On World Book Day yesterday I was pleased to be invited to take part in a special online eventrun by CoProduce Care, a not-for-profit organisation connecting people, communities and organisations to influence the decisions affecting the care community.
I’ve been involved for many years with World Book Day both as a parent and when I worked for the children’s reading charity Read for Good. Knowing how a love of books and reading can transform the lives of people of all ages, I was really pleased that CoProduce Care wanted to extend the celebration to adults also, and in particular to the providers and clients of social care services.
CoProduce Care’s event, expertly hosted by Sophie Chester-Glyn, was livestreamed on World Book Day and is now available to watch at your leisure. Click the image below to watch on Youtube:
I’m introduced six minutes into the show, but it’s worth watching the whole thing to enjoy the talks and readings by historical novelist and historian Lucienne Boyce and YA author Luke Palmer, and the Q&A session with Sophie.
About My Talk
I was asked to speak for ten minutes – five minutes talking about books and my writing life, and five minutes reading from one of my stories, choosing a passage relevant to CoProduce Care’s activities.
I don’t usually use a script for talks, but as time was so tight and I wanted to make best use of it, I wrote my talk down beforehand, and today I’m sharing it below in case anyone would like to read it.
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be part of this event celebrating the joy of books and reading and writing.
I’ve always been an avid reader, and I enjoy escaping into a good book. When times are tough, books can be especially comforting and even healing. When I had pneumonia a few years ago, the gift of a box set of P G Wodehouse novels seemed a better tonic than any medication. During the pandemic, starting each day by quietly enjoying a chapter or two of a good book has been grounding and calming.
If you’re not sure reading is for you, maybe you just haven’t found the right book yet. To help you find books you’ll love, visit your local library and have a chat with a librarian – they love being asked for recommendations, and they’ll be very pleased to help you find books that you would enjoy.
Like reading, writing has been very therapeutic for me in times of trouble or distress. For many years I kept diaries, and for the last twelve years I’ve been a blogger. I also enjoy writing fiction and non-fiction for other people to read.
Like reading, writing can be an enjoyable hobby that costs you next to nothing. If you’ve never tried writing, give it a go. Writing for your eyes only is fine – no need to share it unless you want to. All you need is a notebook and pen. Just write whatever comes into your head for ten minutes or so first thing in the morning or last thing at night. If you keep at it for a few weeks, you’ll find yourself writing what matters to you, and understanding and working through your own feelings. You may uncover thoughts and feelings you didn’t even know you had, and you’ll feel better for it. You might even find yourself writing stories you’d like to share, as Lucienne, Luke and I are sharing ours today.
I’ve written nine novels and lots of shorter stories. I write what is known in the trade as cosy mystery. This means that despite a crime being the jumping-off point for the plot, the stories are never dark or graphic or bloodthirsty. Instead they provide gentle, upbeat entertainment that leaves you smiling – and they often make you laugh out loud along the way. My stories are all set in the Cotswolds. They have a strong sense of place and a cast of quirky characters, most of whom are lovable, and the villains are the kind you love to hate.
My inspiration comes from my home village in the Cotswolds. When I moved here 30 years ago, I was immediately impressed by how people here look out for each other and support each other in good times and bad times, and I write to celebrate that sense of community. My stories show that when people take time to get to know and understand each other, the world can be a more tolerant and generous place. The conflict in my stories – and also some of the comedy – often comes from initial misunderstandings that are eventually resolved. I hope they might inspire readers to be equally caring about their own neighbours.
About My Reading
For my reading, I chose an extract from The Natter of Knitters, my quick-read novelette, about a yarnbombing event that goes haywire, thanks to the intervention of Ariel, an odd newcomer to the village, who stages a one-woman protest under the slogan:
Today I’m delighted to welcome my good friend, the award-winning author Lucienne Boyce, to tell us about her wonderful eighteenth-century historical mystery novel To the Fair Land. When I first read it, I was captivated from the opening page by the vivid sense of place, which travels from London to Bristol to the mythical “Fair Land” and back again.
I’ve gone on to enjoy her subsequent Dan Foster series of Bow Street Runner mysteries, which to date includes three novels and a novella, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. Today, however, Lucienne is going to take us on a voyage to the mystical land at the heart of her first novel.
Lucienne, welcome to my blog! Usually the first question I ask my “Travels with my Book” guests is to pinpoint their book’s setting on the globe, but in your case, this is a little tricky – can you please explain why?
To The Fair Land is about, and partly set in, the Fair Land – but I can only pinpoint a theoretical location for it, since it is a mythical land!
Its existence is based on theories of the Great Southern Continent, a great land mass in the southern hemisphere which fifth-century mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras argued must exist in order to balance the land masses in the north.
For the next 2,000 years, map makers confidently included it on their maps, and explorers from many nations went looking for it – Dutch, French, Portuguese, and British. In the seventeenth century the Somerset buccaneer William Dampier tried to find it. He ended up at Australia – then called New Holland by the Dutch explorers who got there before him – which he thought a pretty poor place.
In 1764 the British Admiralty sent John Byron – Foulweather Jack Byron – to the Pacific but he didn’t find anything and some people thought he didn’t try very hard. After him was Samuel Wallis in 1766, who reported sighting the continent.
Then in 1768, the Admiralty sent Britain’s most famous navigator, Captain James Cook, to look for the Great Southern Continent. Cook’s voyage on the Endeavour lasted three years and he didn’t find the Continent. He undertook a second voyage between 1772 and 1775, and it was on that voyage that he demonstrated once and for all – by sailing across it – that there was no Great Southern Continent. But in 1772 his second voyage had only just begun, and it was still possible to believe that the Continent existed.
And that’s where To The Fair Land comes in.
Please whet readers’ appetites for the voyage with to the Fair Land with an overview of your book.
To The Fair Land is a historical mystery with elements of fantasy. When, in 1789, struggling writer Ben Dearlove attempts to track down the author of an anonymous, best-selling book about a fictitious journey to the South Seas, he is caught up in a quest much more dangerous than the search for a reclusive author. Before long he finds himself pitted against people who will lie, steal and even kill to stop him discovering the truth abut the voyage of the Miranda.
What makes the Fair Land such a great setting for your story?
Placing a fantasy setting within a researched historical context is a way of reflecting the period in which the book is set and the elements of that history to which I was drawn.
It was a time when our world was still largely unknown, when charts and maps had huge blank spaces in them, and men undertook epic journeys with nothing but four inches of wood between them and destruction. It’s a time when the existence of the Fair Land was still possible.
People believed in the Great Southern Continent on no firmer evidence than that a Greek philosopher had made it up.
It was a myth, yet people still risked their lives looking for it.
The eighteenth century may have been a great age of exploration, but that rational, scientific quest for knowledge was underpinned by dreams and imaginings. That says a great deal about the power of myth!
But the dreams of distant lands were not only about discovery. These exploratory voyages were also motivated by greed and acquisitiveness, and culminated in a devastating process of colonisation and exploitation of other lands.
So the fantasy of the Fair Land is a way of exploring these ideas. It’s also a way of contrasting the values of more technologically advanced societies with the people they look upon as their inferiors.
And, of course, as it’s a fantasy, I can make it what I like!
Another question I always ask guests in this spot, which is not as straightforward for you to answer, is what is your relationship with the country in your novel and how much of your life have you spent there?
I have spent many a happy hour in the Fair Land in my imagination – though it’s tinged with sadness too as I know that the future for the country and its people is bleak since its discovery by “civilisation”.
In fact, I have always thought I might one day write a sequel to To The Fair Land continuing the story of some of its main characters, and exploring what happens next in the Fair Land. [Yes please, Lucienne!]
To The Fair Land is also set in the literary world of London with its coffee houses, book shops and theatres; and in and around the taverns and quays of Bristol. I lived in London for many years, and have walked in many of the places my characters inhabit. I live in Bristol now, and its rich maritime history was a major inspiration for To The Fair Land.
What is special about the people native to the Fair Land?
To The Fair Land has its roots in the tradition of utopias, dystopias and mythical lands that mankind has dreamed of for centuries – the island of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s Herland, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, William Morris’s Wondrous Isles, C S Lewis’s Narnia, El Dorado, Camelot…
The Fair Land is a utopia. Its people are strong and healthy, not distorted and crippled by industrial labour, poor housing, starvation or subsistence wages. They are generous, peaceful, and ignorant of the ‘arts’ of war. Their attitudes to property are the opposite of the rapacious explorers who seek to colonise their land. If they argue over property, it is “not for the right to possess, but for the right to give away”. In London, Ben Dearlove sees children begging; in the Fair Land no child is left to go hungry or uncared for – an adult “would no more allow the child of another to suffer than they would allow their own”. They live in a beautiful setting, which is reflected in their love of music, story telling and dancing.
I did say it was a fantasy!
Where is your latest book set?
My latest book is Death Makes No Distinction, the third Dan Foster Mystery. Dan is a Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist, and the story is set in late eighteenth-century London. Dan is investigating two murders, one of a former mistress of the Prince of Wales in her Mayfair mansion, the other of an unnamed beggar woman found beaten to death in a tavern out-house in Holborn. His investigations take him into both the richest and foulest parts of the city.
The Bow Street Runners of London – or Principal Officers as they preferred to be called – often investigated crimes in other parts of the country. The first Dan Foster Mystery, Bloodie Bones, is set in Somerset, where Dan is sent to investigate the murder of a local gamekeeper during anti-land enclosure protests.
In The Butcher’s Block Dan’s investigation of the murder of a fellow police officer takes him from Southwark, London (involving that huge journey to the south of the river!), to Sheerness in Kent, and back to London.
The Fatal Coin, a prequel novella to the Dan Foster Mysteries, is set in Staffordshire on and around Cannock Chase, as Dan goes on the trail of a highwayman and forger. It’s very much part of the landscape of my childhood, as I was born and brought up in Wolverhampton.
Where will your next book be set?
I’m currently working on the next Dan Foster Mystery, which will be set on Anglesey where Dan goes to bring back a smuggler charged with the murder of a Kentish exciseman.
EXTRACT OF TO THE FAIR LAND
To the Fair Land opens in a London theatre. In the eighteenth century going to a play was not always the tame past-time it is now. In this scene, Ben Dearlove is at Covent Garden Theatre watching The Life and Death of Captain Cook, a play about the (British version of) the death of the nation’s hero, Captain Cook, in Hawaii.
The Captain flung back his head and announced at length that he was proud to die in the service of his country. Then he ran through a couple of the foe for heroic good measure. His screaming enemies flung themselves upon him and he went down in a flurry of clubs and spears.
The curtain descended and pandemonium broke out. Wailing women flung themselves into one another’s arms. Men were not ashamed to be seen wiping their eyes, or blowing their noses on their sleeves. The spectators in the galleries applauded so enthusiastically it was a wonder there were no broken arms. The theatre echoed with cries of “Cook for England!”, “Bravo Captain Cook!”, and “God Save the King!”
Inflamed by the atmosphere, the front rows rushed the stage, where the boldest and most agile attempted to climb over the spikes, perhaps intending to slaughter the Hawaiians. It was a hot, affecting moment, and Ben and Campbell were on their feet with the rest.
“I’m off backstage before someone else gets there!” said a voice in Ben’s left ear. “Captain Cook was a fool,” hissed another in his right.
“What?” He turned in confusion from side to side.
“You know, the girl the Captain turned down. Catch me turning her away from my bed!” That was Campbell to Ben’s left.
“Captain Cook’s discoveries! A fool’s discoveries – little islands and barren shores. I wouldn’t give you that for Captain Cook’s discoveries!”
The thin woman to his right was a picture of madness, talking, gesticulating, her voice growing shriller and louder. Ben frowned a warning, willing her to be quiet, but she was oblivious to all hints of danger.
“What did she say?” shrieked a female in the next row.
“Why, she says Captain Cook’s a fool!” rejoined her gossip.
“D’ye hear that, gen’lemen?” This to their escorts. “’Ere, Mr Timmins, ask her what she means by it.”
“I ask her? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
There was no need to ask her anything. She had no thought of keeping her heresies to herself. “Captain Cook found nothing, nothing at all… yet they make a hero of him. A hero of that blunderer!”
“Lookee, miss, don’t you go mullironing a brave and a gallant gen’leman in my ’earing,” cried the first woman.
“No, shut your mouth, you damned bitch!” added Mr Timmins.
“Ay, Mrs Harridan, you can keep your pinions to yourself,” put in a gen’leman in the row behind, leaning forward to give the woman a shove in the small of her back. She stumbled and looked about her in bewilderment. It was only natural for the Timmins ladies to feel that she committed a further outrage with her “obstropolous” look. They appealed to the pit at large: “Did you hear what she said?”
“Yes, and I saw her laugh with the murdering savages.”
“Who does she think she is, coming in and upsetting decent people?”
“Give her a ducking in the water trough!”
“No, roll her in the kennels.”
Heedlessly, Ben’s neighbour babbled on. “He turned back too soon. He didn’t find it. What a mercy is a fool! What would have happened to them all if he had?”
Ben grasped her arm. “Madam, for your own sake, be quiet!”
An orange hit her in the back and she staggered into him. He spied another piece of fruit flying through the air and put his arm around her to ward it off. He missed and it caught her on the shoulder before smashing on the boards at her feet. She looked down at the pulpy mess in astonishment. Gradually it dawned on her that she was under attack. He felt her sudden, panicky resistance to his encircling arm. Before he could assure her that he was not one of the crowd, Campbell tugged at his sleeve.
“Come on, Ben!”
“I can’t,” he said helplessly.
“Why not? Od’s bobs, leave her!”
“They’ll tear her apart.”
“It’s only a Billingsgate fight. Leave them to it.”
Doubtfully, Ben relinquished the woman. Unexpectedly deprived of his support she slumped onto the bench. Campbell was already pushing his way out of the pit. Ben followed. A raucous howl made him look back.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT LUCIENNE BOYCE
Lucienne has a terrific website featuring lots of background material related to her books. It is also addresses her other writing passion: the history of the women’s suffrage, about which she’s written two books. She also issues a very well-presented occasional newsletter featuring more interesting information. What’s more, when you sign up for her newsletter, you will receive a free ebook The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign – visit https://www.lucienneboyce.com/newsletter/.
While I’m often a little sceptical about some of the quotes on book covers by famous authors, critics and other celebrities, particularly where the same names appear over and over again, I’m always pleased to be asked to read other writers’ books prior to publication, especially if they or their publishers are after an endorsement quote from me.
I hope not, because I do genuinely read the whole of each book myself, and whatever is attributed to me on their cover has been composed by me rather than any PR. ( I spent a large part of my former career working in PR, so am familiar with the territory!)
Usually any such requests come directly from authors, and usually they are friends of mine from the independent sector, publishing their own books. But recently publishing house Endeavour Quillapproached me to read and review the latest book from an author new to me, Amy Myers. Amy has written many books, including a series of historical detective stories set in Victorian London – the Tom Wasp Mysteries, in which the eponymous detective is a chimney sweep.
Swept Off My Feet by a Chimney Sweep
Despite my to-read list being huge, I have had a soft spot for London chimney sweeps ever since I fell in love with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins at the age of 7. I am also addicted to historical mysteries, such as Lucienne Boyce’s Dan Foster and Susan Grossey‘s Sam Plank series). And I’m a Londoner by birth, though have lived in the Cotswolds for nearly 30 years now. So I couldn’t resist this offer, and rapidly tore through Tom Wasp and the Seven Deadly Sins. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Tom and his young sidekick, whom he’d rescued from climbing chimneys; the colourful scene-setting in the city reminiscent of the movie sets of Oliver!(yes, I have read the Dickens novel too, and seen the stage show, but Myers’ books was very filmic); and the plot based around the London bookselling scene (a topic also addressed beautifully, albeit at a slightly earlier era, in Lucienne Boyce’s novel To The Fair Land).
Behind the Scenes with “Little Darlings”
Whether or not I’m asked to provide a cover endorsement, it’s still gratifying to be offered advance review copies (ARCS, as they’re known in the trade), as it allows you a sneak preview of a book before it hits the shops. Thus last night I stayed up late to finish the most recent ARC I’ve been sent, the wonderful Little Darlings, debut novel of Melanie Golding, due for publication in May by HQ (a Harper Collins imprint).
It’s an eerie thriller about the mother of twins who becomes convinced her babies are changelings. I’d describe it as the love child of Rosemary’s Baby and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’m sure it’s going to be as big a hit as both of those. (The film rights have been sold already, even though the book’s not out till May.)
I first came across Melanie Golding when one of her short stories was picked at Stroud Short Stories, a regional competition of which I’m co-judge. When she read it to the audience, I knew I was hearing an exceptionally gifted and accomplished writer, and I’m thrilled that she has taken her writing to novel length. Her contract for this book was one of the biggest and most shouted-about last year, and you’re all going to be hearing great things about the book once it hits the shops.
Sneak Preview of Little Darlings at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (Saturday 27th April)
So I’m particularly thrilled that Melanie has agreed to read an extract at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the free local liffest that I run in my village, prior to her book’s publication. So if you’d like to be ahead of the general reading public, and are in striking distance of the Cotswolds, do come along on the day – admission’s free, no advance booking is required. Click here to download the full festival programme and see what else you won’t want to miss during our action-packed day.
And Finally, A 99p Challenge…
If you’re at a loose end for something to read tonight, and like reading ebooks, you might like to take advantage of the special offer running at present on Best Murder in Show, the first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series – just 99p/99c or the equivalent in your local currency, from Amazon stores around the world. (Also available as a paperback to order from all good bookshops.) But hurry, the offer ends on 7th March, and after that it reverts to full price. Here’s the link which should take you to the local Amazon store wherever you live. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that this book carries a lovely endorsement quote from the ever-generous Katie Fforde!
What will you be reading this weekend? The new thriller The Grass Trail by A A Abbott is currently top of my to-read pile – and it’s hot off the press!
Launched from a Prison Cell
I confess – I’ve allowed it to leapfrog to the top of the pile, having acquired my copy only this Tuesday, inspired to read it by the author’s excellent launch event in Bristol that evening, to which my sister and I were pleased to be invited.
A A Abbottis a Bristol-based author whom I first met last year when we were both part of a local author event at Foyles’ Cabot Circus, Bristol branch, along with historical novelists Lucienne Boyce and David Penny. She’s an energetic and engaging character, very upbeat and passionate about her writing, at the same time as being a high-flying accountant, and it is her career in finance and commerce that inform the worlds of her books.
I so enjoyed her company and her earlier books – The Bride’s Trail, The Vodka Trailand Up in Smoke – that I invited her to take part in the most recent Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. She’s a great speaker and good fun, so I knew that this week’s launch event would be enjoyable. To add to the fun, she’d booked a very apposite but unusual venue: the old prison cells of Bristol’s former police station in Bridewell Street, now a commercial venue called The Island, but retaining the forbidding atmosphere of its previous purpose.
First, we were invited to join her in a long room painted entirely in black – a sinister and dramatic setting for Michael MacMahon, another local author friend (author of Back to the Black, funnily enough, a self-help book about personal finance). Michael’s an actor, voice artist and coach, specialising in public speaking (his next book will be a guide to making effective wedding speeches), and he is also a Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest regular. His memorable rendition of Prospero’s speech is now a regular part of the Festival’s traditional closing ceremony, and it makes my spine tingle every time. (I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t think to ask him on Tuesday whether this was Prospero’s Cell!)
Here his role was to interview Helen (A A Abbott is her pen name, artfully chosen to put her at the top of any alphabetical list of authors!), and they made a great double-act, talking about this book and her writing in general.
Then we were led away to the…
… where Helen gamely treated us to a reading from the opening of her new book, which is set in a prison cell.
The lively opening scene, in which prisoner Shaun Halloran is introduced to his new cellmate, made me laugh out loud (a bit echoey in a prison cell!) and left me keen to read the rest asap.
Next Book, Please, David Penny!
By coincidence, next evening there was another event that would have had me grabbing a copy of David Penny‘s latest book, The Incubus, if only I hadn’t already read it! He was featured on the television programme A Place in the Sun, filmed back in February when he and his lovely wife Megan were guests on the show seeking a new holiday home in the Axarquia region of Spain in which his historical novels are set. It’s now available to watch on Channel 4 on demand here.
Fortunately, the same can’t be said of Lucienne Boyce‘s books – although I’ve read all her fiction and enjoyed it very much, I have on my Kindle her latest non-fiction book, The Road to Representation, a collection of essays about the Suffragette movement, always a fascinating subject, and this little book will be perfect to dip into in between the fiction.
What will you be reading this weekend? I’d love to know!
This is the first in a new weekly series of posts on my blog, sharing my favouriterecent reads every Friday and recommending them as weekendreads. This feature will supersede the book blog that I’ve been writing for the last couple of years, as I was finding it too much of a strain to keep two websites running in parallel. In time I’ll move the reviews from the other site back to the archive here, and you’ll always be able to find a complete list of the reviews held on this site on the index page here. Given that I read at least one book at week, and often more, I should have no shortage of material, but I’ll only ever share here the books that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Today I’d like to recommend two historical detective series that I’ve been reading in parallel over the last few years, following their development from the day the first in each series was launched. I’ve even introduced the authors to each other (online, as they live on opposite sides of the country), as they seem to have so much in common. I just wish I could get their two heroes in the same room together too!
Meet Dan Foster and Sam Plank
Dan Foster is the creation of Lucienne Boyce, and Sam Plank is from the pen of Susan Grossey. Both are Bow Street runners, from the early era of British policing when constables sought out criminals for local magistrates to bring them to justice.
Dan Foster & Sam Plank: Compare and Contrast
Both are sensitively drawn, complex characters, who have risen above deprived and difficult backgrounds – Dan was a child pickpocket turned bareknuckle boxer, and Sam was a street urchin.
Each has acquired an interesting wife, providing thoughtful subplots and plenty of character development opportunities. Sam’s is a loving and loveable helper, but Dan’s is introduced as a drunken, self-pitying wretch. Both, by coincidence, are childless.
Both solve crimes particular to the age, against meticulously researched historical backgrounds. While their stories are set against a detailed and vivid backdrop, in neither case does the reader feel on the receiving end of a history lesson.
Dan’s adventures are darker and grittier than Sam’s, but despite being more violent (only when necessary to the plot, I hasten to add), they are also sensitively drawn, with poignant moments cleverly woven in amongst the adventures, as they are in Sam’s too.
I’ve read and enjoyed all of the adventures of both so far, and have been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of Dan’s second and third stories prior to publication. But for this weekend, I’m recommending Dan’s second, The Fatal Coin, and Sam’s fourth, Portraits of Pretence – and when you’ve read them, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that there are more adventures of both ready and waiting for you.
What I’ll Be Reading This Weekend
my first ever Georgette Heyer novel, Footsteps in the Dark(I know, how did I get to be this old without reading Georgette Heyer before?)
Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (same applies) – our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book of the Month for July
the manuscript of Trick or Murder? – just back from my editor, second in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series and due for publication at the end of August – exciting times!
Happy weekend reading, folks!
P.S. Fancy reading one of my books this weekend?Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.