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Historian Dr Katy Turton turns to fiction for novel set in the Russian Revolution which launches in Grantown tomorrow

By Margaret Chrystall

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It’s a compelling beginning Dr Katy Turton has written for her first novel Blackbird's Song, set in Russia in 1905, and which launches in Grantown tomorrow (Thursday) night.

Writer and historian Dr Katy Turton will talk about her debut fiction title Blackbird's Song in Grantown tomorrow (Thursday).
Writer and historian Dr Katy Turton will talk about her debut fiction title Blackbird's Song in Grantown tomorrow (Thursday).

“I just had this image of a woman revolutionary sitting in a prison cell and the door shutting on her – and how did she get there?” said Katy, who teaches history at the University of the Highlands and Islands at the Centre of History in Dornoch.

If anyone knows the answer, it’s likely to be the historian herself.

Her own research into the Russian Revolution led to a PhD.

Since then, she has published widely on the role of women and family in the Russian revolutionary movement and has published books on the subject, Forgotten Lives (2007), which centres on Lenin’s sisters, and Family Networks In The Russian Revolutionary Movement (2018).

The writer lives in the Cairngorms National Park with her husband Grant and two sons.

And it was while her children were growing children that Katy decided to move from Queen’s University, Belfast, eventually to UHI, that the chance to write her novel came.

“Before I started working at UHI, there was about a two-year period when I was at home and that is when I found the window to write the novel.”

Of this book, Katy has said: “I wrote this novel to make known the remarkable story of women’s contribution to the Russian Revolution.”

What led there was a passion for Russian history ignited during her time at Aberdeen University.

“I’m particularly interested in women’s involvement in the Revolution so my PhD was on Lenin’s family in particular and he had three sisters. I researched them and went over to Russia and worked in the archives there in Moscow mainly and for some time in St Petersburg.”

Katy pays tribute to the two university lecturers who set her off on her Russian journey.

“One was Paul Dukes, who sadly just passed away, and David Longley. I was just hooked by Russian history from that point on.”

Blackbird's Song, set in Russia in 1905.
Blackbird's Song, set in Russia in 1905.

After her undergraduate degree, Katy wanted to learn the Russian language to be able to further her studies.

“Strathclyde was offering a year-long diploma in the Russian language at that point so I did that for a year and then I went to Glasgow University and started my PhD there.

“A lot of my recent political research has been a look at the family life of revolutionaries, so I’m very interested in friendships between revolutionaries, loving relationships and families and children and so on.”

Though Blackbird’s Song was originally published in April with a pre-launch event online and another in Edinburgh, Katy says: “I couldn’t miss the opportunity to launch locally in person – this is the cherry on the top of the publicising campaign!”

The book cover features a design you would see possibly painted on wooden artisan craft bowls, Katy informs you.

And it is certain the facts about Russian life of the Revolution-era which the writer has at her fingertips should be informing her first fiction.

“Hopefully it is grounded very much in what happened to revolutionaries at the time,” the writer said.

And an important fact can be shared regarding any possible sequels to Blackbird’s Song.

“I’m in the thick of it just now, writing a sequel,” Katy said.

“Now we are working again, it will probably take me longer to write!

“So I think that maybe by the end of next year I will have something ready to publish.”

Dr Katy Turton is launching her new book Blackbird’s Song (published by Stairwell Books) tomorrow (Thursday) at 7pm at the Pagoda, Seafield Avenue, Grantown-on-Spey. Entry to the event is free. The event is hosted by independent bookshop The Bookmark.The writer will be interviewed by Merryn Glover, author and radio playwright and a former writer in residence at Cairngorm National Park. Follow Katy: @katyturton

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