Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The author on my spotlight is ...Marie Macpherson

I am delighted to welcome to the blog on St Andrew's Day

Scottish Author 

Marie Macpherson

Marie is celebrating the publication of the second book in her trilogy of historical novels about the Scottish reformer , John Knox

The Second Blast of the Trumpet

Hi Marie, welcome back to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for answering my questions about your novel.

The Second Blast of the Trumpet

The fiery Scottish Reformer, John Knox is the main protagonist of the Knox trilogy; tell us a little about him.

Knox was tantalisingly tight-lipped about his early life but it’s now accepted he was born in Haddington around 1513 and studied at St Andrews University before being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He abandoned the church after falling under the spell of the charismatic Protestant preacher, George Wishart, who was burnt at the stake in 1546. Galvanised by his mentor’s martyrdom, Knox answered the call to become preacher at St Andrews Castle where he was arrested as a heretic and sentenced to toil as a galley slave. Freed after 19 gruelling months in the French galleys, he was welcomed by the English church and appointed chaplain to Edward VI. On the young king’s untimely death, the Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne, forcing Knox to flee to the continent to consult Calvin in Geneva. Months before her death, Knox wrote his notorious tract The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women denouncing Bloody Mary’s reign of persecution. Though Protestant, Elizabeth I was not amused and refused to have him back in England. In 1559 he returned to Scotland to head the Protestant rebellion but no sooner had Protestantism been established as the official religion in Scotland than the widowed Mary Stewart returned to claim her Scottish crown. The Protestant firebrand preacher clashed with the devout Catholic queen not only over religion but her choice of unsuitable husbands. The persecuted preacher who feared he would end his life atop a burning pyre, died in his bed in 1572. 

Illustration: Portrait of John Knox from Theodore Beza’s Icones

John Knox famously ranted against the Monstrous Regiment of Women why was he so vehemently opposed to women as monarchs?

Knox used ‘monstrous’ and ‘regiment’ in the archaic sense to mean ‘unnatural’ and ‘rule’, and quoted Scripture to support his argument that female dominion over men was against divine and natural law. While echoing the era’s widespread assumption that women were inferior to men, he trumpeted it much more vehemently than most to the point of advocating regicide to bring down the ‘abominable empire of wicked women’ – Mary Tudor in England and Mary of Guise, regent in Scotland. Even John Calvin was appalled and washed his hands off any association with the fiery Scot’s extremism.

Illustration: Title page of The First Blast of the Trumpet, 1766 edition

In this novel, John Knox travels across Europe, in researching the book, did you visit any of the places he visited?

Despite his health being ravaged in the galleys, Knox must have had incredible stamina to endure arduous, dangerous journeys of over 600 miles as he criss-crossed the continent from Dieppe to Geneva, as well as numerous voyages back and forth to Scotland. Although I’ve been to Frankfurt, the opportunity to visit Geneva hasn’t arisen – yet. Fortunately, nowadays writers can travel ‘virtually’ in time and space using 16th century maps, diaries and documents to get a flavour of what cities were like then.

Illustration: Map of Geneva 

Seeking to make John Knox into a more sympathetic figure must have taken a great deal of time and commitment – what have you learned about him that has taken you by surprise?

Embarking on The Second Blast filled me with trepidation. How could I write about a man who, though admired by some, was loathed by many? How could I, a woman, write sympathetically about the notorious misogynist? 

However, to my great surprise, I discovered that not only did Knox love women but they loved him back. He married twice – to much younger brides – fathered five children, caused tongues to wag about his intense relationship with his mother-in-law, and corresponded with his flock of female followers. He must have had some charisma.

His letters reveal his tender ‘feminine side’ and also betray fears and doubts about his mission as ‘God’s messenger’. After a courtship strewn with obstacles, his marriage to Marjory – the perfect wife in Calvin’s view – seems to have been happy. More interesting was his relationship with the poet and translator, Anna Locke, the only woman he truly loved – according to Robert Louis Stevenson. 

John Knox ladies’ man? Knox the star-crossed lover? This portrait of patient pastor and affectionate husband, devoted father and faithful friend is in striking contrast to the strident bigot thundering fire and brimstone from the pulpit. All this spurred me on to uncover more about the man behind the myth.

I enjoyed reading the quotations which head each chapter – where did you find them and do you have a favourite?

The literature of the 16th century, including the Scottish makars and the English poets of the Silver Age, has always fascinated me. Besides, their work presents authentic source material for the historical fiction author as many of them were courtiers who paint a vivid picture of the courtly love and treachery at the brilliant but violent Stewart and Tudor courts. Seeking appropriate quotations gave me the opportunity to read them again. So, it’s difficult to say which is my favourite – I like them all!

I’ll choose the one in Part III: Chapter 1 that comes from Robert Henryson’s Abbey Walk, because it touches on one of the major themes in the novel – whether predestination or chance determines our lives. 

This changing and great variance

Of eardly states up and down

Is nocht but casualtie and chance

As some men say is without reason

The Second Blast of the Trumpet is the second novel in the Knox Trilogy – did you feel more of an obligation to make this book even better than the first?

I must admit that I did feel the sword of Damocles hanging over me while writing the Second Blast! The ‘what if?’ question plagued me! What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if readers who loved my first novel don’t like this one? What if… what if... 

Readers expect second novels to be better than the first. After all, you must have learned something in the process of writing, editing and publicising your debut. Some writers have such traumatic second book nerves that they take years to produce it – others not at all!

And then, just as the second novel is published I’m starting to worry about writing the third. Be careful what you wish for!.

What can we expect to discover in The Third Blast of the Trumpet?

The Last Blast as I think I’ll call it, covers Knox’s arrival in Scotland in 1559 to his death in 1572. Those thirteen years are packed full of drama and conflict. On one side, Knox has to contend with the Scots nobles who are using religion as a pretext for seizing wealth and power; on the other he faces Mary Queen of Scots whose Catholicism poses a threat the the incipient Protestant state. I’m looking forward to depicting the confrontations between these two charismatic characters. 

I’d also like to explore Knox’s role in the politics of the time, including the murders of Rizzio and Darnley, and his relationship with the key players such as Secretary Lethington and his kinsman James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell. His second marriage to Margaret Stewart, a distant kinswoman of Queen Mary which infuriated her, offers exciting possibilities. And, of course, I must resolve his troubled relationship with his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth Hepburn.

Illustration: John Knox admonishing Mary, Queen of Scots

Marie Macpherson developed a love for literature and languages from an early age. She studied French and German at school, followed by Spanish and Italian at university. After gaining an honors degree in Russian and English, she spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

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Find The First Blast of the Trumpet on Amazon UK

Find The Second Blast of the Trumpet on Amazon UK

Huge thanks to Marie for sharing this fascinating insight into Scottish history. 

Jaffa and I wish you continued success with The Second Blast of the Trumpet and thank you 

for spending time with us today and for sharing your books with us.



  1. How ironic that Calvin 'washed his hands of Knox, as alongside
    Calvin on the Reformation Wall, all larger than life in Geneva (where I grew up)stood his other protagonists William Farel and Theodore Beza as well!

    1. Hi Aimee, thanks so much for taking the time to read Marie's interview and for sharing your thoughts with us.

    2. It is indeed, Aimee! But in this regard Knox was just too extreme even for Calvin and Beza. Unlike them, he refused to compromise with the secular authorities. Thanks for reading!


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