Black Snow Falling is an Elizabethan fantasy by L.J. MacWhirter. It’s nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award and was nominated for the EIBF First Book Award. It was the Scottish Book Trust Book of the Month December 2018. This novel for young adults and up draws on Liz’s fascination with psychology, the inner workings of minds and mechanical machines, and how people can be controlled by culture. It’s about staying fixed or spinning out.

Author L.J. MacWhirter at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Author L.J. MacWhirter at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

As a child, her engineer father introduced her to science and the vast machines of the industrial revolution. On a trip to Florence many years later, she saw a mechanical Armillary Sphere, made for the Medicis in the 1500s, which embodied the long-held belief that the earth was at the centre of the heavens. Early science, in opposition to this dominant view, was cast as heresy. Together with the monstrous sexism of the time, it became the setting for this thriller about a spirited and privileged girl, Ruth, who has so much to lose when forces move against her.

Medici Armillary Sphere
The 16th century Medici Armillary Sphere in Florence’s Science Museum which inspired Black Snow Falling

Liz was born just outside London, grew up in the North West and now lives in Edinburgh with her husband and family. The stories started as soon as she could write. Black Snow Falling is her debut novel.

When she’s not writing YA fiction, L.J. MacWhirter writes creative and long copy for clients and ad agencies as a freelance copywriter.

After writing, ‘Once upon an octopus sat upon my knee’, aged 4 and a half, I was doomed to spend half my life writing headlines… ads for everything from Ardbeg whisky to Velux windows. But, like many copywriters, on the quiet I wanted to be an author. When the idea for Black Snow Falling first came together, it gripped me so hard, I turned freelance to write it.

Throughout the 12 years it took from first draft to publication, I wrote in the margins of the day while working full time and raising my daughter alone. I started another novel, based in WW2 Paris, but was drawn back to Black Snow Falling. The novel went through umpteen rewrites as it found its true north. It took a while. (Like a good single malt.)

The story takes place almost 500 years ago at the times of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in a fictional town called Crowbury (located a day’s horse ride from London!). Ruth is the spirited daughter of a bereaved merchant. In his long absence, she is betrayed, and trapped by desperate sexism. Worse still, she encounters an existential threat in the dream thieves, as magical realism weaves the time lines together. Black Snow Falling is about Ruth’s struggle to find agency.

I think that stories which use myth and go beyond reality help meet that need in us to explain how things can go so wrong, to articulate unspeakable things. Young people today are facing the same hope-stealing monsters as Ruth. All that’s changed is the wallpaper.”