Monday, 30 January 2012


I thought I would have a quick catch-up post on recent news.

First, the new Mammoth Book of Best British Crime (Best British Mysteries in the US version) is now out, featuring my short story A Fair Deal. It also has stories by Val McDermid, Peter James, RJ Ellory, Reginald Hill, Zoe Sharp, Simon Brett, Martin Edwards and (of course) a certain Brian McGilloway.

I recently saw the cover of the French edition of The Herring Seller’s Apprentice. I love the design and I think that the title is inspired - I wish I’d come up with that myself. It’s out this autumn (Sonatine Editions).

Wherever writers gather (pubs and bars usually) there is a general agreement that reviews in national dailies are becoming rarer and that [insert your genre here] is especially neglected. I was delighted therefore to see a review in the Daily Mail for Herring on the Nile. Coming some months after publication meant it was an added bonus.

And finally I have started to tweet under the alias of @lenctyler. (There’s already an @lctyler and @lentyler out there.) I have to admit I’ve been slightly sceptical of the value of Twitter, but it’s fun. I already have two followers - not a world record exactly, but it’s early days yet. And I’ve had my first reply to a tweet (thanks, Aliya!) I’m also following some interesting tweeters, including Aliya and Eliza - and check out Middle Class Nightmare if you haven’t heard of it. Which other MNWers are tweeting by the way?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Exerpt from The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets

It's really hard choosing an exerpt that sums up the spirit of a novel as well as giving a taster, but in the end, I decided on this one. The novel tells the story of Cass, growing up in a chaotic household under the dubious control of her eccentric mother. As her mother lies dying, the two of them reminisce about Cass's childhood. I chose this passage because it sums up my own mother, to whom the novel is dedicated. The primrose story is entirely true. I owe the cowpat idea to my own sons.

“We did have fun, didn’t we?” It’s as though she is reading my thoughts. “Do you remember the time I sent a note to school and we went picking primroses?”
“Oh yes!”
A blue and white spring day, a dapple of bright new leaves, and the primroses like stars in the chalky soil, their faces turned to the sun. We picked the slender pink stems, sniffing the perfume of the flowers, and filled a basket with them, then sat on our coats on the ground (“Don’t sit on the wet grass; you’ll get piles.” “Piles of what?” “Never you mind.”) to eat our picnic lunch of crisp rolls and ham and apples. It never occurred to me at the time to question what we were doing. My mother always reasoned that we were her children, and if she wanted us out of school for a day, then that was her right.
“What did you say in the note?”
“What note?”
“The note you wrote to the school on the primrose day.”
“I forget.” Her eyes start wandering again, then return with a snap. “On yes! I said you had your period!”
“Mum!” I was ten years old at the time, my chest as flat as a board, my body smooth and hairless as a plum.
“Well what did you expect me to say?” And of course, as usual, there is no answer to that.
“And Deirdre and the cowpat. Do you remember that?”
Blowing up cowpats with Lucas and his friends in the field behind our house, choosing a nice ripe one (“crisp on the top, with a squidgy middle,” advised Lucas, the expert); our excitement, watching the smouldering firework, waiting for the explosion; and the sheer joy when a particularly messy one erupted in a fountain of green sludge, splattering the blonde ringlets and nice clean frock of prissy Deirdre from next door. Oh, Deirdre! If you could see yourself! We rolled in the grass, kicking our heels, convulsed with mirth, while Deirdre, howling and outraged, ran home to tell her mummy what bad, bad children we all were.
“What’ll your mum say?” One of Lucas’s friends asked anxiously.
“Oh, Mum’ll laugh.”
Mum laughed. She tried to tell us off, but was so proud of the inventiveness of Lucas, and so entertained at the fate of prissy Deirdre, that she failed utterly. But she promised Deirdre's mother that we would all be “dealt with.”
“Whatever that means,” said Mum, dishing out chocolate biscuits and orange juice. “Poor child. She doesn’t stand a chance, with a mother like that. But I suppose she had it coming to her.”

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Why my Heart Belongs to Samwise Gamgee

Everyone knows that the true hero of Lord of the Rings is Samwise Gamgee, right? Frodo can be such a wet blanket, slouching around Mordor complaining that he can no longer remember the taste of strawberries. Sam is a hero for even putting up with him. Here's my thinking on it:

1. Frodo has an adventurous nature at the beginning of the trilogy, which is unusual for a hobbit. Samwise does not have an adventurous nature, but he goes with Frodo anyway, thereby already doing something he doesn't want to do. This trend then continues throughout the novel. Admittedly, Sam wanted to see the elves. But once he's seen an elf he still agrees to go to Mordor when he could just go home and marry Rosie Cotton. But no - off to Mordor. Bleuch.

2. And Frodo doesn't even want him to go to Mordor, which makes it even braver. Samwise nearly drowns trying to persuade Frodo to take him along. And Frodo looks in two minds about rescuing Sam, for which I can never forgive him. Horrible hobbit.

3. Sam knows Gollum is bad news and puts up with Frodo doubting him and eventually telling him to get lost. Then Sam single-handedly takes on the scariest evil creature of all Middle Earth to save Frodo, even though Frodo told him to nick off.

4. At this point Sam carries the ring himself and at no point does he moan about not being able to remember the taste of strawberries.

5. And when Frodo gives up like the little hairy nerk he is, Sam carries Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom. Even though he's let Frodo eat all the lembas bread and drink all the water. So he's doing it without the aid of sustenance. And he carried the ring earlier too. Did I mention that?

6. So at Mount Doom Frodo decides to keep the ring. And Sam doesn't just push him in the lava and go home himself. I know I would have.

7. To top it all, after the whole thing is over, Frodo diminishes into the West with the elves for an easy eternity, while Sam stays, has kids, becomes Mayor for a seven consecutive seven year terms, then buries his beloved Rosie and only then takes a boat to the West. And I bet throughout that time he kept his garden beautifully.

Apparently Tolkien recognised that Samwise was the true hero of the novel, and in a private letter compared Sam to the English soldier during World War One, working so hard, so thanklessly, for those that he considers to be his betters. Tolkien saw this self-effacing bravery as the best characteristic of humanity.

For me, Samwise is the best thing about the Lord of the Ringstrilogy. Possibly this is because I do find Frodo to be a bit on the annoying side. I don't think I'm alone in this, am I?

Who is your ultimate literary hero?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Former MNW editor Will Atkins has sold a nonfiction title.

I just saw this:

Faber has acquired a non-fiction title by former Pan Macmillan editorial director Will Atkins called Moor Land: The Landscape that Makes Britain.

Editorial director Lee Brackstone bought world rights in the title through Kirsty Mclachlan at David Godwin Associates, with plans to publish in 2014.

Follow the above link for more.

Congrats to Will.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Testament - changing history

As last-but-one up in the post-an-excerpt list, I've been a bit dilatory about posting a piece from Testament. This is because I've found it so difficult to try and identify a passage which adequately reflects the book.

Finally, I've come to the conclusion that the best place to start must be at the beginning. So, I give you the opening paragraphs of Testament.

It was a small, almost insignificant fire, the smouldering consequences of wiring overdue for replacement a decade earlier, an irritating addition to the maintenance team's job-list rather than a major item of college news. But when the carpenters came to remove a small section of charred oak panelling they were confronted by an image that would change the history of Kineton and Dacre College.
There, on the newly-uncovered patch of wall behind the Tudor panelwork, a soot-blackened face stared ut, its mouth agape. And in that gaping mouth, a tiny figure writhed: an infant child, its arms outstretched.

The face belongs to a fourteenth century wall painting that has been hidden for centuries, a painting that raises all sorts of questions about the two very different men who founded and built the college. And the image does 'change the history of the college'. In the novel the real story of Kineton and Dacre College's foundation is finally uncovered and, as a consequence, its history going forward is transformed.

It was that notion - that history can change the future - that really intrigued me when I was writing the book. What started off as a story set solidly in the fourteenth century morphed, as I wrote, into a split time narrative because I wanted to look at the past from the point of view of the present and to show that, however much we think we've uncovered what happened, we can never really know the full truth because we weren't there.

That's what I love about historical novels - they let you go there.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

She-writes Interview with Faye Booth

A quickie - this is a nice little interview from Fiona Robyn by Macmillan New writer Faye Booth on writing real people in historical fiction. Why not pop over for a look.