events

EVENT: #BadGirls In Crime

On Tuesday night I went off to the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones for the #BadGirls In Crime event, starring See What I Have Done author Sarah Schmidt, The Fatal Treauthor Jake Arnott, The Unseeing author, and Little Deaths author Emma Flint, who I saw speak at Foyles a few months ago. There’s something about Little Deaths that has appealed to me since I first flipped through a copy of it last year at work, but for some reason it hasn’t made its way to the top of my book pile yet. Actually, when I say ‘some reason’, what I actually mean is ‘logistics, because of how they will all fall on me if I pull out books from certain angles’. God grant me some more shelves, tbh.

Anyway, I was really looking forward to this event and BOY OH BOY DID IT LET ME THE FUCK DOWN. Not really. It was excellent! See What I Have Done is a book that I’ve been looking forward to reading for ages. It’s a Tinder Press book and there is pretty much no publicity team that’s more awesome than them at getting things out on Twitter – I’ve been seeing pears around for ages and getting more and more excited about the novel. If I am 100% deadass honest I am one of those extremely gross people who loves true crime, so See What I Have Done, which is based on Lizzie Borden, sounds like it’s going to be right up my street. I’ve had the proof for a while and started reading it on the train on the way to the event, and boy oh boy is it good so far. Visceral and sticky and incredibly atmospheric. I’m extremely excited about reading the rest of it (although I have Erin Kelly’s new book, He Said/She Said, to read first – I’ve seen her speak at a couple of events and bought all her books because I thought she was wonderful and I still !! haven’t !! read !! them !! When will I address this precarious book pile problem? Probably never).

Anyway, because I am me, I bought copies of all the books. They are very beautiful, and also, thank God for my Waterstones discount.

Less of the faffing. I’m sure we’d all like to know more about the event. What drew me to it was two things: firstly, listening to writers speak is my favourite thing because they’re all so interesting and clever, and secondly, true goddamn crime. All of the writers were inspired by real life events – Jake Arnott by Edgeware Bess, Anna Mazzola by Sarah Gale, Sarah Schmidt by Lizzie Borden, and Emma Flint by Alice Crimmins. (I remember talking to a friend about a similar book a few months ago. “Is it… is it real person fanfiction about murderers?” I asked him. He laughed at me, which was rude and not untypical). I was wondering just how okay I am with the idea of using real life murders in fiction – it’s something that’s been done over and over again in TV shows and books and there is definitely something that sits with me strangely about the concept of having that creative spark lit up by a real life event in which someone – or multiple people – suffered greatly. As someone who also likes to write, I can understand that. There’s a sort of dispassionate line in your head – as one part of you thinks ‘That is truly terrible’ and is sincerely sad like the rest of the world, another part of you sits back and starts thinking about what exactly’s going on in people’s heads and how you could write it and what you could do with it. It’s an odd feeling, and one that sometimes leads people to think that you’re strange and sometimes overly disconnected from things. Being able to disconnect the intellectual shaping of a story from your own emotions, and yet to still feel those emotions to inspire your writing, is a handy writerly trick.

Anyway. The panel was led by Alex Clark, who is great and who was wearing an absolutely incredible dress. The first question was essentially: what is your novel about?

JA: The Fatal Tree is slang for the gallows. It’s set in the 1820s and tells the story of Elizabeth Lyon, or Edgeware Bess, who was part of a criminal partnership with Jack Shepherd, a bit like Bonnie and Clyde. He wanted to look at the way that women are often portrayed as either a femme fatale or a victim.

AM: The Unseeing was set in 1837 and was based on the Edgware Road Murder and the story of Sarah Gale.

SS: See What I Have Done is based on the story of Lizzie Borden. A pamphlet almost fell on her at a second hand shop and later that night she had a dream about Borden sitting at the end of her bed. (At this point, Sarah mentioned something REALLY GREAT that dream!Lizzie said to her, but like a genius I was too busy going ‘Ooooh’ in my head to write it down. It was essentially about Lizzie’s father, and the portion of blame on him.)

EH: Her central character, Ruth Malone, is based on Alice Crimmins. ‘I don’t know if she did it or not, but I know she didn’t have a fair hearing.’ That fair hearing and the lack of it is really what inspired all these writers in their books, imo.

The next question was about GENDER. That’s all I’ve written. I am a champ.

JA: It’s about women having to be punished in history – they always seem to not get a fair deal, particularly in regard to crime. They’re seen either as victims or as the worst possible – no in between. It comes from the idea of original sin and the Garden of Eden and the concept of all sin coming from women. The crimes are seen as more sinister because women committed them.

EF: Women are doubly damned: they’re condemned for the crime and also for being women. ‘None of our women conform to norms.’

SS: Female enjoyment was punished – see: Lizzie’s life after she was acquitted. Wanted to get inside Lizzie’s head – if she did it, why would she kill her parents? Everything else came after she was acquitted. Before that she had made two mistakes: firstly, showing no emotion, and secondly, becoming trapped in her lies. After the acquittal she and her sister moved into a mansion and started spending the money they’d inherited, which was when the local people really became unsettled re: her. In terms of research Schmidt felt that she needed to be comfortable with certain facts, but she didn’t want to write non fiction. Historical fiction means you can work in the current world while using the distance of history.

JA: He came across Edgeware Bess by chance – women’s stories aren’t often told which makes them a great opportunity for historical fiction writers. Bess was as important as Jack was, and a woman’s POV is often more interesting as their stakes are higher. In the criminal underworld, women have to be tougher to survive. They’re bright, damaged and resourceful. (This reminded me of that Josephine Hart quote: “Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”) In fiction, women’s stories work because they’re not told in history so they’re an opportunity for creativity.

EF: Because her story is set in the more recent past, there’s more documentation than the other authors had, but there was absolutely nothing with Alice’s voice. Writing non fiction would have been a rehash of other books – fiction was an opportunity to make the characters come to life. Ruth was a bit of a femme fatale but not in a one dimensional Raymond Chandler way. As a character, Ruth was intended to be powerless, but to the men in the novel she’s either desirable or dangerous because she’s sexy.

AM: Thought that it would be easier to base a novel on a real story. She’s also a solicitor, which probably led to the fact that her agent (Juliet Mushens, I think? Who is amazing) spotted that her novel needed to be taken away from the real case more. In the Old Bailey transcript, only the man’s POV was heard. Her book is about the lies we tell ourselves.

SS: She felt fine writing about Lizzie Borden because there’s already been so much written about her already. She wanted to figure out what hadn’t been told already – what was actually happening in that house?

JA: When researching, he looked at the journalism of the time – this is how people were preserved. Also mentioned the oranges and lemons rhyme and its more serious undertones (SIDENOTE: I LOVE ANYTHING ABOUT HOW GODDAMN CREEPY NURSERY RHYMES ACTUALLY ARE).

EF: Didn’t go to Queens to research but used google street view. Her second book is set in London and she finds that physical details help.

AM: Walked around London a lot to research and also went online. She wants to visit Dead Man’s Passage (same).

SS: Went and stayed overnight in Lizzie Borden’s house, in her bedroom. (What the ever living fuck.) She wanted to see specifically that house, but she based the book also on her own creepy house experiences. The house she wrote about is almost a character in the book. It was initially the second narrator. A little like a Shirley Jackson book.

HOW DO YOU STOP YOURSELF BRINGING IN MODERN SENSIBILITIES?

AM: Immerses herself in the time period. Her second novel is based in Skye so she’s been using the Napier commission to hear the voices of the people around there in that time period. She also reads newspapers, trying to link everything back to what’s still important, which is the fact that women are still vilified by the media.

JA: Reads court testimony, which is great because it’s verbatim. Also reads first person narratives, along with a dictionary of slang. The criminal classes used slang in a creative and vibrant way. Vernacular is often richer, and more articulate and intelligent.

SS: She’s more interested in characters and people than time periods – she focuses on bringing the characters alive. It’s all about people and what they’re thinking. Everything else can be built around that.

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE NARRATOR?

AM: She always knew that it would be Sarah, but she changed it from first person. She also needed a second narrator, to pull the story out of Sarah.

SS: She was interested in the arrested development of Lizzie. Lizzie would tell her things and sometimes act like a petulant child refusing to say anything so she had to bring in other narrators to open Lizzie up. She liked to move in and out of the different narrators.

EF: Knew it would be Ruth’s story, because she was the main suspect – although it was hard to know how much to give away. She had to bring in a second narrator because Ruth wasn’t aware of everything going on during the story and investigation. She decided to make the second narrator fall in love with Ruth because ‘I didn’t like him very much’. (HA!)

JA: Using a second narrator opened up the story. First person narration helps you to become the character.

(I found the whole thing about first/third person narration fascinating, partly because I sometimes feel as though first person narration can distance you from a character more than close third does. Speaking fully in a character’s voice means that you can hide the things the character doesn’t want to talk about from the reader more easily than you can in third person. To me, third person can reveal more about the character than first. This was super interesting to listen to.)

WAS IT HARD TO MAINTAIN GOOD HUMOUR WHILE WRITING A GRIM STORY?

SS: It took about ten years to write and it was hard. She’s interested in everyday violence and found it liberating to write a character who enjoys being violent and is very uninhibited.

AM: Being a criminal justice solicitor is much harder – for her, writing is escapism. For her, writing in third person felt like taking a step back.

EF: Found herself obsessed with Ruth while she was writing her, almost like being in a relationship. It was hard to let go of her in the end.

DO THEY THINK THE OUTCOME WOULD BE DIFFERENT NOW?

AM: For Sarah, things would have been different. Back then there was an all male jury who would have known her background and been swayed by it.

EF: Now individuals have much more of a voice – you can find your own platform on social media. She would also hope that now the police would be more open. Back in the 50s, Alice Crimmins was shown her dead daughter’s body without being told what was about to happen so the police could gauge her reaction – this would never happen now and would hopefully be grounds for a mistrial.

JA: The early 18th century was very brutal – there was a lot of worry and fear about crimes against poverty and assault on the poor. Back then, murder was seen as treason, which means that women could be burned instead of hanged as punishment. The poor stole so little and got hanged for it. The rich stole more and got nothing. (This is still true now.)

SS: You can use mythology. The town that Lizzie Borden lived in thinks it’s cursed because it’s built on a land where indigenous people were massacred. We protect ourselves through mythology.

AND THAT’S IT. You can see that my hand got tired halfway through as I wrote down less and less of their answers – whoops. It was a really fascinating talk and I can’t wait to read these books. I have a ticket for the Rooftop Book Club tomorrow night, where Sarah Schmidt will be talking again alongside Sarah Winman, who I got to speak to at the Headline press night earlier in the year. I am so so excited about Tin Man coming out but also slightly gutted that it isn’t until July because I am absolutely desperate to read it. Anyway, that’s not the point. Fingers crossed SS doesn’t think I’m stalking her if she recognises me. This was a great evening – I’m so glad I went to it.

events

EVENT: Sarah Perry at Waterstones

If you like books, you’ll have heard of Sarah Perry’s second novel, The Essex Serpent. It was released in May 2016 and promptly became an absolute sensation across the whole of the UK. It has sold a phenomenally huge amount of copies considering that a) it’s literary fiction and b) it only just came out in paperback. It was Book of the Year in Waterstones last year and with good reason – I started work in my local branch of Waterstones in the beginning of December and let me tell you, we got through a LOT of copies of that book. Naturally, I bought one for myself, for a number of reasons:

  1. It sounded interesting.
  2. If there’s that much hype, then let’s face it: there’s no smoke without fire.
  3. I have followed Sarah Perry for a while on Twitter, and she is excellent on there.
  4. Okay, fine: the cover. Good god, the cover is beautiful.

Have I read it yet? Um, actually, no. I have been somewhat reticent to do so, for a few reasons:

  1. Hardback books, man. I do a lot of my reading on the tube and not only are hardback books heavy, but the sheer beauty of this one made me feel particularly strongly about not wanting to let it get battered in my bag.
  2. Despite all the hype, I wasn’t actually entirely certain if it was my kind of book. (Yes: this is idiotic of me.) What’s that I hear you say? ‘BUT LUCY. YOU ARE FREAKING OBSESSED WITH SARAH WATERS.’ Yes, yes, that’s true. But- ‘AND CODE NAME VERITY IS STRAIGHT UP YOUR FAVOURITE YA BOOK OF ALL TIME.’ Valid point. However- ‘AND EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN HAS BEEN PRETTY MUCH YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK OF THIS WHOLE YEAR SO FAR.’ Yes!! Fine!! I just need to spread my wings a little more. Broaden my horizons. Read books that have complex, beautiful prose ase well as more cleanly written YA. The fact that this book looked a little dense and that it is also historical fiction put me off a little. I am trash. Forgive me.
  3. I have had a lot of books to read this year. It turned into a book wall. The Essex Serpent has been at the bottom and I feared that if I tugged at it too hard, I would cause a book avalanche. It’s happened before. Blood was drawn.

Let’s face it: none of those reasons are remotely good enough. Now that I have a paperback copy of The Essex Serpent, it has shot right to the top of my to-read list (and also the actual literal top of my book wall). But more so than the paperback, Sarah Perry’s talk at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones really swung it for me. She is fab. She is so, so fabbity fab fab. She is one of those people where you keep thinking ‘I wish we could be best friends’ and then a moment later you’re like ‘Actually, she’s way too clever to be my best friend’ and then a moment after THAT you’re like ‘Although I think she’s nice enough to pretend I’m cleverer than I am, so maybe I have a chance’. Here is a picture (her back is to me because let us face it: I chose the wrong place to sit).

IMG_0017 (2)

Reader, we are not, as of yet, best friends. But her talk was so good. There is a real joy in listening to people who know things, and who are enthusiastic about things, and who have all this interesting information stored in their minds and who can whip out facts and interesting snippets whenever the occasion calls for it. I wish I was one of those people. The only facts I have in my brain are things like ‘Did you know that Harry Styles is an Aquarius?’, which is frankly not as interesting as any of the things that Sarah Perry said at her talk. I had a little notebook with me and I tried so hard to take notes but unfortunately it was so interesting that I was forced to slap my notebook shut and listen instead. But here are a few little snippets from the talk:

  • She attributes her success to ‘having a relatively short attention span and a thirst for knowledge’. Honestly, this sounds like an excellent way to be. She also attributes it to the cover, which I would normally deny, but guys: it is a great cover.
  • She describes her writing process as ‘like being in a basement and striking a match and seeing the pictures that are painted on the walls’. She phrased it much more elegantly than that, but I can only write so quickly. I love that idea: as though she discovers her stories rather than slogging them out.
  • The story came to her on a car journey with her husband through the Essex countryside. JK Rowling came up with Harry Potter on the train from Edinburgh and I remember Adele Parks talking at the Rooftop Book Club about how she comes up with a lot of her plots while she’s driving. There’s something about travelling and movement that sparks imagination, tbh.
  • The book is partly about the conflict between faith and reason, about friendship, and about the modernity of the Victorian age. I didn’t write this part down because I am not the best of note takers, but she mentioned about how a lot of literature supposedly set in the Victorian age is a little inaccurate and more prudish and old fashioned than it should be.
  • Perry talked about how she was brought up in a very religious environment – her father is both a sixth age creationist and a scientist, which means she never thought there was a conflict between the pursuit of science and a person who is very religious – they’re not irreconcilable opposites. The novel asks the question: is it possible to live as a creature of faith and as reason? She thinks there’s a sort of nobility in the pursuit of truth and science – a moral virtue. (I loved this part of the discussion. It made me consider my own views of religion and how I tend to dismiss religious people too easily. Is there ANYTHING better than having your views challenged?)
  • Perry enjoys the sameness of the past – the ways in which it’s the same as the way we live now, and not different. (Does human nature ever really change?) She wanted to un-silence Victorian women. (PS: she phrased it much more nicely than that.)
  • QUOTE OF THE EVENING: “Victorian women did not spend their days on chaise longues hemming handkerchiefs until their husbands came home and impregnated them with their nineteenth child.” VERY GOOD.
  • Perry mentioned the working classes, and how they have historically been the engines of change. She mentioned the 1888 East End Matchgirls’ Strike which ha ha, I, a genius, knew absolutely nothing about and am now very glad that I do. She talked about how working class women and illiterate women in the 19th century were full of intellectual inquiry, and proto-feminists.
  • Those are all the notes I have because I accidentally closed my notebook and listened hard instead, although now I am regretting not writing more down. I remember that she talked a lot about friendship and its important and essential roles in our lives and how it isn’t necessarily lesser than romantic love, which really struck a chord with me and made me extremely excited to read this book.

As a final note, Sarah Perry has nice hair and lovely shoes and a great dress. It may be odd to point these things out, but frankly I would be happy if someone told me about those things at any time. More than the dress and shoes, she was interesting and passionate and brilliant and I loved listening to her, and if I get a chance to go to another one of her events I definitely will. And I cannot wait to read The Essex Serpent.

events

EVENT: Orion Blogfest

Here is a bit of writing all about my first ever bloggers’ evening, which Stevie Finegan at Orion was kind enough to let me come along to. First of all: it was a great evening. I love Carmelite House, partly because the offices are glass-walled and I am a terrible nosy person, partly because of the art of all their authors’ names on the wall, and also because it’s in one of the best locations in London – right beside the river. I’ve been to a lot of Rooftop Book Clubs there and the view from the rooftop garden is maybe one of the most exquisite in the entire city.

At the blog fest, my nosiness was extremely satisfied by getting to see another part of the building on the bottom floor. There were incredible cupcakes and then a chance to hear what Orion (specifically the Gollancz imprint, which is fantasy, sci fi and horror) is releasing this year. Here’s a cool story bro: I am not actually particularly into fantasy or sci fi. Robin Hobb is my favourite author ever and I love a bit of timey wimey stuff in my fiction (which, speaking of: I have a beautiful pristine hardback of Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays on my to be read pile and I CANNOT WAIT to get into it). But on the whole, sci fi and fantasy is something that I need to get a little more experimental about. This evening definitely made me feel like I wanted to branch out. Here are some of the releases I’m most excited about:

  • Crosstalk by Connie Willis (released August 2017). It’s described as Rainbow Rowell meets Sliding Doors, which is essentially perfect for me because Sliding Doors is totally my shit. It’s a more commercial title and focuses on a couple who have been given the ability to read each other’s thoughts, and the miscommunication that arises from that. This is my favourite sort of sci fi, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which innovations aren’t the focus of the story and rather help us to learn about the characters in ways that we otherwise couldn’t have done. I’m not big on spaceships – give me intricate, difficult human relationships any time. This book sounds awesome.
  • Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This by Tricia Sullivan (released September 2016). Focuses on a character called Charlie, who has the ability to influence other people’s dreams. Apparently it’s fun and funny but it also goes to dark places – which, lbr, is the best sort of book.
  • Wild Embers by Nikita Gill (released September 2017). Poems about empowerment, identity and feminism. I checked out her instagram here and there are some really pretty poems. It’s awesome that they mean so much to so many people. Making poetry as popular as she has isn’t easy.
  • Mirror, Mirror by Cara Delevingne (released October 2017). So I love Cara Delevingne for absolutely no reason that I’m aware of. She’s the only nepotism model who’s actually any good (lookin at u, kendall and bella and oh my god HAILEY, let’s not forget hailey) and she also seems to give very few fucks, which is an attitude that I enjoy. Her book is a ‘twisty coming of age story’ which is for fans of We Were Liars and The Girls – which I am, so tbh I think I’ll probably enjoy it. I know we’re supposed to get up in arms about celebs writing books and taking up space on the shelves but frankly there are more important things to think about. Plus this could actually be an awesome example of an #ownvoices novel, because the book is partly about sexuality. I’m hoping she includes an f/f relationship in which neither of them dies. That would be delightful.

The whole evening was great fun. I definitely felt a little starstruck when Joanne Harris came in and I loved hearing her, Dan Vyleta and Ed McDonald talk about their new books. I also loved hearing about Kristen Ciccarelli’s book, The Last Namsara. It isn’t the sort of book that I’d immediately pick up at a shop but I had a flick through it and it looks great – really solid writing and a grounded setting. I’m looking forward to reading it properly.

The quiz was awesome and we did not come last (even though we should have won the quiz team name macaroons – our name was We Know Nothing, Jon Snow, partly thought of by YOURS TRULY). I love meeting book people – a community of likeminded people is something that’s quite rare to find, and as you get older (I’m an ancient old crone, as demonstrated by the way my mary lou manizer seeps attractively into my crows’ feet) it is sometimes hard to figure out where exactly you find friends. School’s out, work can get complicated – so you have to go to places full of people who care about the same shit that you do. A lot of people at the Orion Blog Fest were into books that I’m personally not big on but there’s nothing that’s more engaging and delightful to be around than enthusiasm about something creative. There is literally nothing better than a room full of dorks talking and learning about what they love – except for the moment where the room full of dorks was suddenly silenced when the pizza arrived.

It was a fab night – thanks for letting me come along, thanks for my brand new stack of books, and thanks to everyone I spoke to for being so nice to this blogging novice!

events

EVENT: What Happened When Angie Thomas Met Patrice Lawrence

Everyone in the world who cares about YA books knows that Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, is one of the biggest and most important releases of 2017. It follows the story of Starr Carter, who witnesses her unarmed best friend being shot by a police officer, and tackles themes of family, race, friendship, community, and – of course – the topic of police brutality, which is still at the forefront of many people’s minds worldwide. Patrice Lawrence’s debut novel Orangeboy was released in 2016, and is similarly brilliantly written, with an idiosyncratic voice and a compelling plot. It follows Marlon, a 16 year old boy from London who finds himself hunted by the mysterious Mr Orange after tragedy befalls him when he’s out on a date. I have a bundle containing a signed copy of each book to give away – follow me on Twitter (@nopelucy) for more details about that later in the week.

Continue reading “EVENT: What Happened When Angie Thomas Met Patrice Lawrence”