This book will make you think about faith, about goodness, and about what it means to live. It will ask you if you believe in anything so strongly that you’d die for it. It raises issues about our right to choose the place and time of our passing. It will make you wonder at the power of faith to sustain us through the valley of the shadow of death, or, it will cause you to question the trustfulness of those who have ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’Read More
The final book in the Highbury trilogy is finished, and currently being beta-read. Publication day is 8th April, which would have been my lovely dad’s 91st birthday.
The title has yet to be finalised. My working title has been Dear Jane and I may stick with it unless someone comes up with a better alternative. (Post ideas to me via the Contact page…)
Now I’m kicking my heels, sternly stopping myself from starting something new, clearing the debris from my desk and finding all those bills I haven’t paid, letters I haven’t answered, bits of fluff and clusters of toast crumbs loitering in the corners.
The idea is to let the book settle.
But this child is impatient - oh, she’s raring to get out into the world. So here is a sneak preview.
‘And so, Jane,’ said Emma Woodhouse, ‘you will come no more to Hartfield to play with my dolls. You are going to the Campbells to stay always, and will not come back to Highbury. I suppose Rowena Campbell has not so many toys and books as me? Nor half so many dolls?’
Jane Fairfax looked up from where she sat on the nursery floor. Emma occupied the only chair in the room and looked down from it at her little visitor with some considerable air of superiority. It was always so, when Jane was sent to play at Hartfield. Although the girls were of an age – almost nine – Jane was always made to feel younger, inferior and certainly poorer. She was poorer – there was no denying it – thirty thousand pounds poorer than Miss Woodhouse. But she was not younger and decidedly she was not inferior by any meaningful measure, being brighter, more accomplished and arguably prettier than Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield. Jane did not reply at once, unsure as to which of Emma’s inaccurate statements she ought to contradict. Or whether she ought to contradict any – Miss Emma Woodhouse disliked being told she was wrong.
At last she said, ‘Miss Rowena has some very nice dolls, but you are right, they are not so numerous as yours. Of books she has a great many, and,’ because she felt she ought to defend her little friend Rowena, and Miss Woodhouse should not be allowed to have things all her own way, ‘most of hers she has read.’
‘I thought not,’ Emma said, disregarding Jane’s second comment, ‘not so numerous as mine, and not so nice, I expect. But still,’ she smiled very sweetly, ‘more than you have at home, and so I suppose you will be pleased to go, and leave your grandmamma and aunt?’
Jane considered. ‘I am not unhappy to go to the Campbells. I have been going there since I was five or six, and feel very at home at their house. They treat me very kindly. But as for being happy to leave Grandmamma and Aunt Hetty, no, of course, I shall miss them very much.’
‘Naturally the Campbells treat you kindly,’ Emma replied. ‘Papa says a young lady in your situation should always be treated kindly. The bible says we must be kind to orphans. I suppose you will stay in the attic and wear all Miss Campbell’s hand-me-down clothes and be required to clean the fire-grates and do all their mending.’
‘That does not sound very kind,’ Jane said, ‘it sounds more like Cendrillon[i] to me. Rowena is not an ugly step-sister!’
Miss Woodhouse settled an unruly flounce on her dress. ‘Perhaps she is not absolutely ugly, but she is not pretty.[ii] I have heard that her nose is decidedly snub and her hair is only a very dowdy brown. My nose is aquiline – Miss Taylor says that artists throughout the ages have idealised the aquiline nose in their paintings. But if I had a snub nose and a plain face I would not like someone with nicer features coming to live with me, and yours are quite nice, Jane. If I were Rowena Campbell I might well shut you up in the attic.’
Jane could easily believe it.
[i] The version of Cinderella which Miss Woodhouse and Miss Fairfax would have been familiar with.
[ii] Chapter Nineteen of Emma makes clear the disparity in personal beauty between Miss Campbell (by then Mrs Dixon) and Jane Fairfax
I felt justified in tackling the topic of disability, but it was a thorny one to grasp. I invented two characters who are confined to wheelchairs. Mrs Sealy is a young and wealthy widow, rendered disabled by a carriage accident. Captain Bates is a casualty of war whose initial injury was compounded by poor medical treatment to leave him an amputee.Read More
I read it slowly, not because the story did not compel me - it did - but because reading it was like sampling fine wine or gourmet food. I could taste the skill and effort which had gone into making each delicious syllable of it and I wanted to savour each word.Read More
Mrs Bates of Highbury is the first of three books I plan which will trace the pre-history of Emma and then run in parallel to it. Fans of Jane Austen need have no fear; I have no intention of deviating from her plot and in the end she and I will be on exactly the same page. For those readers unfamiliar with Emma, I hope Mrs Bates of Highbury will be enjoyable as a stand-alone novel.Read More
When at last you have taught it all you know - poured every ounce of your creativity and love into it - you feel it can stand on its own feet and you send it out into the cold and heartless world.Read More
John-John’s character and his situation have shades of Billy in A Kestrel for a Knave and also of David Copperfield. They are all innocents abroad in a world which is uncaring and cruel. But they are not infected by it; indeed they make the utter hopelessness bearable.
This book is about the imposition of order onto chaos, the over-layering of wilderness by civilization.Read More
Reading is a dynamic, immersive activity. I put time aside to read. I make a conscious decision to light the fire, make a pot of tea and ignore the ‘phone or the ping of the email inbox.Read More
The story is tremendously exciting; a predatory fracking company, the malign presence of a tanker stalking them through the tundra, mysterious emails depicting strangely mutilated animals and the sharp grief of loss. But the important thing about it is the growing understanding between mother and daughter as they both come to terms with her deafness and her choice not to use her physical voice.Read More
“Having no end in view when I begin is pretty terrifying, so this is the strategy I have come up with.
I imagine each new book as a visit to a place which is unknown to me. I travel alone. My sojourn is of an unspecified duration. I must stay until the task is complete.”
The 'what if' scenario conjured by Angela King raises all kinds of questions about whether the right thing is always the best thing.Read More
This book is beautifully written - that’s the first thing to say about it. The language is sensitive and evocative. The landscape - woodlands and lakes, once wild but now increasingly encroached upon by civilisation - is very well described and the characters are depicted with delightful nuance of gesture and expression.Read More
The blog site Books, Life and Everything interviewed me about Tall Chimneys.Read More
I do not know how this book managed to pass me by when it was released in 2009 but I am so glad to have found it now.Read More
There is nothing like a bundle of old letters, a secret diary or a dusty old manuscript to get the imaginative juices flowing and this one certainly does not disappoint.Read More
This is the sequel to the excellent ‘North of Here’ but easily stands alone. It is an engaging and rewarding read.Read More
Helps you see with more clarity than you do in real lifeRead More
Elizabeth Strout is a new writer for me and gosh am I glad I found her!Read More
This is quite simply the best book I have read in ages.Read More