BESTSELLING AUTHOR | COLUMNIST | TEACHER
Born and raised in Scotland - and still a Scot at heart - Manda has been, variously, a veterinary surgeon, veterinary anaesthetist, acupuncturist (people and animals), crime writer, columnist, blogger, economist - and author. In between, she teaches shamanic dreaming, creative writing and concept-based dog training.
COLUMNIST & TEACHER
Manda’s life in a nutshell…
Grew up in a home full of injured birds being tended by my mother who ran a sanctuary.
Given an owl for my 10th birthday and looked after her until she was ready to be set free.
Did a milk round to save up for a pony. Happiest day of my life when she had a foal and the saddest when the foal died. No surprise that I ended up being a horse vet.
Did ceremonies to Mithras before hockey matches, asking for help to win. Even now, there are times when Mithras is the god who comes first to offer help when I ask for it.
Went sailing round the Scottish Hebrides in the summer between school and university. Developed a lifelong loathing of midges.
At Vet School, was kicked by a cow, and squirted in the mouth by a dog’s bile duct. No surprise that I ended up being a horse vet (see above)
Best friend at Vet School had a pet rat called Raffles.
Studied with the College of Druidism in Edinburgh and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order in Glasgow. Learned Transcendental Meditation and Tai Chi and lived for a while with a homoeopathic nurse. Being normal was never an option.
First job as House Surgeon at Cambridge: “This is Manda who comes from Glasgow, but we won’t hold that against her.” Glaswegian accent ditched within minutes.
First serious computer game: Elite, played on a BBC Micro. Great day when the tape drive arrived. Second great day when a hack into the source code showed up the line: ‘Does your mother know you’re doing this?’ (in plain text)
Went to Canada for a summer’s anaesthesia training. Watched tall ships sail into the harbour at Toronto and fell in love.
Discovered that Scottish midges aren’t a patch on Canadian mosquitoes.
Specialised in anaesthesia and intensive care. Horses are the biggest challenge, so end up in Newmarket, doing… stud medicine. But anaesthesia during the winter when the mares aren’t foaling.
First serious novel attempt is about… a House Surgeon at Cambridge. Learn a lot about writing, starting with the fact that nobody wants to publish veterinary novels.
Took a bad high fall at Aikido and heard my neck snap. 6 Bodybuilders carried the stretcher to the ambulance. Medical term was a ‘clay diggers’ injury’ . Who knew such a thing existed?
No more Aikido so took up climbing. Learned exactly how bad vertigo can be. Exhilarating though.
Went on a writing course with Fay Weldon who said, ‘find your voice.’ Then next year, went on another with Terry Pratchett who said, ‘Keep going, this will make the shortlist.’ (And it did.) I am the only person in the entire world who has played Dungeons and Dragons with Fay Weldon *and* Terry Pratchett.
Worked for three years in a computer games company – with David Braben who co-wrote Elite. So our heroes can become our bosses. And our friends.
Not a vet any more, so got my own dog: a lurcher. I am in love.
First novel shortlisted for a ‘best unpublished novel’ prize. Prize then abandoned… story of my life, but I had an agent by then, who said, ‘rewrite it and I can sell it.’ (I did, and she did, and Hen’s Teeth was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.) Thank you, Jane Judd.
Went to Dublin as maternity cover for one of my ex-students. So good to be back in veterinary medicine after years away.
Wrote Night Mares, a thriller set in a vet school – publishers happy with that. Ha!
First trilogy is all first person. For fourth book, head to third person and discover the scope of many different viewpoints. No Good Deed nominated for an Edgar Award for ‘best thriller’ in the US.
Dog caught a hare…hares are sacred. If something has to die to show my that I’m walking along with my brain in neutral, then I need to pay attention. Result: a vision quest and the decision to stop contemporary thrillers and write the Boudica series, as a way to bring the dreaming into the world.
Boudica: Dreaming trilogy becomes a tetralogy…. just too much stuff to put into it for three books. US publishers happy with this so the rest of the world is happy too – once in a while, cultural imperialism works in our favour.
Six years of Boudica dreaming. Throw out the TV. Throw out the sound systems. Light the fire every night and let it teach me. By the end, have lost all touch with consensus reality. Which is doubtless how/why I meet my life partner at a soul retrieval course…
And move house… leave behind my beloved cottage of over 20 years. The dog comes with me. Some things are not to be left behind.
Move house twice in one year, and give the eulogy at my mother’s funeral. In between, write The Crystal Skull which proceeds to sell in more territories than all the others combined. Go figure.
New cottage, new series. Rome: spies… my chance to be John le Carré and Rosemary Sutcliff combined.
New cottage, new game. World of Warcraft is seriously addictive. Makes up for the increased distance to Stanage. MMO and PVP. Heaven.
Beloved old dog dies. Give up trying to be a star dressage rider and decide competitive agility is the way forward. Spend two years finding the perfect dog and three learning semi-professional agility training. She hates agility. Back to Warcraft. Battlefield healer. Change sides and join a new guild.
Old cat dies. Am allowed to have a new cat. Life is good.
New agent, new writing: Jeanne d’Arc book evolves from historical trilogy into one *big* book – dual time line. Much more fun to write. remind me I said this next time I’m sweating over two time lines.
Into the Fire goes into sixteen edits. Did I say this was fun? It’s a learning curve. I keep telling myself. Particularly when the twelfth edit is the one that is sent to the copy editor. Rescued on the eve of marriage (OK, Civil Partnership) by my favourite copy editor who makes all the changes to the right text. Life is still good!
Into the Fire commissioned for television. Life is good. Though we’ve been here before (Hen’s Teeth, No Good Deed, Boudica), so not holding breath. Am being taught to write for television, though, which is little short of amazing.
Long conversation with editor/agent. Decide to write a semi-sequel to ITF, with the SOE/Maquis as historical thread because a) they were amazing, b) have been obsessed by WWII since I was old enough to read Biggles as a kid and c) it’s a chance to work out how (HOW?) the good guys of the war morphed into the NSA who want to collect everything about everybody and keep it forever – and as far as we can tell, are doing so. How. I mean, really. How? Also, I always wanted to be a spy… I will not, however, write 16 edits of anything Ever Again.
New book goes to 7 edits. Sigh. But only two complete rewrites of one timeline. So must be getting better at this dual time line thingy.
Dad dies. Not so good. Decide to do an MA in sustainable economics. Because what else do you do to honour your Dad?
MA is in Devon at Schumacher college. Being a student again is ****ing glorious. I love this. Thanks, Dad.
Being a student again is good, did I mention? But writing thesis, 5th and 6th drafts of book *and* uncounted number version of the script *and* moving house…. not so good. Get shingles. Top tip. Don’t do this. It’s not fun. Also, it gets in the way of work.
Move house. Change agent (again). Start new life. Still editing the book, mind you.
Publication date for the new one! Also, a change of title. Working titles, I discover, become final titles about once in a blue moon. So the new one will be A Treachery of Spies which is, apparently, the collective noun for espionage agents. Who knew?
Writing is an incredibly solitary occupation. It's always good to connect with people who share the same realities. So go on, get in touch...