very careful with what I read. I did not want to be influenced by recent popular novels so I avoided books like The Hunger Games and Divergent. I read and re-read lots of classics by authors old and new to me.
My favourites are 1984 by George Orwell; I first read this book at school, but it is just as scary today. I love I Robot by Isaac Asimov. Many people will be familiar with the movie but the book is much better. The scariest classic I read was On The Beach by Nevil Shute, about people in Australia preparing for the nuclear fallout that is headed their way. Their simple acceptance of their fate is chilling.
Had you decided before you started writing that this would be a series?
When I started I only intended to write a short story, but that grew into a novel. Soon the world building in Ways of the Doomed became so complex that it was obvious by the halfway point that there was more to the story. I made a conscious decision to make it a trilogy rather than a series because I have hundreds of stories to tell.
Did you have to plot out the whole series before you started writing?
Many writers find this hard to believe but I never had a plot. I always knew how and where it would end but at the time of writing I had no idea how I was going to get there. I am a very organic writer, I trust in my instincts and my process. I know if I develop the characters well enough I can set them free on the page and let them tell the story.
You write poetry, short stories and novels. Is there a medium that you find easier than the others?
I don’t find any of them easy. They all need different skills. Novel writing takes stamina. You have to stick with it and hold the passion for your story and characters over long periods of time. Poetry writing is very intense, I can’t do any other types of writing when I’m writing poetry. I need to be completely immersed in poetry, so much so that it keeps me from sleeping.
My favourite medium is short story writing. I love the challenge of taking one idea and encapsulating it in a short piece of work. Paring back words, leaving room between the lines to tell another story, making the reader work harder.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I would have to say the biggest trap is giving your time away. What I mean is, helping in a voluntary writing organisation, running writers’ groups, network groups, sitting on committees. I know this because I fell into that trap to some extent. When I first started writing I volunteered for many committees and although it was beneficial in terms of networking it steals your writing time. I was good at splitting my time but I see many writers who never find time to work on their craft.
I am a Scot with Irish roots. Although born in the Scottish Borders I was brought up in a small Fife mining village. I resigned from a finance role in Shell Oil in 2005 to concentrate on writing. I am a very youthful granny to three lovely children. In my spare time I garden, play guitar and whistle and try to get out on the hills when I can but find since compleating my Munros in 2006 other things take priority. I live in Stirling with my husband Colin.