BackStory: Five Questions with Sheila Scott

NASA Apollo8 Earthrise

BackStory: Five Questions with Sheila Scott
Author of Estelle

What inspired you to write ‘Estelle’?

The Apollo space flights hold an eternal fascination for me. At the scientist level, the programme demonstrated the incredible capacity of the human mind to undertake pioneering scientific exploration using the most basic equipment, combined with an almost innocent sense of adventure. When I watched Ron Howard’s documentary ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’, I was just blown away by how grounded (no pun intended) all the astronauts were. And I totally fell in love with Michael Collins and his dry sense of humour. His book Carrying the Fire is an excellent and entertaining account of the sixties NASA space programme. So I wanted to write something that allowed us a glimpse of their humanity in this extreme environment.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

I was quite familiar with the footage of the astronauts in the space modules from the many documentaries I’ve watched but I used the book ‘Lift-off’ (by Michael Collins) whilst I was writing my piece to get the real detail of the set up (such as the bag they stored documents in). It gave me an even more acute sense of the claustrophobia and another level of admiration for the men who took these amazing trips.

Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?

I got totally side-tracked with interesting facts about the Apollo modules and the chain of command on the space flights but that was just me going off on a tangent. Let’s call it backstory!

Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise) and why?

Probably the thriller writer Joseph Kanon. He sets his novels during some of the most interesting events of recent times: Los Alamos, 1945 Germany, 1940s Hollywood, Cold War Russia – the twentieth century had so much going on. I also love the sense of time and place in Graham Greene’s writing (short and long form) though as some of it was written at that time I’m not sure if that counts!

How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

I think the scientist in me longs to cling to complete and utter 100% accuracy. But I like the balance Joseph Kanon strikes whereby he acknowledges at the start of the book where he has conflated events or people, or borrowed or bent the truth, then just lets us get on with the story.

Sheila Scott is part writer / part scientist, but most enjoys turning idle thoughts into narratives and illustrative doodles. Based in Glasgow and an MLitt graduate, she’s had work published in Cabinet of Heed, Causeway, Poetic Republic 2015 Anthology and Qmunicate. She has an intermittently hyperactive Twitter account @MAHenry20.

Image of Earthrise above the lunar horizon taken on December 24th, 1968 by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. This image was catalogued by Johnson Space Center of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Photo ID AS08-14-2383.