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

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

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.”
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.”
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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.