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Article: Olga Wojtas on Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters

PART OF THE The Bold and the Brave ISSUE

‘Now, for the very first time, we have the true story of Macbeth, Gruoch and the Weird Sisters, witnessed personally by the most reliable witness you could find’

Never underestimate a librarian! Shona – former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls – is selected by the school’s namesake herself to travel back in time for a mission involving Macbeth, the Weird Sisters, and a black cat. Can she complete her mission? What version of history is she even in? Only time will tell. Olga Wojtas writes for BooksfromScotland about why she was drawn to Macbeth for this latest adventure.

 

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters
By Olga Wojtas
Published by Saraband

 

It was the night before my English Higher. I had spent the evening revising Macbeth, and went to bed early to get a decent kip. So my mother was surprised when, a couple of hours later, I wandered into the kitchen. And even more surprised to find I wasn’t actually awake.

That is the one and only time I’ve sleep-walked, but ever since, I’ve had a fascination for Lady M, a multi-tasker who could sleep-walk while washing her hands. She gets a bad press for prodding her husband into becoming a murderer – as if Macbeth wasn’t responsible for his own actions. But Shakespeare is all about emphasising James VI and I’s ancestry via Banquo, and he plays fast and loose with the few historical facts we have from the 11th century. What we do know is that Lady M, whose real name was Gruoch, ruled alongside her husband to create a lengthy period of peace and prosperity for Scotland.

I’m sad not to have been able to meet her. But my heroine, librarian Shona McMonagle, is a time traveller, so I was able to send her to 1040 in my stead. Now, for the very first time, we have the true story of Macbeth, Gruoch and the Weird Sisters, witnessed personally by the most reliable witness you could find.

For Shona is a stickler for accuracy, being a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, where she gained the finest education in the world. She knows all about the dangers of conflating fact and fiction, given the dreadful misrepresentation of her school in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Her horror of the book is shared by Miss Blaine, the several-centuries-old founder of the school, who sends Shona on her time-travelling missions. (Dame Muriel’s book refers to Marcia Blaine as a widow, but I’m afraid that’s only one of its many inaccuracies.)

I myself am a former pupil of James Gillespie’s High School, as was Dame Muriel, and like Dame Muriel, I regularly visited Morningside Library where Shona now works. And I realise now that Shona’s adventures have been hugely influenced by what I read during my schooldays. I loved Tolstoy (apart from the philosophising in fields which is, frankly, mind-numbingly tedious), and that’s what led to Shona’s first mission, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar (grand ball, check; duel in the forest, check; train tragedy, check.)

I also loved Scottish history up to the point when the ghastly James VI and I abandoned Edinburgh for London. I always felt France would be a second homeland, given the closeness of the two nations. So it was a shock when I went to live and work in France to find that nobody had heard of the Auld Alliance, or indeed of Scotland, and there was incredulity when I insisted I wasn’t English. That was the genesis of Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace, which also owes a great deal to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, itself hugely influenced by Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire.  (Vampire, check; isolated village, check; Debussy, check.)

While Shona may be a stickler for accuracy, I must admit I’m not quite so scrupulous. But I like to sprinkle my fiction with the occasional fact – yes, there really was a Russian sect whose followers lopped bits off themselves to avoid arousing lust in others; yes, Aberdonian Mary Garden was a real soprano; and yes, everyone steered clear of mirrors in the Middle Ages in case the devil was lurking on the other side.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters (black cat, check; dagger, check; thin and meagre porridge, check) is available not only in print, but also in an audio version, narrated by the author. The recording studio was at the top of an Edinburgh Old Town tenement, which will explain the Marilyn Monroe-style breathlessness. To be honest, had I known I was going to record it, I would never have written a book with sixteen characters, most of them men, and including a talking owl. I say “to be honest” – but with fiction writers, you never can tell, can you?

 

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters by Olga Wojtas is published by Saraband, priced £9.99.

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