REVIEW: WORDS THAT TOUCH by NICK POLE

WORDS THAT TOUCH by Nick Pole is about Clean language and is aimed at mind/body therapists. How do you write about what happens between therapist and client? Well, I’m not sure but this book does a pretty good job of it. However you don’t necessarily have to be a therapist to enjoy it. There is a great deal here to engage the general reader. If you’re someone who is interested in the power of words, in the ways the mind and the body communicate with each other, and also neuroscience you’ll find a lot to delight in. As a writer I was fascinated by the chapters on metaphor and how the use of metaphor helps the mind communicate with the body and heal trauma.

Although dealing with a complex subject Nick Pole writes in a highly accessible way. In clear, elegant chapters he lays out what Clean language is, how it works and the neuroscience behind it. The aim of Clean language is to ‘make the client more involved in if not actually leading a collaborative process’. Case studies by a variety of mind/body therapists explain how they use Clean language in their own practice. I know this is a book that I will find myself coming back to again and again. There is too much wisdom in here to be taken in the first time around. My favourite quote: ‘Distance always contains the hint of a relationship’. Like many things in WORDS THAT TOUCH that made me stop and think for a good long time. I highly recommend this book.

Here’s the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Words-that-Touch-Nick-Pole/dp/184819336X/

And here is the link to Nick’s website: http://www.nickpole.com

REVIEW: COGHEART by PETER BUNZL

The very beautiful cover of COGHEART

I’ve just finished a wonderful book called COGHEART by Peter Bunzl. I think its age range is supposed to be pre-teen but frankly it could be enjoyed by anyone from 8 to 80, as far as I’m concerned. It reminded me of the Joan Aiken books (Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Night Birds on Nantucket) I read when I was younger and if you’re looking for a Christmas present for a passing child this will do nicely.

The story is set in an alternative Victorian universe (1896) and it starts with John Hartman and his mechanical fox Malkin being pursued by a Zeppelin. Malkin is put in the escape capsule  with a note to John’s daughter, Lily. She is in a terrible school where she is practising her lock picking skills and reading her Penny Dreadfuls. Excellent heroine!

Robert Townsend is a clockmaker’s son, who is drawn into the story when he spies Malkin being pursued by the terrifying baddies – Roach and Mould. He puts them off the scent and then repairs Malkin and winds him back up again. Malkin is an excellent character, ingenious and mouthy. Just the kind of fox you would want to rescue you from trouble.

The world setting is excellent part Victorian, part alternative universe; it is inhabited by humans, mechanicals, mechanimals, and hybrids. There are some vile baddies and some splendid oaths:  ‘Cogs and chronometers’ probably being my favourite. If you’re interested in airships and Zeppelins there’ll be enough detail to keep you entertained.  The book ends with a thrilling denoument on top of Big Ben. A splendid story sweetly told. It left me with a longing for a mechanical fox called Malkin. Well, one can always dream. Are you listening Santa?

Finally, this is the 100th post of this blog and so it’s an opportunity to thank those of you stalwarts who have supported the blog from the beginning and welcome more recent followers. Thank you for following and welcome. I hope you enjoy the ride although unfortunately it won’t be in a  Zeppelin!

What is your favourite book that you read as a child?

http://www.peterbunzl.com

Q&A WITH CRIME WRITER SUSAN GROSSEY

Portraits of Pretence (The Sam Plank Mysteries Book 4) by [Grossey, Susan]I’m delighted to welcome Susan Grossey to the blog. She is the author of a crime series set in Regency London, figuring Constable Sam Plank’s investigation into financial fraud. Susan is herself an expert in anti-money laundering. Her most recent book, the fourth in the Sam Plank series is Portraits of Pretence. The books are beautifully researched and have wonderful descriptions of Regency London. If you read them you will also discover what it is to be jug-bitten!

Q. Why the Regency period? Can you remember what it was that made you first decide to set your books then?

A. The first Sam Plank book, “Fatal Forgery”, came about almost by accident.  My day job is the prevention of financial crime, and to this end I was reading about bank crime, which of course has existed since banks began.  And I came across the story of Henry Fauntleroy, a banker who stole from his own bank in the 1820s and was caught in 1824.  He immediately admitted his guilt, even though this meant a fast-track to the scaffold, and I wondered why he would do that.  A mere four years later, “Fatal Forgery” was finished!  Along the way I had realised that the Regency period was very under-examined in every writing genre except romance.  There are plenty of books set in the Georgian period, and more Victorian detectives than you can shake a stick at, but Regency?  Not much at all.  And from a London policing perspective this was a fascinating era – post-Bow Street Runners, pre-Metropolitan Police, with very little structure to the service beyond the savvy of the individual constables.

Q. Your books have a real charm to them that I think comes from the tenderness of the relationship between Sam and his wife Martha and Sam’s assistant Wilson. Sam is a protagonist enviably free of dysfunction and that’s very refreshing these days. In some ways it reminds me of the dynamic between Morse, Lewis and Lewis’s wife although in that case the older man is single. Could you tell me a little about the decision making process around your development and characterization of Sam, Martha and Wilson?

A. Sam is an amalgamation of several constables whose actual words I was able to read in the invaluable online transcripts of Old Bailey cases – in fact, the name Sam Plank came from one of those!  And I liked the idea of a man who has been around a bit – Sam escaped a poor upbringing, was a barber for a while and then fell into law enforcement – but remains essentially decent.  As you say, he is not dysfunctional – I was a bit tired of “the copper more damaged than the criminals” – but I have tried to show that he has human flaws (he’s rather vain).  As the books are narrated by Sam, I needed to have discussions in them, rather than just interior thoughts (plus I enjoy writing dialogue), and I liked the idea of a man being brave on the outside only because he has support at home.  At the same time, I have to remind myself constantly not to make Martha modern: she is no feminist, simply a woman who adores her husband and has a good brain.  And as Sam is reaching the end of his career – he’s a good age, for a working man of his era – I wanted to give him a chance to pass on his knowledge, and sometimes to explain to the reader why he was doing certain things, and Wilson is the mechanism for that.  But, as characters will, Wilson is starting to demand more attention.

Q. I was fascinated by the material in the book about miniatures, especially about the fact they were painted on ivory. Could you tell me a little about your research?

A. Some time ago I visited the Wallace Collection in London, a wonderful private collection open to the public, and they have a gorgeous display of miniatures.  I stored the thought away…  I have known for some time that there will be seven Sam Plank books and I have plotted the central crime for each, so I already knew that “Plank 4” – “Portraits of Pretence” – would be about art fraud of some kind.  And when I thought more carefully, I realized that I wanted portable art – miniatures were perfect.  So back I went to the Wallace, to look more closely, and then I started reading all the contemporary sale catalogues I could find for descriptions of miniatures and their frames.  I am lucky enough to be a member of the University Library in Cambridge, and in their rare books collection they have several “how to” guides from the Regency era, written for amateur artists.  Every accomplished young lady wanted to be able to paint miniatures, and careful instructions are given on how to select and prepare materials, and how to paint the picture.

Q. My feeling is you have certainly walked the walk when it comes to describing Constable Plank’s perambulations around Regency London. Could you tell me a little about how you researched that? Were crumbling maps involved! In particular I loved the descriptions of Custom House.

A. My husband calls this research “walking the Plank”!  It’s actually quite simple: I walk around London.  Although the street-level architecture and detail is all very modern, just raise your eyes and from the first floor upwards, most of it is original.  I did consult a few crumbling maps – the University Library again – but the best of all is Greenwood’s 1827 map of London, thoughtfully put online by someone at Bath University.  It’s particularly useful for checking street names; for instance, Sam lives in Norton Street, near Regent’s Park, but you won’t find that name today as it’s now Bolsover Street.

Q. Did you always want to be a writer or did you start writing as an adult?

A. Always, always, always.  I am an only child and spent a huge amount of time reading and writing.  My first success was a short story entitled “Bonkers the Witch”, for which I won a rosette from my headmistress when I was six.

Q. Influences as a writer and crime writer.

A. My absolute hero is CJ Sansom – if I can evoke an era a tenth as well as he can, I’ll be happy.  I find that now that I am a writer myself, I am much more critical when I read: I will make notes along the lines of “make sure it’s always clear who’s speaking” and “don’t indulge yourself in reams of description”.  I’m much less tolerant of poorly edited books, as I think it should be done properly – it’s rude to expect a reader to put up with your laziness.

Q. I see that you have three more to come in the series. Will that then definitely be the end? Or will you continue with Wilson?

A. I’m already a bit sad at the thought of being without Sam, so the smart money – i.e. my husband’s – is on Sam sticking around in a consultative capacity!

Q. Do you have all the others in the series planned out or are you operating on a one by one basis?

A. They are all planned.  There’s a simple pattern to them, in that they take place in consecutive years: “Portraits of Pretence” is in 1827, so “Plank 5” will be 1828.  The unifying feature of the series – apart from Sam himself – is financial crime, so we’ve had bank fraud, investment fraud, bribery, and art fraud.  “Plank 5” will be about… oh no, I can’t reveal that too soon!

Q. Could you give a brief account of your path to publishing. Have you done courses, do you belong to writing groups etc?

A. Once I had the first (extremely rough) draft of “A Fraudster and a Gentleman” – the ghastly original title of “Fatal Forgery”, written from the point of view of the banker Fauntleroy – I hit a road-block: I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t see how to put it right.  I didn’t like the idea of a writing group, because I wanted an expert to help – not other, albeit enthusiastic, amateurs.  And then I read about Gold Dust, a writers’ mentoring scheme set up by a group of proper, professional, published authors.  For about a thousand pounds, they offered a year of monthly meetings with an author, at which you would discuss your latest chapter – which meant writing the blasted thing.  I asked for, and was given, Jill Dawson as my author: she’s local to me, and knows about writing historical fiction.  And every month I had to take something to show her.  What was most valuable – above and beyond the excellent writing and plotting advice she gave me – was her belief that, one day, this would be a book worthy of publication.

At the end of that year I had “Fatal Forgery” ready to go.  I submitted it to five agents and four publishers, and they all turned it down “because no-one is interested in financial crime”.  By then I had fallen in love with Sam, and I decided to rewrite the whole thing from his point of view.  Once that was done, I couldn’t face the agent/publisher merry-go-round again, and self-publishing had come on in leaps and bounds, and I decided to go it alone.

Q. What advice would you give to a young writer starting out now?

A. Set a timetable and deadlines, and stick to them.  If you wait for the muse to appear, for the “writing mood” to descend, you’ll never do anything.  I write a book a year and in the first half of the year, I write a thousand words a week – perfectly manageable.  In the second half of the year, I double that, and in the final month, I really go for it.  Even if it’s rubbish, you can edit rubbish – but if you’ve written nothing because that sock drawer really, really, really needed tidying, you have nothing to edit.

Q. I see that you are an expert on anti-money laundering. How does your experience in that field filter through into your novel writing?

A. I am unashamedly fascinated by financial crime – why people do it, and why it keeps working.  That’s what made me want to explore Regency financial crime, as it’s simply history repeating itself.  In “Fatal Forgery”, Fauntleroy is able to exploit the new financial instrument of the day – share certificates – to bamboozle his customers and steal from them.  Recently, bankers were able to exploit the new financial instrument of the day – subprime mortgages – to bamboozle their customers and steal from them.  Now we have Bitcoin, mobile payments, crowdfunding – on it goes.  The same is true for the crimes in the other Sam Plank books – we still have investment fraud, bribery, art crime.  We greedy and gullible humans never learn our lesson!

Q. I love the design of the covers. They are simple but very striking. Could you tell me a little about your design choices?

A. Aren’t they gorgeous?  I take absolutely no credit for them: they are the work of Andrew and Rebecca at the company Design for Writers.  It was the one area where I decided to treat myself to real talent, as I have the artistic capabilities of a roll-top desk – left to my own devices, I would have created a cover out of glitter and macaroni.  For “Fatal Forgery” they asked me to fill out a long questionnaire about the book and its subject, the sorts of covers I liked and disliked, any fonts I admired, the colours I preferred and so on.  At the end of that, they came up with the cover that you see now – complete with custom-designed “Plank font”.  All I had to ask them to do was adjust the whiskers; the original gentleman they used had a moustache, but Sam has only side-whiskers, so they redrew them.  The fine fellow you see is how Sam imagines himself – I fear the real Sam is a little less elegant.  From then on, we have used that cover as the model for the other books, with the addition of the strapline across the top, indicating that the book is “A Sam Plank Mystery”.

Q. What will you write after the Sam Plank series? Will you stay in the Regency period or spread your wings?

A. I probably should move on, but, as I say, I like writing in a less popular era, and now I know so much about it, I’d hate to leave.  Perhaps I could do the diary of a magistrate, or reminiscences of a prison keeper…

Q. I love the glossary at the back: puff guts, rum cull, square toes, jug-bitten. Is it fun discovering and using these words?

A. So much fun!  There are several Regency lexicons and slang dictionaries that I consult.  My own personal favourites are the ones for throwing up (a pretty common occurrence in Regency times, when almost everything you ate or drank was contaminated with something), such as “flashing the hash” and “casting up your account”.  And if flashing the hash doesn’t purge you sufficiently, you might well end up “wearing a wooden surcoat”… lying in your coffin.

Thank you so much Susan for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope your husband is forced to ‘walk the plank’ for many years to come! Lots of good luck with Portraits of Pretence and the rest of the series.

You will find all the links to Susan’s books in the purchase section of her blog here:

https://susangrossey.wordpress.com

And Sam even has his own twitter account: @ConstablePlank

CONCLAVE: ROBERT HARRIS

A book has come out recently on the subject of bestsellers:The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of a Blockbuster Novel. In it the authors, two Stamford academics, Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, describe how they created an algorithm and then used it to scan 20,000 New York Times bestselling novels, in order to find out what components they have in common. Among the topics you should focus on apparently are marriage, funerals, guns, schools, children, mothers and vaguely threatening technologies. I wonder what that last one means? These are the topics you should avoid: sex, drugs and rock and roll. Makes you wonder about where Fifty Shades of Grey fits in, doesn’t it?

I would propose that one of the simplest predictors is the presence of a name like ROBERT HARRIS on the cover of a book.

His most recent book CONCLAVE is set in the Vatican.  The skeleton of the plot is this: The pope dies, the cardinals gather for the Conclave, the cardinals vote and keep voting until three quarters of them agree on a successor, the pope is chosen, the book ends.

Not, you might think, particularly promising material. The book however is very entertaining – both page turning and wickedly funny. Along the way  you will find out all kinds of things about the Catholic Church that you probably didn’t know. It also has a very modern twist at the end that I am not going to divulge but which amused me.

Part of the pleasure of Robert Harris’ books is the combination of elegant writing, gripping hooks to make you want to know what happens next, and some excellent jokes.

Here’s a lovely description of the recently dead Pope as Lomeli, the Dean, leans forward to kiss him:

Often the faces of the dead, in Lomeli’s experience, were slack and stupid. But this one seemed alert, almost amused as if interrupted in mid-sentence. As he bent to kiss the forehead he noticed a faint smudge of white toothpaste at the left corner of the mouth, and caught the smell of peppermint and the hint of some floral shampoo.

But later Lomeli frets about the treatment of the Pope’s body and thinks about some of the unfortunate things that happened to the bodies of previous popes. In 1978 the face of Pope Paul VI’s body in St Peter’s

. . . had turned greyish-green, the jaw had sagged, and there was a definite whiff of corruption. Yet even that ghoulish embarrassment wasn’t as bad as the occasion twenty years previously, when Pope Pius XII’s body had fermented in its coffin and exploded like a firecracker outside the church of St John Lateran.

Here is the description of the Pope’s apartment. He had insisted on living in the Casa Santa Marta rather than the Apostolic Palace.

Fifty anonymous square meters, furnished to suit the income and taste of some mid-level commercial salesman.

Lomeli casts a somewhat jaundiced eye over his fellow cardinals. Here he is in contemplation of Cardinal Tremblay, one of the more ambitious ones:

Despite the hour, his appearance was fresh and handsome, his thick silver hair immaculately coiffed, his body trim and carried lightly. He looked like a retired athlete who had made a successful transition to television sports presenter; Lomeli vaguely remembered that he had played ice hockey in his youth.

And here is Cardinal Simo Guttuso:

His personal chaplain struggled behind him with his three suitcases.

Lomeli, eyeing the suitcases, said, ‘My dear Simo, are you trying to smuggle in your personal chef?’

Little wonder if he was, given the appalling descriptions of the food the Cardinals suffer. Someone needs to give the nuns cooking lessons. ‘Veal scallopini – the meat looked rubbery, the sauce congealed’. ‘Chicken wrapped in Parma ham. It was overcooked and dry but they were eating it none the less’. ‘Some unidentifiable fish in caper sauce.’

If anything forces this Conclave to a swift conclusion, thought Lomeli, it will be the food.

Lomeli, the Dean in charge of the voting, is struggling with his own faith, as he struggles to run the Conclave. There are, of course, various twists and turns along the way.

My feeling is Robert Harris could probably conjure a bestseller from two elderly crumbs playing dominoes inside a paper bag but until he writes that one, I suggest you read CONCLAVE. If you buy the hardback, it has nicely blackened edges to the pages. It’s a new fashion this and I rather like it.

If you’re interested in what makes a bestseller you’d be better off buying a few Robert Harris books and making careful notes, rather than buying a book about an algorithm. To my mind, it is thorough research, lightly used, combined with a finely honed talent to amuse and entertain in words. Incidentally, he does conform to one bit of data that the algorithm throws up; apparently a disproportionate number of bestseller writers have worked in journalism and advertising and Harris  was a political journalist before turning his hand so successfully to writing fiction.

CRIME Q&A WITH VENA CORK

vena_largerI’m delighted to welcome the crime writer Vena Cork to the blog. She is the author of the Rosa Thorn trilogy (Thorn, The Art of Dying and Green Eye). Her most recent books are The Lost Ones set in Notting Hill and Toxic set in Willesden. This Q&A is about Toxic set in Yew Court, a block of flats in North West London where dark forces are unleashed.

Q. I loved the Prologue and it reminded me immediately of Alan Garner’s books. I wondered if you’d read them and been influenced by them at all? That feeling of there being something ancient in the land just waiting to burst out!

A. I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen many years ago, but I can’t remember  anything about it except being totally gripped. So if there’s an influence it isn’t a conscious one.  I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, though, which tinkers with the reality behind reality, so that may have rubbed of a bit, even though it’s a different genre.  When thinking about Toxic I became fascinated by old photographs of places in London that in the very recent past were little villages in the countryside but are now part of the city. It  made me envisage a time when there were no villages at all, just  primeval forest, and then all that history flowing in between.  It’s exactly the same place on the planet throughout, but forever changing. I do feel in certain places that the ancient past is still there lurking just under the concrete.

Q. Could you tell me a little about how you came to set it in the setting you did. Is there a particular yew in Willesden that caught your eye?

A. I love London and I love how each area has its own distinctive personality. My previous book, The Lost Ones, is set in Portobello Road, Notting Hill, which is a very high profile place. For Toxic I wanted to tackle somewhere that was the opposite, somewhere ostensibly without much atmosphere or known history behind it. I also wanted to tell a story about a tower on a hill, and I found a road on a hill in Willesden with several blocks of flats that absolutely fitted the bill and that also has a view over a wide open space to the neat suburban houses that I wanted Alma to be able to spy on. The yew tree came out of nowhere and became so important that in its latin form, taxus baccata, from which the word toxic derives, it even became the title of the book. Originally I noticed that the block of flats in which I was interested was called by the name of a tree and I thought that was a good idea for my block. That led on to the idea of having a sinister tree outside the flats. Then I remembered that yew trees can live to a great age, and that this would be the obvious link to the savage earth beneath the suburban concrete. Much later, I found out that not only were yew trees poisonous, but that they were also the symbol of The Furies. All this came about in a very round about and serendipitious way. In my experience this is something that often happens when writing a book: strange connections and coincidences surface that fit absolutely with what’s needed.

Q. It strikes me that what Toxic is really about is the marginalized and the vulnerable, those at risk of falling through the cracks and people who could easily disappear. You’re casting a bright light on society and saying look here. This is what can happen if we don’t take care of each other. Was there some of that feeling in you as you wrote the book?

A. Yes absolutely. We have, by and large, lost the habit of caring for our neighbours. In London the rich and comfortably off live cheek by jowl with the poor, but I don’t think there’s much communication going on. There’s a bit of wish fulfillment in Toxic because I don’t know whether in a real block of flats such a coming-together would happen. Although, having said that, I’m reminded of the play and film London Road, co-written by my son Adam Cork and the playwright, Aleckie Blythe, which tells the true story of the inhabitants of London Road, Ipswich, initially strangers, who united to repair their fractured community after the presence of a serial killer in the street had tarnished the reputation of the place.

Q. Now we’ve got to talk about Alma! She was one of my favourites. She reminded me a bit of the women in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – there was that sort of gothic horror aspect to her but she was also very, very funny and I have to say I was rather upset about what you did to her! Did you enjoy writing her?

A. I loved wrtoxiciting Alma. Inventing characters who behave very badly is brilliant fun, in a way that interacting with such characters in real life often isn’t. In a book you can laugh at their all-consuming egos without having to actually deal with them.  And inventing someone who behaves badly always feels slightly transgressive – making them do and say things I’d never allow myself to do and say.

Q. It was very brave to cast such a ghastly character as a bookseller. I’d never dare! Discuss (if you’d like)!

A. I didn’t set out to diss booksellers! I love booksellers – they sell books and books hold a central place in my life as a reader and a writer! David’s new wife was a bookseller by default. His ambition was to open a bookshop and I wanted his new partner to have something major in common with him. When I started the novel I didn’t know she would turn out to be either a bookseller, or so awful. I often find that characters go galloping off on their own path and become completely different from what I initially intended. I also find that sometimes those I imagine are going to be important end up as either minor characters or scrapped altogether, or, vice versa, a peripheral person suddenly begins to loom large and move to centre stage.  In Toxic, Gary is one such character who started out with a very minor role and just grew.

Q. I was really impressed how you marshalled such a large cast of characters together and yet made them distinct and clear in the readers mind and also how you ratcheted up the tension. Is this the biggest cast of characters you’ve dealt with in a book? As I was reading it I thought I would really struggle with this technically. It’s a really skilled piece of writing. Did that involve very careful pre-plotting before writing began? Did you have a clear idea about what would happen and in what order from the beginning?

A. I knew about the beginning of the book and I knew the end would involve the destruction of the tower, and I knew a few points along the way. But that was it. I didn’t know who would bring about the destruction of the tower, or, indeed how that would happen. I initially thought that it would be blown up! I envy writers who are able to plot everything in detail in advance. I can’t do that. I have to crawl forward painfully slowly, wondering what has to happen next and who does what to whom. On the other hand I think I’d become bored if I knew too much in advance. This is the largest number of narrators I’ve dealt with and I often found it difficult knowing which narrator would reveal which piece of information and when.  One thing I did do, though, was scribble out a plan of the tower and write in who was living where and at what number. Before I did that I found it very confusing trying to remember who was on what floor and how that would impact on the plot.

Q. I think I saw that you’re writing a Rosa Thorn novella. Could you tell me a bit about that?

A. The working title is Rosa and Revenge and in it we meet Rosa ten years on.  Her children are grown. Anna is also an actor and Danny’s a journalist. Rosa’s just got her big break starring in one of the country’s top soaps, but as always when she’s around, death and destruction follow, as fellow soap stars start to die. I don’t want to say anymore about it in case I give away the plot.

Q. You can ask 5 writers to dinner which do you choose?

A. This is a very difficult question because there are so many. Would I choose the Victorians – Eliot, Dickens,  the Brontes, Mrs Gaskell, Trollope , Wilkie Collins,  or would I go for  Joseph Heller, Susan Hill, Steven King, Donna Tartt, John Lanchester, John Irvine, Elizabeth Jane Howard and Philip Pullman. Yes – I know – more than five, and added to this list would be all the writers mentioned in the next two questions. So more a party than a dinner party!

Q. Which crime writers do you like?

A. Again – so many: Currently Kate Rhodes, Lesley Thomson, Ben Aaronovich, Elly Griffiths, Harlan Coben, Val Mcdermid, Stuart Macbride, Karin Slaughter, Sabine Durrant, Mark Billingham. I could go on …

Q. Which crime writers influenced you?

A. It’s hard to say who’s had a direct influence on my writing. My first experience of crime novels and the things that have stayed with me from that time are  Agatha Christie’s puzzles, the character of Albert Campion in Margery Allingham’s books, the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane and slightly later, John le Carre’s George Smiley books. But latterly there’s   Elizabeth George, Nicky French, Tana French… The list goes on…

Q. Can you remember what book made you want to become a writer?

A. I don’t think there’s one particular book, although as a girl I read and reread Alice in Wonderland, What Katy Did, Heidi, Little Women and a collection of  Greek Myths. I also loved Enid Blyton, The Faraway Tree stories and The Famous Five. I was allowed to go to my local library by myself from about the age of seven and adored discovering all the fantastic stories that were there for the taking. It was here, aged eight, that I first came across Jane Eyre and I remember being terrified when she was locked in The Red Room, and amazed that anyone could write something so real and so gripping. From the moment I learned to read I’ve been hooked on books and I think I’ve always had this urge, both as an actor and a writer to tell stories. The first thing I ever did was a collection of children’s verse, which is sitting in a drawer somewhere along with a couple of short children’s books, and after that I wrote plays for several years. During my time as a drama teacher I was lucky enough to have a couple of these plays performed at the school in which I was working.

Q. What are you reading at the moment?

A. The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent, and I’ve just finished The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale  Retold by Jeanette Winterson.

Q. How do you work? Do you have a routine? Set place/hours/word count per day or is it more flexible than that?

A.I have a small study, but I don’t use it to work in. It suits me better to work on the sofa in my living room. I usually try to do an hour before breakfast, and then after a walk with my husband, who is also a writer, settle down from 10am and work until lunch time. After another walk I start again around 4pm and work until supper, and sometimes I do a late evening stint before bed. But I’m not rigid about it, and have various breaks during the week for seeing friends or doing other necessary tasks. I constantly live with the idea that I should be working harder and that when I’m doing one thing there’s another that I should be doing instead. With the novella I set myself the task of completing it in a month. I hit my target and then took another two weeks to edit, so six weeks in total, which was pretty full on, but very satisfying. Another source of guilt nowadays, is being told by the health police that if I don’t get up and walk around every ten minutes or so I’ll die. I hate doing things just for the sake of it so now I’m trying to build into my regime, little breaks where I do something useful like iron a skirt, or peel a potato. Needless to say that’s not working out brilliantly.

Thank you very much, Vena, for taking the time and good luck with your future projects.

You’ll find all the links to Vena’s books at http://www.venacork.com

BERYL BAINBRIDGE: A BIOGRAPHY

Beryl Bainbridge: Love by All Sorts of Means: A Biography by [King, Brendan]How much does the life of a writer you love interest you? This is what I’ve been wondering as I’ve read the biography of Beryl Bainbridge, Love by All Sorts of Means, by Brendan King. In my case it turns out a great deal. I love her writing and I worked for her publisher Gerald Duckworth for a while. In fact I was working in the warehouse when her book on Scott’s doomed expedition to Antarctica Birthday Boys came in. It was the most copies of one title that I ever packed up and sent out to the bookshops and I particularly liked the photo on the cover of the men wearing  their  big furry mittens.

Brendan King worked for Bainbridge for many years but this is no hagiography. What he delivers here is a measured and psychologically astute  assessment of her and along the way he displays considerable sensitivity to her children, especially with regard to the effects of her drinking and her affairs, those known about and those kept secret (until relatively recently).

Bainbridge was a publicist’s dream. There was the stuffed buffalo in the hall and the hole in the ceiling from when her mother-in-law, Nora, tried to shoot her. There was the shop dummy called Neville that she placed in the window to make people think there was a man in the house. The expression one-off is overused but it seems a more than usually apt description of Bainbridge. She was a genuine eccentric and eccentricity makes good copy. And she was also a fantastic, original writer and the fact that she never won the Booker, despite being nominated five times, seems more and more of a disgrace as each year passes.

If you’re interested to know who the sweet William in  Sweet William was or who the character of Scurra in Every Man For Himself was based on you will find it all here. Along with what made her publisher Colin Haycraft kick the draft of Watson’s Apology across the floor. Interestingly, King suggests that one of the reasons Bainbridge turned to historical fiction and away from writing which mined her own life, was because the complexities of her private life were such that she did not feel she could use that as material in her fiction any more.

In his excellent introduction King is very good on the subject of memory especially when it comes to fiction writers:

“Her interviews and her written memoirs are always brilliant, full of memorable quotes and anecdotes, but that was partly because she was never hampered by the feeling that she had to be literally accurate about the facts when recounting them.”

A polite way of stating that she had no compunction in making things up!

“All memory is fiction, which is why autobiographical accounts and historical ones, for that matter are notoriously inaccurate. We censor memories by recalling only those fragments we wish to remember.”

King’s job as her biographer is sorting the fibs from the facts and he does a very thorough job of it.

There is a lot here which is amusing including an assessment of her by the psychotherapist Charles Rycroft as being, ‘a hysteric with psychopathic tendencies.’

There is also hope for novelists who have been on the receiving end of bad reviews:

“No amount of mannered writing – and there is quite a lot of it – can conceal that Miss Bainbridge hasn’t much to say.” SUNDAY TELEGRAPH on A WEEKEND WITH CLAUDE

To The Hampstead and Highgate Express she stated:

“I’ve got some really terrible reviews, so I’ve just given up reading them.”

And yet she survived and thrived.

After reading this biography I was left with the impression that it is probably best never to trust what comes out of a writer’s mouth about themselves. If you want the truth you’re more likely to get it from their fiction.The act of  writing is exposure enough. When confronted with the perils of publicity what writer isn’t going to reach for the invisibility cloak and puff a bit of smoke in the air or hide behind their stuffed buffalo while pointing at a bullet hole.

Nowadays one wonders if someone like Beryl would have broken through. You can’t imagine her synopsis and three chapters would have made it out of any agent’s slush pile, not with her spelling. King suggests she was probably dyslexic.

Here is one of my favourite examples, a note typed to a friend when she was a bit pissed after a row with one of her lovers.

“I have had a violent argument. Surprise – he takes off his bliddy galoshes and lies down. Alright if he’s paying the bills, but wot a romantic set up, if he is my sooter. I have sed his hair cut is losey . . . andd I will neffer wash his underdrawers, not if he is paralised. He ses I have holes in my jumpers. But I sed I am an orther, and they have holes.”

This book comes highly recommended. It’s well written,  emotionally intelligent and fair minded in dealing with her highly complex private life. I should imagine that it’s going to appear on a great many of the lists suggesting books to buy as presents at Christmas. An extraordinary woman and a magnificent writer, Bainbridge has been well served by this sensitive and entertaining biography. Any writer out there wondering who might write their biography should give King a call. Now I’m off to buy a buffalo.

How about you? Are you interested in the lives of the authors you admire or do you find it an irrelevant and irritating distraction?

Q&A WITH WRITER COLIN BISSET

Author Colin Bisset

Today I’m very glad to welcome the writer, traveller and broadcaster, Colin Bisset to a Q&A on my blog. He’s written a wonderful book, Loving Le Corbusier, on Yvonne Gallis, wife of the world famous architect, Le Corbusier. I was eager to ask him some questions about writing in general and the process of writing this book in particular.

                                                         

1. When did you first hear about the ‘secret wife’ Yvonne and how long was it between then and you deciding to write a book about her?

I had intended writing a novel with Le Corbusier as a peripheral figure and so I re-read some of my old books on him. Yvonne was always described as a model from Monaco, which sounds rather glamorous, but photos showed her to be perfectly ordinary. Gradually I began to realise that no one really knew much about her. One article I read suggested that she might have been a prostitute, which I don’t believe. A biography of Le Corbusier by Nicholas Fox Weber pointed me in the direction of the published correspondence and from there I began to form a fuller image of her. I thought she might be a good way of looking at him but gradually I realised she was the story.

2. Could you describe a bit about your research process? Did you have letters etc? Was there a moment when Yvonne jumped out and came alive for you? When was that?

I read everything I could get my hands on, not only about Le Corbusier but also histories of France and biographies of people like Cocteau. I watched old French films from the 1930s, too. But the chief source was always the personal correspondence. Le Corbusier and Yvonne are both adoring in their letters but once you read between the lines then you start to form a slightly different picture. After so much reading I knew I had to get to France so off I trotted and spent a fantastic time following in her footsteps. It was then that Yvonne really came to life for me.

3. Did you suffer at all from Stockholm syndrome – being taken hostage by her? I remember there was a moment when I was writing about Florence Maybrick, a Victorian arsenic poisoner, when I thought she’s got me, my sympathies have been won over. I’m on her side no matter what! I had to work very hard after that to present a balanced picture.

When I visited their apartment in Boulogne-Billancourt the place was empty apart from the person who let me in, so I was able to walk around, imagining their life there. When I went on to the roof terrace and saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and that you couldn’t get to the edge of the roof and look down into the street, that was when I really felt the pain that Yvonne must have felt being there, removed from the liveliness of the centre. It was hardly a grand literary moment but I said in my mind to Yvonne, “I’ll see you right”– a real Aussie phrase. Ever since then I wanted to champion her side of things. She was such an unpretentious person that I didn’t feel I had to sugar-coat anything about her.

 

4. Simon Schama talks about historians becoming so immersed in their research that they begin to ventriloquise the voices of the past. Did you experience anything as useful as that!

Yvonne was so much about unsaid things, her unspoken thoughts, her uncertainty. Can I say that I felt the power of her silences? Although of course there were moments when she was pretty vocal with her husband!

5. So if you have to chose between Rue Jacob (in St Germain where Yvonne started her life with Le Corbusier) and the apartment in Boulogne-Billancourt (24, Rue Nungesser et Coli – 24NC – where they moved to) which would it be? I have to say I’d never have moved from the cluttered attic!

Oh, the romance of a cluttered attic, especially in the 6th Arrondissement! Boulogne-Billancourt is an interesting area with some rather sumptuous 1930s buildings but it doesn’t compare to Rue Jacob. It was totally not Yvonne’s sort of place. Although of course now Rue Jacob is so fashionable that I don’t think Yvonne would recognise it, although the Petit Saint Benoit restaurant seems unchanged.

6. One of my favourite scenes is when she and Le Corbusier meet up with Picasso and his girlfriend Francoise towards the end of the book. There’s a conversation there between the two women in which you say a great deal about the situation of women who are ‘muses’ to ‘great’ men. Do you have a favourite scene?

Too many! I always grit my teeth at the tragi-comic scenes with Le Corbusier’s mother as Yvonne tries to do the right thing. I like the tiny scene in the Pyrenees when Yvonne and Ed (the name Le Corbusier was called by his family) are collecting kindling in the bitter cold and they suddenly erupt into uncontrollable laughter. It says something of their essential closeness, I think, despite everything.

7. Your love of France shines out of the book could you tell me a bit about that?

It’s almost an affliction, my love for France! I think I’ve always enjoyed its difference. As a child we often went to France for summer holidays, or passed through it on the way to Italy or Spain. I remember houses with balconies (always a sucker for a balcony), people eating at tables outside, and crumbling old towns (and fetid loos, in the 1960s). I was always sad returning to the UK. As an adult I often considered moving to France, and I did do a little bit of work there as an interior designer. Now I live in Australia, I love returning to France each year if I can. It feels like home – a certain old fashioned quality, the love of food and wine, the fantastic buildings and the natural beauty. I even watch the French news most mornings on the TV as we get that here.

looking across the hall at 24NC

Looking across the hall at 24NC

8. Could you talk a bit about the technical choices you made in the book? Were you ever tempted to write the whole thing in the first person for example? You have two first person pieces at the beginning and end which are very vivid.

Good question. I started out writing in the 3rd person but abandoned it about halfway through because it felt too distant. Writing in the 1st person gave me a much stronger insight into who Yvonne really was, using her voice, but it had a certain clunkiness because I also wanted to convey certain information about what was happening around her, and I had to simplify the language as she was an uneducated sort. I missed writing descriptive passages and I often find that reading something in the 1st person can become a bit hectoring, like you’re sitting next to a bore who keeps talking about herself.  So I put it back into the 3rd person and it felt much better, more spacious. The exercise of writing in the 1st person was a vital part of this process, though, and I think it’s a good exercise to get inside a character’s head. But I wanted to keep the sense that she was talking to the reader directly which is why I bookended it with 1st person scenes. I suppose going into the 3rd person at the beginning of the novel is rather like the traditional fuzzy screen in a film.  

9. Was this a very different experience to writing your other book, Not Always to Plan? If so in what way?

‘Not Always to Plan’ was different in many ways, especially being set in modern day Australia, although I managed to slip in a bit of Le Corbusier. ‘Loving Le Corbusier’ required a different headspace in that I had to be factually responsible and didn’t have the freedom to invent so much. I wanted to follow the arc of Yvonne’s life and although I wrote in my first draft scenes when she was a girl in Monaco in the 1900s, I got rid of them because they were purely fictional. The essence of sitting down and writing was the same, though – becoming so absorbed in a character that the hours pass by unnoticed. I love that process.

10. Now then we’ve got to talk about what Le Corbusier did to the dog, Pinceau. I found that incredibly chilling. If he’d done that to your dog what would you have done?

 It is chilling although it wasn’t that unusual at the time. Taxidermy was a huge thing in the late 19th century, too. But it does show the gulf between Ed and Yvonne at that stage. I’d struggle to like, let alone love someone who did that with my beloved pet.

 

the high bed at 24NC

The high bed at 24NC

11. “Artists, she thought, were like horses they needed space or you might get hurt” Excellent quote – it made me laugh  and I have to say it rang a few personal bells – would you care to elaborate?

I’m glad you like that – I’m rather proud of it, although I’m not intentionally quoting anyone (to my knowledge). Don’t you think artists are like horses, rather wonderful to watch but temperamental and prone to galloping away? Ed was certainly someone who needed his own space. I’m not sure what my artist friends will make of it, though!

12. You’re given an unlimited budget to build a house anywhere in the world – where do you build it and which architect (living or dead) do you use?

The view from the area around the cemetery at Roquebrune where Yvonne is buried is simply breathtaking. I love that whole area – the sparkling sea, the wild mountains, and close enough to the Alps and Italy for the odd little sortie. So that’s the place. Architect? Of course I should say Le Corbusier but I won’t. I do love Frank Lloyd Wright’s horizontal lines and the Arts & Crafts use of wood and stone. But a building that was engineered to work with the climate would be the most important thing now, with lots of glass and a huge terrace overlooking the sea. Oh, and a fantastic writing room, of course!

13. Could you tell me a bit about books which influenced you or made you want to be a writer?

When I was a teenager I adored the novels of Iris Murdoch, the sense of civilised people behaving badly, and I used to scrawl terribly turgid pastiches of those. I suppose I’ve always been attracted to domestic dramas of some sort –  Franzen’s The Corrections blew me away, and  Mark Haddon’s lovely A Spot of Bother was a big influence on my style of writing. Alan Hollinghurst’s descriptive writing is so beautifully precise while seemingly effortless. And bringing humour into any novel is vital, I think – it releases the pressure sometimes. Kingsley Amis is the master of ambushing the reader with a seemingly innocuous phrase – a one-line description of people on a bus, for instance – that has you on your knees with laughter. I’d love to do that!

14. What’s the next thing you’re working on?

I used to do a radio series called Design Files, giving a potted history of a particular object, anything from a pepper mill to the paper clip. Often the design originated in France. I’d like to explore that more – a travel book of sorts, perhaps. For fiction, I’ve got the 1980s swirling around my head at the moment so I’m not sure where that’ll lead me.

Thank you Colin for a fascinating insight into the writing of this wonderful book and lots of good luck with it and your forthcoming projects.

Here is the link to Colin’s blog:  

https://www.colinbisset.com

And the Amazon link for the book: 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01FE4FNCQ/

All photos are from Colin’s blog and used with his permission.

 

REVIEW: LOVING LE CORBUSIER

Yvonne Gallis

Loving Le Corbusier by Colin Bisset tells the story of Yvonne Gallis, a working class girl from Monaco, who came to Paris in 1918 at the age of twenty-six, looking for adventure and romance. Working at the salon, Jove, known for dressing the higher ranks of the ‘oldest profession’, she caught the eye of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, later to be known as Le Corbusier, the world famous architect.

This book, told from her point of view, traces the course of their relationship from the early, happy days in the Rue Jacob in St Germain, through to the end of her life in 1957. It is not simply the story of an archetypal ‘odd couple’ but also a beautiful depiction of France during a war-torn part of its history.

At the core of the book lies the mystery of human attraction. Which one of us hasn’t looked at a couple we know and wondered what on earth they see in each other and why they stay together?  Down to earth and not particularly interested in art or ‘Ed’s’ (as he was called in his family) buildings or books, Yvonne was an unsophisticated working-class girl, who managed to capture the heart of a rich and sophisticated man. And what did Ed see in her? Maybe a woman who  would accept that he did not want children, (“my career will always have to come first … I’ll be away so much researching and building.”), a woman who would tolerate his extremely long absences and  a woman who would endure him doing pretty much exactly as he pleased – an affair with Josephine Baker is hinted at and one presumes there were others. He must also have been struck by her beauty and her spirit. At one point Le Corbusier rather chillingly comments:

“We are influenced by every object around us so it’s vital to make sure that we live with only beautiful things that function properly because only those items will bring us happiness.”

Yvonne however, although certainly beautiful, is a human being with human needs and eventually she does start to ‘malfunction’. First she is removed from Rue Jacob, which she adores, to an apartment in one of  Le Corbusier’s buildings out in Porte Molitor in Boulogne-Billancourt. Then as war breaks out he parks her in Vézelay, while trying to get work with the Vichy government and travelling to Algeria. After the war is over, Le Corbusier stays away longer and longer, travelling to amongst other places, South America, the United States and India and the wire-haired schnauzer, Pinceau, although much loved, is no substitute for his presence. She misses her husband and turns to the bottle for comfort. Finally, he hires a man servant, Luan, to look after her and try to control her drinking during his absences. Arguments increase, plates are thrown but they stay together.

One of the clues as to why Yvonne accepts her situation is perhaps provided by two revealing scenes with their respective mothers, a fairly ghastly pair. When Yvonne finally gets to meet Ed’s snobby, chilly mother, Madame Jeanneret says:

“Edouard is very taken with you and of course you are a very lucky girl to have met a man like him.”

Later, when she takes Ed to meet her parents in Monaco, her own mother’s vicious disapproval and criticism of her, everyone and everything makes Yvonne’s sick to her stomach. In fact in the context of her family it seems amazing that she has emerged with her joie de vivre in tact and it makes her attachment to Le Corbusier very understandable. At least she knows that she is loved and she is materially looked after.

There is a lot of gentle humour here as well. When Ed shows her a sexually explicit sketch of a woman, she asks him why he’s been out buying pornography. On being told he’s been given the sketch by Picasso who “had heard he was in love with a voluptuous woman and he thought he’d appreciate it,” she sighs and says “Well, he’s really very famous these days so I suppose we can at least sell it.” Visiting the new apartment for the first time, she is bewildered by the bidet, which is out in the bedroom next to her dressing table and not particularly taken by a bed which has metal legs a meter high. Le Corbusier may be a visionary and ‘a god’ to some people but he never manages to sort out the leaking roof of the house he built for his parents.

In the end I was left wondering if Yvonne wouldn’t have been happier if she’d never met him and instead married a working class Parisian boy and had the large family she craved. At least then she wouldn’t have had to have a marble dining room table that was designed with the idea of a mortuary slab in mind. When, towards the end of her life, he builds her “a palace by the sea” in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, it is a tiny shed with a narrow bed, the head of which is close to the toilet bowl.

You don’t have to be interested in Le Corbusier, architecture or the history of France  to enjoy this beautifully written book, although if you are you’ll find a great deal to savour; Loving Le Corbusier is for anyone who has ever wondered about love and the strange workings of the human heart. At the end I was left thinking that if there is a moral to be drawn from the book it is perhaps that, if a man claims he is a visionary, it might be a good idea to give him as wide a berth as possible. However, I may be influenced by an inability to forgive Le Corbusier for what he did to Pinceau. No, I’m not going to tell you. Read the book to find out!

Below is the link to Colin’s website which has  lots of fantastic photos and writing about Le Corbusier’s buildings.

http://www.colinbisset.com

Here’s the amazon link for the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01FE4FNCQ/

And here is Colin on twitter:

LUCK BRINGER

Last year one of my favourite books was The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebank. I was surprised. It’s not that I’ve got anything against sheep, it’s just that before reading it I never would have thought I would become so fascinated by sheep and shepherds. The fact that I did is testament to the quality of James’s writing.

I was thinking about that book reading Luck Bringer by Nick Brown and I was thinking who knew I could become this interested in triremes and hoplites? But with writing this good why wouldn’t I?

“The smell of a trireme hits you, a mixture of sweat, urine, damp wood and salt. In rough weather this is augmented by vomit, and in battle by the effect of looseness of bowels as fear grips the heart.”

Luck Bringer is the story of Mandrocles, a teenage boy, who is handed over to the Greek renegade general, Miltiades, by his father to get him out of a bit of trouble he’s got into at home. In this case definitely a jump from frying pan to fire. The Persian army is on the prowl and Miltiades ends up fleeing to Athens, where he is viewed with suspicion both by the aristocrats, (the Alkmaionidai), and the demos. The boy gets his nickname “The Luck Bringer” because early on he deflects a blow intended for Miltiades and the device is a clever one because, as the bringer of luck, he becomes a talisman never allowed to stray too far from the general’s side and is therefore an observer of the politics, trickery and villainy which swirl around his master.

One of my favourite scenes is when a play “The Sack of Miletos” is  being performed in Athens:

“The bloody slaughter scars our soil

Our young dead now, thrown from walls

Maidens ravaged, crones lamenting

Youths gelded in the blood pit …”

The performance causes a riot because the sack has taken place relatively recently and the populace is frightened that this is exactly what will happen to Athens soon at the hands of the Persians.

Characters you may have heard of (Themistocles, Aeschylus, Pythagoras) either appear or are referenced. Here’s an entertaining description of Pythagoras:

“I tend to think of him as a potentially decent military engineer gone astray. His notions of the soul and eating beans, his long windedness and lack of understanding of the affairs of men may have won him a reputation for wisdom … but to me he was a potentially good craftsman who became crazed.”

There are also some funny and scathing comments about the Spartans, who failed to turn up and help the Athenians at The Battle of Marathon, which is the climax of the book. This was the battle in which a ragtag army of 10,000 Athenian hoplites beat a professional army of 20,000 Persians.

“And where were the Spartans, the showy, heel dragging buggers then, when the whole world held its breath as the Persian Empire turned its full might on a small city?”

“Everything that’s good or makes sense about life is inverted in Sparta. A place that chooses a regime that keeps thousands down so that a small group can waste the richness of the land in this type of posturing vanity.”

Reading this book reminded me how much I enjoyed fiction set in the classical age and how little of it I have read since I devoured Mary Renault, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Robert Graves in my teens. At the beginning I became slightly confused by the politics but that ironed itself out soon enough.I loved the descriptions of the triremes and what it was like to be in one when it rammed another ship. The moment Mandrocles puts on his heavy helmet and his world narrows to the eye slits will stay with me for a long time. If you want to know what it was like to fight at the Battle of Marathon my guess is this is as close as you’ll get.  Luck Bringer is an example of a vivid imagination fertilizing the seeds of detailed historical research. A great read. And I do love that cover. Below is the link to Nick’s website.

http://www.nickbrownbooks.com

THE MAN IN THE CANARY WAISTCOAT

Recently I’ve been reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’d reached half way through and was wondering if perhaps I wouldn’t finish it. Although compelling in some ways, the book was beginning to irritate and frustrate me. I decided to take a break from it and began to read Susan Grossey’s book instead. I am very glad that I did because she makes writing historical fiction look easy and the reading of it a great pleasure. The Man in the Canary Waistcoat is set in 1825 in London (“this great, filthy, threatening, promising , thriving city …” – not much change there, then) and its protagonist is Samuel Plank, a magistrate’s constable. The story is about financial fraud concerning investments in the new energy of gas lighting. Sam Plank is helped out in his investigations by his engaging wife Martha and also his junior Constable Wilson. Here is a touching description of Martha.

“Despite having been married to a police officer for over twenty years, Martha retained her faith in the essential goodness of people – indeed I counted on it. On days when I had seen the very worst that someone can do to his fellow man I comforted myself that an evening by the fireside with my wife would convince me once again that although I moved in a world of shadows, I identified them as shadows only because of the lightness that Martha brought to my life.”

Grossey  is particularly good at quick, vivid descriptions of people and place. Here is the man and his waistcoat:

“His fair hair was cut fashionably, and his clothes – from the bright yellow waistcoat to the artfully arranged cravat -suggested someone with altogether too close an acquaintance with his tailor and his looking glass.”

Here a young law clerk:

“The young man who answered my knock was wearing a coat clearly inherited from someone much larger; it hung from his shoulders, and he repeatedly and pointlessly pushed back the cuffs. The ink smudges on his fingers told me that he was a junior clerk, and his relegation to door duties told me that he was not much good at it.”  

And here’s a lovely  description of a nasty bit of weather:

“If it is true that the wind drives creatures and men mad, then that first week in August would have seen Bedlam bursting at the seams. It was a hot dry wind – coming all the way from southern France, they said – and it whipped and whistled through London for five days straight. The draymen’s horses whinnied and stamped their discomfort as the foetid gusts swirled around them, while the livestock being driven through the streets bleated and bellowed their unease and took every opportunity to break away from their herders.”

The plot leads to the Marshalsea debtors’ prison and also the ‘twisting alleyways of Wapping’ where Plank was brought up as a child due to his father being a lighterman. There is enough archaic language here to make you feel you are in a different era and a useful glossary at the back to check on unfamiliar words. This is the second in the Plank novels and I’m now going to go backwards and take a look at the first one Fatal Forgery. My only slight quibble is that I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer. Plank and his associates are  amiable company and I didn’t want the book to end. Of course, it may have been that in comparison with A Little Life (a long book) the next book I read was always going to seem short.

Here’s the link to Susan’s blog: https://susangrossey.wordpress.com/purchase/