L. A. MacRae: And Now the Light is Everywhere

L.A. MacRae was longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award 2021 with Nettles, and later signed with Holly Faulks at Greene & Heaton. Her novel, renamed And Now the Light is Everywhere, is an evocative, cross-generational mystery set in Argyll, Scotland. And Now the Light is Everywhere is published today by Hodder & Stoughton.

Hello Lucy! Huge congratulations on today’s publication of your debut, And Now the Light is Everywhere! How will you celebrate your big day, and what plans do you have to meet your readers and promote your novel?

Hello! Thank you very much! On publication day itself I’ll be at home in Skye with my young family – we recently welcomed our second baby and he’s just four months old. So if I get a couple of minutes to celebrate with a hot cup of tea I’ll be doing well! Some lovely invitations for later in the year are starting to come in, however, so I’m very much looking forward to getting out and about and meeting readers when our little one is slightly less little.

What inspired you to write And Now the Light is Everywhere, and what came first – plot, characters, setting, or something completely different?
The character of Fern came first, right at the very beginning, and I thought of her a bit differently then – in fact I thought I might write her into a children’s book. I wrote a scene, very early on, where she is talking about ruins and nettles, how nettles grow where people have once lived, and that scene stayed in the book, edited but essentially unchanged.

I think when you start writing, you’re pulling a lot off the shelf, following a lot of trails – and then, quite suddenly, themes and images and places start to converge and then you know you're onto something; you know you’ve hit a seam. Like many writers, I expect, I have a magpie-like approach at first – sound archives, traditional tales, news stories, poems, memoirs, testimonies … I really like looking at old photographs. I collect them on my wall when I’m writing, so they stare down at me as I write new lives for them.

Your multilayered novel is narrated by several characters, and is set over many years – how did you plot all the individual narrative threads so effectively, and which character did you identify with the most?

I started off with a big family tree and I think the stories flowed from there. The characters quickly became very real to me – if they didn’t, they didn’t get to stay. Some of the stories seemed to almost write themselves, some took more work to piece together. I have a real tenderness for Donnie MacArthur.

And Now the Light is Everywhere is by turns sweeping and intimate, showing the myriad repercussions of secrets concealed and later divulged. Which parts of the novel did you find the most difficult to write, and is the final version what you imagined it would be?

I think the challenge that most exercised me lay in crafting Anna’s story, because she is the one finding out about the past – what does she know, how does she find out, what pieces of the puzzle does she put together, and what can she never know, but the privileged reader can?
Can you tell us what happened to your novel after you were longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award 2021, and how you found your agent, Holly Faulks at Greene & Heaton?

I am so deeply grateful to the Caledonia Novel Award, which I directly credit with helping me to find an agent. Having been longlisted, I got in touch with Laura Williams at Greene & Heaton because she had judged the award and I was overjoyed when Holly messaged me to say she would be interested in taking on the book. My day job is teaching, and I remember taking a call from her at the end of a school day, walking in circles around my classroom and trying not to skip as we chatted. It was quite surreal at first to be discussing the characters and plot with someone else, as hardly anyone outside my immediate family had read anything that I had written before that!
What were the best – and worst! – pieces of advice you were given as you began writing your novel?

It surprises me how much I’m struggling to answer this question. I’ve never done a creative writing course so I pretty much just followed my nose. I went through many edits and rewrites, of course, when my agent and editor got involved, a process I really enjoyed. I think probably ‘Kill your darlings’ is an old one but a good one. You can’t be too precious about a bit you really enjoyed writing if it just ain’t working.

Stories and the telling of them lie at the heart of your beautifully-crafted novel – which novelists influenced your own writing?

Like many writers, I am sure, I was and still am a reader first and foremost. I absolutely love Maggie O’Farrell’s luminous, lucid prose. Annie Proulx is a magician – I love the deceptive steeliness of her writing, the toughness that softens you up for the stabs of beauty (or is it the other way round?). The short stories of Alistair MacLeod and Alice Munro. Iain Banks – his dark, witty, hugely imaginative tales, and a host of Irish writers including Sebastian Barry, Joseph O’Connor and Edna O’Brien. I love writing with bite, with little twists of humour in it. I like having to work a little bit as a reader, too. I could go on, but those are the names that immediately come to mind.
I started writing in my teens, stopped completely while I studied literature at university – it felt like I was learning how to dissect other people’s writing, which sort of disabled me in creating my own – and then started again while I was studying for a PhD in Scottish ballads. I had the most beautiful job when I started And Now the Light is Everywhere, which was working in a library. I really loved it. I would reserve huge piles of books – my space on the staffroom shelf was always stuffed – and started reading as a writer rather than a reader, looking for the craft in the stories.

And Now the Light is Everywhere is also available as an audiobook, narrated by Alice McMillan. What did it feel like hearing your words spoken aloud by her for the first time?

I was so delighted that Alice could do it, she’s a hugely talented actor and reads the book beautifully.

You signed a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton - looking ahead, what can we look forward to from you next?

I’m working on book number two as we speak. I’m terrible at elevator pitches, so I’ll just say – an older woman with a terrible secret, a young man with a dangerous obsession, and a golden object that has lain undiscovered in peatland for thousands of years…

And finally, what made you enter the Caledonia Novel Award 2021, and what advice would you give to other writers thinking of entering this year’s competition?

I think the name made me enter! And to other writers – don’t hesitate, go for it! I never thought it would lead where it did for me and am so glad I did.
(Author photo by Archie MacFarlane)
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