Thursday, 12 March 2015

REVIEW-The Shape of Sand by Marjorie Eccles


Life at Charnley is blessed for the Jardine children, Harriet, Vita and Daisy, who live in an idyllic Edwardian country manor with their loving parents, Beatrice and Amory. But one night, after a party celebrating their mother's birthday, their dreams of a propitious future suddenly come crashing down when a family scandal catapults them into the headlines. Nearly four decades pass by and still the exact events of that fateful night remain a mystery. But when an old diary detailing their mother's voyage to Egypt is unearthed it finally seems as though some of the answers are within reach - until the shocking discovery of a mummified corpse in the ruins of their old home. Beautifully written, evoking the life of the Edwardian upper classes, bomb-scarred post-war England and the sultry Egyptian landscape, The Shape of Sand is a compelling novel you will wish was as long as the Nile.


The premise of this story is quite simple, in that in 1910, after a lavish country house birthday party, Beatrice Jardine's teenage daughters,  husband and sun are shocked by the fact that to all appearances, she has run away with an exotic Egyptian visitor she met ten years before.

Of course the truth is far more complicated, and Ms Eccles weaves a multi-layered tapestry of emotions experienced by the diverse characters in the Jardine children, each of whom carry their own demons of their mother’s abandonment into WWII and beyond, suffering their own tragedies and getting their lives in order.

The events of the past are teased out with contrived slowness, combined with the emotions of the present which can be distracting in parts, but which made me feel this author’s deep and insightful writing requires close attention. This is not a book to be rushed, in that every personality is deeply drawn, leaving the reader to decide for themselves which of them have harboured a secret for forty years. Needless to say the story flows to a satisfying conclusion and wasn't spoiled for me at all by the fact I had guessed the ending.

I’m delighted to see there are plenty more of Ms Eccles’ books in which I can lose myself.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Pitfalls of Genre Switching

I often read how historical authors should choose their genre carefully. That most writers, even established ones, find it hard to change genre, and are advised to use a pen name to do so.

I am not talking about building an audience, or meeting the expectations of a publisher – what I mean is how difficult is to switch your author voice into that of another time in history?

Once, I couldn’t imagine writing about anything but 17th Century England. I immersed myself in the history, how the court went about its daily business, the clothes, habits, manners and sometimes even the speech. How they moved from place to place, what they ate, the subjects they talked about over the dinner table and the place they occupied in society.

Five years ago, the English Civil War was not the most popular era for historical novel readers, so my novels moved into the early 20th Century. My next book due for release this June is set in 1900. I spent as much time reading about that era as I did my 17th Century ones, and the more I researched, the more I grew to love the atmosphere of the ‘Belle Époque’ age. Now I feel I can visualise the environment of that time; its smells, the objects used every day and how people moved around, spoke and the ideas which shaped their lives.

No problem so far then? Maybe not, however, I have now been asked to revert back to my roots and write a story for a 17th Century anthology being published by a group of authors later this year. I imagined it would be easy, all I have to do is switch heads again into that era - after all I know it so well. 

Several times over the last few weeks I have set out my notes on the main characters of that era, and with my fingers poised over the keyboard, arranged my characters within my chosen scene and waited. And waited.

These characters are the darlings of the Carolean Court. Colourful, flamboyant, outrageous, irreverent, immoral and decadent – whose lives were dominated by their wits and their main weapon was the spoken word - but they have nothing to say. Not one of them - Well that’s not quite true, they do, but in 20th Century voices. They don’t even move right! 

I feel as if I am being punished for having betrayed them and their time - but how do I get them to let me in again?