Black Snow Falling is an Elizabethan fantasy by L.J. MacWhirter, nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal and is 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.

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L.J. MacWhirter by Chris Close Photography

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.

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The Medici’s Armillary Sphere in the Museo Galileo Florence

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 jammy whisky brands and 5 star hotels to tacky football merchandise. But, like many copywriters, on the quiet I wanted to be an author. I never stopped writing. 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 complete draft to publication, I worked my butt off as a single mum bringing up my lovely daughter on my own, running the business and writing fiction in the margins of the day. I started another novel, based in WW2 Paris, but always felt 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 whisky.)

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-turned-nobleman. In his long absence, a noose slips around Ruth: she is betrayed and (without giving away spoilers) is trapped by desperate sexism. Worse still is the very dark magical realism – an existential threat – which weaves the time lines together.

Ruth finds a way to fight for her life and protect her friends (in curriculum lingo, she finds agency) and I love her for it.

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 still fighting the same monsters as Ruth. All that’s changed is the wallpaper.”