At age five, I moved to Canada with my parents from my birthplace, Glasgow, Scotland. I grew up in Ottawa and went to Carleton University where I wrote my master’s thesis on the American poet, Robert Duncan, who saw myth as a “soul-way” for humankind, and the poem’s creation as a process in which he co-operated with the powers of words themselves and numinous felt presences. My postgraduate work on Charles Olson’s poetics at the University of Edinburgh drew me into the study of Jungian archetypes and the role of the unconscious in artistic creation. What I learned from these two poets about the primacy of myth, and the need to be attentive to promptings from the unconscious, continues to drive my own writing.
My Creative Writing professor at the University of Ottawa, Jack Hodgins, both encouraged me and advised that I develop a “thicker skin” against adverse reactions to my work. This good counsel has helped me persist in sending out my manuscripts in the face of many rejections over the years. The MacIntyre clan motto, Per Ardua (Through hardship) helps keep me persisting.
After the publication of my first novel, Mairi, I was able to fulfill a longtime dream of becoming a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada, founded by writers like Graeme Gibson, Margaret Atwood and Farley Mowat. An unexpected benefit was connecting with fellow member, R. P. (Rod) MacIntyre, an award-winning writer of young adult fiction. His email arrived of the blue: “Anyone with the last name MacIntyre can’t be all bad. Are you writing YA fiction, by any chance?” At that point, I did not even know what YA fiction was, but that unexpected message led to a friendship and collaboration on our young adult novel Apart.
The idea that we co-write a novel in letters was Rod’s. He asked me to come up with a teenage character and a reason his character would write to mine. Very early one morning, 17-year-old Jessica came to me, and her plea in The Globe and Mail’s Personals for news of her missing father. I drew on aspects of my own adolescence for Jessica, including my relationship with my youngest sister, who is autistic. Rod and I developed the plot spontaneously, as our characters wrote to each other, and those letters were always a surprise, whether joy-filled or heartbreaking.
The collaboration with Rod, including our most recent epistolary novel, His Once Queen Jane, has been a liberating experience for me, with the spontaneous development of plot, and the spark of joining our two very different literary styles. While we were writing this novel, Rod made his first trip to Scotland and his ancestral home: the Hebridean island of Barra. His experience there, and in Edinburgh, entered our story. Scotland’s landscape and history similarly continue to haunt and inspire my own work, from Mairi, set at the time of the Highland Clearances, to my current novel-in-progress centred on James VI and I, son of Mary Queen of Scots.