Monday, 4 January 2010

Featured title for January

The New Year starts with a new historical novel from MNW, Terence Morgan's The Master of Bruges. Terry was kind enough to answer a few questions to coincide with the book's release.

History is a matter of perspective . . .

T.G. Morgan’s vivid debut brings to life one of Europe’s most brilliant and enigmatic painters, and compels us to look again at a sensational period in history. In fifteenth century Bruges, master painter Hans Memling is about to find himself at the heart of a political storm that stretches from his home city to Plantagenet England. When Hans agrees to play host to two exiles on the run from their enemies in London, he has no idea that they are not the modest traders they appear to be. Meanwhile, he has come into contact with the powerful Duke of Burgundy. Over the coming years he will grow increasingly close to the duke’s beautiful daughter, the princess Marie, painting her portrait obsessively.

In 1482, Hans takes up an invitation to visit his English friends, who have returned to London following their exile. There he not only find himself caught up in the dramatic final stages of the Wars of the Roses, but also plays a crucial role in the fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. Returning home to Bruges, Memling is racked with guilt, for reasons that will only truly become clear as his story draws to a shocking end.

Full of exquisite descriptions of Memling’s art and times, The Master of Bruges is a gripping debut from a bracing new voice in historical fiction.

Hi, Terry. Tell us a little about your novel, The Master of Bruges.
It purports to be the memoirs of Hans Memling, the fifteenth century Flemish painter. The original idea was that it should masquerade as a cod art book, with an introduction by a German scholar who had found the memoirs, learned notes on the events and characters, and of course many illustrations from the work of Memling. I think Will must have blanched at the cost of the last of these, and in the end all three elements were removed.

How did you and Macmillan New Writing meet?
After being turned down by about fifty agents, I saw on a website that MNW was bypassing agents, and that an ms sent in would be actually be read and considered, so I sent it off last autumn. Then I heard nothing until I got a surprise e-mail from Will in late January.

As someone who loves historical novels, the Wars of the Roses and Bruges, I'm especially keen to read The Master of Bruges. Can you tell us how you settled on this particular milieu?
My Dear Good Lady Wife is a smoker, and when we came back from Singapore a few years ago I refused point blank to support her habit at British prices. Then I got the idea of nipping over to Bruges, where tobacco was much cheaper, on the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry. The first tobacco run was a day trip, but thereafter I demanded that I get something out of the deal, and subsequent trips involved a stay of 4-5 days. During one of these I found myself in the Memlingsmuseum. I had never heard of Hans, and enjoyed looking at his work; I noticed that he seemed to use the same model constantly for the Madonna. Then I went to the Town Hall, where there was a large Victorian painting called 'The Death of Mary, Princess of Burgundy', of whom again I'd never heard, but it seemed to me that the girl in the painting looked very like Hans' Madonna model. When I looked painter and princess up on the net and discovered that they were exact contemporaries, an idea began to take shape. I never thought I'd be grateful to John Player and Co.!

What is your typical writing day?
There isn't one. I can go weeks at a stretch without putting a single word down (although in my defence I spend a lot of time reading up on the time, the milieu and the characters) and then can sit and write 3000 words in a few hours. There's plenty of re-writing, of course, and as someone who was once a journalist of sorts I'm quite good at deadlines, if I ever get one.

Do you compose by pen or by keyboard, or what...and why?
Mainly keyboard, because it's convenient for shifting huge blocks of text around. I tend to do a lot of this, shifting scenes about, because of how I write -- i.e. whole scenes from all over the place in the novel, and then refit them where they should go.

None of us writes in a void. Which writers do you feel have had the most influence on you as a writer? (And which do you most enjoy reading - not always the same thing)

I've always been a voracious reader, mainly of rubbish. I am a Janeite and a Joycean, but if I had to point at one influential writer it would have to be George Macdonald Fraser. When an early reader commented that Hans Memling was 'a mediaeval Flashman' I was chuffed to bits. I've always enjoyed the type of story where bit players in history are brought to the fore and give their views/comments on life, right from reading 'Ben Hur' and 'I Claudius' as a boy.

Can we please have the traditional Four Random Facts about Terence Morgan?

i) In 1961, at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, the jazz band I occasionally played with was higher on the bill than the Beatles (but well below Terry Lightfoot!)
ii) In 1964 I was jailed in Gibraltar for vagrancy. I was trying to cross from Spain into Gib for a job I had on a boat, but the border guard refused to let me in as I had no money. In protest, I sat down so they couldn't close the gate, and was promptly arrested. It was a wonderful three days; they fed me three meals a day, gave me a bed (I had seen neither bed nor food for at least three days), took me for a pint (under guard) and had a whip round when I was finally released without charge and deposited over the border.
iii) Also in 1964, I was the beer-drinking champion of Mallorca -- Campeon de Bebedores de Cerveza de Palma de Mallorca Mil Nove Cien Sessenta Cuatro (approximately). I still have the trophy.
iv) In 1976, I came second in a short story writing contest run by the Liverpool Echo. The winner was the sainted Jimmy McGovern, so you have to be damned good to beat me.

Terry, thanks for your time, and the best of luck with The Master of Bruges.


Alis said...

Can't wait to read it! Welcome aboard, Terence!

Matt Curran said...

Congratulations Terry. All the best for the new book!

Ann Weisgarber said...

Terry, congratulations. Keep us posted on all of your release events. Try to stay out of jail, although that might be great publicity.

Tim, thanks for posting the interview. Nice work.

Frances Garrood said...

Congratulations, Terry, and all the very best for your novel. Are you going to join us for our February (re)union? It would be great to meet you!

Ellie said...

Best of luck, Terry! the book looks fascinating.

Len Tyler said...

Congratulations. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Sounds great, Terry.

Faye L. Booth said...

Congrats and good luck!


Doug Worgul said...

Welcome to the party, Terry!

RDJ said...


Brian McGilloway said...

Congratulations and good luck, Terry.

Deborah Swift said...

Hello Terry,
Can't wait to read your book - It sounds great. I'm always interested in books featuring artists too, it was interesting that you opted for no illustrations in the end. I suppose that means that the reader will either imagine or research the works for himself,sometimes I think this can be more vivid as an experience than getting it all given on a plate.
All the best with the book, hope it reaps lots of critical success.