Friday, February 22, 2013

Alan Calder: The Glorious Twelfth

Novelist Alan Calder visits The Plain today to showcase his new release, The Glorious Twelfth, a thriller set in Scotland. In Alan’s words: "The genre is mystery/suspense with a streak of romance running all the way through."

Welcome, Alan. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
I was born in Wick, Caithness in the north of Scotland. After doing a PhD in chemistry at Aberdeen University I joined ICI and ended up in Yorkshire. We divide our time between homes in Yorkshire and Wick.
What sparked your interest in writing?
After early retirement, my elder daughter (MA English Lit, Edinburgh) stopped working when she had her children and wanted to write novels. She asked me to help with some plot lines which she didn’t follow up. She went back to work and left me hooked! I set off with three different stories in my head.
How would you generally categorize the books/stories you write?
My books are all in the mystery/suspense genre and while contemporary or futuristic they always seem to have a root in history.
Do you set your books/stories in your hometown, or do you prefer more exotic locations?
It varies. The Glorious Twelfth, just published is set in my native Caithness with forays into France, Italy, Egypt and Poland. I often use locations that I’ve visited either on business or holiday. On the other hand the book that I’m working on at the moment is set entirely in France.

My first book, The Stuart Agenda, is set mainly in France and Edinburgh. It tells the tale of a young man claiming direct descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie, returning to claim the throne of Scotland for the Stuarts in a future newly independent Scotland.
How did you come up with the title, The Glorious Twelfth?
The Glorious Twelfth was chosen because the robbery that sets the plot in motion occurred on August 12th, the first day of the grouse season.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes, I sometimes listen to Mozart. His music seems to drill down into my creative process and help it to flow. I find the same thing listening to Shakespeare. His words have the same effect and I often get ideas when watching his plays.
Please give us a mini-tour of your writing space.
I have a small study with a wonderful view of the Pennine ridge. Otherwise it’s fairly conventional with a desk, computer, bookcases etc.
Which authors do you feel have influenced your writing most?
Probably Sebastian Faulks. I’ve read most of his work but I don’t particularly feel an influence on my own writing. I would like to be able to write prose like Hilary Mandel. I read more history and non-fiction than novels.
If you could go back in time, what author would you most like to invite to share a chat and a bottle of wine?
Probably Dickens for the Victorian social stuff.
What’s next for you? Can we look forward to a new story soon?
Yes, I have a first draft manuscript completed for my third book, A Pilgrimage Too Far. It’s set entirely in France and is a campaigning book, hostile to elements of Catholic Church doctrine and practice.
Who supports your writing activities most?
My family are very supportive and I owe a lot to writer Lindsay Townsend.
Name a few of your favorite non-writing activities.
Trout and salmon fishing (especially on the Thurso River), walking, wine and food with good friends.
A wonderful interview, Alan. I've enjoyed getting to know you and your work. All right, time for a sneak peek at The Glorious Twelfth.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown speculates that the Holy Grail lies buried in the filled in crypt of Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. This mysterious church was built by the Sinclairs in the first half of the fifteenth century, by which time the clan was well established in Caithness, where it still holds the Earldom. Caithness, then remote and inaccessible, would have provided a much better hiding place for the Grail than Rosslyn, especially after the Sinclairs began to build a series of heavily fortified castles round the Caithness coast. So did Dan Brown have the right family but the wrong hiding place?

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, including failing to spot that the Celtic stone was a fake, 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 Alexei, younger brother of the deceased Boris?

Ben Harris was examining pottery fragments in the dig tent, already warming up under an August morning sun, when he heard the shout. It was from Angela in the trench on top of the hillock which the locals had always called, The Hill of Peace.

"Ben, I’ve got something!"

It wasn’t normal to call the field archaeologist for routine finds such as pieces of pottery, so he picked up his trowel and brush and rushed up the path to the dig. In his haste he forgot to put on the wide brimmed kudu skin hat, which normally restrained his longish mop of fair hair and gave him protection from the sun. He was excited by the call, not least because this was his first dig as the boss and the site had certainly looked of interest on the geophysics survey, carried out at Easter by a colleague.

Angela was on her knees in the metre deep trench, bounded by the foundations of a simple rectangular building, gradually revealed over the previous two weeks. She was carefully prising the compressed soil from a flat stone surface, in the middle of the floor of the building.

"It’s incised; look there’s a curved line. I don’t think it’s a plough mark."

"Not a metre down. I’ll start recording and fetch the laptop just in case." If it was an important find, he wanted to record the moment as it happened and not have to stage a reconstruction.

"There’s more, it’s a fish, I’ve got the tail," she shouted, as he returned with the laptop.

"Wow, we have got something here." Looking over her shoulder, Ben could see the fan of the salmon’s tail materialise from the dust. It was about half life-size and pleased him infinitely more than any of the real wild ones he’d caught with rod and line. "Let me check the geophysics." His mind was racing at the prospect of an undiscovered Pictish stone.

"Is it that big anomaly we saw?" Angela asked.

"Spot on. That’s it." He perched the laptop on the edge of the trench, allowing her to see the dark shadow on the trace.

"So, there’s a lot more of it to uncover."

As they bent down over the stone again, a shadow covered Ben. He looked up to see the tall slender figure of Fran, daughter of Sir Ranald Sinclair, the proprietor and dig sponsor, on the other side of the trench, blocking out the sun. She was standing with her arms folded below her breasts, tapping a sandal-covered foot on the edge of the trench, causing a mini-collapse of soil.

From Ben’s low position in the trench, his first sight was the silhouette of her long legs showing through the thin fabric of her dress. Scanning up further, the sun was neatly eclipsed by her head and sparkled through the outer frizz of her lustrous deep copper coloured hair. It gave her a goddess-like halo, accentuated by the refraction of light through the prisms of her long dangling ear-rings. Her challenging presence made him think of Boudicca, the early Iceni Queen who took on the Romans.

Ben narrowed his focus on her face. He got a fleeting impression of self-satisfaction as her eyes left the stone and met his briefly, with the faintest of smiles. She turned sharply on her heel and disappeared into the light without uttering a word. Her departure left him looking into the sun, temporarily blinded, but with the optical memory of her shape still imprinted behind his eyes. Ben shook his head to restore his sight and push her image to the back of his mind. The other students and volunteers on the dig began to assemble round the periphery of the trench, attracted by the allure of the square foot or so of exposed stone.

"What was that all about?" asked Angela.

"She seems very interested in the stone," said Ben.

"I think she fancies the archaeologist," said Angela with a hint of menace.

Ben did not rise to Angela’s bait. He suspected a personal sub-text on her part. She was being very nice to him and always seemed to be hovering within easy reach.

"I could lift it out for you with the JCB," said Jay Fuller, an American based on the main platform of the Caithness Shelf oilfield, a few miles offshore. Jay volunteered on his rest days, a break from the tedium of the production schedule. The other students sniggered at his unprofessional enthusiasm.

"All in good time, Jay; but you’re right, we will need the JCB for this one." Ben gave Fuller a break. He didn’t want to exploit his minor gaffe. He also realised that he would have to rethink the digging plan in the light of the discovery.

"Is it tea time?" asked the beaming Angela.

"Okay, let’s take an early tea break and think about what we need to do next."

Over the tea break they discussed a new plan to focus on trench three. Ben would join Angela on the stone and the others would work on fully digging out the rest of the trench. He also called Sir Ranald Sinclair, owner of the Noster Estate to tell him about the find and it was agreed that the proprietor would visit the dig at five p.m.

* * * * *
About Alan Calder:

Alan Calder is a Caithness born writer who divides his time between homes in Holmfirth, Yorkshire and Wick. He is married to Jennifer (nee Sinclair), also from Wick and has two daughters and four grandchildren.

Writing novels follows a successful career in research and marketing with ICI/Zeneca. Alan has a PhD in chemistry from Aberdeen University and was made a CBE in 1996 for services to the chemical industry. He is also interested in fishing, walking and photography.

 * * * * *
The Glorious Twelfth / Available from


  1. Hi Alan,
    I hope you have a very successful day on the Plain. I enjoyed it so much I didn't want to leave.
    Best of luck with your book, The Glorious Twelfth.

  2. Thanks Cathy, I'm really looking forward to my day out on the plain thanks to Pat.

  3. Hi Alan,

    I really enjoyed your Excerpt, especially the part about, "Is it tea time?" asked the beaming Angela. I'm like you, I retired early, and it's always Tea time in our house!

    We have a little more in common as well. Before my Dad passed away, he bought some land in Scotland, near Wick, I say near, it's about 100 miles to West of Wick. I don't know an awful lot about it, apart from, it's Caithness Land! So I believe my brother and I are Lairds; which is quite nice. With your wife being a Sinclair, before you were married, is she related to the Clan Chief?

    All the very best, with your book, I know it'll do well!

  4. Looks very interesting, Alan. I just read another book that takes place in Scotland. That's a country I'd love to visit just to listen to the accent.

    1. Thanks Suzanne. You should visit before we're completely covered with wind farms

  5. A very intriguing blurb and a wonderful setting for your story! Good luck with your book. It sounds exciting.

  6. So many interesting locales for your story for this Midwest gal in the USA. I enjoyed learning how you chose the title. Best wishes with your new release!

  7. A big thanks to everyone who stopped by to support Alan and The Glorious Twelfth. Alan, I'll be watching for more exciting stories from you. All the best to you and your writing!

  8. Pat, thanks for the opportunity to present my work to your blog readers. Alan