VEH Masters…

was born and grew up on a farm just outside of St. Andrews in Fife.  She went to school in the town from aged 4, first at Madras Primary and then at Madras College in South Street. Her grandparents lived in St. Andrews and the family saw them every day.

‘Although I was in the town constantly, I went to the same places; Hepburn Gardens to St Mary’s Place – where the Primary School was and which is now the Registry Office – to South Street and home. Our favourite beach was the West Sands, so until I went to secondary school I’d, never that I can remember (although my siblings may disagree), walked out the pier, been on the East Sands or climbed St Rule’s tower.’

The first time she was inside St. Andrews Castle was when her history teacher, Miss Grubb, took the class on a visit, aged 12. ‘It’s so tucked away in a corner I can’t particularly remember seeing it until then. I was fascinated, especially when we crept down the siege tunnel, and peered into the bottle dungeon where Cardinal Beaton’s body is said to have been kept, pickled in salt.’

one of the mine shafts dug and then abandoned while the Castilians tried to ascertain where, and if, the besiegers were tunnelling into the castle,
One of the abandoned mine shafts, dug before the counter-mine was finally begun.

They were taught some Scottish history in primary school and, although she did Higher History, the focus was mainly on European and British history; industrial revolution, thirty years war, Edict of Nantes. ‘I initially studied history at Stirling University, which was a radical place in those days,’ she says. ‘It was taught from a Marxist perspective and, again, little Scottish history.’

The siege of St Andrews Castle was covered briefly but was very much about the martyrdom of George Wishart, and, before him, Patrick Hamilton. Cardinal Beaton was described as an evil man and the men who murdered him “did the right thing”. There was only passing mention of Henry VIII’s involvement or the complex politics. ‘When I heard that they called themselves the Castilians,’ she says, ‘I remember this shiver of excitement. It seemed the perfect title for a book.’

frontage of the ruin of St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle and the dry moat. The entrance to the counter-mine is just to the right of the castle.

VEH Masters has lived for most of her life in Fife and,  although she recently moved to Peeblesshire, she’ll always consider herself a Fifer. St Andrews is one of her two favourite places  in the world.

The Castilians is her debut novel and she’s currently working on a sequel, exploring what happens next for Bethia and Will.