Thursday, July 3, 2014

Touched by Joanna Briscoe

The latest novel from Joanna Briscoe is written under The Hammer imprint and is very much a “horror” tale however Briscoe has not altered her trademark style. She writes beautifully about lives falling apart and this book is no different. It is 1963 and young mother Rowena Crale has moved with her husband and five children away from London to the small village of Crowsley Beck. They have bought the house next door to her mother in law and are knocking the two houses together. It is a stressful time the house seems to be resisting all efforts at change, strange smells and leaks appear and walls and ceilings bulge. The noise and mess is chaotic and Rowena is struggling to wean her youngest from the breast and worries about Evangeline her daughter; named for the grandmother whose house they have taken over. Evangeline is a strange and possibly disturbed child who wanders all over the village so when she disappears for days on end Rowena and Douglas call the police but they aren’t really worried it’s when their older, prettier daughter vanishes that they panic and as a search is mounted it seems that the quaint village may not be the safe haven they thought. Briscoe slowly builds the tension in this intense and claustrophobic little book bringing it to a surprising and yet satisfying ending, she takes a scalpel to humanity and shows us the human heart in all its darkness and glory. Thanks to welovethisbook for a copy of this book. This review also appeared on welovethisbook.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Marriage Game

Alison Weir proves that she is a writer at the top of her game with her latest novel. Alison is one of Britain's foremost historical fiction authors and one of the bestselling historians of all time, just read this book to see why. This is a fantastic pen portrait of Queen Elizabeth. Whether you are already a dedicated fan of Tudor fiction or a newcomer to this period you are bound to discover things new and surprising. Here we meet the vain, domineering and occasionally cruel Elizabeth we have come to know through many films and books but we also discover the tender hearted and vulnerable Elizabeth who has been the victim of the scheming of others and who until the day she succeeded her sister never felt her head was secure on her neck. 
The Marriage Game opens with Elizabeth on the day of her acccesion to the throne and the game begins immediately with various European Princes, Kings and Archdukes vying for her hand. Elizabeth however refuses to be a pawn in the political games of others and plays the game to suit herself. While determining to remain unmarried she negotiates with each prince and their representatives to keep England on good terms with variously Spain, France, The Holy Roman Empire, Sweden and of course Scotland. Throughout all the power games Elizabeth maintains her relationship with her beloved Robert Dudley and despite the genuine love she feels for him and which leaps from the page she uses Robert as a pawn in her own game, risking her happiness to save her throne. I adored this book which brought Elizabeth vividly alive and while Alison's research is meticulous it never clutters the narrative. This book is a must for all fans of quality historical fiction especially Victoria Lamb, Hilary Mantel or Jane Borodale. 

The Marriage Game is available now in hardback published by Hutchinson a division of Random House.

You can learn more about Alison at her website (which is where I borrowed the picture from ) but I also managed to get Alison to answer a few questions.

Q1 What do you find easier to write; fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction is easier because you don't have to annotate or reference everything, yet it too has its challenges. When writing historical fiction you certainly have more scope for creativity, but you have also to ensure that you maintain credibility. And there can be so many different approaches, so you need to choose the right one.
Q2 Are you a planner or a pantser?
I had to look up 'pantser' – had never heard the term! I know where I'm going from the outset, as I've usually done decades of research on my fiction subjects. It doesn't take long before I'm on a roll!

Q3 Why do you think the fascination with The Tudors endures generation  after generation?
It's such a colourful period and hugely dramatic - you just couldn't make it up. The six wives of Henry VIII, for example! This period is dynamic and exciting, but more significantly for a historian, there are plenty of facts available. The Tudors lived when the private lives of monarchs were becoming public knowledge, and with both the growth of diplomacy and literacy came a wealth of vivid records, not just written but also visual: for example Holbein's paintings. For almost the first time, we can visualise these characters we have heard so much about. The abundance of documentation is a historian's dream.
Q4 Who are your favourite historical characters?
Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katherine of Aragon (after whom I named my daughter) and Elizabeth of York. There is so much to admire in all of them. 
Q5 What are you working on now/next?
I am working on The Princess of Scotland, a biography of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, and revising an earlier book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Q6 What are your favourite books/authors and why?
Anya Seton, Norah Lofts and Hilda Lewis were all great writers of historical novels who inspired me to write. I still have novels I wrote as a teenager after reading their wonderful books, and they are still my favourite historical novelists. No one writing in that genre today can beat the