MY INTERVIEW TONIGHT
My guest today is a writer. In fact she’s two writers joined at the hip with her twin brother Cameron, though strangely they’re never in the same room at the same time! Although she’s Scottish, she’s lived in France for the past 20 years and is a practicing witch now concentrating on Shamanism. She’s a recognised healer in her village and her life is filled with animals and her husband whose name is Badger (honestly!).
She publishes articles, short stories and novellas and her latest book Shaman’s Drum is being published by Crooked Cat on 11th January.
Ailsa, firstly my thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I honestly don’t think I’ve interviewed a Scottish, French witch before, so I’ve prepared a calming cup of Horlicks for us, unless you’d like something stronger?
Thank you for inviting me, it's a real pleasure to be here. No, I'm off alcohol for six months to raise money for Cancer Research. You can read about it on my blog here . Horlicks would be a treat, I can't get that in France.
Cheers (sips Horlicks). So, from a witch to a writer. How did that happen and what was your first piece about?
I've been writing all my life. As a small child I wasn't very happy with the books I was told to read at school, so I wrote my own stories and I just continued. I was born a witch. I'm from a family of “hereditaries” but I had no formal training until I was in my 30s. Then, things that I had been doing by instinct and copying what my mother did, just clicked into place.
I wrote for the amusement of my friends but never thought of getting published until I had to give up work due to ill-health. That gave me the time I needed to write seriously. The first piece I was paid for was a short story in MetroFiction. My first published book was Yours To Command in July of last year.
How did you link up with Crooked Cat Publishing?
Purely by chance. I saw them on Twitter, visited their web page, submitted and was accepted. I can't say often enough how much help I've had from Laurence and Stephanie Patterson. They have been a dream to work with.
Tell me about your new book Shaman’s Drum and why you started writing it?
The opening sequence came to me as a scene from a film while I was sitting in the back garden talking to my lizards. When my friend and mentor Jessica Macbeth bullied me into entering NaNo last year, it seemed the obvious plot to go with. I finished the 50K then spent some time polishing it up.
I wanted to write a pagan book that wasn't the usual dungeons and dragons adventure, nor the impossibly willowy ladies dancing in the moonlight scenario. I'm a very sleeves-rolled up witch and I wanted to portray that. So I set the novel slightly in the future where the mainstream religions of today have been banned and paganism with magic-use is the norm. I wanted to show a world where what I do is totally accepted. Then I had to include a very strong love story because that is important to me. So I managed to get romance and adventure together. If you asked me for a one-sentence summation I'd say Indiana Jones with Magic.
From white witchcraft to Shamanism. What exactly is the difference between them?
I don't like the term white/black witchcraft; Natural energies are like electricty, they can be used for good or ill, to power an incubator for a premature baby or to torture prisoners.
For me, and this is a purely personal viewpoint, Wicca is Goddess/Consort based and practiced in groups. Ritual is often strictly observed with invocations being written down and read out. I found that very restrictive. As a shaman I work with spirits. It is the original animist belief system. Everything has a spirit and my job is to work with them, whether it be the spirit of a herb I want to cut to use in healing or the river in my village to ask it to stop flooding. I have my traditional power animal and spirit guide who help me in this and I draw my energies from the elements around me. There are no set rituals. I speak what is in my heart as it comes. Even out for a walk, not trying to achieve anything but make myself in balance with the spirit world around me, I will greet whatever spirits I meet on the way. I blogged in depth about this
When you write do you have a particular room and time of day you prefer?
Our house is an old traditional farmhouse with only two rooms downstairs and my desk is over in the corner of one. When inspired I will sit at it for hours on end. I can write at any time of day but I do my very best work in the early hours of the morning. A habit I've got into since my foot operation is starting work on the laptop while still in bed.
Are you disciplined in that way?
Not in the slightest. I am haphazard in the extreme but at the moment I have so much work promised that I have to write as much as I can each day or I will really not catch up.
How did your “twin brother” Cameron Lawton evolve and how do you separate your writing from his?
I actually did have a twin brother who was stillborn. When I realised that my two genres of writing would have to be kept separate, I decided to bring him back and it's now a great game having my twin back with me. He is a gay man and writes detective fiction based in the military. His two heroes are lovers but that is a subplot. The investigation is what counts.
I'm a woman and write occult adventure.
Do you prefer writing as Ailsa, or Cameron?
I adore both. Being transexual I have no problem writing from a gay man's point of view. But then my heroine in Shaman's Drum is a pretty feisty lady. Maybe it's something to do with being Bipolar but I can live in these two identities very happily – we even have conversations on Facebook with each other. Most people are in on the joke but some who aren't follow us as a soap-opera! When I'm Ailsa, I write her stuff, when I'm Cam, I write his stuff and I've made some really great friends in the LGBTQ writing community.
Once Shaman’s Drum has been published and become a best-seller, what is your next project?
There is a prequel planned. Like an idiot I seem to have started a trilogy in the middle but Steph and I are working on it. That is Ailsa's next project. Cameron is writing the third in his Army detective series which is getting rave reviews at the moment, so it's important to get another book out to a hungry public soonest.
I'm also writing a novel with a transexual main character when I have time. Not sure who will be given the credit for that one, we may have to invent a cousin!
What is the most important piece of advice you could give a budding writer?
Write. Just that. Even if you end up with a mass of back material, that will come in really handy when you DO get published. Believe me, there is nothing worse than having a successful book out, your publishers clamouring for more and nothing to give them – that is pressure!
One last question, Ailsa. If you could achieve one important goal within the next 5 years, what would it be?
Despite my health problems I've been extremely fortunate and achieved most of what I set out to do. Eighteen months ago I wasn't even thinking of getting published and now I have three books on the market. Keep going as I am in the writing field.
The only thing I can think of (that I could possibly share with your readers, giggle) is that I'd like to pass my big bike test. I have 3 motorbikes but never took my test to ride a bigger bike and I want a Honda Shadow 750 for my 60th birthday!
Ailsa has an excellent website at
and her books are available on Amazon at