Finalist Spotlight

Martha Keyes

Martha Keyes was born, raised, and educated in Utah—a home she loves dearly but also dearly loves to escape to travel the world. She received a BA in French Studies and a Master of Public Health, both from Brigham Young University. It wasn’t until exploring a host of other career opportunities that Martha considered writing a story of her own. She has never looked back. When she isn’t writing, she is falling down research rabit holes, looking for travel deals, and spending time with her husband and rascally twin boys at their home in Utah.

Martha Keyes on her Whitney Award Finalist novel,

Of Lands High and Low

What was the inspiration for your Whitney Awards finalist novel?

I had the idea as I was reading a Scottish social history book. Having a background in the field of public health, I was fascinated by the sections on smallpox and the rift inoculation caused amongst the people. It was an opportunity to combine interests of mine, and I was immediately intrigued.

What was the tipping point that turned this novel from “just an idea” to a project you HAD to complete?

When I discovered that inoculation was generally higher amongst the Scottish Highland population than the Lowland one, I was sold on the idea. The Highlands were seen by many of their Lowland counterparts and by their English neighbors farther south as backwards and barbaric, so the idea that they were actually a step ahead medically fascinated me. There were so many strong beliefs and divisions in the population, I knew it was a backdrop I wanted to explore.

 How did this book evolve into the final story? Did it end up the way you thought it would, or did the plot or characters change along the way?

I genuinely didn’t know how the story would resolve when I decided to write it. It was very much a process of exploration for me as an author. The romance, too, became a more important part of the story than I had anticipated. In a way, I felt a lot like some of the characters as I wrote it—unsure of where to go next. It was a real challenge but a rewarding one.

Who is your favorite secondary character, and why?

I love Helen Gervy. She took the first significant step in this story. It was a serious act of courage to do something like she did in a community that could easily turn on you, and particularly given her past experience with smallpox. Without her bravery, there is no story here.

If your book was made into a movie, which scene would you want to be a background extra in?

I think I would love to witness the service at the end—it was such a point of healing for the community and for Graeme especially.