I’m so excited about Ill Will, hot off the presses from Harper Collins, and even more so about hosting a guest post by author Michael Stewart!
Ill Will tells the untold story of Heathcliff, unquestionably one of the most viscerally well drawn characters in English literature. I was named after Wuthering Heights, and was obsessed with Bronte’s masterpiece from the first time I read it – it is a volcano of a book which erupts off the page. Yet I have always been left to wonder what happens in the 3.5 years between abused and degraded Heathcliff fleeing Wuthering Heights, after overhearing his beloved Cathy saying it would degrade her to marry him, and his triumphant return as a wealthy gentleman. Ill Will resolves that mystery… and although this is a stand-alone story that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of Heathcliff, I am sure Wuthering Heights enthusiasts will find this book doubly enjoyable.
‘I am William Lee: brute; liar, and graveside thief. But you will know me by another name’
I don’t want to give too much away, so I will only tell you what the blurb does – Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights, and is travelling across the moors to Liverpool in search of his past. Along the way, he saves Emily, the foul-mouthed daughter of a Highwayman, from a whipping, and the pair journey on together. Roaming from graveyard to graveyard, making a living from Emily’s apparent ability to commune with the dead, the pair lie, cheat and scheme their way across the North of England. And towards the terrible misdeeds and untold riches that will one day send Heathcliff home to Wuthering Heights…
Ill Will author Michael Stewart is a multi-award winning writer who has written several full length stage plays. His debut novel, King Crow, won the Guardian’s Not-the-Booker Award and has been selected as a recommended read for World Book Night. I’m delighted he agreed to write a blog post for us to tell us more about Heathcliff and his inspiration for Ill Will. Over to Michael!
Emily Brontë, like her famous sisters, Charlotte and Anne, was a product of a home education. Her father, Patrick, made the decision to take Emily (and Charlotte) out of school after the death of her two older siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, who both died of tuberculosis within a few months of each other, after suffering hunger, cold and privation at Cowan Bridge School. Patrick was a progressive thinker. Born in poverty in Ireland, but gaining a scholarship to Cambridge, his was a rags to riches story. But his social conscience never left him. Perhaps because of this, he allowed Emily (and her sisters) access to reading that was deemed inappropriate for girls at the time. Writers such as Shelley, Walter Scott and Lord Byron.
Would Emily have created the character of Heathcliff without the influence of these writers and the freedom that a home education provided? Probably not, although we’ll never know for certain. Afterall, Heathcliff is not a straightforward Bryonic hero. Yes, Heathcliff is proud, moody, cynical, implacable in revenge. But his cruel streak goes much further than that of the typical Bryonic hero character. He is violent to people and animals, rapes and possibly murders. But this is not the Heathcliff from the early part of the book.
What has always fascinated me about the character of Heathcliff, is Emily’s motivation for creating him in the first place. She spends the first nine chapters building the reader’s sympathy in his plight. We see him reduced to that of a domestic slave, being imprisoned in the outbuildings, and beaten with a lead weight. Eventually running off in a storm. But when he returns three years he is changed. There is little of the humanity left in him that is evident in the first half of the book. And Emily seems to want us to question our earlier assessment.
I’ve always been fascinated by these missing three years. How did he come by his fortune? How did he receive an education? And what has made him so cruel? My explanation is the novel, Ill Will. I’ve never accepted Mr Earnshaw’s explanation, that Heathcliff was an orphan found on the streets of Liverpool. Mr Earnshaw was travelling to Liverpool for an express purpose. He didn’t hang around. Liverpool was the biggest slave port in Europe at the time. There were 105 slave fleets based in the port. Heathcliff’s ethnicity is ambiguous in the book. He is called a lascar. Which is in itself an ethnically ambiguous term. It can refer to someone from India, Malay or Arabia, as well as China and Japan. But surely the most likely scenario is that his origins are in West Africa, where the English fleets are travelling to buy slaves to send to the West Indies? For most of my life, Heathcliff’s origins have been a mystery to me, but now I have delved deep into eighteenth century England, I think I have an explanation.
There you have it! I hope you are all as intrigued as I was – Ill Will is available now for you to find out for yourselves. Follow the Blog Tour for interviews, excerpts and reviews.