AMA: Tell us a bit about what it's like to write in more than one genre, as more than one character and with more than one author—phew, that's a lot of hats!
N&J: First of all, we should tell you that we started setting our early stories in the 16th-century period because we had some academic background in the time period. Write what you know, they told us. But writing historical novels as May McGoldrick, we’ve always tried to create new stories, new characters, and new problems for our heroines and heroes to overcome. To do that, we’ve pushed ourselves to stretch into areas where we have needed to learn new things. We have to admit that if we only wrote about what we knew, we never would have written about murderous lairds, or covens of Highland women, or cross-dressing artists, or children with physical handicaps, or promiscuous English queens! Those things are just not a part of everyday life in the McGoldrick household.
AMA: So, what's your secret to having such a broad range?
N&J: The solution for us is research, imagination and mind-set. While in the mind-set of the historical writer we read Britain magazine. Research is a seductively pleasurable pastime that takes us, mind and soul, out of our daily life—and away from the writing we should be accomplishing for that day. It places us smack dab in the world that we are researching.
AMA: How does this work when you're May McGoldrick?
N&J: When we are May McGoldrick, writing a historical set (for example) in 1760’s England, we read things like James Boswell’s London Journal of 1762-1763. As May, we study about the wool industry of the 1500s and watch the History Channel (actually, though, it doesn’t have to be the History Channel. Any show with ruins will do.) In planning and plotting out our stories, we do about 20% of our planning upfront and 80% of it as we write. In May’s stories, the writing tries to capture some of the texture of the historical period. As a result, her scenes are sometimes longer than those of her contemporary counterpart, who finds that short scenes keep the pace of a story rocketing along.
AMA: What happens after the first draft, when you want to really ground the story?
N&J: In revision, we find that we need to shift our gears a little, too. As May McGoldrick, we live by the Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary and their references to the dates that words came into use. For example, are you able to say that a character was “mesmerized” by another character. F.A. Mesmer, the early hypnotist, was not alive until the 18th century; it just won’t do to use the term in the 1500s.
For more about May McGoldrick, Jan Coffey, and Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick visit Jan Coffey.