We love new books here at Edinburgh reviews! And with new historical novel The Maiden – set around Corstorphine and due for an April 27th release.
The Maiden is historical crime fiction with a feminist twist, based on the true story of Christian Nimmo – AKA The White Lady of Corstorphine.
Bronwen Winter Phoenix recently chatted with author Kate Foster about what will be her debut fiction release, the paranormal, and giving a voice to those who previously hadn’t been heard.
B: Hi Kate, congratulations on the launch of your debut book! Seems like it’s been a great success already in that it’s won a Bloody Scotland prize. How are you feeling about it?
Kate: I’m really excited. It’s been amazing to see the story develop from manuscript to proof and now an actual hardback book with a stunning cover.
B: So, we’ve read the press release, but tell me a little more about what we can expect from The Maiden!
Kate: The Maiden is a historical thriller set in the 17th century that tells the story of a Scottish aristocrat, Lady Christian Nimmo, who is condemned to death for murdering her lover, Lord James Forrester. But Christian is not the only woman in James’s life, and not the only one with cause to wish him dead. It’s inspired by a real-life murder that happened in my village of Corstorphine, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
B: I read you were quite close to this story growing up and used to be terrified of the ghost this story inspired. Did you used to hear all the tales as a child, and who told you about it?
Kate: After her death, the ghost of Christian Nimmo was said to haunt the spot of the murder in the heart of Corstorphine. The ghost is known as the White Lady of Corstorphine as she was seen in a flowing white cloak! I learned about the story at school, and it did scare me, and I used to avoid the spot. As an adult, thinking about the crime, I realised I no longer had a fear of Christian Nimmo but was intrigued by her notoriety.
B: Did you ever see anything spooky growing up in Corstorphine, even if it wasn’t the White Lady?
Kate: Corstorphine is a very historic village. My friends and I used to enjoy ourselves with all sorts of games and stories about witches but I have never seen a ghost, thankfully!
B: What’s the longstanding narrative behind this crime, and what aspects (even before researching) made you question whether that’s actually what happened? I’d love to hear what the hook was for you.
Kate: A substantial court report of the crime suggests Christian was a godless woman: a whore, an adulteress and a murderess! It also reveals she was James’s niece by marriage. When I read it, I felt an emotional reaction and The Maiden is my response to that. Although there are detailed eyewitness accounts of the murder itself, none of us know what actually happened in the relationship between Christian and James that led up to the murder.
B: You did a fair bit of research to come up with potential answers to what might have actually happened, is that right? Was there anything in particular that stood out to you whilst you were doing this?
Kate: I didn’t try to write an accurate historical account of the couple’s relationship, but I took the murder as a starting point for a fictional journey questioning whether there may have been a domestic abuse or grooming element. My research was largely around what was happening in Edinburgh at that time and how people were living. I was interested in the lack of women’s voices and wanted to create some, so I came up with a second character, Violet Blyth who is James’s other lover and a key player in the murder mystery. She’s a prostitute living in a brothel in an Edinburgh’s close.
B: It sounds like the feminist twist is that you’re giving voices to women of the time, including Lady Christian Nimmo. Was that particularly important to you?
Kate: I just felt a connection to these women and wanted to breathe life into characters who haven’t had much of a voice to date.
B: When giving these women a voice, how did you create authentic and believable dialogue for them, considering the language and social norms of the time period? Was it a challenge?
Kate: The biggest tip I got was not to try to invent historical characters! Instead, make them modern characters who are just like us, with our wants and needs and desires. That way, the reader can identify with them, and they feel authentic. As for the dialogue, they speak in the same way as me and my friends and family. I found it easy to write some of the dialogue as it was like chatting to friends.
B: How did you balance the need for historical accuracy with creating these fictional accounts, and do you think what you have could actually be quite close to the truth?
Kate: I think this is a really interesting question and there is a debate around this issue. Should authors stick as closely to the facts as they can, or should they have free reign? With The Maiden, I felt that it was really important for me to let go of the facts and write my own story.
B: You’re doing numerous events to promote The Maiden – will you be doing readings? And will people be able to get hold of a copy of your book at these events?
Kate: I will be talking about The Maiden and signing copies at a number of events across Scotland:
Monday 24 April – Rare Birds bookshop, Stockbridge, Friday 28 April – The Bookhouse, Broughty Ferry in conversation with Sarah Smith, author of Hear No Evil, Wednesday 3 May – As Blackwell’s Scottish Book of the Month for May, at Blackwell’s Bookshop Edinburgh in conversation with Sara Sheridan, author of The Fair Botanists – and finally, Friday 5 May – Waterstones, Aberdeen.
B: What’s next? Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Kate: Yes, I’m writing my second novel which is another Scottish historical thriller!
B: What advice would you give to aspiring writers interested in writing historical crime?
Kate: Read as much as you can in the genre, but also read other books too and watch TV dramas. Get feedback on your manuscript and get to know what agents are looking for.
B: Thanks so much, Kate! Wishing you all the best with The Maiden when it comes out!
Kate: Thank you for your interest in The Maiden!
- Preorder The Maiden on Amazon
- Buy tickets to the event in conversation with Sara Sheridan at Blackwell’s bookshop, Edinburgh