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Never Underestimate a Librarian! A Q & A with Olga Wojtas

‘I lifted out the piece of paper and read the few words written on it in French: “Souviens-toi, tu dois mourir.” In my head, the English was snappier: “Remember you must die,”‘

If you haven’t yet made your aquaintance with Olga Wojtas’s wonderful detective, Shona McGonagle, then BooksfromScotland urges you to rectify that immediately! We thoroughly enjoyed Olga’s first novek, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, so we caught up with her to find out more about her latest release, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace.

 

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace
By Olga Wogtas
Published by Saraband

 

You’ve now just released the second Miss Blaine’s Prefect mystery, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace following on from the first highly-acclaimed novel Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar. For those who have not yet introduced themselves to your sleuth Shona McMonagle, could you tell us a little bit about her?

My heroine is a 50-something librarian and proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, who deplores Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for bringing her alma mater into disrepute. Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when Miss Blaine selects her for time-travelling missions – but she does tend to get the wrong end of the stick about what her mission is.

 

In Golden Samovar, Shona was whisked off to Tsarist Russia, what can we expect from her new adventure?

In Vampire Menace, she’s in fin-de-siècle France, in an Alpine village called Sans-Soleil which never gets any sun. It’s reeling from a spate of unexplained deaths, and during her investigations, Shona meets an intriguing aristocrat who wears a muffler round the bottom half of his face, and whose eyes glow red. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but is he really, as Shona believes, the Earl of Erroll from Aberdeenshire?

 

What, other than your love of Muriel Spark, inspired the creation of Miss Blaine’s Prefect?

I’m a journalist, and a news junkie, and the state of the world for the last few years has been unspeakably depressing. I wanted to write something that was pure escapism.

 

It’s not often that a book makes a reader laugh out loud, but yours really do! How do you approach writing comedy?

That’s so kind of you to say that – thank you! Humour is so subjective that all I can do is write what makes me laugh, and hope it appeals to at least a few readers.

 

It’s clear you are a massive bibliophile: your books are full of literary references. Can you remember what ignited your love of reading?

My mother said I was a nightmare as a tiny child – whenever she read to me, the second she stopped, I would cry “Read! Read!” Once I learned to read for myself, there was no holding me. I’m an only child, so maybe books were a replacement for siblings.

 

How much research goes into your books?

For the first, I started off doing a huge amount of research, and then realised I risked shoe-horning in information just to show how much I’d done. That would be totally boring, so I jettisoned the research, and relied on memory. Although I did double-check various facts, such as when the metronome was invented. For the second book, I had to research Bram Stoker’s sources for Dracula, so that I could prove that all his information about vampires was wrong.

 

With a time-travelling heroine, you have given yourself a freer rein than other crime writers who have set their novels in a specific place and time. It must be endlessly entertaining to think where you might send Shona next. How do you decide your settings? Do you have a million ideas for future books?

I studied Russian, and love Tolstoy, so that was the inspiration for the first. One of the loveliest comments I’ve had is from the writer Linda Cracknell, who described the Golden Samovar as “Anna Karenina written by P.G.Wodehouse.” I lived in France for a while, so that was the inspiration for the second. Who knows where Shona will go next? All I can say is that as a good Edinburgh person, she’s unlikely to go to Glasgow.

 

What is your favourite part of the publishing process?

Holding the physical book. I still can’t believe I’m a published author.

 

What upcoming events do you have in your diary that you can tell us about?

I’m delighted to be at Bookmark in Blairgowrie on March 14, and at the York Book Festival on March 28.

 

What are you reading just now?

I’ve just finished The Amber Seeker, the second book in Mandy Haggith’s Stone Stories trilogy – and there’s definitely no soggy middle here. This is the sequel to The Walrus Mutterer, which was longlisted for the 2018 Highland Book Prize, and it continues following the Iron Age Greek explorer, Pytheas of Massalia. I’d never had any interest in the Iron Age, but Mandy’s writing it so great that, forgive the pun, it’s riveting.

 

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace by Olga Wogtas is published by Saraband, priced £8.99

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