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August 2018: Writing Advice
~ Madeleine McDonald ~

CTR asked:
QUESTION: What is the one piece of writing advice that has stuck with you and why? (Something other than ‘write what you know.’)

Madeleine McDonald said:
The best advice I ever received was to use a kitchen timer.

A more modern lass will choose to use the alarm on her smartphone, but I prefer an old-fashioned kitchen timer. Mine has a friendly cat face and a reassuring tick. I set it to 30 minutes because my besetting sin is to get sidetracked by research. Without the discipline of the timer, I would spend hours immersed in the past.

I have always loved history and like to set historical events in context. In my younger days I was never content simply to read a historical novel or watch a television programme. Whatever the era, for example the Black Death or the English civil war, I visited the local library to check out the facts. Nowadays, the Internet sucks us all in. Clicking from one page to another, I discover all sorts of fascinating detail – until the timer pings.

As writers, we have to ask ourselves: “Can I use this in my story?” When researching my historical novel A Shackled Inheritance, I had to ration time spent on research, otherwise I would never have finished the book. I discovered a treasure trove of records relating to Jamaica, which I then applied to my fictional island of Buenaventura.

My starting point for A Shackled Inheritance was the true story of a Scotsman’s will. That led me to explore the precarious position of free coloured women in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the Regency era. The hypocrisy of the time was staggering. I found the will of one John Brownrigg, who left money to Jane Brownrigg, his daughter by a negro woman named Elizabeth, for Jane to purchase negro slaves when she reached the age of 18. Here was a man who cared enough for his natural daughter to provide for her future, but who accepted the institution of slavery that allowed him to take a black concubine. Moreover, viewing slavery in a historical context, John Brownrigg might well have provided for his natural daughter by a mill worker back home, and been equally uncaring about the misery of mill workers in general.

My book could not include all the facts I found during my 30-minute timed bursts, but I hope the research illuminates my characters’ motives and conduct.

And of course I use my timer to take a break from writing. Knowing it will ping again in exactly one hour means that I speed through my housework chores.

Try it. You’ll be surprised how well it works.


A Shackled Inheritance by Madeleine McDonald cover

A Shackled Inheritance

[Historical Romance]

Spinster Abigail Carrick faces a frugal existence in dour Scotland—until her father’s will reveals she has two unknown half-sisters. Free women of color, they share her inheritance of a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. Against all advice, Abigail crosses the ocean to meet them.

Fellow passenger Euan Sinclair offers her welcome encouragement. As their friendship deepens, the young lawyer is torn between attraction to Abigail and his loathing of slavery. His principles also clash with his duty, for his legal mission is delicate and he dare not fail.

Fate throws the slave owner and the abolitionist together, on an island gripped by rumors of a slave revolt. When Euan meets Abigail’s family, will her alluring sister Desiree steal him from her?

Available in Ebook:

Wild Rose Press


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