Cait Duggan, author of The Last Balfour, answers some questions about her book. We thank her and HarperCollins Australia for this interview.
Is this the first in a series? If so, how many books are planned?
Without giving too much away about the end of The Last Balfour, I’m currently working on another book set in this world. I’m hoping that readers of The Last Balfour will enjoy the story and want to spend time with some of these characters again.
I’d love to do a series and my vision is to do four books, based on the four elements. The Last Balfour is the ‘fire’ instalment, and the one I’m working on now is ‘air’. In some ancient cultures, the four elements were believed to be the building blocks of the universe and were called upon for magical manifestation.
We loved the use of accurate language for the period. How did you research this language?
At this time, people of the Lowlands like Iona would have spoken Scots, whereas in the Highlands and Islands people spoke Gaelic. There is some scholarly disagreement as to whether Scots was (and is) a language in its own right, or a dialect of English. After King James VI became king of England in 1603, the use of standard English became more widespread in Scotland due to the king’s adoption of the English language and customs, and the closer political ties between the two countries. However, that occurred slightly after the time in which The Last Balfour is set, which is 1597, the year of the Great Scottish Witch Hunts.
The approach I took was to use some Scots words to give a sense of time and place. I read Scottish writers such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and John Buchan, which also assisted me in this process.
Where did you find resources for this period?
Books, and lots of them! I bought all kinds of books about Scotland and now have quite an extensive library covering folklore and culture, magic and healing practices, flora and fauna, food, and costume. I’m sure that anyone who writes historical fiction has a tendency to fall down a few rabbit-holes while doing research and I’m certainly no exception. For me, the research was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing The Last Balfour.
Did you consider including a glossary of the Scottish terms used in the book?
Yes, I certainly did consider it, however, I decided against a glossary fairly early on. As I thought that the readership of the novel would likely be Australian, I wanted readers to be able to work out the meaning of unusual words from the context, rather than having to stop and look up a glossary. It was a matter of trying to give a sense of a different time and place, but without the Scots words becoming a hurdle to engaging with the story. It was important to me that the language was immersive rather than overwhelming for the reader.
Read Gabby Meares’ review of The Last Balfour