Manda grew up near Glasgow where she studied veterinary surgery before going on to teach at the universities of Cambridge and Dublin.
She began her career as a writer with a series of crime novels set in Scotland, the first of which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. The dark, edgy thriller which followed, No Good Deed, was nominated for an Edgar Award and hailed as one of the most remarkable thrillers of the year in 2001.
In addition to the bestselling Boudica series, which was translated into over twenty languages, Manda is the author of an acclaimed series of Roman novels featuring the emperor’s spy Sebastos Pantera.
Having spent the last two decades bringing historical figures back to life, reimagined and rebooted for the twenty-first century, in the tradition of Kate Mosse and Rosemary Sutcliff, her next book returns in part to her thriller roots. Into the Fire– coming June 2015 – thrillingly links arson attacks in modern-day France with the story of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War.
There is a secret, hidden within a body, burning within the flames, that will change it all.
A man’s charred corpse is found in the latest of a string of arson attacks in the French city of Orléans. His is the first death. An extremist group claim responsibility but their whereabouts cannot be found. Police inspector Capitaine Ines Picault and her team must track them down before more people die. Their only clue? The name of a woman who has been dead for over 500 years: Joan of Arc.
She is one of the great enigmas of history – a young woman who came from nowhere to lead the armies of France to victory against England. And who died the same fiery death as the man whose body has just been discovered.
As more fires rage in Orleans and the death toll mounts, Picault must look to the past and the secrets which lie buried there to unravel the mysteries of the present. As the clock counts down, she must challenge some fundamental truths to save those closest to her…
Into the Fire is a breath-taking collision of past and present, a brilliant race-against-time thriller combined with an immaculately woven historical narrative. In it, bestselling author Manda Scott demonstrates why she is one of the most exciting, innovative and highly accomplished storytellers of our age.
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(Competition will close at midnight on 20th, and a winner chosen at random, by my 4 year old granddaughter (as random as it gets))
Manda, thank you for agreeing to do this interview, first let me say congratulations on a wonderful book, Into the fire is a stunning read.
1) What led you to write a book about Jeanne d’Arc?
I’d always had an interest in her reputation as a woman warrior – having written about Boudica, it at least made sense to take a look at Joan of Arc – but I always got stuck on the notion that she was a peasant girl who turned up out of nowhere, got on a warhorse and led the troops into battle. Either she was a cipher, a flag-carrier and nothing more… or she had to be trained. If she was the former, I wasn’t interested. If she was the latter, I couldn’t see how it was possible. Then I read an article that pointed me in the direction of who she could have been and the more I read about it, the more sense it made – until in the end, it seemed to me she couldn’t have been anyone else. The question of why she had to spin her own lies in the beginning also makes so much more sense once everything falls into place.
2) How would you describe the style of this book? I couldn’t pigeon hole it as Time slip, more a complimentary storyline, and what led to writing the book in this style?
Before anything else, this is a thriller – that’s what I wrote first when I started writing and what I love most – whatever the sub genre, I want both me as a writer and by extension, the readers, to have that perfect mix of anticipation and uncertainty that makes thriller work – to have a dynamic narrative drive that sweeps the characters along, always with a strong thread, but without losing the poetry of language that makes reading so special.
Because this starts with the contemporary thread, I think it feels more like a contemporary thriller but it’s grounded in the unearthing of historical facts and the debunking of the mythology that’s been around for the past 600 years, so I needed the historical threads to make sense of that.
3) Who are the writers that have influenced you most; from making you want to be a writer, through to writing style?
There have been so many… in my youth, Alan Garner was one of my heroes (and still is), but so was James Fennimore Cooper – The Last of the Mohicans was the first book I bought with my own money. Moving on, I loved Mary Renault and desperately wanted to be able to write as beautifully: when I started the Boudica series, it was The Fire from Heaven that I kept on the table beside me to read through whenever I needed to remember how to balance a sentence.
More recently, I’ve loved Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which seems to me to be a perfectly scripted multi-threaded dual time line novel, while his book REAMDE is an outstanding thriller. I love Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane for their sheer creativity while for beauty of prose, of course, Hilary Mantel has re-set the baselines, while Rob Low and Andrew Taylor both provide a template of how really, really good writing can exist within the historical genre. And then there’s Robert Wilton’s spy series, which leaves me wishing I could write half as well…
I could go on for hours. There are so very many brilliant writers around just now, it’s hard to know where to start, and impossible to stop…
4) Where did the inspiration strike for the book? and was it any harder to writer than your other books?
The first spark was the newspaper article I read back in 2003. I remember emailing my then-editor and saying ‘I’m going to write Joan of Arc next, don’t let anyone else near it!’ But I was in the midst of the Boudica series and then the ROME spy thrillers came next so it wasn’t until 2012 that I had the time and the head-space really to engage with the question of who she was and how she came to do what she did – or even fully to research what she did, which was pretty remarkable stuff for anyone, and so much more so for a girl in her late teens or early twenties.
When it became obvious that it needed to be a dual time line book, it took me a while to sort the two separate plot threads – both have to be coherent in and of themselves, but they have to feel absolutely intertwined, so that each answers questions raised by the other and that’s a whole new level of complexity, so it was definitely different to any of the recent books in terms of the structure and the writing.
5) Was it hard to move away from the simply brilliant Rome series, especially into a much under explored period of history?
It was certainly different! I loved writing the ROME series and I’d been in the first century AD since the turn of the millennium. If I’d been in a university, it was the equivalent of an undergraduate degree passing on through post grad to post-doc. But I thrive on change and I hate it when I think I’ve reach the point in any learning curve where it begins to flatten out, so it was very good indeed to start again at the bottom and feel the steepness of the slope. There’s a particular feeling when getting to grips with something new, where each day is a big leap forward that I love. I’m not overly keen on the Christian era, so I prefer writing in the first century or the twentieth/twenty first, but this was slap bang in the middle and actually, the more I read, the more I realized that it wasn’t as alien as I’d imagined. I came to love it and could easily have written more.
6) Am I correct in that No Good Deed (another splendid tale) is being dusted off for re-release? and if so is this a resurgence of the thriller genre for you?
No Good Deed (thank you – glad you liked it) is out in e-book format, but as far as I know, there’s no move to print it – but I’ll get back to you on that if I hear anything new. Buy e-Book
7) You have managed to write some amazingly intelligent and entertaining books in multiple genres, have you set your sights on any other genres in the future?
Kind man, thank you! Definitely – my aim in the long run is to be able to do what Robert Harris does – write what interests me and know that I have a solid following of people who will trust that I can take almost any topic and make it compelling. Given that I am at heart a political animal and that what concerns me most at the moment is climate change and the impact of that on our survival, I have some very clear ideas of things I’d like to write that address that. We don’t have any mythology, any heroes, which show us how we can get from where we are now to where we need to be in way that isn’t dystopic. I want to write that – but it may be that I have to write it as a TV or film script rather than as a book, at least in the first instance – which would be fine. I’m also part way through a book that, for me, has a similar kind of feel to Neil Gaiman or Alan Garner – that kind of magical realism that takes the essence of our history and our mythology and makes it relevant for now. So that’s on the cards too. I just need to live long enough to write all the ideas.
8) Given you are one of the key drivers of the HWA (Historical Writers Association) you must read many books for cover quotes. But who and what do you read for pure pleasure?
I’ve made a lot of friends while I’ve been Chair of the HWA and I’d read books by say, Ben Kane, Tony Riches, Imogen Robertson, Andrew Taylor, Liz Fremantle… whether I had to or not. In between, I read endless non fiction and I recently binged on a week of Joe Abercrombie followed by Anthony Ryan (whose work is just glorious) and then Sebastien de Castell (PARM: so glad you read and liked this, it was one of my Fav books last year), which was wonderful. I read anything and everything by Neil Gaiman – I think he’s one of the truly gifted writers of our generation. And I recently read at thriller called ‘Tuesday Falling’ by S Williams which I loved. I can read a book in an evening, but the really good ones are the ones where I’m still up at 3am reading ‘just one more chapter’.
9) If you could invite any four people from throughout history or fictional writing to dinner, whom would it be and why?
Only four. Heck…
I’d invite Mary Renault’s version of Alexander of Macedon
Tecumseh – a native American leader (so I could warn him not to deal with the whites)
Calgacus (so I could ask him the truth about the battle of Mons Graupius)
Dorothy Dunnet’s Thorfinn, her version of MacBeth.
10) Finally, the bit most authors would shy away from. You have a soap box and the publisher has asked you to stand outside Kings cross and pitch your latest book to the passers buy… what would your pitch be to make the public buy this book/ series?
Yep, I’d shy away from this too – I write the books. It’s someone else’s job to sell them.
But if I’ve got my soap box, this is the pitch:
Forget what you thought you knew: when it comes to Joan of Arc, the whole bloody myth is a lie we’ve been sold for 600 years. She was never a mystic peasant, she was so much more than that – but the far right in France wants to keep her as their virginal god-bothering Republican saviour-of-France and it doesn’t take much to imagine a circumstance in which they’ll kill to keep the truth a secret. (The left, of course, sees her as a gender-bending warrior-feminist. She is truly all things to all people)
But the truth wants to be free. And we can free it, you and I. Just read this, and don’t ever let anyone spin you lies ever again…
Into the Fire by Manda Scott is one of those rare books that comes along only occasionally, politely sits you down and proceeds to submerge you in the authors imagination. It’s a stunning piece of story telling, almost two books in one, intertwined around one central figure Jeanne d’Arc. The key story set as a contemporary political crime thriller follows the trials both personal and emotional and Police inspector Capitaine Ines Picault battle to solve the mystery of the arson attacks and murders in Orleans. The second part of the tale follows the History/ the myth busting exploits uncovering the story behind Jeanne d’Arc. But as with life, in this tale the modern always needing the historic to make it all make sense, and the present tense of both periods making both feel in the now.
It doesn’t need me to tell any reader of Manda’s work that the writing is exemplary, as if each word has been chosen and sculpted before being added to the page, only the right ones being allowed to survive the final cut for the final draft of the book. The result being a book that pulls you back and forth in time, blending seamlessly. Creating an utterly plausible account for both tales and investing you totally in all characters.
The scope of the research is amazing, the book taking you from hacking and the dark net to 15th century France and knights on horseback storming castles and dying in the blood and muck of battle. The battles are utterly uncompromising and at the same time never gratuitous, but always showing the fight for what it was; death covered in blood, shit and muck, only for the victor can the tales be polished to remove that grime of war and add that tint of rose to the vision of honour and battles won.
Manda’s demanding attention to historical accuracy shines through in this book, but this book is so much more than that, the detail makes it feel real, but its the imagination that drags the reader in and wraps you in the plot.
This is on the shortlist for book of the year, its that good.
1. Hen’s Teeth (1996)
2. Night Mares (1998)
3. Stronger Than Death (1999)
1. Dreaming the Eagle (2002)
2. Dreaming the Bull (2004)
3. Dreaming the Hound (2004)
4. Dreaming the Serpent Spear (2006)
The Crystal Skull (2008)
aka 2012: The Crystal Skull
Into The Fire (2015)