It is 1660. The King is back, but memories of the Civil War still rankle. In rural Westmorland, artist Alice Ibbetson has become captivated by the rare Lady’s Slipper orchid. She is determined to capture its unique beauty for posterity, even if it means stealing the flower from the land of recently converted Quaker, Richard Wheeler. Fired by his newfound faith, the former soldier Wheeler feels bound to track down the missing orchid. Meanwhile, others are eager to lay hands on the flower, and have their own powerful motives. Margaret Poulter, a local medicine woman, is seduced by the orchid’s mysterious herbal powers, while Sir Geoffrey Fisk, Alice’s patron and a former comrade-in-arms of Wheeler, sees the valuable plant as a way to repair his ailing fortunes and cure his own agonizing illness.
Fearing that Wheeler and his new friends are planning revolution, Fisk sends his son Stephen to spy on the Quakers, only for the young man to find his loyalties divided as he befriends the group he has been sent to investigate. Then, when Alice Ibbetson is implicated in a brutal murder, she is imprisoned along with the suspected anti-royalist Wheeler. As Fisk’s sanity grows ever more precarious, and Wheeler and Alice plot their escape, a storm begins to brew, from which no party will escape unscathed.
Vivid, gripping and intensely atmospheric, The Lady’s Slipper is a novel about beauty, faith and loyalty. It marks the emergence of an exquisite new voice in historical fiction.
Hi Deborah, tell us a little about your novel, The Lady's Slipper.
How did the book find its way to Macmillan New Writing?
Do you compose by pen or by keyboard, or what....and why?
Keyboard so I can edit as I go along. I have never learnt to type so it is a slow process, using only a few of my fingers! But it seems to tie in with the amount of thinking time I need to compose my sentences. When I write by hand I seem to get extra woffle. But I like the romance of a pen, and write letters with a proper fountain pen and Quink.
Who are the writers you most admire? Can you trace their influence in your own writing?
Mostly it's plays that have influenced me. I spent years analysing texts to create set and costume designs - everything from Shakespeare to Pinter, to Tennessee Williams, to Mamet and Hare. So there is a strong sense of drama that wants every character to have a moment in the spotlight, and for the curtain at the end of a chapter to come down with the reader wanting more.
Book-wise, I have been impressed by Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Tracey Chevalier and Geraldine Brooks. I love Rose Tremain and Philippa Gregory who write historical fiction in very different ways, and because I've read so much of both I would love to think perhaps they are influences too. (Someone will have to tell me!)
I know you have a second novel underway. Can you tell us anything about that yet?
It tells the story of Ella, one of the characters from The Lady's Slipper, but it is not a sequel - more like a companion-volume. I hope it will stand on its own without needing to be propped up by the first. I have done a few drafts but it is still growing and developing, and I have still a few juicy bits of research to do before I tie it all together.
Deborah, thanks very much for your answers. Best of luck with The Lady's Slipper!