Author Interview – Sian Mackay – Von Ripper’s Odyssey, The House on the Chine: Robert Louis Stevenson at Skerryvore & Rafael’s Wings: A Novel of Mallorca

Hello there everyone.

We’ve made it to the end of the week again, what a relief!

As a treat to lead you into the welcoming bosom of the weekend, I’d like to introduce you all to a very talented lady and author who is going to take us on engaging multiple journeys with her amazing writing.

Please welcome Sian Mackay, I’m sure you will all enjoy everything that she has to say.


Hi there Sian, it is with the greatest of pleasure to be chatting you and having you as my guest today.

Let’s begin with your background as a writer of Scottish History and the historical, travel and biographical books you have published. You write both Fiction & Non-Fiction. Tell us more about how the lines have merged between them for you and how your journey as a writer has evolved over the years.

I lived for several years in Egypt and the U.S.A. before returning home to Scotland where I worked as a freelance journalist for newspapers including The Glasgow Herald and Times Educational Supplement and I founded Moubray House Press in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to publish pamphlets and books on Scottish subjects. I have been a journalist, publisher and author of books, essays and short stories in my journey as a wordsmith. My first authored book under my given name, Sheila Mackay, was The Forth Bridge: A Picture History and other non-fiction books followed: Lindisfarne Landscapes, Behind the Façade, Early Scottish Gardens and Mountain Music: Mallorca, which were published by various houses including Edinburgh University Press, St Andrew Press and Birlinn.

When I went to live on the Spanish island of Mallorca in the 1990s, I was interested in writing fiction, and after two of my short stories were published – one a short-listed ‘long short story’ – I felt encouraged to write my first novel Rafael’s Wings (2006). Fiction, I thought, needed a different author name and I chose Sian Mackay which has been my ‘known’ name ever since.

This literary transition left its mark on my work. The central challenge of my writing practice is the continual wrestle with ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ – I see one as a mirror for the other – and I work in both mediums.

After thirteen years on the island of Mallorca, I returned to Scotland as Sian Mackay with two books on my mind. I worked on those books in parallel during the next decade. The first was a fictive biography about the fascinating year Robert Louis Stevenson lived in the English resort of Bournemouth and wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1885). The House on the Chine: Robert Louis Stevenson at Skerryvore was published by Sancho Press in 2013 and re-published by Thistle Publishing, London, the following year.

You have just published another biography recently called “Von Ripper’s Odyssey” about Baron Rudolph von Ripper (1905-60) an Austrian aristocrat and international wanderer. When a mysterious dossier of letters and photographs was discovered at an abandoned Spanish villa, you embarked upon a passionate journey to resurrect its owner. This story sounds riveting and fascinating, a combination of real life detective work and mystery unfolding right before our very eyes. What more can you tell us about it and what we can look forward to when reading it?

My second biography, Von Ripper’s Odyssey: War, Resistance, Art and Love, was published by Thistle Publishing in August 2016. Von Ripper lived through the great and tragic epochs of the first half of the twentieth century as a resistance fighter, war artist and CIA agent. After the second world war he lived on the Spanish island of Mallorca where he died in 1960.

Partly a thriller and partly a social and political history of the first half of the 20th century, it is also a biographical detective story with extraordinary revelations along the way, and an account of two obsessions: Rudolph von Ripper’s drive to resist the tyranny of fascist regimes through his astonishing art and heroic military action, and my relentless pursuit of this mysterious 20th century Ulysses. Lauded by luminaries of his epoch, von Ripper lived and loved with passion whilst the world as he knew it was apparently coming to an end. He was called the ‘soldier with an easel’. During the Cold War he acted as a CIA agent and settled in Mallorca, his ‘haven of peace and beauty’, closely pursued by his wartime enemies.

Some of Ripper’s remarkable depictions of human beings under duress are reproduced in my book and reveal an artistic talent that stands comparison with his contemporaries George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Käthe Kollwitz.


What do you find the most difficult thing about writing? And what do you find the easiest?

The most difficult? I would prefer to call it challenging! What I find most challenging is the time it takes to construct good sentences, and revise and edit books – I frequently edit my work at least eight times – it’s process that bears similarities to polishing a semi-precious stone to reveal the hidden jewel! – that is challenging, because all that time at the desk cuts down dramatically the time I have to spend with friends, family and other pursuits. It’s a kind of obsession!

The easiest? Nothing about writing is easy, though when I get an idea for a book in my head, I’m like a dog with a bone it can’t put down. I know I have to pursue the idea, draft after draft, until the final draft bears some resemblance to my original concept. I identify myself as a writer, it’s what I do, and maybe that could be called the ‘easy’ bit.

Who are some of the authors in general who inspire you?

There are so many! The conciseness of poets inspires me. How so much is expressed with so few words! The Irish poets Seamus Heaney and Yeats are masters at merging feeling with rhythm and words. Some of T.S. Eliot’s poetry affects me like music. As he said ‘You are the music while the music lasts’. Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing is an inspiration to most Scottish writers, and certainly to me. And I love American authors such as Saul Bellow, Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers. I tune in most days to the marvellous choice of stories and dramas available on Radio 4.

What sort of research do you do to write your books?

Most of my books are heavily researched. I love research; discovering information, things I didn’t know about the subject (and that my readers probably didn’t know either) and piecing the bits of research together into the jigsaw of the book. I love working in libraries, the silence there that’s great for concentration and the sense that thousands of others have previously worked there.

Nowadays online research such as via Wikipedia can be a fantastic tool if used with caution.

Tracing von Ripper’s history took me to Germany, Spain and the USA and was a huge enrichment of my life. In writing Von Ripper’s Odyssey I had the great research gift of the letters and photographs discovered at the abandoned villa to work with. In some ways it was a writer’s dream and this time I didn’t have to come up with the story myself. I say ‘in some ways’ since it took 8 years to research and write the book, way more than I bargained for at the outset.

Now that it has been published I’m looking forward so much to a wide international audience knowing about Ripper and his art.


Why do you write? What inspired you to become a writer?

In common with many other writers (Virginia Woolf is one) I didn’t speak until I was 3 years old. I had great difficulty in expressing myself and was sent for elocution lessons. When I became an adult I fell into a part-time job as assistant editor on a small magazine that involved interviewing subjects and writing short articles.

Through that experience I learned how to express myself through words, and I became obsessed with writing well, as if to make up for the lack of words in my childhood! Gradually I found myself writing feature articles for mainstream newspapers and magazines and that experience fed into my becoming the author of books.

What keeps you motivated during creative slumps? How do you deal with Writers Block?

There’s a time in the creation of every book – usually around the middle – where everything seems to come unstuck. You find yourself in an uncharted ocean. That’s the time to cling to your life raft and ride the waves!

The great Italian author, Primo Levi, put it this way (I paraphrase) – you start off in an airplane made of paper and wood and somehow you manage to get airborne with your passengers (the characters in your book) then at some point on the journey you wonder if the plane is going to make it and if you’ll get your passengers safely landed. If I get into difficulties, I tend to set that part of the story aside to come back to later when confidence has been restored.

How do you spend your free time when you are not writing?

Getting out into nature and spending as much as possible walking (I call it ‘stomping around’). I’m fortunate to live in an area of Edinburgh blessed with a 12 miles long river, the Water of Leith, as well as beautiful gardens. I listen to music a lot, ‘the food of love’ – classical, jazz and folk – and I spend time with friends and family, particularly my two grandchildren (4 and 6) who love the river and the gardens as much as I do. Mallorca has become a ‘home from home’ which I try to visit at least twice a year and where swimming in warm sea is just about as good as life gets, for me.


Tell us more about your upcoming projects. Are you working on anything specific or have plans in the pipeline?

I’m working towards the book launch of Von Ripper’s Odyssey, which will be held late September in a prestigious German art gallery in Palma, Mallorca. Very exciting! Aside from that, I’m spending a lot of time contacting friends and fans to tell them about the new book, ‘beg’ them to buy it on Amazon and write a review. Amazon reviews, they say, are crucial to the success of a book nowadays.

When all the fuss is over, I hope to spend a few months back in Mallorca working on an unfinished novel set there.

Finally, are there any nuggets of wisdom that you can impart to other aspiring writers?

I am sure that the discipline of doing school homework every weekday for over a decade is a factor that helps me to have the discipline needed to work for a few hours every day on the book in hand! These days young people have so many distractions – not least social media – so I would encourage them to set aside a couple of hours most days to work on their books or stories. It’s amazing how the work will mount up. And be prepared to polish your work, each sentence and paragraph and page, over and over again. Try it, and see the difference it makes. As Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, said, ‘there is no writing that cannot be improved by re-writing’, or words to that effect.

And that’s a wrap! Thank you for being our guest Sian, it was a lot of fun and most enlightening.



Sian Mackay was born in Edinburgh, the ‘City of Literature’, in the same district of Canonmills where Robert Louis Stevenson had been born a century earlier. When she grew up, like many Scots, she was inspired by his writing and a series of coincidences led her to the English seaside town of Bournemouth where Stevenson lived that momentous year of 1885 when he wrote ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Her fascination with how this unlikely literary milestone came about led to her writing the fictive biography of Stevenson ‘The House on the Chine’.

Sian Mackay started her writing career as ‘Sheila Mackay’ a journalist and non-fiction writer with several books of popular Scottish history to her credit. During the 1990’s she lived in Spain where she started writing fiction – short stories to begin with – and encouraged by appearing on the shortlist for an Ian St James award, she wrote her first novel ‘Rafael’s Wings’ there.

This literary transition has left its mark on her work. The central challenge of her writing practice is the continual wrestle with ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ – she sees one as a mirror for the other – and she works in both mediums.

You can connect with Sian via the following Social Media platforms:-

LinkedIn:- Sian (Sheila) Mackay (LinkedIn)
Website:- The Website of Sian Mackay

You can buy her books here:-

Canada:- Buy Sian Mackay’s books in Canada

UK/Europe:- Buy Sian Mackay’s books in UK/Europe

US/Rest of the World:- Buy Sian Mackay’s books in US/Rest of the World

If you too would like to be interviewed on my blog at TooFullToWrite and you have a book or a series of books that you would like us to chat about then fill out the Contact Me form here with your details and we can arrange a future interview slot.

Still want more? Well as it so happens, there is a Daily Prompt over at The Daily Post that seems very relevant to Sian, since she has travelled the world in her thrilling books. For more articles using the theme of ‘Tourist’, check out the links below:-

1. Travel Much? – Dublin much? Howth
2. Saint P. Blogging – Prompt for the Day: “Tourist”
3. Fence – Tourist
4. Cambrea Lynn – Tourist
5. Been A Tourist Is Not A Bad Thing – TravelmyStories
6. ATG Successful Living – How Travelling Affects You (Must Read)
7. Tourist like Love – mySestina
8. My Mixed Blog – Tourist Dollars Welcome
9. shame – A Southern wedding: part 1
10. shame – A Southern wedding: part 2
11. St. Louis Mo. – A Pre-Published Indie Author
12. Sacrificial Chain Breaker – TOURISTS
13. You’re in Gator Country Now – The Secret life of a Vagabond
14. The Daily Post – Tourist
15. The Pleasures of Being a Tourist in Life – ideas and culture
16. Tourist – rupalislale
17. Theresa Barker – Lab Notes – Talking of Windows
18. Common Pursuit – In My City
19. Purposive Writer – Tourists In Our Own Place
20. Tourist – floatingstories
21. Tourist – Cambrea Lynn
22. Meals with Sass – Clouds
23. Touring your own city – When I thought I was fat
24. Tourist – MaeAnnesDiary
25. Petra Omoregie Caroline – Wild Irish man captured in mountains – Secret photoshoot with hiker Seamus Sullivan
26. Reflecting On Our Travels – This Pilgrim’s Progress
27. The 21st Century Indian – Mawlynnong- The Magical Getaway
28. East Coast Adventures – Our Adventures in Blogging
29. Mackinaw vs Mackinac – Mac’s World
30. Another (O)Possum – Mac’s World
31. Journey of Roo – Discover connections
32. 18 Places to Go – Think, Dream, & Believe
33. A Sunken Thought – Oh Dear Sweet
34. (Don’t Be) Too Timid and Squeamish – An Empty Nester’s Tour of the American West
35. Here I am !! – Tourist
36. Tourists From Life – Shelby’s Starlit Crossing
37. One Word Prompt: Tourist – Write On
38. Tourists and Pilgrims – Meg’s Magical Musings
39. “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” – Miss Gret
40. In your memory… – maybeiamsure
41. Le Fool – Cuts within, and cuts without
42. Keine Ausreden – One-word Prompt: Tourist
43. Tourist – The Inkwell
44. Tourist. A response. – the travelaura
45. aparajitagantayet – Tourist
46. Tourist I want to be! – writing336
47. Joy Write – The Tourist.
48. Write Through Life – To be a Tourist
49. Who are we ? – ramnathshanbhag
50. The Girl Who Wanted To See Forever – Different Eyes
52. Half WAY – blankbrainblog
53. Reality Through Fiction – Tourism – A snapshot of everyday life
54. Robb Michael – The Towel Market
55. A Glimpse into My Journey – Tourist in my favorite city
56. Meals with Sass – Tourist
57. Welcome, Snaps! – citse
58. Tour like a fanatic – Weaving Notions
59. I’m not a tourist. I’m a traveler. – Enjoy Korea as Korean
60. Tourist – swardwords
61. Tourist – StrangeLander2015
62. MY ENDURING BONES – I Walk A Lonely Street
63. tourist in my own country – guavarilla
64. College Kid Tourist, Stop Acting Like One – With Warmest Thoughts, From Afar
65. The Hidden Chalkboard – The Worst Tourist Trap
66. A Tour Through My Imagination – Karuchan
67. A Foreign Way – Kuma House
68. Darkly Dezire – Hindsight
69. Bumps in the Road – Two Are Better Than One
70. Writing Web – A New York City Tourist
71. Limestone and Lizards – We’re All Tourists
72. Tourist – Open Window in a Closed Space
73. Tourist – z a y n e e a . n e t
74. Jibber Jabber with Sue – Would Love to Live Life Full-Time as #TheObviousTourist
75. Daily Prompt – Tourist – Short Story – Brandon’s Rambling Writing
76. Sojourner – magicalrideblog
77. Sonder Stories – Through the Eyes of an Outsider
78. Two Are Better Than One – farrahstyles
79. The Failing Buddhist – Spiritual Tourism
80. Daily Post – Daily Prompt – Tourist – Brenda Travels Solo
81. I love being a tourist – Onto My Next 40 Years
82. Tourist vs. Traveler – Where’s the Windmill?
83. Immigrant – isawithoughtiwrote
84. Traveler or Tourist? – Pages in My Passport
85. Sights to See: Philadelphia – The Christian Owl
86. Making It Up As I Go Along – A Tourist In Istanbul
87. onlifethingsandthoughts – Searching For Green Goblin In The Capital Of The Free World
88. Le Drake Noir – Idyllic tourism mood
89. coldhandswarmheartsblog – Age of Wishes
90. Fluffy Pool – Roman Summer
91. kStan(ly) kSays – not your average guy
92. Jeffrey’s blog – Tourist…
93. Dear friend – Painted in words
94. Madison, Our Best President – The Page Turns
95. Tourist – Allison’s Written Words
96. another quiet muse – Tourist… Let Me Roam
97. Third Time Lucky! – When I was a tourist….
98. Being a tourist for once – In my world
99. theblackwallblog – Excuse me L.G.B. but…You ARE Human!
100. powerofmovies – Power of tourist
101. Rome: Veni, vidi, vici – Laura’s Little Letters
102. Other eyes – Jane Dougherty Writes
103. A Lesson Learnt – clumsyandsilly
104. The Sleeping Reading Beauty ~ book reviews – Don’t walk on the main road. Follow your instinct.
105. A Tourist in this whole new world – firelight
106. bless870 – Tourist
107. The Tourist’s Dream – Aurelia Slusher
108. INSPIRED LIVES – Tourist #3
109. Living Out Loud – TOURIST
110. And We Met! – Palpable Pennings
111. Giggles & Tales – Tourist – The Daily Prompt!
112. happymeerkatreviews – A Place I Used to Call Home
113. Eden of Knowledge – O Tourists
114. tourist. – lemonadeletter
115. BlessedDaily – Daily Blogging Posts: Tourist
117. Tourist? – introverted activist blog
118. The Medici Files – Tourist of the Times
119. The Body City – Canterbury Convert
120. Dream like a Tourist – eddaz
121. Skyfallinc – Tourist hmm?
122. The Last Blog Available – Number Ten, Down the Street
123. lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown – Timely Tourism
124. Thomas Ryan: Indie Writer – The Wandering Tourist Group
125. Delicate Little Thang and Buffalo Gal – Traveling Through the Wasteland
126. Like the Lamp – You’re Coming Over? Now?
127. Women – Rebel In A Tutu – Tourist
128. Journey to Learn you – Caillen James –Author
129. In our own skins – mistspell
130. Prompt for the Day: “Tourist” – saintpblogging BlogJob site
131. Tourist – Inside The Writer’s Closet
132. Tourist – wordsareallihavesite
133. charlesewaugh – Tour Guides with Tourists
134. Zombie Flamingos – A Tuesday walk
135. The Syllabub Sea – Tourists
136. Tourist- Really Not Really – In a Perfectly Imperfect World
137. Prompt for the Day: “Tourist” – Saint P. Blogging
138. The Audience – Melissa Erin Ferry
139. onlifethingsandthoughts – On Random Thoughts
140. Forever A Tourist – atrangizindagieksafar
141. They, You and Me – a turkish nightmare
142. Be a Tourist – Capital Blogs
143. Never to be a Tourist – E – Ticket Ride
144. In Your Heart. – TheTattooedBookGeek
145. ATG Successful Living – How Travelling Affects You (Must Read)
146. Being a tourist in your own home – Girl With A Tripod
147. 7 Weird Hacks Everyone Needs to Know – ONE MORE SHOT PLEASE
148. Daily Blogging Prompt: TOURIST – The Blog of Maggie
149. The Gad About Town – My Little Town
150. somawrites – sightseeing
151. Mainline_Matter – Jazz Fest Tourists
152. Tourist – disue
153. Tourists Seek Beauty; Five Tips to Find It Wherever You Are – Emotional Fitness Training
154. The waterfall at suicide point – Hi India
155. The Life Tourist – Let Me Stay Among The Stars
156. Travel Guide and Chill – contouring and cats
157. Flowers and Breezes – Tourist
158. The Reluctant Scribbler – Leave Only Footprints
159. My Garden Bio-Diversity – Tourist
160. The happy Quitter! – Bring in the tourists!
161. Hello… – Tarnished Soul
162. Sure Scribbles – Srilanka Paradise.
163. You Can Keep Your Fannypack – theturtleoffice
164. 83 Unsung Heroes – Playing The Tourist
165. Tourisme – A lot from Lydia
166. Tourist – Scott’s website
167. Are you a Tourist or a Traveler – Close to You
168. Charron’s Chatter – How Networks Grow
169. Life with Jess – Be A Travler
170. Lucy’s Journal – A sense of nothingness …
171. Impromptu Promptlings – Tourist
172. A lesson learnt from blogging – clumsyandsilly
173. kristinakoti – Summer, I am here for you
174. THE ICONOPHILE – Sans Fards… avec whatever
175. Not A Tourist|Daily Prompt – Catherine’s Blog
176. speaking up for myself – Meandering
177. Travel Much? – Rock the Red! Love the D.C.
178. Freeing AJ’s Voices – Tourist
179. Awl and Scribe – Tourist
180. A Tourist- On Your Own Land – Uma’s life and thoughts
181. Martha L Shaw – CHOOSE TO LIVE!
182. Lakeland Musings by Irwin – Tourist
183. The Summer Traveler – Just Geekly Fabulous
184. tourist ⋆ Obsolete Childhood
185. Tourist – Lead us from the Unreal to the Real
186. Coloring Outside the Lines – Tourist Season
187. Where to Next? – My Second Act, Scene One
188. Incredible Pie – The Road to VrindaVan….
189. A Flamingo in Utrecht – Tourists in Utrecht
190. Tourist Tax – brentlyblog
191. La Tour Abolie – The Absolute End: tourists
192. The road less…. – Mistakes and Adventures
193. Incidental Tourist – Dutch goes the Photo!
194. Jacki Kellum Juxtapositions: Read My Mind – Thank Goodness You Don’t Need Money to be A Tourist
195. Queen of a Full House – Tourist
196. Mind Palace – Tourist In A Familiar Land
197. I’m a Tourist – Tvor Travels
198. quakewater – Tourist
199. his Tourist like Love – mySestina
200. Island Tourist – SUCCESS STRATEGIES
201. Daily Prompt; Tourist – tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
202. Not Paris, Not Yet – Savory, Spicy, Sweet
203. simply.cindy – Back to Disneyland
204. MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO – A Traveler Or A Tourist
205. The Pie – wordsonwings
206. Traveling with Insulin-Dependent Diabetes: Your Insulin Supplies – Writings from the Heart
207. A tourist in my own life – Livin that nerd life
208. Capturing Place’s Feelings – Desertedroad
209. B_ up to date – A touristing little leafe
210. thelonerose – Tourist daily prompt
211. Tourist – alkasharmablog
212. Tourist – The Daily Post – D.B. Mauldin
213. Vexing Point – Tourist
214. browney237’s Blog – Day One – Sicily
215. Wanderlust – Has It Always Been Like This’s Blog
216. the15thday – crmrshugah
217. An Upturned Soul – Never Wear Yellow… unless you want to be a target
218. Break from reality – zorazebic
219. A Taste… – Nomadchasingwaterfalls
220. Travelogue : San Francisco – Geek Ergo Sum
221. Tourist: How Far Are You Willing To Go – Sydney David
222. Journey Home – Pete Gardner Psalms
223. Prompt: Tourist – LMTP Journey
224. Frank Prem – pumpkin rock terrorists
225. Motel – Just Writing!
226. Science Traveler – The Bats and the Birds of Carlsbad Caverns
227. Wordless Wednesday-Vacation – Bedlam & Daisies
228. The Wandering Poet – DP Prompt ~ A tourist with a camera
229. Hot White Snow – Moules et Frites
230. Designer Sophisticate – Don’t be a travel dunce.
231. kStan(ly) kSays – sleep was on the schedule
232. ….on pets and prisoners….. – daily prompt: tourist
233. Lantern Words – A Tourist Passing Through


One thought on “Author Interview – Sian Mackay – Von Ripper’s Odyssey, The House on the Chine: Robert Louis Stevenson at Skerryvore & Rafael’s Wings: A Novel of Mallorca

  1. Pingback:  Here is yet another fabulous interview from a wonderful blogger! Campbell and I will be featured on this blog watch for us in mid October! Author Interview – Sian Mackay – Von Ripper’s Odyssey, The House on the Chine: Robert Louis Stev

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