Blink YA Books and Editor Sara Bierling are pleased to bring you Toward a Secret Sky by Heather Maclean.
Here to talk about her book and her writing process is author Heather Maclean. Toward a Secret Sky is a new breed of YA novel: an intelligent adventure-quest crossed with a sweeping, forbidden love story. A mix of reality and possibility, this fast-paced thriller leads the reader on a breathless flight through the highlands of Scotland, the secret city under London, and history itself.
SB: Welcome, Heather! One of the biggest reasons I love Toward a Secret Sky is that I’m a history and fact buff. This novel is full of intriguing historical details. What inspired you to write such a smart novel?
HM: Reading can seem like a solitary sport, but I love it when it becomes social and viral, when you read something so fascinating, and true, that you just can’t help but tell everyone you know about it. And readers are giving you such a commitment to your book–their time and their heart–that I wanted to give them a gift back. At the end, instead of just saying they memorized the names of places and people I made up in my fantasy world, they can walk away with real-life knowledge about history, geography, art, religion, science, botany, psychology, even food! Knowledge is power, and knowledge boosts confidence. It also helps start dialogue. My goal was to give my readers things they could use to impress their friends and family in ways that would highlight their own intellectual curiosity.
SB: The setting of the novel in general is Scotland, but the characters also move around to a lot of different locations within the UK. What kind of research did you do for writing about the setting in such detail?
HM: As a kid, I was obsessed with the U.K. although I never traveled farther than Disney World. My family is descended from twp different Mayflower pilgrims, and I always wondered what made them leave their home behind to strike out on a new adventure. It was no surprise to anyone when I married a Scot, who in a weird twist of fate, I actually met at the Rose & Crown pub in EPCOT! On our honeymoon, I was lucky enough to go to Scotland for the first time. We toured every inch of the country: from the outer islands to the boggy Highlands where, like the main character in Toward a Secret Sky, I lost my tennis shoe in the muck after refusing to heed my husband’s “beware the bog” warning. We return to his home every 3 or 4 years, and head in a new direction every time. I’ve been all over Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales, and I experience new wonders every time. Every time I go, I write down what I’ve seen and heard and tasted and learned so that I can draw from that bank of knowledge for my writing.
After I finished writing Toward a Secret Sky, my family and I went back and retraced the characters’ journey to make sure I’d gotten all of the details right. My 15-year-old daughter and I took a 3-day trip through the Highlands to visit Aviemore, Kingussie, and all of the Scottish locations. We got out and hiked across the moors, visited the newly restored St. Mary & St. Finnan Church, and had a run in with a very cranky cashier at the local Tesco. Then my 17-year-old daughter and I drove through the English countryside down to London, ending at the crypt underneath St. Paul’s Cathedral. We documented our journey for my website so that readers could see what it feels like to stand in Maren’s shoes.
SB: You’re married to a Scotsman and have family ties there. Did you incorporate those people or aspects of their personalities into your novel? And can you speak about the dangers and benefits of writing real people into books?
HM: While almost everyone in the novel is a combination of personality traits of several people as well as my own imagination, there are two characters that are really sort of “spot on:” Maren’s grandparents Liz and Murdo are so much like my own in-laws, from missing teeth to jokes about poop and Irishmen, that I didn’t even rename them. I don’t think it’s wise or very fair to include real people in a fictional novel unless you’re giving them a loving representation, but fortunately the real Liz and Murdo are lovely people who love me, and are delighted to be included in the book. My father-in-law is particularly pleased that I’m helping preserve Scottish history and folklore. And they’re both so sweet and so social that I think if anyone ever recognized them from the book, they’d love it.
SB: In addition to being a great fantasy adventure, Toward a Secret Sky is obviously a love story. Our two main characters are in somewhat of an impossible situation regarding their love for one another. What do you think is so appealing about a forbidden love story, both as a writer and a reader?
HM: Anything forbidden is going to be tempting to humans, but what I adore as both a reader and a writer is when the irresistible draw is for something good and pure, rather than wicked and hurtful, because there can be a happy ending. That’s not to say the happy ending always happens, and that the struggle doesn’t cause pain, but when you’re fighting for something beautiful like love, anything you experience in the pursuit of it is, in my opinion, noble and very worth it.
SB: And now for the really important question: What do you think is the reason behind our societal fascination with angels?
HM: Life is hard, especially these days, and especially if you’re tender-hearted, which I truly believe most of us are. I think we adore angels because they remind us that there’s always someone looking out for us, protecting us, even if we can’t see them. I want young readers especially to come away from Toward a Secret Sky knowing that they aren’t alone, even when it feels that way. I want them to know that they are loved and looked after, even if they haven’t met their true love yet.
SB: Thanks so much, Heather! Readers, Toward a Secret Sky is on sale April 4, 2017. Be sure to preorder it at:
Named one of the “16 Best Entrepreneurs in America” by Sir Richard Branson, Heather Maclean accompanied the adventurous business legend on a 50,000-mile trip around the world, alternately helping improve the lives of others (designing sustainable development initiatives in South Africa) and fearing for her own (rappelling out of a Black Hawk helicopter in a Moroccan sandstorm). Heather began her career at Disney, where she had the distinction of being the first person ever to answer Mickey Mouse’s e-mail. When not castle hunting in her husband’s native Scotland, she and her clan happily reside in Michigan. Toward a Secret Sky is Heather’s first YA novel. You can follow Heather here: