Melissa Macgregor’s first novel, THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR, just came out, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me! Please welcome Melissa to the blog!
Melissa, your first novel, The Curious Steambox Affair, just came out! What inspired you to write the novel?
Thanks for having me on your blog, Kristin! It’s nice to “meet” you!
On a trip to London, I was sitting on a bench in St. James Park with my sister. Out of the blue, I said to her, “Who is Ian Hyde?” Her reply was, “I don’t know. Who is he?” I wasn’t sure, but the next week we were in Edinburgh for Hogmanay (New Years) and as I watched snow fall on the Royal Mile, the story of the English butcher turned physician’s assistant started to take shape.
Will you tell us a bit about it?
Alistair Purefoy is an Englishman, a butcher’s son from London, who has illegitimately entered a forbidden Scotland where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heir is on the throne, to find himself apprenticed to Dr. Ian Hyde, perhaps the most feared and unpredictable physician in Edinburgh. His attempts at performing well are interrupted by murders in his boarding house beneath the streets of the Auld Toon. The police, at first unconcerned with the crime, finally realize that Alistair is the common denominator, and only with the help of a mysterious group called the Merry Gentlemen will he be able to overcome suspicion. What he isn’t clear on is what this group is and why they are interested in him. In the course of the story, he finds out.
The Curious Steambox Affair takes place in 1827, which is a fascinating time period! What was your favorite part of researching the novel?
My passion really is research, and I enjoyed throwing myself whole-heartedly into this. What struck me as particularly interesting was the abject gruesomeness and brutality of daily life in Edinburgh. I was shocked by how harsh the living conditions were, and how impossible it was for anyone to socially advance themselves. The line between the Have-Nots in Auld Toon and the Haves in New Town was very definitely drawn. I wanted to take a true outsider and through his eyes show the difference between the two. I also loved learning about the deep appreciation of science and the general sense that anything could happen, either medically or scientifically.
When I lived in Scotland, I loved to visit Edinburgh and tour the winding alleys (called closes) of the old part of town. I was lucky enough on one visit to have a tour of the Old Operating Theatre. I was fascinated by the circular seating, the operating floor. I felt overwhelmed with what had been studied there, what medical advances had been made. That memory lingered with me, and I knew I wanted to base much of my story around that location.
What do you love most about Steampunk, and why do you think it’s become so popular recently?
I love Steampunk because it is a celebration of creating the impossible. It is the belief that anything can happen, can be constructed simply by one’s own intelligence and skill (and a bit of luck!). It is a wonderful genre that encourages dreams and hope. I love it because it is science-based, with reasoning behind all gadgets. It advances art and imagination as well as science. I think it’s become popular recently because modern life is hard. Steampunk offers an escape into the fantastic, back to a time when people with enough skill, smarts and attitude could fix any problem, or at least believed they could.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
My biggest influences were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I was blown away by their completely different voices. And I would have to add Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery, since I spent my childhood with that book permanently tucked under my arm.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
That would be Magician by Raymond E. Feist. That was the first book I ever read where I completely lost myself in the world created between the pages. Midkemia seemed more real than my own life and I felt crushed when I reached the last page.
What are you reading right now?
I usually have two books going at once- one for work and one for fun. Right now, I’m reading Death, Dissection and the Destitute by Ruth Richardson and My Life As A White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland. You can probably guess which one is for fun!
I saw that you’re a fellow Texan (born in Dallas!) but spent much of your childhood in Scotland. What do you love most about Scotland?
Who knew we were neighbors? Yay Texas!
I love it that Scotland is everything you imagine it to be. It is castles and ruins. Mountains and rivers. Quaint villages and pubs. A chill in the air and the promise of snow. Bagpipes and haggis. Even if you’ve never been to Scotland, you have a fixed idea of what it is in your mind just through stories. I love it that when you visit, it is exactly what it is supposed to be. Scotland is a fairytale country come to life and it never ever disappoints.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Well, I used to go to NHL hockey games but that darned lockout is making me branch out. Watching my 5 year old nephew play just isn’t the same! I went to a roller derby tournament recently (major fun). I like to wander around bookstores and fight my way through library sales (those deal finders can be vicious). If I get a big enough break from my writing, I can often be found baking in my kitchen.
The new year is right around the corner! What’s next for you?
I am currently deeply lost in the further adventures of the Merry Gentlemen, so it’s mostly writing for now. It looks like I might be at ThrillerFest in July, so please find me and say Hi if you’re there!
Keep up with Melissa: Website | Twitter
About THE CURIOUS STEAMBOX AFFAIR:
The year is 1827, and Alistair Purefoy, a young physician’s assistant, moves to Edinburgh to take a position with one Dr. Hyde. His colleagues call him a monster, while Hyde himself claims to have invented a Steambox that harnesses the human soul. Undaunted by these peculiarities, Alistair proves his mettle with the infamous Doctor, but he soon finds himself occupied outside the Operating Theatre as well…
When someone in his rooming house is murdered, Alistair is unnerved by the lack of interest from the police. He begins to investigate on his own, discovering a string of gruesome murders that appear to be connected, not only to each other, but also to him. Now Alistair can use all the help he can get, and with the aid of a secret society known as The Merry Gentlemen, he’s about to uncover a deadly experiment more monstrous than anything of Dr. Hyde’s imagining.