Sunday 3 September 2023

The Story Behind the Story with Jill MacLean of Nova Scotia, Canada.


It’s a real pleasure to have Jill as our guest this week.


Her latest novel is making lots of waves and receiving wonderful reviews.


She kindly accepted our invitation to tell us about it.


Read on my friends.


 **** A note from Jill: I'll be reading from The Arrows of Mercy at Westminster Bookmark (new name, new owners) Fredericton, NB, on Sunday Sept 24th at 3 pm.





Jill MacLean’s first story for young readers was written at the request of her then nine-year-old grandson, who insisted it include hockey and skidoos...where, she wonders, is the blue line? There’s no question he changed the direction of her life: three novels for middle-graders and two for young adults, and of the five, three won the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature and a fourth the Red Cedar Award. The novels received numerous nominations, four of which were international, and two of the books are in Nova Scotia’s school system. 

Wanting a new challenge – and an adult audience – she delved into her abiding fascination with medieval England. She was born in Berkshire, the setting for The Arrows of Mercy, and revisiting it, in reality in the 21st century and in imagination in the 14th, has given her much pleasure. An avid gardener, reader and canoeist, she lives in Bedford near her family.


Working Title:  The Arrows of Mercy


Synopsis: The year is 1348. Haunted by the blood on his hands, an archer named Edmund returns home from the French wars to a life of serfdom.

His brutal elder brother doesn’t want a hero on his doorstep. The priest denounces his mercy killings. The woman he loves yearns for a wider world, the ambitious wise-woman challenges him in ways he deplores, and an abused servant-girl is a thorn to his flesh. Yet, as the days pass, he is impelled to fight for the impossible: love and redemption.

Then plague arrives in the village and everything changes.



The Story behind the Story: My five novels for young readers were all contemporary, four were set in Newfoundland (where my family lived for seventeen years), and four dealt overtly with bullying. I became convinced I was falling into a literary rut.

How to get out of it? The way I chose was not easy: to follow my longtime interest in medieval history and write a novel for adults set in the 14th century. I read extensively about rural England during that period (luckily Dalhousie University has a copious medieval collection). And then I started to write. If the learning curve was steep for my first middle-grade novel, it was precipitous for what eventually became The Arrows of Mercy. I felt like a raw beginner. I floundered amongst piles of research. Characters and plots – far too many of each – trundled across the pages. The upshot? You guessed it: a sprawling, unmanageable mess of a novel.

It took me – literally – years to pare the story to the length it needed to be, and for me to feel ready to release Edmund, my protagonist, to today’s world.

Am I glad I wrote this book? Absolutely. Any writerly suggestions? Stretch your imagination, give your characters the freedom they need, and then write beyond your reach.


The Arrows of Mercy is one of three finalists in the fiction category of the nation-wide Whistler Independent Book Awards, sponsored by The Writers’ Union of Canada “to recognize excellence in Canadian self-publishing.”

You can find a great review of The Arrows of Mercy in The Miramichi Reader:



Cavan (as medieval archer) & Jill MacLean reading at the Book Launch

A couple questions before you go, Jill:


Scribbler: Can you tell us about the perfect setting you have, or desire, for your writing? Music or quiet? Coffee or tequila?  Neat or notes everywhere?


Jill: I’m going to reveal how old-fashioned I am. I write only in my study at home, on my laptop, and it never leaves my study. Write in a coffee shop? Way too many distractions, I’d be so busy eavesdropping and people-watching that I wouldn’t tap a single key. Plus I need my research, be it books or notes or photocopies, to be near at hand (or foot – piles on the carpet.)

I begin each day by reading and revising the pages I wrote the day before, because this gets me back “inside” the story. And when I am inside it (such a fine place to be), the characters talk to me and do things I wasn’t expecting, 24/7. In consequence, I never go anywhere without pencil and paper, and when I suddenly stop dead on the sidewalk to write something utterly brilliant in my notebook, passers-by must think I’m nuts.

I’m fortunate to live in a building with quiet neighbours. I don’t listen to music when I’m working, I stay away from tequila and caffeine because the story that is – I hope – unfolding is stimulation enough.

I think of writing as a balancing act between technique and intuition. Varied and interesting sentences are always the goal and I’m willing to wait for and/or work towards the best word, the phrase that captures – almost! – something ineffable. And luckily I’m old enough to have a solid grounding in grammar.

But intuition – there I’m on boggy ground and words like trust and faith come to mind. I suppose I’m telling fictional lies in the hope of happening upon some truth or other new to me – and, perhaps, to you too.



Scribbler: What’s next for Jill MacLean, the Author?

Jill: A sequel. I have 80 pages. Onwards, ever onwards.






Thank you for being our guest this week, Jill. Thanks for the terrific story. Wishing you tons of success.

And thanks to our visitors and readers.


  1. I enjoyed reading about your writing journey and writing process, Jill!

    1. Thanks for visiting the Scribbler, and for your comment.


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