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Nationalism, war among themes explored in Kentville writer’s debut novel

Michael Binns is a first-time fiction writer and his debut novel, ‘Will from Melrose,” that explores ‘the futility of war’, nationalism, history and romance.
Michael Binns is a first-time fiction writer and his debut novel, ‘Will from Melrose,” that explores ‘the futility of war’, nationalism, history and romance. - Sara Ericsson

Author Michael Binns was inspired to write while standing at Kentville’s cenotaph

KENTVILLE – Michael Binns was inspired to write what would become his first novel while standing at Kentville’s cenotaph during a Remembrance Day ceremony.

At the time, it was a 500-word piece of text Binns wrote while taking part in a creative writing workshop. With time, Binns continued writing more sections which culminated into separate chapters of one story.  

His debut novel, ‘Will from Melrose,’ explores the theme of war alongside nationalism, history and romance. It’s a book he hopes shows people that conflicts are most often not warranted.

“History has always fascinated me. All of these senseless wars – some wars are justified – Hitler had to go, for example – but most are not,” says Binns.

Heading off to war

The romantic fiction novel is set in fourteenth-century Scotland in the years that Edward I tried to annex Scotland – as depicted famously in the film Braveheart – and the years following, when Robert Bruce ascended to the Scottish throne.

“Edward II refused to recognize Robert as king, and there were many Scots at that time who had land in both countries – they agreed with him, and they wanted Edward to remain lord over Scotland,” says Binns.

The novel’s main character, Will, lives in a village called Melrose with his father, who condemns war. The youth is persuaded to join Sir James Douglas, a lord who fought under Robert Bruce, to invade northern England. His father begs him to stay, but he goes anyway.

“Will’s father is fed up with war, but Will’s a teenager, and defies his father and goes anyway. He got to Roxborough, goes on the raid, and the story picks up from there,” says Binns.

Navigating nationalism and peace

The novel also touches on nationalism – a topic that’s making headlines over the world as several migrant crises unfold, and people continue attacking one another over nationality-related conflicts.

Binns, who hails from south of Edinburgh and has also lived in both England and Canada, explores the topic through several of his characters, whose nationalities include Scottish, French, English and Dutch.

Will marries an English woman in the novel, and at one point sit with her and the two French and Dutch characters around a table. They ask themselves why they are not able to live together in peace, and cannot come up with an answer.

Binns says this scene is one of the book’s most important, due to its relevance.

“One of the things right the way through – I’m showing Will that the English aren’t monsters," he says.

“The point is we’re all different nationalities. Can’t we live together in peace? That’s something maybe some will be inspired to find the answer to."

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