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.Continue reading “#BlogTour #GuestPost Ill Will by Michael Stewart”→
I was delighted to be given the opportunity to host an extract from Alice’s Secret by Lynne Francis, a historical fiction mystery published this week by Avon Books. Alice’s Secret is the second gripping novel from the author of Ella’s Journey – a story of love, loss and a historical mystery finally revealed that’s perfect for fans of Rosie Clarke and Tracy Rees.
2018 Alys’s life hasn’t quite turned out the way she thought… How did she end up making all the wrong choices?
Escaping to the Yorkshire countryside to help out her aunt might just be the change she needs. Throwing herself into baking cakes and cookies for her aunts beloved café helps take her mind off all of her bad decisions. But when she stumbles across a long-buried family mystery Alys can’t let it go…
1890s Alice is the sole bread-winner for her family, working at the local cotton mill. She enjoys her job, until she suddenly begins to attract the wrong attention…
How far is Alys willing to go to find out what really happened to Alice all those years ago?
Today I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Lulu Allison’s debut novel Twice the Speed of Dark, which was published last week. I primarily read for my own enjoyment and receive many review requests that I turn down as they just do not grab me – however after I read one small excerpt of Twice the Speed of Dark I was hooked, and had to read the rest. This thoughtful, lyrical novel, in which a mother and daughter separated by fatal violence circle each other, still bound by love, will stay with you long after you have closed the pages.
The story follows Caitlin, killed by a violent boyfriend, who slowly unfurls her story from beyond the grave. As Caitlin pieces together what happened to her, and the slow erosion of herself in an abusive relationship that culminated in her death, she pieces herself back together. Meanwhile her mother, Anna, is tormented by visceral grief. As she experiences the intensity of her individual loss, Anna could not believe how little interest the world took in the death of her only child. She becomes dismayed by the indifference she sees in news reports of victims of distant wars and acts of terror, seeing echoes of her daughter in all of the unnamed dead. In notebook after notebook, Anna begins to write portraits of these victims, creating lives and loves and identities for them and siphoning to them some of her personal grief. Through these acts of love for strangers, Anna slowly begins to build a connection to the world once more.
There had been a bomb in a distant market place. One of many bombs, the deaths caused by this event barely noticeable amongst the dreadful losses that filled the news every day. But a filament snagged and slowed the story down. Somehow that detail caught her; a market place, perhaps the most domestic public space there is. People shopping for food, plastic buckets, scarves, aluminium pans. Markets all over the world selling plastic buckets and aluminium pans. A place providing easy acquisition of the humbler tools of life; domestic wares, phone parts and gaudy cases, vinyl handbags, potatoes, eggs, cabbages. Mothers buying an evening meal, teenagers shopping for the excitingly new and obligingly affordable. A man buying a bucket so that he could clean his house. These ordinary people doing ordinary things, they would be the dead.
Allison’s background is as a visual artist, and it creeps through in her writing. For me the best passages occur when she is embracing her flair for the visual, and not just in the creation of a multitude of pen portraits of the victims. Consider the evocative imagery of how she introduces Anna: “She recognises her body – the dry of winter sits on her; her tall shape clings forlornly to long bones. She is mad, a scream frozen, sharpening the air around her as the frost has sharpened the ground under her feet”. Twice the Speed of Dark deals with difficult subject matter, and if you are not a fan of literary fiction you might not want to join Allison on this journey. I for one am glad I did, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
I received a copy of Twice the Speed of Dark from the author in exchange for an honest review. Find out more here. The blog tour continues…
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, particularly when it gives us a point of view overlooked by official history. So I was really interested in the premise of The Other Einstein… which tells the story of Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić, who in 1896 is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. She married her charismatic classmate looking forward to a union of equals. A brilliant physicist in her own right, her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century… but her name has been largely forgotten.
There is always a risk with historical fiction based on real people, and I must emphasise that this is a work of fiction… there is speculation in The Other Einstein. We can never know the full truth of what goes on behind closed doors, and I have no doubt that Mileva Marić collaborated with Einstein to some extent – however I would have preferred if credit was not fully transplanted away from him in the way this book does. Despite this caveat there is a lot to enjoy in The Other Einstein. The research into the time period is woven lightly into the narrative, and the sense of time and place is skillfully evoked. Mileva is a wonderful character, and her struggle to reconcile her ambition and societal expectation for her gender is one that resonates.In a world where women are still under represented in STEM this book is well worth reading.
As part of the blog tour for The OtherEinstein, author Marie Benedict answered some of my questions about the process of writing the book:
Marie, welcome to Eats Plants, Reads Books! Tell me, what is the best thing about being a writer? As a child, I always dreamed of stepping through a time machine and entering another era, and writing historical fiction is the closest I’ll probably ever get to stepping back into the past! I adore this aspect of my work, and I suppose that’s why I’m so drawn to being an author of historical fiction.
How much time did you spend researching the book? Can you tell me a bit about your process? Research is my favourite part of writing historically-focused fiction, and I adore lingering in the historical research of many time periods. That said, when I am engaging in the fact-finding necessary to tell a particular tale, I usually spend six to eight months researching, and The Other Einstein is no exception. I generally like to uncover and rely on original source material — like the letters between Mileva and Albert — when writing a story, although I will delve into reliable secondary materials when original source material is scant.
Have you always been interested in science or was this a new subject for you? I almost did not write The Other Einstein because of the heavy scientific component of the story’s backdrop! History has always been my passion, not science. Yet once I immersed myself in the science of the time and began to view science through Mileva’s eyes — science and religion were intertwined for her — I gained a new perspective and started to really enjoy it.
Mileva is a wonderful character — how much of her voice is from historical documents and how much did you have to invent? Thank you for enjoying Mileva as much as I have! She was a tremendous character with which to spend a considerable amount of time. In writing The Other Einstein from Mileva’s perspective, I really relied on her letters to Albert, friends, and family to get a sense of her voice and thoughts and fashion a character akin to the real-life Mileva. The Other Einstein, however, is a work of fiction and so is Mileva, as we can never deeply know a person from the past.
Albert is such an iconic figure — was it a daunting to fictionalize him? Did you ever consider writing from his point of view? Absolutely, the iconic status of Albert Einstein was a hurdle I had to surmount in writing The Other Einstein, which necessarily required fictionalizing him during certain key years of his life. I had to remind myself that I was writing Mileva’s story, not his – as his life has been recounted over and over – when I found myself intimidated by including him in a scene. And to remember that hers was a story that needed to be told.
Given that Mileva overcame so many obstacles in life — her ethnicity, her limp, her gender — she must certainly have been strong and determined. What does it say about the institution of marriage that a woman such as Mileva ‘dwindled’ into a wife? I think it was less that the institution of marriage “dwindled” Mileva — as you so interestingly described it — and more that certain of her personality characteristics led to her susceptibility to diminishing herself and her abilities. While it must have been true that Mileva was tenacious to surmount the many obstacles in her life, her unusual academic gifts, physical challenges, ethnicity and gender meant that she was ostracized from friendships and romantic interests until her university years. Consequently, she arrived at university emotionally quite naive, which led her to tolerance of negative behaviours on Albert’s part, behaviours that contributed to the demise of their marriage and Mileva’s marginalization from science.
Why do you think that Albert tries to suppress the very aspects of Mileva that drew him to her? Why do you think it was important to him that his new wife knew nothing about physics? I do not think that Albert Einstein specifically sought out a second wife who was unfamiliar with physics, but I do think that, in straying from his first marriage with his first cousin and ultimately marrying her, he selected someone who was not particularly challenging from an emotional or intellectual perspective. He chose someone who was very familiar with his habits and ways, and would allow him to pursue whatever course he chose, to which, I suspect, Mileva objected.
Albert Einstein is not the only famous figure in the book — what was it like writing about Marie Curie? Would you consider writing a book about her? Did you consciously include the Curies as a reminder to readers that it is possible to have two equal partners in a marriage if the will is there? Marie Curie was nearly as much an obstacle to writing The Other Einstein as Albert Einstein. She is an iconic figure herself, and has become such a symbol for the potential for women in the sciences. You are correct in surmising that I included Marie Curie in the book not only because she knew and interacted with Mileva and Albert, but also because Marie’s relationship with her husband was a foil for the relationship of Mileva and Albert. I also imagined that Mileva must have admired Marie Curie’s successes — both in the sciences and in her marriage.
Was it hard to let go of these characters, and do you think you would return to them again? What are you currently working on? I do not feel as though I’ve let go of Mileva. As I talk with people about The Other Einstein and people read the book, I feel as though I am sharing her story with others, an objective about which I feel very strongly. In my upcoming novels, I will continue to write narratively connected novels about untold stories of historical women, whose lives contain issues that women currently face. I have just finished an initial draft of Carnegie’s Maid, which shares the story of the lady’s maid of Andrew Carnegie’s mother and the part she played in transforming the ruthless businessman into the world’s first philanthropist, a role that impacts our lives today.
The Other Einstein is available now onlineand in all good bookshops.