Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Four Horsemen by Gregory Dowling





The second book from Gregory Dowling to feature secret agent Alvise Marangon in Eighteenth century Venice is as fast paced and unpredictable as the first. The book opens with intense action as Alvise is chased by some casino bruisers after apparently insulting their boss and is promptly arrested as the brawl spills into St Mark’s Square. Brought before the Missier Grande he is asked to investigate the mysterious death of another agent. A seemingly quiet, bookish man Sior Padoan fell from the roof of his home in what was apparently a tragic accident. Alvise however is certain that the man’s missing diary will provide some clues. There is a connection to a secret society known as The Four Horsemen and Alvise once again must seek help from the bookseller Fabrizio and his beautiful daughter Lucia and his gondolier friend Bepi. Though his investigations are blocked at almost every turn by the city’s Inquisitors and he is caught up in the dark and shadowy world of a scandalous noblewoman, Alvise soon begins to unravel the curious threads that led to poor Sior Padoan’s death. This is fast paced historical crime with great writing, smart plotting and a host of interesting characters bringing Venice to vivid life. Really enjoyable and perfect for fans of Diana Bretherick and Andrew Taylor. 

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life by Janet Todd illuminates the life of a fascinating 17th-century woman

LISA REDMOND
Janet Todd’s masterly biography of the first professional lady of letters has been reissued by Fentum Press 21 years after it originally appeared. In the intervening years Behn has become a regular feature of many English degrees. I asked the author how she feels Aphra Behn’s critical reputation has changed and one of the things Janet Todd is wary of is that on many English courses Behn is often examined without sufficient reference to her cultural and historical context. “She is securely taught in many universities now, in women’s and post-colonial studies and where Restoration literature is a course within an English degree. Only in the last is she put firmly within her historical and literary context. Critical work has tended to concentrate on The Rover and Oroonoko, discussing issues of interest to us now and often finding modern ideas of gender, race and class in her work rather than teasing out her meanings within her historical frame.”
Literary biographies are a fascinating read because they give us a new insight into the author’s works; in this case however Todd uses Behn’s works to open a window onto her life. Documentary evidence for Behn is scant but Todd’s research is painstaking.
Born Aphra Johnson in Kent in 1640, very little is known of her early years but Todd teases out family connections to Thomas Colepeper and through him to Lord Strangford and Lady Sunderland, which may account for Behn’s literary education. Certainly she was fluent in French and well versed in the classics.
She served as a spy for the court of Charles II in the 1660s through her connection to Thomas Killigrew: spy master, theatre manager and dramatist, but Todd is meticulous in putting together the puzzle of Behn’s activities throughout these years. She gives us a clearer picture of an adventurous young woman with an eye for detail and a fascination for learning and culture who had enough daring, wit and courage to take the risks necessary for the life of a spy and of course in pursuit of payment as well as excitement. Behn’s most famous novel and certainly the one that is most popular on undergraduate courses, Oroonko contains such a wealth of detail of the colony of Surinam and its inhabitants that she must have visited. Todd puts together the connections that took her there and the timeline of her travels. Using the settings of her fictional works, Todd is able to piece together an astounding tale of a woman who acted as an English agent in a variety of European cities. However spying was not a lucrative profession and Behn soon fell into debt. She returned to London to petition the King for payment to clear the debts she had incurred in his service but with payment not forthcoming she was arrested and spent time in debtor’s prison.

JANET TODD
Determined to earn her living by her pen, she worked as a scribe for both The King’s Company and The Duke’s Company, she translated works from French and began to write her own poetry, plays and prose. She had a number of her plays performed throughout the 1670s and 1680s including The Forc’d Marriage and The Rover and they helped to cement her reputation as a wit. Behn used her plays as a channel to attack those whose politics she disagreed with, often lampooning public figures, but they also display her interest in women’s lives and the obstacles they face, in love, marriage and the games that men and women play. In the 1680s Behn began to publish prose pieces and Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister is one of the earliest novels in English. Behn wrote a great deal of erotic fiction and her open and unembarrassed attitude to sex and the female body made her unpopular in the prudish Victorian era. Her reputation was rebuilt by a number of scholars in the 20th century and certainly Janet Todd’s is the most detailed and informative biography we have. I asked Todd if she would change anything were she writing the book today.
“I would apologise less for being speculative than I did then. I made it clear where I was speculating and I grounded my theories on what was already known but I would now make more positive claims for what I was doing. Biography-writing has developed in recent years … When revising the book, I wondered about cutting some historical context, but decided against it. Behn’s life is so rich, so multifaceted and embedded in other lives, that I think she needs to live in quite a fat book.”
Aphra Behn is acknowledged as an important part of the Restoration literary scene but Todd believes that her contribution to the creation of the novel is yet to be widely accepted. “I believe she should be held in as much critical esteem as an innovator and pioneerbut there is a long way to go …” but Todd is confident that scholarly study of Behn is improving. “A recent large British grant supporting study by a group of academics on Aphra Behn is likely to produce detailed scholarly work, especially about sources and historical links. This in turn will undoubtedly lead to further and more illuminating critical assessments. But not yet. For the present I must admit that Aphra Behn hasn’t become quite as famous as I expected. Maybe in another 25 years.”
Aphra Behn lived a life as full, as exciting, and in many ways as scandalous as any heroine, and whether you are in search of a biography of a fascinating woman or one of a hugely influential writer or seek a window onto the political, literary and cultural landscape of Restoration England you will find all three in this page-turning book.

This article was first published by the Historical Novel Society

About the contributor: Lisa Redmond is a reviewer for the HNS. She loves to read and write historical fiction and is currently working on her first novel about 17th-century Scottish witches.

Jane Austen; The Legacy of a Lady



The Legacy of A Lady


'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife' Probably the most famous opening line in literature. The author was of course Jane Austen who died on July 18th 1817, so this year marks the two hundredth anniversary of her death. There are countless events being organised across the world to celebrate and remember a writer who is undoubtedly one of the most popular novelists of all time, when it comes to the classics Jane Austen is one of the few who is still regularly read for enjoyment and her stories have helped to create a whole industry; Austen-mania is big business.

I am the first to admit that I am a devoted Janeite and just recently attended a fantastic afternoon organised by Jane Austen Ireland in the splendid Georgian room at the Teacher's Club in Dublin. The event featured the performance of Regency music and singing including some of Jane Austen's own favourite pieces as well as readings from her work, an introduction to regency fashions and regency dancing. It was great fun and a fantastic tribute to the great lady.



The stories and indeed the characters that Jane Austen created are now famous beyond the books; in fact there are many who have never read a Jane Austen novel or sat down to watch an adaptation who nonetheless have an awareness of Mr Darcy of Pemberley or the Bennet sisters of Longbourn. Colin Firth will forever be Mr Darcy for a whole generation of Janeites who were treated to a wealth of adaptations during the mid nineties. 1995 was a bumper year with BBC adaptations of both Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion and the Hollywood treatment for Sense & Sensibility starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.


The nineteen nineties may have seen Austen mania take over our televisions but interest in her stories had been building long before; Pride & Prejudice must be one of the most adapted novels of all time. There was a fantastic black and white film version starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier which appeared in 1940 and there were two TV mini-series in the nineteen fifties as well as countless stage versions. The BBC adapted all the novels into mini-series during the seventies and early eighties. However Jane Austen's stories were notably absent from our screens during the late eighties and early nineties so that a younger generation discovered her anew when the stories were re-imagined from the mid nineties. It was at this point that the popularity of Jane Austen and her stories really took off. These later adaptations played on the broad appeal of Austen's humour and there was an emphasis on detail so that costumes, hair and background were less gawdy and more authentic than the previous adaptations with their polyester gowns and wobbly sets.



I first discovered Jane Austen at school in the early nineties and went on to study her again during my English degree and I loved her narrative style, her wit and the glorious silliness of many of her characters. So having read all of the novels, I was an avid viewer of everything Austen. The late nineties and early noughties saw a huge growth in works; films, books and other formats that were inspired by Austen books rather than direct adaptations, these include the 1995 movie Clueless which is an updated version of Emma set in a Los Angeles high school. Two years later the first of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones books appeared featuring Mark Darcy. These books have gone on to become a huge film franchise in which Colin Firth once again features as Darcy. The following decade saw a number of popular Bollywood versions of the stories; I Have Found It (2000), Bride & Prejudice (2004) and Aisha (2010). Jane Austen is hugely popular in Asia as the recurring themes of arranged marriages, dowries, and inheritance laws which favour sons over daughters are part of everyday life for many in India and Pakistan making the stories both relevant and easy to adapt.


This decade also saw the beginning of the boom in Jane Austen fan fiction both online and in published form. Sequels to Austen's novels and works inspired by her plots or her characters are nothing new Emma Tennant and Joan Aiken both wrote “Austen” novels in the nineteen eighties and nineties and she was a formative influence on popular historical fiction authors throughout the Twentieth century in particular Georgette Heyer and those who imitated her. But after 2000 there was a flood of books based in Austen's world and featuring her characters that range from tales of class and social commentary such as Jo Baker's Longbourn (2013) which retells Pride & Prejudice through the servants eyes to murder mystery in P.D. James Death Comes to Pemberley (2011) to comedy horror with Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) there are even spin offs which are inspired by the Jane Austen fandom itself Austenland which features an American fan visiting an Austen theme park hit the bestseller lists in 2007 and cinema screens in 2013 and the gloriously funny Lost in Autsen made by ITV in 2008 has a modern London girl do a life swap with Elizabeth Bennet. There are also a growing number of websites and blogs were people can share their own fictional accounts of their favourite Jane Austen characters.


Jane Austen's critical reputation has grown and grown and there have been a number of biographies and re-examinations of her work which have not only established her firmly within the cannon of English Literature but dismissed any earlier notions of cosiness or a conservative or limited world view. These include Jane Austen The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly (2016) The Making of Jane by Devoney Looser (2017) and Paula Byrne's The Genius of Jane Austen (2017). Our obsession with Jane's own story has also been growing with popular films such as Becoming Jane (2007) based on an earlier book which posited the idea of a doomed love affair between Jane and her neighbour's nephew Tom Lefroy both the film and the book seemed to suggest that Lefroy was the inspiration behind Darcy and while that idea was popular with Janeites it was less so with the critics.


Nonethless the productions, books, films, podcasts and theories continue to appear. What is it that draws us to Jane Austen and her world? A nostalgia for a different era certainly, a life of balls and music, dresses and dancing, but I think what really makes us long to be part of that world is the characters. Jane Austen created people that are recognisable and real we can spot ourselves and others amongst her creations and we can laugh at their foibles as she did. Nowadays we can buy Jane Austen mugs and tea towels, take a Jane Austen tour or re-enact a regency dance but I believe Jane Austen's real and lasting legacy is in those carefully drawn characters and her cutting remarks. I would urge anyone who has only ever seen adaptations or updated versions to pick up her books, go back to the source and see what a talented and funny writer she was.

This article originally appeared on the Books Ireland Blog 


Lisa Redmond is a writer and reviewer. She blogs about books, writing and women in history at lisareadsbooks.blogspot.com.



Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Pearl for My Mistress by Anabel Fielding Blog Tour



An enchanting first novel from author Anabel Fielding, A Pearl for my Mistress is the story of Hester a bright, ambitious working class girl who longs to escape the dreary Northern town where she grew up. Her sister, a singer with a jazz band has already escaped to London and Hester too dreams of the bright lights and the chance to find love and to be herself. Hester believes that a job as a lady's  maid will offer that escape. She finds employment with the Fitzmartin family, accepting a tiny salary for the chance to find excitement as lady's maid to their wild and unpredictable daughter Lucy. This is 1934 and many aristocratic families are living in straightened circumstances and a life in service doesn't appeal to the majority of young women but Hester is soon caught up in the whirlwind of Lucy's exciting, aristocratic life and entranced by Lucy herself. but her loyalty to Lucy will be tested when she realises that her Mistress is involved in a dangerous game. Lucy has begun to write to supplement her meager allowance and to express her political opinions which are very different from her parents'. Lucy falls under the spell of Mosley and the Blackshirts and that begins to have very real consequences for Hester. Leaving the young maid with a dilemma can she put aside her own views for love?
A perfect novel for fans of Downtown Abbey, Love in a Cold Climate or I Capture the Castle this wonderfully researched story evokes a bygone era of debutantes and London seasons, of shooting parties and smoky Jazz clubs. The contrasting lives of upstairs and downstairs are brilliantly drawn and the language is spot on for the era. If like me you love reading about The Mitford Sisters then this little gem will be right up your street.
Published by HQ Digital. Thanks to NetGalley and the author for a chance to read this book. You can download this book now for only £1.01 or $1.36 in the USA, making it a perfect comfort read for a wet and dreary afternoon, follow the links below.
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor





Hazel Gaynor's fourth novel is based around the amazing true story of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths; young cousins in Cottingley Yorkshire who in 1917 claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden. The girls take the photographs for their own amusement but nothing stays a secret in Cottingley for long and soon the whole village is talking. In the aftermath of war people need something to believe in and soon the girls and their photos and the Yorkshire fairies are the subject of newspaper and magazine articles and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sends them cameras to take more pictures, but what is the truth? Hazel Gaynor weaves this true story with the fictional tale of Olivia Kavanagh in 2017, who inherits her grandfather's bookshop in Howth. Olivia discovers a manuscript at the bookshop written by Frances which tells the truth of the Cottingley Secret. Olivia is captivated by the story and getting caught  up in the mystery means she can avoid having to make decisions about her future. She is due to be married in a few weeks time, her fiancee, her job and her life are all in London but the pull of the bookshop, her ailing grandmother, her childhood home in Howth and the mystery of her mother's death are all keeping her from moving forward. This is a beautifully written book, both strands of the story are utterly compelling. Hazel Gaynor is a fantastic storyteller. The Cottingley Secret will appeal to fans of Kate Quinn, Tracy Rees, Katherine Webb and Gill Paul.
This is one of my most anticipated books of the year and finally this Thursday September 7th it goes on sale in Ireland. Published by Harper Collins who kindly sent me a copy for review.


The Books that Made Me by Sinead O'Hart




Today I am delighted to have a guest post from Irish author Sinead O'Hart. Sinead's debut novel Eye of the North is published by Alfred A Knopf in the U.S. It is aimed at Middle Grade readers and is currently enjoying some rave reviews on amazon and goodreads. The novel tells the story of  Emmeline, when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear she must take ship to a safe house in Paris. On board she befriends a scruffy orphan boy; Thing but before she reaches safety Emmeline is kidnapped by Dr Bauer and Things sets off to rescue his new found friend. It's a fantasy adventure which will appeal to fans of Shane Hegarty, Dave Rudden and E.R. Murray 


The Books That Made Me

THE CHILDCRAFT LIBRARY/WORLD BOOK: When my brother and I were kids, back in the distant 1980s, our parents invested in the best encyclopedias they could afford. I loved them, particularly the sturdy, colourful Childcraft books; some of the illustrations in my most-read volumes remain bright in my memory to this day. I first encountered Beowulf and Gawain and the Kalevala here, along with the work of Snorri Sturluson - this probably lay behind my decision to study medieval literature at university, many years later, as well as shaping the kind of stories I love to read and write. 

ELIDOR, by Alan Garner: My older cousin gave me her copy of Elidor when I was about eight, and it was the first book I remember reading which pinned me to the pages and refused to let me go. It settled into a corner of my mind and has lived there ever since. Feeding into my budding love for mythology, folklore and medieval-ish things, this is a book I still read at least once a year, and which I recommend to everyone!

THE LITTLE PRINCE, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The book which inspired me to create my first story (a sequel, complete with my own illustrations, which is probably best lost in the murk of my childhood), this beautiful, meditative story is one which helped to form my way of thinking about love, words and the world. It will always be precious.

A WRINKLE IN TIME, by Madeleine l'Engle: I recently re-read this (along with another childhood love, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster) and, while it hasn't aged very well in some respects, in others it reminded me why it was, and is, such a pivotal book. It showed me the power of a strong heroine, the breadth and depth of a timeless story, and opened my mind to science-fiction and speculative fiction. I will always go back to it for inspiration, and to relive the wonder I felt when reading it for the first time. (It's also the first book I remember buying for myself, with my own money, and it cost the grand sum of three pounds ninety-nine pence!)

THE HOUNDS OF THE MORRIGAN, by Pat O'Shea: This was a present from my father when I was eleven, and there aren't enough words to describe how profoundly it shaped me, both as a reader and a writer. Its vivid imagery, perfectly realised characters and dialogue - which are so authentically Irish, yet somehow universal, too - and fantastic use of mythology, folklore and history, not to mention its absurd hilarity, meant it became one of the foundations of my mind. 

WYRD SISTERS, by Terry Pratchett: I could choose any (or all) the Discworld novels here, but I mention this one because it was the first one I read. I saw its amazing cover art, by Josh Kirby, some time in the late 80s, and made my dad buy it for me despite his misgivings. I read it, cover to cover, and didn't understand a word - but I knew I liked it, and that one day I would understand, so I put it away until I grew up a bit. I read it again when I was older and loved it so much I collected everything Sir Pterry wrote, and he became my biggest literary influence. 


Thanks so much to Sinead for taking part. You can keep up to date with the author at her blog    https://sjohart.wordpress.com/


Buy the book HERE

Monday, August 21, 2017

Favourite Historical Fiction of 2016 for Young Readers




This article is from the Irish Times last December but I neglected to post it so here we go. Last December the newspaper's were full of lists of best books of the year but they were for the most part all about books for adults. I was kindly asked my author friend E. R. Murray to contribute some thoughts on my favourite children's books from 2016 as were a variety of children's authors and booksellers. Of course being me I focused on the books that presented history to children, because obviously history is my thing. You can see the article in full at the link down below. Here however is my contribution. 


Lisa Redmond
For younger readers The Moon Spun Round is a collection of Yeats poetry, folktales and childhood writing stunningly illustrated by Shona Shirley MacDonald and collected by Noreen Doody while Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World is fabulous fun and full of facts, a great introduction to women in history. Fans of history aged 9 and upwards will adore the moving and wonderfully written Kings of the Boyne by Nicola Pierce and Arrivals by Brian Gallagher about Irish emigrants in Canada may be his best book yet while Caroline Busher’s debut The Ghosts of Magnificent Children is an assured blend of history and the gothic.
Young adult fantasy fans should track down Emily June Street’s The Velocipede Races, a steampunk adventure set in an alternate 19th century, and Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, a time travel fantasy, while Catherine Johnson’s Blade and Bone pits a young black doctor against racial prejudice and the danger of the French Revolution.
Lisa Redmond is senior bookseller at Waterstone’s




https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/our-favourite-children-s-and-ya-books-of-2016-1.2906266

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield


When Shilly is taken to the hiring fair at All Drunkard and signed away by her father, she never expects to find love, but once she meets Charlotte Dymond she knows they have a special bond. Hired together by the gruff Mrs. Peter, they travel to Penhale Farm, where Shilly follows besotted in Charlotte’s footsteps as Charlotte teaches her about magic and superstition. Charlotte seems to attract attention wherever she goes and has a number of admirers in the locality, so Shilly can’t be sure who is the lucky recipient of Charlotte’s affection, but when Charlotte is found dead in suspicious circumstances, the locals have only one suspect in mind: Matthew Weeks, another hired hand on the farm. Shilly, however is not convinced and along with a newspaperman from London, a Mr. Williams, she is determined to find answers. It seems that at every turn they are met by lies and deception in this windswept lonely corner of Cornwall, and everyone has secrets including Mr. Williams and Shilly herself.
This is a masterful, mesmerising and haunting mystery full of gothic atmosphere and hints of the strange and supernatural. Based on a real murder mystery from the mid-19th century, Falling Creatures is a clever, heartfelt and very well-written story with a powerful narrative voice ideal for anyone who enjoyed Sophia Tobin’s The Vanishing, Andrew Hughes The Coroner’s Daughter and Anna Mazzola’s The Unseeing.

This review originally published in HNR Issue 81 (August 2017) see it online HERE

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland combines historical fiction, science fiction and a touch of magic
LISA REDMOND





Renowned speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson and acclaimed historical fiction author Nicole Galland have collaborated on an intriguing project combining science fiction, historical fiction and a touch of magic. The result is The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., a wickedly funny novel about the endless possibilities of time travel. The achievement is no mean feat when the authors have had to combine not just ideas but genres. However it seems that for them the desire to tell a great story outside of any thought of genre made the collaborative process a great deal easier.
“Happily we were generally always on the same page about what made a good story and how best to tell it,” Stephenson and Galland reported. “We’ve found it to be a pretty natural marriage of minds, since the story itself is a merging of scientific speculation and various historical periods. When we were on a book tour we joked about inventing anecdotes of conflict or tribulation just so we’d have something interesting to say about our process. It was really pretty organic and we both enjoyed it.”
NICOLE GALLAND, PHOTO BY ELI DAGOSTINO
It certainly seems that the authors had a great deal of fun with the book. They have used a variety of narrative techniques in the novel in order to capture the voices of a number of narrators from different time periods and with differing personalities; these include letters, diaries, emails, circulars and even at one point epic poetry. I asked them why they chose this format. “Several reasons. It lets us short-cut through what would feel like a lot of exposition. We’re following the show-don’t-tell rule. Also, the medium is sometimes literally the message. Instead of (for example) lengthy descriptions of the bloated bureaucracy that develops in the contemporary setting, you see examples of that bureaucracy – emails, after-action reports, personnel files, PowerPoint presentation. It’s the equivalent of a film cross-fade. Also, it was fun.”
The central premise of the book is that magic and science are opposing forces and so cannot coexist. The authors chose 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, as the date when magic faded from existence; this is established through the research carried out by the main characters. I asked the authors why they felt this particular date was so significant. “The Great Exhibition of 1851 displayed, in one concentrated bit of space-time, the world’s greatest technological and scientific advancements – and therefore it makes sense that it would have an exponentially dampening (i.e. snuffing) effect on magic.”
NEAL STEPHENSON, PHOTO BY BRADY HALL
This is a big book and the authors have put a lot of effort into creating numerous characters, government departments and the thoroughly realised historical eras that the various time-travelling characters visit. These visits gave the authors ample opportunity for culture clashes leading to misunderstandings, danger and even changing the course of history. Because the possibilities for adventure are really limitless with time travel I was keen to learn of any planned sequels and spin-offs. “If you’re asking about a full-length novel sequel, watch this space.” However if you have already read the book and can’t wait for the sequel you will be happy to learn that the authors have created an online hub. “There are already a few online historical “equels” to D.O.D.O. (not a sequel or a prequel, but stories that take place “off-screen” during the five-year span of D.O.D.O.), and these can be found at the URL getbound.io. They are written by other writers but we’ve vetted them and like them a lot.”

This article originally appeared on The Historical Novel Society Website. You can read the original here.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Lawless and the House of Electricity Blog Tour Guest post from William Sutton.






I am delighted to be involved in the blog tour for the latest instalment in the Campbell Lawless series of crime thrillers set in mid Victorian London, perfect reading for the Madwoman in the Attic. Thanks so much to William for the guest post he has provided here about Victorian advertising and to Lydia Gittins at Titan for sending me a copy of the book.


Lawless & the House of Electricity by William Sutton, third in his series of Lawless mysteries exploring the darker sides of Victorian London, is published by Titan Books, and features a mad woman in the attic, whose symptoms are all too Victorian.





ASTHMA CIGARETTES: ADVERTISEMENTS AND INSPIRING ILLNESSES
Victorian advertisements beguile me. They speak volumes of the age, of its anxieties and its swindlers. Dr Batty’s Asthma Cigarettes For the temporary relief of paroxysms Not recommended for children under 6

You couldn’t make this stuff up. Well, you could, but the real examples are better. (View more on Pinterest.)
With all our vitamins, homeopathics and aromatherapies, you might think this is the age of dodgy medications, but you wouldn’t believe the things Victorians tried. In writing Lawless & the House of Electricity, I returned over and again to advertisements and other picture inspirations for two strands of the book: terrorism and illness.




VICTORIAN DIAGNOSES
A wonderful range of ailments is purportedly cured by Dr Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People: “paralysis, locomotor ataxia, anaemia, weakness, scrofula, sundry ailments”. From this I derived diagnoses, more and less reasonable, for Lady Elodie, the mysterious absentee at Roxbury House.



Arsenical Soap was used to treat “disfigurements: blotches, blemishes, freckles, pimples and pustulance”. The fact that it was poisonous caused problems, and suspicious deaths accelerated through the mid-century. The Arsenic Act of 1851 did not stop the panic over poisonings, as seen in ITV’s drama Dark Angel.



I recommend you read further in Kathryn Harkup’s A is for Arsenic, which gives encyclopaedic detail on the myriad ways you may poison your loved ones (or your characters).



DIABOLICAL DIAGNOSES I got so inspired by all this, I wrote a ditty about it for the Writing Edward King project (hear it on Soundcloud), characterising the wild range of diseases that sent people to those daunting and magnificent asylums that sprung up around the country after the Asylums Act.


I’ll admit that scrofula and pustulance aren’t too common today (at least in Europe, though Dickensian concerns are often still operative in the wider world). But researching hysteria in Asti Hustvedt’s excellent Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris made me think twice before mocking Victorian medicine.
We may laugh at “strolling congestion, drawing room anguish, dissipation of nerves and imaginary female trouble” (genuine contributory factors cited upon commitment to a Victorian asylum). But if we mock Victorian diagnoses, what will today’s diagnoses look like in future?


Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test explodes the alarmingly arbitrary origins of today’s diagnostic criteria (psychologists using DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Perhaps we should think how today’s diagnoses will be laughed at in the future.
I resisted classifying Lady’s Elodie’s disease by modern criteria (depression, epileptic absences, fugues). It has more in common with the encephalitis lethargica of Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings and the catalepsy-lethargy-somnambulism of Charcot’s hysterics in the Saltpêtrière Hospital of Paris.
The pictures remind us that the past was once the present: laugh if you dare, but you will be laughed at in turn one day.


TOP VICTORIAN PIC SOURCES
Follow these stars of Twitter and the blogosphere and the world of Victorian pics will open up: 1. My pictorial inspirations on Pinterest 2. British Library’s Open Source archive 3. Whores of Yore (Kate Lister @WhoresofYore). See especially her Word of the Day and Historical Hotties 4. Victorian London (Lee Jackson @VictorianLondon) 5. Wayward Women (Lucy Williams @19thC_Offender

Electric Blog Tour Day 1 (Tags: writing, Vic Pics, diagnoses, ads, inspiration, asylum, madness) 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Blog Tour Warning




Just a note to say that on Monday I will be kicking off the Blog Tour for Lawless and The House of Electricity. This is the third instalment of the Lawless series by William Sutton. If you aren't already aware they are a superb series of crime novels featuring Sergeant Campbell Lawless; a Scottish born policeman based in the Victorian East End. All the stops on the blog tour are listed above. Check out more about the books and the author here.  https://www.william-sutton.co.uk/

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Madwoman in the Attic #8 Anne Burke





Anne Burke was an Irish writer of Gothic novels. She was one of the first women to write in the Gothic genre. Anne Burke was a governess who after she was left widowed with a young son turned to writing to earn money, although she applied on several occasions to the Royal Literary Fund for relief. Anne Burke's books inspired Anne Radcliffe who was one of the most successful of the Gothic novelists. Anne Burke is considered to be part of the group of key Irish authors who popularised and developed the Gothic style of writing in the late Eighteenth Century and afterwards including Regina Maria Roche and Sydney Owenson
List of works
Ela or The Delusions of the Heart 1787
Emilia de St Aubigne 1788
Adela Northington 1796
The Sorrows of Edith 1796
Elliott or Vicissitudes of Early Life 1800
The Secret Of the Cavern 1805





Madwoman in the Attic #7 Elizabeth Dorothea Cobbe





Elizabeth Lady Tuite was born in Dublin in 1764, the daughter of Colonel Thomas Cobbe and Lady Eliza Beresford. She married Sir Henry Tuite the 8th Baronet in November 1784. She was a poet and a writer for children. She was the great aunt of Frances Power Cobbe and was said to have been a great influence on her. Lady Tuite's husband died in 1805 and she spent much of the rest of her life living in Bath. Lady Tuite's poetry was considered to be in the romantic style. She was one of the set who attended the literary salon of Elizabeth Rawdon; Countess of Moira who was also a relative. Her poetry was included in an anthology "What Sappho would have Said " by Emma Donoghue. She died in 1850.
Further information can be found in A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800 by Janet Todd and The Cambridge Companion to women's Writing in the Romantic Period by Devoney Looser. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Last Lost Girl by Maria Hoey



This is a debut novel published by Poolbeg under their new Poolbeg Crimson imprint which offers 'Fiction with an edge'.  This is the story of Jacqueline Brennan. Set in two time periods; the long hot summer of 1976 when Jacqueline's sister Lily disappeared and years later when Jacqueline returns to her home at Blackberry Lane to look after her aging father. We learn that Jacqueline is the youngest child, the misfit, the loner. Lily was the beauty queen, while middle sister Gayle was the homemaker, the peacemaker. Jacqueline's family have never been able to shake off the sadness, the mystery surrounding the unexplained disappearance of Lily and one by one they had scattered, all except for her Dad who had remained in the family home, stagnant. When Jacqueline returns it as though time has stood still. In 1976 Jacqueline had tagged along after her older, glamorous sister, never quite accepted, a nuisance. Lily had been seeing a boy who worked at the carnival and he had been questioned by police but no-one was ever arrested and Lily's body was never found so Jacqueline has always harboured the hope that her sister simply ran away that she is out there somewhere, waiting to be found. An old postcard of an English seaside town gives Jacqueline a clue about where to start her search but Jacqueline learns as much about herself and her place in the world as she does about her missing sister. This is a beautifully written book about family, secrets and growing up. It's a thriller but it's also very much a family story. Excellent writing. I found it unputdownable.

Thanks very much to Poolbeg for a copy. The Last Lost Girl is out now in paperback. 

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne Blog Tour; The Books That Made Me



A gothic and chilling debut from Kate Murray-Browne about a young family; Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters who have just moved into what should be their dream home in Litchfield Road. Stretched to the limit, the renovations have to wait and they decide to get a lodger in to rent the basement, so they can afford the repayments. Eleanor feels the strange atmosphere almost immediately and begins to suffer with chronic headaches and vomiting. Richard is also affected but he is channeling his unhappiness into a Masters Degree that he hopes will change his life, his career and help him find that spark that his current role as a solicitor doesn't give him. The lodger Zoe has quit her job to work in an art shop and left her long term boyfriend. She is hoping to write, or draw or something. She too is seeking change. The Upstairs Room is left empty. It's walls covered in scrawls and pictures from the little girl who lived there before. Eleanor asks the neighbours and they tell her there was an accident, something bad happened in that house. As Eleanor becomes increasingly ill and starts to see her older daughter's behaviour changing she knows she must do something. This is a dark and clever book which uses the tropes of the ghost story to examine the anxieties of three people worried about the cost of housing, about being trapped by marriage, by jobs, by reponsibilities. This book will be published by Picador on July 27th in e-book and hardback. Thanks to Don Shanahan for an e-ARC.

I asked the author to take part in my Books that Made Me Series and here are Kate's choices.


The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – I first read this when I was seventeen, which is maybe why James’s young heroine ‘affronting her destiny’ appealed to me so much. But it stayed with me, and the ideas about choice, limitation and thwarted desire (not to mention the potential disaster of marriage proposals) all found their way into my first novel, The Upstairs Room.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – I read this on holiday in Mallorca, basically the least spooky setting ever, and I was still terrified. I remember feeling very sad finishing it because I thought it was one of the best books I’d ever read, but there was no way I could read it again as it was so frightening. I have braved it since (during daylight hours) and found the evocation of the house and its inhabitants just as compelling and poignant, marvelling at how skilfully Waters manages the ambiguity of the haunting.

Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy – there are lots of wonderful things about this autobiographical essay, but the thing that stands out for me is the way Levy writes about motherhood – I thought about it a lot when writing about Eleanor, one of my protagonist’s, experience of motherhood. I’m incredibly excited about the forthcoming sequel, The Cost of Living (and I half-wanted to steal the title for The Upstairs Room).

The Blog Tour continues see banner for details




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Even more Jane Austen




There are a lot of articles on the web today about Jane Austen, an awful lot so I thought I would curate some of the more interesting ones for you. I am collecting these various strands together as much for myself as anything else since I am working on an article on Jane Austen and her literary legacy.

Irish Times: Writers on Jane Austen

The Guardian Podcast on Jane Austen with Sara Pascoe and Lucy Worsley

BBC Culture on Jane Austen's final unfinished novel Sanditon

The Guardian asked writers to discuss their favourite Austen novel

and so did The History Girls blog

Lit Hub article on Austen as a political symbol

Finally my friend Meabh wrote a lovely piece on the Jane Austen event we attended last Sunday. There's pictures.



Jane Austen 200


Today is the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Jane Austen and I couldn't let the day go unmarked. I attended a celebration of all things Jane, her life her works and the music, songs, dancing and costumes of the era with a group of fellow Janeites last Sunday. It was great fun and thanks so much to Aislinn Ní Uallacháin of Jane Austen Ireland for organising such a great event. You can like the Jane Austen Ireland page on facebook at the link below and see some photos from the event.
https://www.facebook.com/janeaustenireland/

To celebrate the anniversary Rose Servitova author of The Longbourn Letters is running a special offer and the kindle edition of her book is now free for a limited time at the amazon links below.

UK and Ireland                                 USA

Monday, July 17, 2017

Corpselight by Angela Slatter Blog Tour



I am delighted to be involved in the blog tour for Corpselight by Angela Slatter which is the second volume in the Verity Fassbinder series. If you haven't already read the first book Vigil then get it and read it now, for your own good. This is a gritty urban fantasy set in Brisbane featuring Verity a half Normal, half Weyrd so she has a foot in each world but since she works for the Weyrd council she spends a lot of time dealing with Weyrd and weird stuff. Working for the Weyrd council is a bit like working for the city council only more dangerous and with greater probability of encountering tails and fangs. Verity is tough, brave, super strong, pigheaded, cynical, smart thinking and soft hearted. Imagine Phyrne Fisher transplanted to modern day Brisbane and clothed in doc martens, jeans and leather jacket except on top of all that, in this instalment Verity is also heavily pregnant. As Verity investigates mysterious drownings across the city and does some snooping for an insurance company she is targeted by some muderous kitsune and goes into early labour, luckily she is rescued by a mystery woman, who it turns out has a past very much entangled with Verity's. The storytelling is top notch; it's fast paced, wickedly funny and delightfully dark and the plot is never rushed, even though there is a huge amount of story and information conveyed. Each character is properly fleshed out and well rounded and there are twists that you just won't see coming. This is a perfect read for fans of Rivers of London or the Dresden Files or for any reader that likes their comedy razor sharp and their heroines daring, caring and devil may care.
The book is being launched in the UK/Ireland  and Australia simultaneously so the blog tour is international which is really exciting and includes many bloggers who took part in the blog tour for Vigil last year, because Angela Slatter is the kind of author that inspires fandom. Details of the rest of the blog tour are below, just click to enlarge and you can read my review of Vigil HERE



Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde Blog Tour


I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde. The second novel from Eve Chase is another page turning gothic thriller that you won't be able to put down. There are shades of Daphne du Maurier in the themes explored here and I gobbled it up in a couple of sittings. This is a dual time novel focusing on contemporary protagonist Jessie who is desperate to leave London behind and give her family a new start. She sets her sights on Applecote Manor a beautiful house in need of love and attention in rural Wiltshire. Jessie is mum to toddler Romy, wife to Will and step-mum to teenager Bella, but she feels overshadowed by the ghost of Will's first wife Mandy and Bella seems determined to remind her of her loss everyday. Jessie hopes that escaping London can bring her closer to her prickly step-daughter. But there are shadows and secrets at Applecote too, the locals are reluctant to talk about it but there are rumours of the tragic disappearance of a child. The other strand of the story is that of the Wilde sisters in the 1950s. When their mum takes a job abroad they too leave London for Applecote. They are to spend the summer with their aunt and uncle who have become virtual recluses since the disappearance of their daughter Audrey. As the summer unfolds for Margot Wilde and the winter draws in for Jessie each of them begins to explore the story of the vanishing girl. This is a wonderful story, gothic, dark and yet full of hope and light. Beautiful storytelling, perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Katherine Webb.

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde is published by Michael Joseph, in the UK and Ireland 13th July. Thanks so much to Gaby Young for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.



I asked the author to tell me about some of her favourite gothic novels and here's what she told me.


Gothic fiction – Eve Chase
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde is published by Michael Joseph, 13 July.

The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs was the first gothic story I remember reading, or quite possibly hearing – it’s embedded in that bit of childhood where books and stories spoken aloud are interchangeable, as vividly alive as an imaginary friend. (Children are naturally gothic creatures!) It’s about being granted three wishes and, of course, each wish having a terrible consequence. I was chilled and delighted by it: fear feels damn good when you experience it vicariously, tucked up safely in bed. I still think about that short story’s premise; the ultimate be careful what you wish for. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is another creepy story that’s stayed with me all these years. Not only because I’m a huge fan of the dazzling Wilde and will happily read anything he’s written, or because it works on many different levels – satire, gothic tale, a dilemma of deviance – but mostly because it’s an unbelievably cracking story. It is still modern. It still speaks to us. After all, who wouldn’t be tempted to sell at least some of their soul for everlasting youth and beauty? You wouldn’t? Really? Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is also powerfully universal – the story of a second wife, haunted by the presence of the first - despite its Cornish setting and Maurier’s unique narrative voice. It’s inspired many other novels and writers, myself included, but has never been bettered. While we’re on the subject of mysterious terrible others, creaking houses and forbidden erotic thrills, I’ll confide that my teenage self (still alive and kicking, although my face, unlike Dorian’s, is now inhabiting a more distant decade) also has a soft dark spot for the novels of Virginia Andrews. The best one is Flowers In the Attic, a thrilling yarn of wicked mothers, grand estates and – oh joy! – incest. I tried to read it again recently but couldn’t – it felt like reading a diary of my own teenage years, something private, cringe-worthy and infinitely precious. Great gothic stories knit their narratives into your own life. And they make very reliable imaginary friends.


Copyright Eve Chase 2017
The blog tour continues for the rest of the week, details below.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen


The 18th July this year will be the two hundredth anniversary of the death of a literary icon. Creator of some of the most memorable characters in English fiction, Jane Austen was a master storyteller. There will be celebrations among Janeites all year and all over the world but this weekend sees a celebration commence closer to home, in Limerick in Ireland which will continue until December. I am including the full press release below.






JANE AUSTEN200 - LIMERICK
CONTACT: ROSE SERVITOVA
EMAIL: roseservitova@gmail.com

A SERIES OF EVENTS FROM JULY TO DECEMBER 2017 CELEBRATING JANE AUSTEN’S BICENTENARY & LIMERICK’S GEORGIAN HERITAGE

July 16th Austen Afternoon Tea & Talks at No. 1 Perry Square sold out. This event included an introduction to the select teas for the event provided by local tea-merchants, Cahills of Limerick. Serving of Afternoon Tea delights. Historian, Sharon Slater, gives a talk 'Tom LeFroy - Jane's Limerick Beau'."A few words about tea from Emma's friend, Miss Bates of Hampstead" performed by Vanessa Hyde. Presentation and talk from Sinead Ryan Coughlan of the Irish Historical Costumers on Regency Fashion (with model, Sinead Finegan). Melissa Shiels will sing two Irish airs that were found amongst Jane Austen’s music collection.


Other events include;
Culture Night, September 22nd(8pm) at Friarsgate Theatre, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick – a free workshop Historical Costumer & Workshop Presenter, Melissa Shiels, will give a very entertaining and informative talk entitle “Georgian Clothing, Customs and Material Culture”. Melissa will have many examples and recreations at hand for what promises to be a great evening.
September 23rd (2pm) at No.1 Pery Square – Austen Afternoon Tea & Talks – Speakers include editor & journalist, Tim Bullamore on “The Joy of Jane”, Kim Arnold presents a talk “Obstinate Headstrong Girl!: Maxims & Manners in the novels of Jane Austen” and we will have a presentation of men's fashion in the late 18th and early 19th century by the Irish Historical Costumers all accompanied by delicious afternoon tea treats and an occasional song. Attendees will also receive a customised keepsake.
October 5th sees two events facilitated by world-renowned period costume designer and Limerick woman, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Eimer worked as costume designer for “Becoming Jane”, “Love & Friendship”, “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” amongst many others. Eimer will visit her former college, The Limerick School of Art & Design, to present an informative talk to students on working in theatre and film. That evening, at a public event, Eimer is guest at “An Evening with Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh” at the intimate drawing rooms of No. 1 Pery Square (7pm). Here she will have some of the costumes from “Love & Friendship” and partake of a Q&A session.
October 23rd 7.30pm– Oscar-nominated movie director and screenwriter, Whit Stillman will join us for a screening of Austen adaptation, the comedy “Love & Friendship” at the University Concert Hall, Limerick. Niall MacMonagle will host a Q&A session with Whit Stillman directly after the screening.
November 3rd (Friarsgate Theatre, Kilmallock) & November 9th (Belltable, Limerick) host New Zealand woman Penny Ashton’s world tour of “Promise & Promiscuity” in a humourous show as she tackles all of Austen's characters with song, dance and appalling cross-stitching. 
Other events include;
  • a talk by Sandra Lefroy on family connections to Austen and William Wordsworth hosted by the Limerick Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society.
  • a collaboration between Sound Heritage Ireland and the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance which will see a musical event of the era re-enacted in a Georgian setting.
For further details please check out our facebook page www.facebook.com/janeausten200limerick where links to events/tickets/websites will be available once finalised.





The curator of Jane Austen 200 is Rose Servitova the author of the Longbourn Letters and I asked Rose to tell me about why Jane Austen is such a big influence, why she decided to write a Pride and Prejudice inspired novel and why she felt that Limerick was the perfect place to celebrate 20o years of Jane. This is what she said.




How Jane Austen Inspired Me?
It was at my grandmother’s house on the foothills of the Ox Mountains in Sligo, during summer holidays, that I discovered my love of reading and there, I found all the classics including the works of Jane Austen. I fell in love with her writing and it has stayed with me since. For years, Pride & Prejudice was my comfort blanket - the book I went back to time and again whenever my life sucked for some reason or other. It was like being held, rocked and soothed. The familiar never bored me instead I sought it out whenever the bottom was falling out of my world and it held me together.
For at least ten years, the idea of writing some kind of tribute to Pride & Prejudice had crossed my mind but I had absolutely no idea what to write. Occasionally, Mr Collin’s diary sprung to mind and when I eventually sat down last year and commenced writing, I knew immediately that it would be disastrous. How could anyone read more than a few pages of his self-importance, deluded gibberish? Instantly, the solution came to me in the form of my other favourite character, Mr Bennet. Four letters existed between these two men in Pride & Prejudice so I would merely have to fill in the gaps and continue until it reached a natural conclusion. They contrasted with each other perfectly and gave me the opportunity to write some great dialogue and witty interaction. That is how The Longbourn Letters came about.  I laughed so much when writing it and I hoped that others would too. Because I love Austen so much and find her minor characters so brilliantly drawn, there was no need for me to go off-track but to stay loyal to her portrayal and hopefully add a bit more detail. Her clever, witty dialogue has influenced my writing greatly – it is what I seek out in other novels and hope to emulate in my own.


How I got involved in Jane Austen 200 – Limerick
Before The Longbourn Letters was published, I began connecting with Jane Austen fans and groups all over the world. I was amazed to see how many were organising celebrations for her bicentenary and, in particular, I was amazed that cities that did not exist 200 years ago were having dances, plays, talks etc… I thought ‘well done, guys’. I always felt that Limerick was a perfect spot to host a Georgian festival as we have the largest Georgian quarter outside of Dublin but when I looked into the Jane Austen angle, I found that we also had many connections with the author. As a qualified event manager and without wanting the bicentenary to pass unacknowledged, I decided to organise an afternoon tea and talks event to mark the occasion. A number of weeks later, I found myself curating a whole series of events running from July to December that include theatre, fashion, music, dance, literature, screen, talks/workshops and tea!! It’s great to see that other parts of the country are doing likewise with events  being held in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Longbourn-Letters-Correspondence-between-Collins/dp/1911013750/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1499774930&sr=1-1




Rose's book continues the story of the Bennets of Longbourn and Mr and Mrs Collins of Rosings through the letters between the two cousins; the taciturn Mr Bennet and the silly Mr Collins. It is a fitting and joyful response to the original. The perfect book to read this weekend as we celebrate Jane Austen and her legacy.