Monday, September 17, 2012

Death on a Longship by Marsali Taylor - The Guest Post

'But what do you find to do up there?'
Plenty, says Marsali Taylor, author of newly-published Shetland-set detective novel Death on a Longship.

Every time I go south of Shetland, someone always asks me:  But what do you find to do up there?

Sometimes, when I first went up, and my daughter was only three, they'd add, 'Is it fair taking her so far away from civilisation?'

Like most Shetland children, she had a wonderful time. Cass, the heroine of my Death on a Longship, has been away from Shetland for fourteen years, and when she returns to her childhood home, she finds memories stirring: 'I’d paddled in that burn spreading across the sand, caught little fish in my lime-green net, and scooped up jam-jars of frogspawn, which Maman had made me pour back. Inga, Martin and I had made housies in the roofless walls of the old croft, and lit fires on the beach with purloined matches. We’d gone swimming on summer days, teeth chattering after three minutes in the water, and skimmed the flat beach stones to try to beat Martin’s record of nine bounces.'

The Desperate Reader will recognise that.

As for adults...well, if the weather's fine, which is most of the summer, I get out on the water. Like me, Cass is a keen sailor, and there's no better place to be for that.  Shetland is a sailor's paradise: an all-tides marina in every small village (thanks to oil money), stunningly beautiful countryside to watch as you sail up the deserted voe (sea inlet), and floating pontoons to moor up alongside for a night under the stars, either alone, so that you can wake up to watch the heron fishing and the seal basking on his rock, or with  group of like-minded sailors, which means the fun of rafting up together, building a bonfire on the beach and, when it gets too cold to be outside, sitting telling stories in someone's cabin till the small hours. My beloved Karima S is the baby of the fleet, and the original of the boat Cass lives on, with her engineer friend Anders and his black and white pet rat, imaginatively named Rat. She's like a very small caravan with a table, a cooker, a long settee and a double berth in the pointy end - have a look at my website, for photos.

The sailing episodes in the book are all in my 'back garden'. The replica Viking longship that Cass is skippering is being used for a Hollywood film and they do close-up shots at anchor in Brae voe, where I teach sailing to youngsters. The big 'landing' scene in the book (when Cass brings the longship in to shore) is set round at one of our barbeque spots, the Hams of Roe. That's where the saboteur's first attempt at disrupting the film takes place...or is it actually an attack on the star, Favelle?

Summer can't last forever, though. Around late September, the nights start to darken, the winds rise... so it must be drama time of year. My local group, the Westside Players, puts on a pantomime every second year.  Rehearsals begin in October for a January performance.  It's just for the village, so it doesn't matter if people forget their lines or the scenery falls down - that makes it funnier.  I've played every part: the Prince, his friend, the Wicked Stepmother / Witch, the incredibly stupid Baddie's henchman, the Good Fairy...and, at last, at the age of forty-eight, the Princess.  It's not true that I choose my part on how sparkly the costume is! My favourite part ever was as the witch in Sleeping Beauty - I was flown across the stage on a broomstick, in eighteenth century dress with hoop (and sequins, and an imitation ruby necklace), cackling wildly, while the pianist played 'The Ride of the Valkyries'.

My Cass is not an actor.  I can't imagine her on a stage at all - but I wanted to use that side of me, so I invented Maman, her mother.  Maman is an opera singer, specializing in the Court of the Sun King composer Rameau, and a Luvvie of the most flamboyant sort. She dresses in black and white only, wears Callas eyeliner and sweeps about in a waft of 'Je reviens'.  She's incredibly snooty about magazines like Hello, and speaks English as a great concession. Cass reckons that if anyone was brave enough to ask Maman to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber, she'd behave like a captain being asked to scrub the decks. She walked out on Cass and her father years ago - but she comes back like a shot when they're suspected of murder...

Nothing to do in Shetland?  There isn't time to fit it all in!

Death on a Longship Blurb
When she talks her way into a job skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, a place she hasn't set foot on since she ran away as a teenager to pursue her dreams of sailing. When a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass, her past and her family come under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae.

Cass must call on all her local knowledge of Shetland, the wisdom gained from years of sailing, and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear herself and her family of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.

Giveaway Info
Marsali is giving away THREE prizes; a copy of Death on a Longship at each blog stop on her tour, a 1st place grand prize giveaway at the end of the tour of some silver Viking-inspired jewelry from the Shetland Islands, and a 2nd place $15 Amazon gift card.
1)      To win a book: leave a comment on this blog post to be entered to win a book (open internationally for ebook or the US, UK, and Canada for a print book). Be sure to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you’re the lucky winner. This giveaway ends five days after the post goes live.
2)      To win Viking-inspired Jewelry OR a $15 Amazon gift card: Click the link to go to the contest’s website and enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post. A first and second place lucky winner will be selected on October 1st. First place person gets to choose which grand prize he/she wants. The second place person gets the remaining grand prize. Open to every country.

Marsali’s Bio

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.                   


  1. I'm scuttling in late from the US, but was intrigued yesterday by Desperate Reader's comments on this book yesterday, and even more so now, including sailing and opera, and would love to read it if postage to the US isn't too high -- if it is, ebook will work. Many thanks and congratulations!

  2. I'd really appreciate it if you can enter me into your draw. Anything that Desperate Reader recommends is always worth perusal. Good luck with your blog stop- (lovely idea). rubyliebatgooglemaildotcom

  3. Thanks so much for this giveaway! I'm in love with Scotland and the Scottish Isles and love the sound of the mystery...

  4. Please enter me for the giveaway...I love books about Shetland. fayathushdotcom

  5. me too, please; I also follow in Hayley's reading footsteps!

  6. I'd love to read this! I'm a fair weather sailor and lover of Shetland, and avid reader..

  7. Shetland is #1 on my list of places I want to visit, and I hope to get there in the not too distant future! I read an excerpt of Marsali's book on Amazon and it's fascinating - if I don't win it here, I'll order the e-book. Would also love to read her history of suffrage in Shetland, is that available anywhere?

    Diana Birchall

    1. It's available on amazon over here Diana, not sure about the U.S. I still have to read my copy properly but the browsing I've done is fascinating.

  8. I love reading about Shetland so please enter me in the draw. An e-book would be fine as I'm in Australia.

  9. Drawn in by the blog post, the author biography and, most all, by the cover and the title!

  10. Shetland is on my list of places to visit some day. Please enter me in the draw!

  11. Thank you all for such positive comments. Anonymous, there are times when I fear I'm a fair-weather sailor too (when the white caps are rolling down the voe, driven by a freezing north wind) ... Diana, I'm delighted you'd like to read my Women's Suffrage in Shetland too, it's such a fascinating topic. It's available on Amazon, or from me second-hand through Amazon, if you'd like a signed copy. Lynabby, it's such an amazing thought that I might be read in Australia too - isn't modern communication wonderful? Pavilionofwomen, I love the cover too - I love the colours, and the silhouette - the artist's done an amazing job.
    best wishes,

  12. This sounds just my sort of book. I love detective fiction set in unusual places and with unusual situations. Please enter me into the draw!

  13. This sounds wonderful. I am about as far from any major body o water as you can get, so books like these are my way of escaping into a world where I would prefer living (and all the better that it is a mystery). If I'm no too late can you drop my name in the hate, too? And I am in the US if that's okay. ( Thanks!

  14. Just found this blog posting and am intrigued, because Shetland is on my list of where to go when I get myself back to Scotland. Because I love the sea and islands, and like Danielle, I'm a long way from salt water. Still, mustn't grumble, living on the shores of Lake Ontario.

    Likely I'm too late for the draw, but just in case...