Jill MacLean is the Canadian author of a poetry collection, a non-fiction historical biography, three novels for young readers, two young adult novels, and The Arrows of Mercy, historical fiction for adults set in medieval England, released in 2023. She lives in Bedford, Nova Scotia, near her family.

Jill MacLean’s somewhat truncated biography:

Although I was born in England in Berkshire (the county where my medieval novel, The Arrows of Mercy, is set), I left there many years ago, and happily took out Canadian citizenship in 1970.

I began writing poetry in the nineties, along with completing a Masters degree in theology, and my poetry collection was published in Manitoba in 2003. My young grandson then asked me to write him a book – and changed the direction of my life. Three middle-grade novels and two Young Adult novels followed in fairly quick succession (you can check them out under Publications).

All five novels were contemporary, four were set in Newfoundland (where my family lived for seventeen years), and four overtly dealt with bullying.

Was I in danger of falling into a literary rut?

If so, what to write next?

The hiatus was frightening; but gradually there surfaced my abiding fascination with the medieval period, and even more gradually characters began to emerge, chief among them Edmund – I know from the beginning he would be an archer. I also knew I wanted to write about war and its aftereffects, as well as plague (this was well before Covid) – and that I did not want to write about aristocrats. Edmund and his cohorts are peasants, serfs, villeins, the lowest of the low.

I read widely about rural life in mid-14th century England, my son drove me around the back lanes of Berkshire in search of the exact setting, and I started to write in 2015. The novel was initially intended for a young adult audience, but morphed into fiction for adults – I wanted no constrictions.

Because I was in love with the research, and assumed you would be too, I wrote a sprawling, unmanageable mess of a novel, and then spent years (literally) cutting it back until it was the length it needed to be.

The Arrows of Mercy was launched.

Although set in 1348, the novel’s themes of plague, PTSD and scorched-earth warfare (think Syria and Ukraine) are all-too relevant to today’s world.

spring garden with forget-me-nots

Whenever I meet someone new, instead of chatting about the weather or a mutual acquaintance, I want to ask, “What do you feel passionate about?” because no matter what the answer, it’s bound to be more interesting than 30% chance of showers.

So what are my passions?

In these days of lol, btw and fyi, I feel strongly about the power of words and the importance of finding the right one. I remember watching a herring gull settle itself on top of a lamppost in a playground, how it shuttled its wings: that inner thrill for shuttle.

The power of story. A good story, well told, can touch our emotions, expand (one hopes) our empathy, our breadth and depth as humans on a fragmented planet. It can take us to places where we aren’t comfortable. Further to that, I love being lost in the story I’m trying to tell, characters alive in my head as I imagine setting and scene – when I’m between books, I miss this sense of immersion.

Canoeing. To paddle into the sunrise on Boot Lake, solo in my Mad River Malecite, mist rising, no wind, each island surrounded by a perfect, upside-down world.

Jill MacLean Canoes at Milford

Canoes at Milford

Family and friends. They’re of the essence.

Reading. A penalty of working on my own manuscript is that I can’t read fiction. Non-fiction, yes, and poetry. By the time I hand the story to an editor, I’m desperate to immerse myself in someone else’s novel.

Travel. To cool places. I don’t mean trendy, I mean literally cool. I’ve been lucky enough to visit northern Baffin Island, Resolute Bay, Devon Island and Ellesmere. Ice floes on a beach in August – give me that any day over a rainforest’s heat and humidity. Europe – I haven’t seen enough of Europe. Can one ever see enough of Europe?

Gardening. I look after a large perennial garden near my apartment building that I call the Dumpster Garden, where I get to converse with the residents because everyone has to take out the garbage. I start in spring with a plan. Weeds spring up. Orange flowers bloom next to magenta. Plants self-seed in unexpected places (you can’t possibly forget forget-me-nots, they won’t let you). And I go along for the ride. Could this be a metaphor for writing?