Alan Calder is a Scottish born writer who divides his time between Yorkshire and his native Caithness. He is married to Jennifer and has two daughters and four grandchildren. He has BSc and PhD degrees in chemistry from the University of Aberdeen.
Writing novels and poetry follows a successful career in research and marketing with ICI/Zeneca. He also held several offices in the Royal Society of Chemistry including being President of the Industrial Division and served on a number of government committees. He chaired the Chemicals Sector of the UK Foresight project in the early 1990’s and was made a CBE in 1996 for services to the chemical industry.
While working with ICI the family enjoyed a secondment to Paris and travelled extensively in France, developing a particular affection for the Vaucluse area of the southern Rhone valley and its wine villages. Many family holidays have been spent in that area and countless bottles of red wine imported. This led to our interest in vineyard walks and each year a group visits a European wine area for that purpose. Last year it was Tuscany (for the second time) and this year we’re planning Sicily; we seem to have exhausted France. On the other hand, France features in all my books and my third novel is set there.
Alan is a keen fisherman. He caught his first salmon as a boy on the Wick River in Caithness, a stream which he still fishes when there is water. Otherwise he fishes stocked rainbows in Yorkshire or salmon in the Thurso River, also in Caithness.
Without great forethought it turns out that all his novels gravitate to the suspense/mystery genre and while contemporary, have their roots firmly planted in history. His first book, The Stuart Agenda, published in 2011 describes a conspiracy to get a Stuart back on the throne of an independent Scotland.
The Glorious Twelfth opens as archaeologist Ben Harris finds a Celtic stone and evidence of a medieval shipwreck on the Noster estate of Sir Ranald Sinclair. Careless talk by Ben at a conference in Paris sparks off a robbery at Sir Ranald’s mausoleum, uncovering a treasure that has been hidden for centuries. The robbery follows the opening day of the grouse season, hence the title of the book. The chief villain, grail fanatic Russian Boris Zadarnov, also abducts Sir Ranald’s wayward daughter, Fran, who is already in love with Ben. American oilman Al Regan, a neighbour of Sir Ranald, leads a rescue party to Paris where Fran is freed and most of the treasure recovered, but the thieves escape with a ruby encrusted chalice.
For a series of misdemeanours, Ben is sacked from his university job. He finds consolation in the arms of Fran and moves north to continue treasure hunting, making the discovery of his life near one of the ancient Sinclair castles. Has he found the greatest archaeological prize in Christendom, the Holy Grail? Will he be able to protect it from the malevolent attention of the Russians?
The genre is mystery/suspense with a streak of romance running all the way through. The action takes place mainly in Caithness with forays to Edinburgh, France, Italy, Egypt and Poland. The book can be downloaded to e-readers from Amazon or the publisher’s website.
Buy Links for The Glorious Twelfth
What inspired you to write this story?
The Glorious Twelfth is set in my native Caithness where I was brought up and went to school. The most northerly Scottish mainland county has a particular atmosphere. It lies beyond the Highlands, the people a mix of Viking and Gael, the land littered with the stones of its prehistory, the geography dominated by the rugged cave infested cliffs of old red sandstone, the sky vast and the sea always brooding. It is a unique place and a fitting setting for the first novel that I began to write.
The other source of stimulation was the mystery of the Sinclair family. Before I started writing I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, an intriguing book full of conspiracy theories that seem to have been at least partly the inspiration for Dan Brown’s, The Da Vinci Code. The most controversial aspect of the book is its reference to a ‘bloodline of Christ,’ descending from a child that Mary Magdalene allegedly bore. Many famous European families were suggested as belonging to this line, including the Sinclairs, originally from Normandy and the Stuart dynasty.
The Sinclairs are also documented as early leaders of the Templar movement and builders of the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, fictional final resting place of the Holy Grail in The Da Vinci Code. However the Sinclairs also established themselves as Earls of Orkney, then Caithness in medieval times and became the dominant family, a position they still occupy today. The premise of The Glorious Twelfth is that the Sinclairs had much better hiding places for the Holy Grail in Caithness among the many castles and mausoleums they built. The story opens with an archaeologist on a summer dig in Caithness starting to find clues…
Q) How long did it take to write?
I began writing The Glorious Twelfth about ten years ago. I got stuck in the middle then switched to writing my first published novel, The Stuart Agenda. As Scottish independence appeared on the horizon, the idea that a young Stuart, claiming descendent from Bonnie Prince Charlie, might return to claim the throne of Scotland seemed more pressing as a topic for a novel, even more so as events unfold. I eventually finished The Glorious Twelfth more or less at the same time as my third novel, A Pilgrimage Too Far, which is waiting in the wings.
It sounds chaotic having three novels on the go at once but it seems to be part of my creative process. In the event the timescale didn’t matter since traditional publication was not delivering for me; I needed the digital revolution to get started.
Q) What is your favourite thing about writing?
My favourite time is when a character takes off and the writing seems to come directly from the subconscious as though an invisible hand is guiding the pen. The words tend to flow effortlessly without any grinding out. At best it’s difficult to type fast enough to keep up with the stream and I’m reduced to making furious notes by hand to make sure I don’t break the thread and lose the momentum.
Most desirably, these tangents often lead to major new threads within the book. At the end of such a writing period I tend to feel a sense of anti-climax, as though I’ve lost the friend that was whispering the story in my ear. My rationalisation is that the basic currents within the book are swilling round the subconscious which every now and then opens up to give us the new edition. Can this be stimulated? I certainly found going on the alternate fasting diet an aid to creativity. After all the brain is a physical organ which has to be kept in good shape, like the rest of the body.
Q) If you could be any famous person for a day, who would it be and why?
I can think of many such individuals. I’m something of a student of the British Navy at the time of the Napoleonic wars. I’ve read all Patrick O’Brian’s books which are mainly based on the exploits of the famous Captain Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald. However, why not go for the ultimate and be Admiral Lord Nelson for a day, winning the battle of Trafalgar but changing the ending as is a writer’s prerogative. I would want our hero to survive and experience the adulation he deserves.
Only last week I visited Portsmouth and HMS Victory his flagship at the famous battle. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of his victory. Britannia really did rule the waves for the following century, a necessary condition for the formation of a mighty empire. Nelson was adored by his officers and men for his bravery, charisma and genuine concern for their welfare. This wasn’t entirely altruistic; a British battleship of the time could fire its cannons three times faster than the French or the Spanish. I think that was the deal.
On the negative side he appeared to treat his wife badly and his affair with Emma Hamilton was one of the scandals of the time. They appeared to conduct a ménage a trois for some time before Sir William Hamilton died.
Q) What is the oldest thing in your fridge and how old is it?
This question provoked an anxious search of the fridge and inspection of use by dates. The oldest item was an unopened 2004 jar of tapenade bought in France. It appears to be okay so we’ll put it on the ‘to use urgently list.’ A 2005 container of creamed coconut takes second place. It was probably bought to make some exotic Thai dish. The most mysterious is a 2008 jar of Aloe Vera liquid for internal consumption, ugh! Who bought that? My medical Spanish isn’t up to reading the list of diseases to be combatted. I know that it was bought in Lanzarote where the plant is grown.
In case it’s a trick question, the oldest thing in the fridge will of course be the air!
Q) What can readers expect from you in the future?
My third book, A Pilgrimage Too Far is already written and proofed. It’s set in France where an English couple make a startling discovery that changes their lives, bringing them into confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s based on something I stumbled on five years ago, so has a tentative basis in history and it’s highly topical. It’s a very unusual story and I’m mulling over the best way of publishing it.
After that I’d love to write a novel that has DNA at its heart. I’ve had both my Y-Chromosome and mitochondrial DNA analysed, producing a lot of fascinating information. I share a Y-Chromosome of British origin with various groups in the world. One such group lies along the coast of Brazil, testament to the presence of British soldiers and sailors in that region when they helped Brazil to win its freedom after the Napoleonic war. At another level, I can say that I’m not a Viking, despite my northern origins. I’m descended from the original hunter gatherers who populated the region after the Ice Age.
Sequels are also a possibility, especially for The Glorious Twelfth, which is nicely set up to continue the story in a further volume.
I’ve also been spasmodically writing poetry and would like to dedicate a chunk of time to getting my feet firmly under that table. I also need to write up a mountain of family history research that I’ve done. So much to do!