Monday, 10 September 2012

THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift

Featured Publication: THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift

'Deborah Swift's THE GILDED LILY is a heart-rending story of two sisters on the run, searching for a better life. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. An addictive, page-turning read.' Mary Sharratt

Winter 1660
Sadie Appleby has lived all her life in her small village. One night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella, who has robbed her employer and is on the run. The girls flee their rural home of Westmorland to head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man's relatives are in hot pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse begins.

Set in London's atmospheric coffee houses, the rich mansions of Whitehall, and the pawnshops, slums and rookeries hidden from rich men's view, The Gilded Lily is about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.

Deborah, thanks so much for answering a few questions about your second novel, The Gilded Lily, published by Pan Macmillan. It takes place during the winter of 1660-61 so let’s begin with the time period. What are the challenges of stepping away from the year 2012 and assuming the points of view of your main characters?

One of the main challenges was to find convincing voices for the two sisters, Ella and Sadie, and to make them distinct from each other. Girls in their position had little education and could not read, and as much of it was written from their point of view, I had to avoid using too many long words or anything too literary. Their view of the world was very narrow, and founded on hearsay, gossip and superstition. Stories were a very important part of a village culture where hardly anyone could read, and the telling of stories - both fairytales and lies became a major theme in the novel.

The girls' small horizons became an advantage when they had to come to terms with the explosion of new sights and ideas when they reached the city of London. When writing, I also wanted to give a sense of a Westmorland accent so I listened to a lot of archive material of Cumbrian dialect. Unfortunately a lot of it was almost unintelligible to our modern ears so I had to pick out only odd words to give a flavour.

Your first novel, The Lady's Slipper, also begins in 1660. What draws you to that decade?

The period was one of tumultuous change, but also of optimism. The end of Puritan rule meant a swing back to a world of lavish entertainment and sexual freedom and a revival of fashion and the arts. It was the Swinging Sixties in London three centuries before the 1960's. Although The Gilded Lily deals with the dark and seamy London underworld, there is a sense that anyone can become anything - a poor girl can become a King's Mistress as indeed Nell Gwyn did. And as a writer, although The Gilded Lily might at times be chilling, in the end the tone of my books tends to the optimistic, rather than pessimistic.

Were there interesting or surprising things that you discovered during the research process for The Gilded Lily?

I was just amazed by how cold it was in the Little Ice Age. The Thames froze to a depth of nine feet! Birds froze mid-flight. But Londoners made a holiday of it, put up stalls on the frozen river, tied runners on their boats, and were determined to enjoy it. On one occasion the King paraded his horse guards up and down on the ice highway, which was known as Freezeland Street. During this time of freezing weather the King decided to raise revenue by imposing a Hearth Tax, and tax the household per chimney. If he was standing for election today that would not have been a popular move!

Admirers of your work praise you for your attention to detail. I agree, but I also find your dialogue equally compelling. What are the challenges of writing 1660's vocabulary and phrasing?

It is difficult to know what their voices sounded like as we have no recordings. Dialogue of playwrights such as Dryden, Behn, Wycherly or Vanbrugh, gives us the closest idea. This sort of dialogue is not comfortable for the modern reader. My approach has been to simplify rather than elaborate on normal speech. I often thought to myself, "would a 17th century person understand what she's saying?" If the answer was no, then I'd simplify again.

You have a MA in Creative Writing. How did the program shape your writing? What was the single most important lesson you learned?

It shaped my writing because I suddenly had a lot of very critical (in a nice way) readers! One of the things I learned was that although dramatic situations seem attractive to a writer, the story has to be about the people. I know this seems obvious, but for historical fiction writers especially, it is easy to get caught up in the history and lose sight of who the story is about. And it should always be a who, not a what!

Like The Lady's Slipper, The Gilded Lily will also be published in the United States. What’s it like to have your book published in another country?

Absolutely fascinating. Being published in the US is like being published in a lot of different countries! All the states are so particular, the landscapes and concerns of the readers unique to that place. The feedback from the US has been so interesting, as there are so many different views of England. Each person will be imagining their view of Westmorland based on what they know and my description. After all, the reader constructs half the story.

Your next novel, A Divided Inheritance, is set in England and in Spain during 1609. How is this writing experience different than the other two books?

First of all, researching Spanish history is a challenge when you don't speak Spanish. Fortunately I have a friend who does! I took a research visit to Seville which was invaluable. The period is earlier than my other books, and the whole atmosphere under King James of England and Philip II of Spain is less lax and more severe than under Charles II. The book turned out to be "bigger" than the other two - both in length and in scope. This is partly to do with setting it in two countries and partly because the ideas in it needed more characters. I guess you could say I'm getting more ambitious!

I understand that you enjoy meeting with book discussion groups. How can readers contact you?

I love to discuss my books with readers and book groups. Book group questions are up on my website and I can be contacted at

Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to answer my questions. The Gilded Lily and The Lady’s Slipper are available at your local bookshops.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The First Book of Classical Horror Stories

Megazanthus Press will soon be publishing a new anthology of stories using pieces of classical music as inspiration. The First Book of Classical Horror Stories, edited by DF Lewis, will become available in the next few months, and some great names in dark fantasy and horror writing are involved, including Andrew Hook, Rhys Hughes, and Rachel Kendall.
My story, Songs for Dead Children, is based on Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, which seemed a perfect starting point for psychological horror.
Taken from Wikipedia:
The original Kindertotenlieder were a group of 428 poems written by Rückert in 1833–34 in reaction to the illness (scarlet fever) and death of his children. Painter describes the poems thus: “Rückert’s 428 poems on the death of children became singular, almost manic documents of the psychological endeavor to cope with such loss. In ever new variations Rückert’s poems attempt a poetic resuscitation of the children that is punctuated by anguished outbursts. But above all the poems show a quiet acquiescence to fate and to a peaceful world of solace.”These poems were not intended for publication.
Mahler selected five of Rückert’s poems to set as Lieder, which he composed between 1901 and 1904. The songs are written in Mahler’s late-romantic idiom, and like the texts reflect a mixture of feelings: anguish, fantasy resuscitation of the children, resignation. The final song ends in a major key and a mood of transcendence.
The poignancy of the cycle is increased by the fact that four years after he wrote it, Mahler lost his daughter, Maria, aged four, to scarlet fever. He wrote to Guido Adler: “I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs any more.”

Monday, 21 May 2012

Great review of the History Room

There is a great 5-star review of Eliza's new book on the Bookbag site.

"Graham has woven a terrific mystery with the darkness of the human psyche at its centre. Using every possible tool to dissect the mysteries of the mind, the novel is a beautiful balance of narrative, dialogue and description and every word is pertinent. She has mastered the art of writing in a rich, full fashion without wasting one word."

Congratulations, Eliza!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Big Pulp and Mr Whippy

More short story pluggage to follow:
Big Pulp’s Summer 2012 issue will be available to buy shortly, but as a taster, my short story First Up is available to read for free from the website for a limited time.
First Up is a little lick of romance with a flake or two of fantasy. What would you do if you had a special talent? Wouldn’t you want to share it with others in your workplace, even if it might upset them? It’s a complicated choice, but then, isn’t life just like that all over?
Mr Whippy
Mr Whippy (Photo credit: kenjonbro)
So yesterday I went to the park after work as I usually do, and got talking to the girl who works in the Mr. Whippy van who has nice eyes but I’ve got no idea about the legs, obviously, because she’s behind the counter and that’s part of her appeal. After that, I walked around for a while, licking my ice cream, thinking about what she had said to me—about how you need to get a good grip on the machine handle and hold the cone steady at the same time.
God, life is just full of these little tricks of the trade, full of things we have to juggle. It’s not enough to be good at just one thing any longer. It got me thinking about my own talent, and how I’ve been treating it as if it’s not enough. Like it’s just holding the cone steady and ignoring the handle. So I decided to start being proud of it. I decided to share it around.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Gilded Lily in my Mailbox.

Late this afternoon, an advanced reading copy of Dee Swift's THE GILDED LILY arrived at my house in Texas. The cover art is alive with beautiful detail. Two women wearing lace stand with their backs to one another. But it's what between the covers that counts. Dinner was delayed as I read page after page, the story of Sadie and Ella taking me to the world of Westmorland and then to London in 1660. Hunger pains did eventually force me to put the novel down (why oh why does work have to interfere with pleasure?), but I'm itching to get back to it. THE GILDED LADY will be released in September and without a doubt, it'll be a hit. Many congratulations, Dee. Job well done.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The History Room

A book often starts with what I call 'unaware research'. I read a newspaper article or listen to a Radio 4 programme and something fires in my mind. My fourth novel, The History Room, came into being because I was at a school open day and thinking what a perfect crucible a school is. All those teenagers with their angsts and stresses. The teachers with their own anxieties. Exams. Sports matches. Friendship troubles. But at open days everything can appear perfect and glossy.

I knew my book had to start with a bang: something had to happen which immediately threatened the serene appearance of the school. Originally I thought of having a real baby in my first scene, but for reasons that will be clear to anyone who’s read The History Room, I couldn't bring myself to do it. A friend on a writers’ forum put me on to reborn dolls: dolls that are lifelike facsimiles of newborn babies. I researched reborns further by looking at YouTube videos and reading newspaper articles like this one.

Researching the book’s setting was also important. I looked at photographs of large country houses on the web. The History Room is set in a beautiful country house and there are plenty of those where I live, in Oxfordshire. Some of that research took place organically, as I drove around the area. My editor, Will Atkins, also sent me a great photograph of a house he’d come across on a walk.

I also needed to know about the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia and when the Russians would have reached various parts of the country. In addition, I wanted information about the layout of the western suburbs of Prague and of the area bordering the German border. I have visited both parts of the country, but years ago. Here, my best friend was Google Maps. It allowed me to have a bird’s eye view of both areas. I also found books about Czech history during the 20th century and read some biographies and autobiographies of artists and writers who’d lived through WW2 and/or the Prague Spring.

As fantastic as the web is for research,
I still err on the side of preferring books, archives and museums, mainly because I probably spend long enough at my laptop, anyway. However, Wikipedia and the BBC website and associated forums are very good. I have also used The National Archives online to obtain copies of documents.

If it comes to a stand-off between 100% historical or geographical accuracy and the story/characters, the latter always win. But that happens very rarely, I find. What I'm trying to do is avoid someone throwing the book down in disgust because they know it's completely unlikely that events would have happened in the way I portray. Nonetheless, every time a book of mine is published I lie in bed fretting that I’ve forgotten to check something. I’m sure it’ll be just the same where The History Room is concerned!

But whatever the anxieties it can create, research is fun. It leads to new openings, new ideas. I’m enjoying going through the process for my fifth novel at the moment.  

Saturday, 28 April 2012

He Who Laughs Last Wins the Last Laugh Longest

Congratulations to our own LC Tyler! Nominated for the Last Laugh Award for the very enjoyable Herring on the Nile. We're rooting for you, Len.

Praise for Herring on the Nile:

`a witty and wonderful pastiche of Agatha Christie's classic murder stories...Funny, with an intriguing mystery at its heart.' --Lancashire Evening Post

`Another rib-ticklingly funny take on the Agatha Christie canon...A real hoot.' --Peterborough Evening Telegraph and Northampton Chronicle and Echo

`...joyously entertaining...An outrageously clever parody of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and all those other masters of the whodunit, Herring on the Nile is the equivalent of a sparkling glass of champagne. Tyler's effortlessly funny - and yet seriously plotted - murder mystery combines a hilarious brand of cynical humour with the best-loved traditions of the golden age of crime fiction...Tyler uses Christie's classic Death on the Nile as his starting point but then turns the story into a dark and funny pastiche without losing the atmosphere, the sharp plotting and the delightful twists and turns of the original.'
--Lancashire Evening Post, Pam Norfolk

'Herring on the Nile is a wonderful tribute to Agatha Christie, and, at the risk of being hunted and tortured by Agatha Christie fans, far more fun than Death on the Nile. If you haven't read any L C Tyler books before you are in for a treat. The whole book is a joy - an intriguing mystery with some great characters. And the last paragraph is an utter delight.'
--Lizzie Hayes Euro Crime blog

I should add that this piece written by Len for Felony and Mayhem publishers will strike a chord with all of us and is definitely worth a read. And yes, I came across it by accident through a twitter link whilst browsing idly in the hope that my own novel would write itself in the meantime.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Thirst eDition Fiction

Over on the MNW google group, you may have noticed Aliya and Tim referring to a little venture I’ve been setting up, and today is the day we’ve gone public.

A bit of background:

Around summer last year, after reading the e-mails, and comments here on this blog and on the google group, I noticed a growing frustration about getting books published, books that editors have enjoyed reading immensely, but for commercial reasons they haven’t been able to commit to.

At the same time, two of MNW’s authors, Tim Stretton and Roger Morris, embarked on their own e-publishing adventures (Tim’s Mondia books and Roger Morris’ short story collection). Also, a writer that has been involved with MNW though never published by them – Ian Hocking – had been finding considerable success self-publishing his Saskia Brandt books, beginning with Déjà Vu.

The success of these self-publishing exercises, and the success of this blog, had me thinking about a community publishing venture, one that embraced self-publishing ideals - but as a community, where the authors publishing through it would promote their own books, but also the community itself and the other authors under it. To that end I came up with Thirst eDition Fiction.

What we’re doing now:

Below is taken from the “About Us” page which sums up what we are trying to achieve:

Thirst eDition Fiction is an independent endeavour dedicated to providing the finest ebooks from new and established authors. It is run as a collective venture, by authors, for authors. The profits of each e-book sold goes to the author and not the publisher, that is why Thirst eDition Fiction is a non-profit business.

Our business model is simple: the author is wholly responsible for the content of their book, including the formatting of the book for the e-reader and in most cases even the cover. This ensures Thirst eDitions can operate with no running costs and the author can receive the maximum income from their endeavours. In order for a book to qualify as a Thirst eDitions release it is vetted by a number of authors and editors. After the book goes through this quality control process it is released under the Thirst eDition Fiction label, which ensures the reader only receives the best writing from Thirst eDition Fiction.

We also offer the author a shop window for their books, a chance for trade publishers to see for themselves the quality of the writing here. The rights to the e-books published under Thirst eDition Fiction are owned solely by the author and in most cases there won’t be any print editions of these books.

In terms of value for readers, we advise all our authors to publish at competitive prices. In the main you will not see a Thirst eDitions ebook sell for more than £1.99 ($2.99), though there will be exceptions on occasion. This ensures the best prices for the reader and more sales for the author. As e-readers retail around £100 ($189) we expect consumers not to pay hardback, or even paperback prices for their e-books.

Thirst eDition Fiction is still in its infancy, but our authors list is growing. Each author published under Thirst eDition Fiction becomes part of the family here, taking a stake in one of the most important aspects of publishing: building a reputation for quality fiction.”


The purpose of Thirst eDition Fiction isn’t to replace or even offer an alternative to trade publishing for our members, but it’s another option to self-publish non-commercial books with the support of other writers who are already doing it. It is there for books that aren’t published through the trade due to author branding issues, commercial reasons, publishing house budgets etc., books that are well written but for various reasons are deemed too risky for a commercial publisher to commit to under the current financial climate.


What this means to the writers here, on MNWers, is that this is a chance to get those books published. Some of you have agents and may wish to speak to them first before you consider going down this route, but the offer of Thirst eDition Fiction is there to you. And it doesn't cost a penny becoming a member.

The only cost incurred so far is a payment for the domain name ($17). The time I've spent on the website and subsequent promotion is given freely, which is the ethos I want to foster at Thirst eDition Fiction. That little extra time the members give to share advice, look at other's works or promote others books etc means the reputation and the quality of this venture can only grow, which could have a significant impact on the success of the individual books. For example, the cover to Aliya's Mean Mode Median was designed by me after looking at Aliya's original printed cover. Another example is the e-publishing of the books; Tim and Ian Hocking have extensive experience of doing this, and at some point Ian has agreed to write a short idiot's guide to help us do it ourselves.


My intention is to contact some of the ex-Macmillan New Writers over the coming months to see if they are interested in this, and my goal for this year is to steadily increase the membership. Officially we are not open to submissions, but the MNWer community is the exception. Eventually we may open this up wider, but as it is new we need to control the numbers. When we get to the stage of opening it wider, we may consider head-hunting rather than an open-door policy, but that’s in the future…


Finally today, the Thirst eDition Fiction website goes live: So please take a visit to see what you think.

On Monday 23rd the first Thirst eDitions books will be published: Aliya’s Mean Mode Median (first time as an e-book), Tim’s Dragonchaser (a re-issue) and Ian Hocking’s Proper Job (a re-issue).

In May, Roger Morris will re-issue his short story collection, The Bridge that Brunuel Built under the Thirst eDition Fiction name. Sometime this summer, France’s new book, Basic Theology for Fallen Women will be published as an e-book original under Thirst eDition Fiction. Tim will also be re-issuing Last Free City and The Zael Inheritance in the coming months, and later this year, I’m hoping to get two of my own books published too - and other writers have plans in place to publish further books.

So there’s a lot going on. Once there is more news, I’ll post it here. I hope this of interest to you all; as a community, Macmillan New Writers blog has been a big success. Thirst eDition Fiction is an attempt to replicate that but with an end-product: a finished e-book. There is a lot of expertise being shared over there right now (we have a private room where questions, idiot’s guides, and other resources are raised, read and stored) so you’ll be in good company, as always…

Best wishes


Monday, 26 March 2012

Smart New Me

The smart new me is now over at:

Please come and have a look, and sign up for the RSS feed/email notifications so I can tell you all my news. There's a bit about the upcoming release of Mean Mode Median as an ebook via a very exciting new venture called Thirst eDitions, and a link to a new interview I gave to Smokelong Quarterly about my writing process.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Helper

An anonymous caller is willing to give you clues that will help you solve a series of murders.

But there's a catch: You can't tell anyone about the help you're getting.

What do you do?

If you turn the offer down, you will have nothing to go on, and more people could die. But if you accept it, and fail to interpret the clues correctly, they will still die, and you will have concealed information that could have stopped a killer.

Such is the dilemma faced by New York detective Callum Doyle. The decision he takes will have consequences that will haunt him for the rest of his life ...

David Jackson's new book, the Helper, was published by Pan Macmillan earlier this month (paperback and Kindle). It's already had some great reviews. The Times described it as 'a clever device, adroitly executed and fun to read.' The Milo's Rambles blog commented: 'A magnificent book, one that will have you entertained from the very first page right up to its climactic dénouement... Take a bow, sir; this is a virtuoso performance, Mr Jackson, if ever there was one.'

Many congratulations to Dave on its publication and good luck with sales!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Interview and review

If you feel that the one thing you need to while away your lunch hour in peace is an interview with me, it's your lucky day; blogger and writer Donna Hole has provided you with just that, throwing in a review of The Dog of the North too.

If you are in the rather larger camp that neither knows nor cares where my next interview will pop up, Donna's blog has lots more entertaining material, and you need not stint yourself simply because you've already heard everything I have to say on the narrow and self-referential topic of the writer's journey.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Sad News

Mary, the wife of Macmillan author Ryan David Jahn, died earlier this week. Ryan’s deeply moving account of her fight against cancer is on his blog.

He tells the story so eloquently that I am reluctant to add anything of my own other than my most sincere condolences. Her death at such a young age is a tragedy and has shocked me and everyone I have spoken to about it.

As authors, we write not for ourselves but because we have something we wish to share - hopefully with a wider public but always with those that we love and are closest to. One of my regrets is that my parents didn’t live to see the publication of my first novel. Mary did at least see Ryan’s early successes; it is sad that she will not be there to celebrate with him the many great books that are still to come.

My deepest sympathies to Ryan, and to his and Mary’s families.

Monday, 12 March 2012

More Short Stories

Me again. 

Sorry to hog the blog, but I wanted to post up a link to Dog Horn Publishers. They're running an author spotlight piece on me at the moment because they're going to be publishing a collection of my short stories at the end of this year/beginning of next year and I'm really excited about it. I'll also be contributing to the next issue of their monthly magazine of strange fiction, Polluto

Here's a description of Dog Horn:

Dog Horn Publishing is dedicated to publishing the best in cutting edge literature.

We publish bold voices and writing that takes risks. We are less concerned by genre than we are by defying convention, taking readers someplace new, and challenging the limits of what writing is and does.

From the outset we have been dedicated to nurturing writers not books, while remaining both independent and brave. Dog Horn authors are collaborators and friends. We work with them, and they with us, to ensure the best outcome for any project. Our books are striking, both visually and in terms of content, and we welcome the daring, the absurd, the mischievous and the dangerous.

We are committed to developing writers and promoting literature. We speak our minds and aren't afraid to say so.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Smokelong Story: Lydia Before

Sometimes really short reads are just what you need. So in the hope that you're ready to read something very short right now, here's a link to a piece of flash fiction that I wrote, now up at Smokelong. I think the artwork is brilliant.

There should be an interview at the end of the week as well.

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Matt's back!

I just thought every one would like to know that Matt is back, and there's an update on his blog. He seems to be writing as much as ever, and has also (or he and Sarah have) produced a scond son, which is wonderful news. Congratulations to you both, and welcome back, Matt!

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.