Thursday, September 19, 2013

Muirteach MacPhee’s “Research Rapture”

By Susan McDuffie


I adore research, and that love has taken me down some twisted roads in my writing career. The obscure fact, the enticing story, the little bits of what I fondly call “faux history” all provide grist for my creative mill. In an article published in the New York Times January 5, 2013, author Sean Pidgeon describes research rapture as “A state of enthusiasm or exaltation a rising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history.” Anyone who has ever attempted to slog through a historical novel overloaded with the myriad details that so delighted the author will attest to the pitfalls of this. However, research rapture also leads to exciting serendipity in writing. One little detail sparks a story.

Muirteach MacPhee, the bastard son of the Prior of Oronsay, is the Keeper of the Records for the Lord of the Isles, and the sleuth in my medieval mystery series. The post of Keeper of the Records was a hereditary clan office. As a child I heard stories of this and the clan’s ancestral lands on Colonsay: it all sounded marvelously exotic and intriguing. In actual fact the Keeper of the Records might have been a fairly boring post—keeping track of legal agreements and such--but the idea fascinated me and one of the many virtues of fiction is its ability to turn drab reality into intriguing story! On a trip to Scotland I came across a little booklet, listing the clan chiefs of the MacPhees as well as the priors of Oronsay and their sons. From such little tidbits are born historical mystery series. A MASS FOR THE DEAD, the first Muirteach MacPhee mystery, is my story of how Muirteach solves his father’s murder and becomes the Keeper of the Records.

The second Muirteach mystery, THE FAERIE HILLS, evolved from two threads. Seeing the incredible Bronze Age gold on display at the National Museum of Ireland was the first. The second was Bridget Cleary case in 1890s Ireland. A man murdered his wife, convinced she was a fairy changeling. The killing was quickly discovered, dampening prospects for Irish home rule. After all, if the Irish still believed in fairies how could they be expected to govern themselves? The question seized me. If that were the mindset in 1890, what would the mindset have been five hundred years earlier, in the 1300s? THE FAERIE HILLS attempts to answer that question when a child’s disappearance is blamed on the fairy.

The third Muirteach MacPhee mystery, THE STUDY OF MURDER, went on sale yesterday (and is listed to pre-order at online booksellers). The Voynich manuscript sparked this story. This mysterious manuscript has never been deciphered despite attempts by many noted cryptographers. The encrypted text and strange drawings—some resemble plants, but not known species, some, astrological or cosmological drawings, while others depict frolicking nudes bathing in strange botanical tubes and vessels—piqued my imagination and Muirteach’s sojourn in Oxford was the end result.

The fourth Muirteach mystery, in progress and unnamed as yet, started with Henry Sinclair and his voyage to America in 1398, and some tie-in with the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. That led me to the lost Norse settlement in Greenland, the Kensington rune stone, the Newport tower and various other tangents, including gyrfalcons and the Oak Island mystery. The book takes place mainly in Edinburgh, at the courts of Robert II, the Lord of the Isles father-in-law, and one thing I can say about it to date is that the characters have very well developed back-stories! I’m having a wonderful time with it.

If anyone shares this love of research I invite you to join a Facebook group jointly managed by myself and several other authors, Research Rapture. I also have a website and a Facebook page where I post a few times weekly, generally little research tidbits relevant to my writing. I also invite you to enter Muirteach’s world and enjoy his adventures in medieval Scotland, and hope you’ll enjoy the journey.

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Thanks so much for being my guest blogger today, Susan. I've been reading more medieval mysteries lately and am fascinated by the historical accuracy and attention to detail. It's fun getting a little history lesson with each book.

Susan McDuffie has been a devotee of historical fiction since her childhood, when she believed she had been born in the wrong century. She now writes historical mysteries set in medieval Scotland. The Muirteach MacPhee Mysteries include A MASS FOR THE DEAD (2006), THE FAERIE HILLS (2011-- Winner of NM Book Award “Best Historical Novel” 2011) and THE STUDY OF MURDER (September 2013).

One signed copy of The Study of Murder will be given away to a lucky resident of the U.S. or Canada who leaves a comment on this post before midnight Mountain Time tomorrow (Friday, September 20th). I'll select the the winner and post the name, but not until Sunday evening because I'll be at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in Denver this weekend.

11 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I ever fall into it, I'll know what to call it!

Julie Luek said...

Oh what a great resource to know about- -thank you for sharing. I love to dig and do research and can get quite lost in the imagination of it all. I even have a Pin board dedicated to history and the spark it can ignite.

Susan McDuffie said...

I know, research is so much fun! Sadly, I could just research and research, and never write the book! I guess at some point you just have to say "enough"--except for the pleasant hour or two spent researching medieval pilgrim badges when you need on in your WIP. :-) Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments--

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree that doing research is fascinating. Fact is stranger and more interesting than fiction. Combining the two together into faction is a great way to write a book.

Alana White said...

Lovely, Susan! Can't wait to read it!

Yolanda Renee said...

I just read about the Voynich manuscript, and now twice in one week! Love research and history! Good luck with your release - The Study of Murder sounds fascinating!

Susan McDuffie said...

Thanks, Jacqueline, Alana and Yolanda for your comments. I know Alana is a fan of research--we presented together on that enticing subject last June at the HNS conference. And as further proof that great minds think alike, here's Yolanda running into the Voynich twice in one week--serendipity at play. Jacqueline, I share your love of "faction"; although I'll confess to sometimes getting lost in obscure theories--the more obscure the better. I'll look forward to staying in touch with everyone, and thanks again for stopping by.

Susan McDuffie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenneth W Harmon said...

I love doing research. It opens the door to so many possibilities in a story, and readers appreciate an author who has taken the time to make the details in their novel authentic. Susan, your novels sound fascinating. I will have to read one soon. Thanks for the great post.

Jeanne_Treat said...

It's fascinating to peer into the research process of this author. Many things spark our creativity as authors - a conversation, a trip abroad, a visit to a museum, a movie scene, or a historical event.

Susan McDuffie said...

Thank you, Kenneth and Jeanne, for your comments. I'm always pleased if a reader feels the book is authentic. When I was working on THE STUDY OF MURDER one exciting find was "Records of Mediaeval Oxford" by H.E. Salter--just fascinating (and available POD). I might have to set another book in Oxford for the chance to use that source a little more!