Guest Post – Marsali Taylor on Death On A Longship

Well, hopefully, you’ve just read the review – if not, click here. As part of the blog tour promoting the book, Marsali Taylor has written about her inspiration for the story.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women’s suffrage in Shetland. She’s also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.

Over to you, Marsali.

A chance remark inspired me to write Death on a Longship, says Marsali Taylor.

 It was at the Edinburgh Festival, with my daughter’s mother-in-law, actor Linda Marlowe, and she was talking about cover-ups in the film world.  One very well-known star – and I won’t say who, for fear of libel writs falling round my head like autumn leaves – has gone to huge lengths to cover up being gay.  If I could say who it was, you’d know instantly just what lengths, for something that doesn’t need to be hidden in the first place!  That started me off thinking about one of the central strands of Death on a Longship.  I decided to confuse things with twins – the star, and the one in the background.  Favelle was a child star, and made the transition into adult movies via an action film – except that, as my heroine Cass discovers, she was terrified of water, and so her identical twin, Maree, did the action scenes for her.  Now Favelle has a reputation for action, so Maree needs to keep playing her.

Once I had that initial idea I started to think about what being the shadow twin might do to Maree – always in the background, with no chance for a life of her own. Might that drive her to murder, so that she could be herself, the real one, at last?

Another inspiration for the book was another book, The Sea Road, by Scottish writer Margaret Elphinstone.  It’s the story of Gudrid, daughter-in-law of Leif Erikson, and tells the story of her travels to Iceland, Greenland and eventually to America.  ‘That would make a good film,’ I thought, and realised it would be entirely plausible to shoot it here in Shetland – especially since we had the Viking longship all ready to use.

Skidbladner, the real original of Cass’s Stormfugl, is a replica trading ship, deep-bodied and stable, unlike the light, fast Viking warships.  She was built to re-try Leif Erikson’s voyage to America, but she’d only got as far as Shetland when she met bad weather, broke her mooring and was washed ashore on a sandy beach at the south end.  After that, she was brought up to Lerwick, and two tourist guides persuaded the Shetland Islands Council to buy her as the centrepiece of the Viking Unst project.  I went to look at her ashore, and was astonished at how big she was – seventy-five feet long, and so high that I couldn’t look over her sides.  I could believe the Norsemen went to America in something like this – and it was perfect for my film boat.

But how was my Cass, a young, itinerant skipper, going to get this prestigious job as the woman in charge of the longship for a big-budget film starring the famous Favelle?  It would have to be luck, so I had her overhearing Norwegian businessmen, the sponsors of the film, talking about this stranded longship.  Being from Shetland, she knew all about it – and I gave her time aboard the Sea Stallion, the replica warship from the Danish ship museum at Roskilde, which voyaged down the ‘Viking corridor’ of the Minch to Ireland.

Luck wasn’t enough to get her that skipper’s job, though.  Those businessmen would need something more, a personal contact perhaps …  Enter Cass’s Dad.  He’d been involved in the building of Shetland’s oil terminal, at Sullom Voe. Then, when he retired, had gone into business for himself.  I wanted my novel to reflect our concerns in modern Shetland, and the biggest dispute here at the moment is over a huge windfarm, over 100 giant turbines, to be placed along the central spine of the main island. So I decided Cass’s father would be one of the directors of the firm, and have contacts with the Norwegian firm in charge of the film.  Mr Berg would recognise the name Lynch, in the Shetland contact, have a word with Cass’s father, and give her the job on the strength of that connection.  Cass is very annoyed when she finds that out …

The windfarm is too important to us Shetlanders just to be background – so it became another strand of the plot.  While she’s in Shetland, Favelle is going to do adverts for the windfarm, and the anti-windfarm campaigners are afraid that her persuasive voice will sway the doubters… is that something to kill for?

I also wanted to present both sides of the argument.  Yes, the turbines will destroy our unique landscape, and affect our way of life – but Cass notices, as I’ve noticed, sailing my boat around this area, that the seabirds are disappearing.  Where once there would have been flocks of puffins and guillemots, now there are only a handful – climate change.  Maybe Shetland has to be sacrificed to save the planet.

Most of all, my inspiration was Shetland itself, and my life here.  It’s an incredibly beautiful place: green hills caught between blue sky and dancing sea in summer, all shades of grey and white on a snowy winter’s day.  It’s a place where everyone knows all about everyone else – the minute Cass returns, people are greeting her as if she’s never been away.  I wanted to capture that: the friendliness of the community, the laid-back attitude to regulations, the relaxed country life.  The biggest compliment for me, once fellow-Shetlanders have read Death on a Longship, will be if they tell me, ‘Yes, this is the Shetland we know.’

Giveaway Information:

Marsali is giving away THREE prizes; a copy of Death on a Longship at each blog stop on her tour, a 1st place grand prize giveaway at the end of the tour of some silver Viking-inspired jewelry from the Shetland Islands, and a 2nd place $15 Amazon gift card.

1)      To win a book: leave a comment on this blog post to be entered to win a book (open internationally for ebook or the US, UK, and Canada for a print book). Be sure to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you’re the lucky winner. This giveaway ends five days after the post goes live.

NB: On the off-chance that you’re wary of leaving your email address in a blogpost, email me at and I’ll make sure the publishers get the winner’s address.

2)      To win Viking-inspired Jewelry OR a $15 Amazon gift card: Click the link to go to the contest’s website and enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post. A first and second place lucky winner will be selected on October 1st. First place person gets to choose which grand prize he/she wants. The second place person gets the remaining grand prize. Open to every country. To enter, click on this link.

So, this ends the stop on the blog tour. Hope you didn’t find it too pluggy, but, to be honest, I was really impressed with the book, so I hope more people read it.


  1. […] In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel Spoiler Free Reviews of Fair Play Detective Fiction Skip to content HomePaul DohertyHugh CorbettThe Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother AthelstanAmerotke, Chief Judge of ThebesThe Journals of Roger ShallotThe Canterbury TalesThe Ancient Rome MysteriesMathilde of WestminsterAlexander The GreatKathryn SwinbrookeOther Historical MysteriesAlys ClareAriana FranklinSteve HockensmithMichael JecksBernard KnightPeter TremayneSir Henry MerrivaleClassic BibliographiesAgatha ChristieEllery QueenSherlock HolmesChallenges2012 ChallengesThe Mystery Tour of the USAThe Author ← Murder In Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie Guest Post – Marsali Taylor on Death On A Longship → […]


  2. This does sound interesting! I’ve always quite fancied going to the Shetland Islands.

    I’d be especially interested to read the wind farm sections. Renewable energy and climate change doesn’t make its way into too many mysteries despite the huge number of column inches dedicated to the issue.

    A few of my friends work in the the wind turbine business, and I’m afraid the various debates have rather been overshadowed by the mystery possibilities. I don’t think many people realise that the nacelle that contains all the workings is actually hollow and accessible by climbing (or being winched) up the central shaft. The big ones are also accessible by landing a helicopter on top.

    It’s basically a locked room! At the top of a hundred metre pole!! Out to sea!!! John Dickson Carr would be salivating…


  3. I’m glad you liked this book. I was offered to host the book tour on my blog, but because of my summer job I backed out because there was no way I could commit to a specific date. Lucky I did, too– an opportunity came last week to surprise my parents by painting the entire downstairs portion of the house while they’re away. I’ve kept up on reading… but only via audiobooks!


  4. Thank you for these comments – and for the idea, Richmcd! Now, how can I solve that one in a future novel …? Patrick, you sound a wonderful son, and you’re welcome to visit in Shetland any time – our downstairs paintwork is needing done too! Puzzle Doctor, I am so very pleased by your review – praise of my plotting from a fellow JDC fan is praise indeed, and I appreciate it. I did my best to follow the advice from JDC’s essay, ‘The Grandest Game in the World’. Thank you.


    • Thanks for dropping by, Marsali. It was so refreshing to read a new crime novel where so much thought had been put into the puzzle plot as well as to the overall structure of the novel. I’m really looking forward to the next in the series. Congratulations on producing such an entertaining read.


  5. Fascinating to hear about the windfarm – I recently read WHERE THE SHADOW FALLS by Gillian Galbraith where that is fairly central to the premise though it did rather get forgotten later on in the book (which i was fairly criticical of for a number of other reasons). Sounds like it got a much more detailed exploration here.


    • I should point out – the windfarm is an issue in the book, it’s not a location.

      Although, given how excited people seem to be about it, it does seem that a windfarm centred murder mystery would have at least two buyers…


  6. Hello Steve and Marsali,

    I would like to read this book please.

    Please include my name in the selection.

    Thank you so much.

    Have a great day!


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