"A mystery unsolved to this day. A mystic who confounds the cynics. A writer looking for the story that will make his name.
A ghost ship appears in the mist. To the struggling author Arthur Conan Doyle, it is an inspiration. To Violet Petra, the gifted American psychic, it is a cruel reminder. To the death-obsessed Victorian public, it is a fascinating distraction. And to one family, tied to the sea for generations, it is a tragedy.
In salons and on rough seas, at séances and in the imagination of a genius, these stories converge in unexpected ways as the mystery of the ghost ship deepens. But will the sea yield its secrets, and to whom?
Intricate, atmospheric, and endlessly intriguing, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a spellbinding exploration of love, loss and the fictions that pass as truth."
I can't wait to read this one from the author of the Orange Prize-winning Property and Mary Reilly (which, by the way, is relevant to our CBG book for February), but meanwhile let me draw your attention to the cover design which appears as you see on the picture above left, but achieves that misty, ghostly effect by means of a semi-opaque jacket over the image in the picture on the right.
I've mentioned Harriet Lane's eagerly anticipated second novel before, but details were scanty then. Her new book, Her, won't be out until June, but that gives plenty of time for library requests and pre-orders, so here's the gist:
"Two women; two different worlds. Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold. Nina is sophisticated and independent - entirely in control.
When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn't the first time the women's paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did.
But what exactly does Nina want from her?
And how far will she go in pursuit of it?"
You will remember Harriet Lane as the author of the superb Alys, Always, a brilliant debut and one of my books of the year in 2012 - if you haven't read it you'll find a post on it here, and you'll see why I'm so looking forward to reading her new book.
Helpfully, All Change includes a family tree to remind us how the Cazalet characters are related to one another, and the endpapers are Merton, a William Morris wallpaper design, so this is a handsome book.
I'm admiring the covers of Penguin's new Legends from the Ancient North. They have been designed by Petra Börner who writes, "The challenge has been to capture a sense of the grandeur, ferocity and wildness of these five legendary tales, whilst retaining the truth of my artistic processes", and you can get a glimpse of that process here. Do also take a look at Petra's website, where in the archive (here and here) you'll find some familiar and beautiful book jackets.
If you have time to spare, you may like to have a go at We Love This Book's Got It Covered competition, identifying 100 books from small cover details alone. I've managed 74 so far and hope a bit of brain-racking will yield a few more.
Can you think of any books you've come across recently which have particularly apt or attractive covers? I'm soon to read one which is lovely, and I hope the design is indicative of the book's style (and content) for if so, I think it will be very 'me'.
I'm especially interested in the Novel and First Novel categories as I've read some of those books: in First Novel, I'm very pleased to see Kate Clanchy's Meeting the English, which I reviewed here, and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves. Meanwhile in Novel I have read three of the four books - Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave (post here), and the late Bernardine Bishop's Unexpected Lessons in Love (post here) - and can recommend them all.
If you have access to BBC iPlayer, do watch last night's edition of the arts programme Imagine which was a profile of the author and illustrator Judith Kerr. What a charming lady, and how incredibly sharp and sprightly for a person of 90 - I hope I'm able to run upstairs as fast as she does should I reach that age!
Two little details which made me smile: the monster from her husband Nigel Kneale's famous series Quatermass and the Pit had three legs in tribute to the symbol of its creator's homeland (being Manx-born myself, I rather like that), and Judith Kerr's son Matthew, when learning to read, was so bored by the 'Janet & John'-type reading schemes he was given that he said he would learn with the Cat in the Hat books, and so he did.
Dr. Seuss must have served him well for Matthew Kneale is now, of course, a famous novelist, and if you haven't already read his wonderful, wonderful English Passengers (which features a Manx smuggling vessel, and which in 2000 won the Whitbread Award, as the Costa Book Award was formerly known), then do.
I'm enjoying reading about everyone's favourite children's books in the comments on yesterday's post, so do please keep them coming and enter the draw for the Bodleian cards and bookmarks. I'm also delighted to see some unfamiliar names among the commenters, readers who haven't made themselves known before but have done so now - it's lovely to hear from you!
I was in the Bodleian Library shop on Saturday (incidentally, one of the warmest places in Oxford on what was a cold weekend) and I bought a few postcards and bookmarks to give away to two readers.
Since I was visiting Oxford for a C.S. Lewis event, I had to get the appropriate cards, so we'll call this first lot 'the Lewis set' as the cards are facsimiles of the famous Puffin Books covers of three of the Chronicles of Narnia; they date from the 1960s, and the illustrator was Pauline Baynes. I'll pause here to quote briefly from Alister McGrath's biography of Lewis: it was Tolkien who recommended Pauline Baynes to Lewis when his publishers insisted on illustrations for the books, "In the end, Baynes's relationship with Lewis turned out to be rather formal and distant. They appear to have met only twice. One of these two meetings was a highly perfunctory and brief discussion at London's Waterloo Station, during which Lewis frequently consulted his watch, anxious not to miss his train. (Her diary entry for that day was rumoured to read 'Met C.S. Lewis. Came home. Made rock cakes.') It was not an easy relationship, particularly when Baynes learned that Lewis, having been very positive about her illustrations to her face, was somewhat more critical of her artistic gifts behind her back - especially her ability to draw lions."
Along with the cards, I'll give you two bookmarks which picture beautiful books from the Bodleian collection; the first is The Christmas Bookshelf, which features unusual 19th. and 20th. century titles, and the second is Flowers, early 20th. century books from the classification 'Natural Sciences, Botany, General: Flowers & their culture'.
The next lot, 'the Oxford set' comprises the Hobbies bookshelf card and matching bookmark, a map of Lyra's Oxford taken from the book of that name by Philip Pullman, illustrated by John Lawrence, a card of the Bodleian oath, the declaration every reader is required to repeat aloud on seeking admission, and a bookmark showing a selection of Victorian children's books from the Opie collection.
To enter the draw - which is open to all, no matter where in the world you are - please leave a comment on this post naming a favourite children's book of yours, and please state whether you would prefer the Lewis set or the Oxford set or are happy with either. Incidentally, if you have any trouble leaving a comment (I've had reports of intermittent difficulties), please email me using the link in the right-hand sidebar, let me know what error message, if any, you got, and give me the name of your favourite book and your preferred prize and I'll make sure you are entered in the draw.
My Edbookfest event on Saturday was all about cover design - how best to tell the potential reader what's inside the book. We learned that boys won't pick up a book with a girl on the front (until they get to a certain age and it's a certain type of girl), that humans require Vitamin 'S' - 'S' for 'Story', and that the design process, over several editions, is a constant process of refinement and audience-targeting.
If you're a lover of food in novels, Sunday's post gave a link to a special edition of The Food Programme on 'cooking and crime', or eating with the detectives. Much there to whet the appetite for certain books or just plain make you hungry.
On Monday I posted details of the Cornflower Book Group's next book. Our September read is Crusoe's Daughter by Jane Gardam (whose Edbookfest event - a delight - I attended last week), and I hope lots of people are getting their hands on a copy ready to join in with our discussion.
've posted only one review this week but it's of a cracker of a book, Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season. However, I have just finished another treat of a novel, and I'll write about it in due course, but for now, look out for the fun, sweet, warm-hearted, mad-in-a-good-way Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore.
It was back to the Book Festival yesterday to hear about two very different books (and a controversial opinion on historical fiction!), and as I have more events in prospect, I'm off now to sharpen my pencils and get ready to report.
We often discuss book cover design on these pages, so it was with particular interest that I went to a talk on that very subject at EIBF today.
The paperback cover image for Charlie Fletcher's novel Far Rockaway was the subject of a design competition for illustration students at Edinburgh College of Art, and the panel at this afternoon's event comprised Charlie himself, his publisher Anne McNeil of Hodder, Jonathan Gibbs, head of illustration at ECA, and the winning designer Astrid Jaekel. Together they gave us a fascinating look at the creative process and what goes into achieving the perfect pairing of book and cover.
We were shown many examples of jackets for novels by writers such as Enid Blyton and David Almond, Cressida Cowell and Charlie himself, each collection highlighting the variations from hardback* to paperback, perhaps a film tie-in, a design for the US market, say, and later editions of old favourites. With every change, the interface between book and readership is being refined, the target audience more directly reached - that certainly is the intention.
In the case of Far Rockaway, a novel which intercuts a narrative set in real life contemporary New York with scenes of fantasy involving characters from books such The Last of the Mohicans and Stevenson's Kidnapped, the cover had to combine these disparate elements and appeal to boys and girls alike. Charlie read the first chapter (and I think the audience could happily have heard a great deal more for we were gripped from the off), and we could then appreciate the challenge inherent in the instruction he'd given the ECA students: "illustrate that!"
Astrid showed us the beautiful, ingenious papercut she'd made initially in response to the text and to the need to interpret it in simple and striking manner, a piece inspired by the drama of the book and the movement and elements of nature in the story, and then she explained that when her design was chosen, several more versions or roughs were made until the Hodder designers then shaped the final one into what you see above. This successful collaboration of the creative and the commercial worlds has resulted in a design which pleases both author and publisher, and which should attract a readership which will be enthralled by the book.
Asked how publishers decide on jacket designs in the typical, more conventional process, Anne McNeil said they use "a mixture of intuition, experience and consumer insight". She commented that Charlie's work transcends genre, he can't be pigeonholed, and finding an image to complement his stories is a creative challenge. The initial brief is all-important, and everyone must work to that brief to come up with a design which tells the reader what's inside the cover.
To end, Charlie talked about the creative process within the act of reading itself, as the reader's own imagination provides the images to accompany the story as it goes along. For this reason, photo-real covers "deprive the reader of being involved in their own reality of the book", and likewise Charlie would always advise reading a book before seeing a film version. "Humans need Vitamin S," he says, "S for Story."
*You can see the hardback jacket for Far Rockawayhere
Hilary Mantel won the inaugural Walter Scott prize in 2010 with Wolf Hall; since then, the winners have been Andrea Levy's The Long Song and On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry. Of this year's shortlist, all I've read so far is the Anthony Quinn which is very good indeed but to my mind lacks something of the finesse of his earlier book Half of the Human Race (which I wrote about here). On a superficial level, is not the paperback cover
for the Rose Tremain very lovely?
It happens only once every ten years, but this evening the literary journal Granta announced its latest Best of Young British Novelists. For the purposes of perspective, have a look at the 1983 list and read the related article.
It may be only mid-April, but Christmas shopping planning has started for me with the announcement of the release of Ian Rankin's next Rebus novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible,
in November - Mr. C. is already rubbing his hands in anticipation, and I'm glad to have at least one present 'done'.
Just arrived today and out early next month is Kate Clanchy's Meeting the English, "a bright story about dark subjects".
" 'Literary giant seeks young man to push bathchair. Own room in Hampstead, all found, exciting cultural milieu. Modest wage. Ideal 'gap year' opportunity....'
So it is that Struan Robertson, orphan, genius and just seventeen, leaves his dour native town of Cuik, and arrives in London in the freakish fine summer of 1989. His job is to care for Phillip Prys, silenced and paralysed by a massive stroke, because, though two teenage children, two wives, and a literary agent all rattle round Phillip's large house, they are each too busy with their peculiar obsessions to do it themselves. As the city bakes, Struan finds himself tangled in a midsummer's dream of mistaken identity, giddying property prices, wild swimming and overwhelming passions. For everyone it is to be a life-changing summer."
Blackfriars is a new digital-only literary imprint from Little Brown and Virago, "created with the aim of discovering and nurturing new talent (or talent that has been away for a while)". It will be launched in June with three titles including The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan, " a heartrending novel set in belle époque Paris, inspired by the real-life model for Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, Marie van Goethem, and a notorious criminal trial of the era".
We often talk about book cover design, and the impact of a striking or beautiful jacket is not to be underestimated. Elizabeth Gilbert has a new novel coming out in October and as far as her US edition is concerned, she and her publishers are at an impasse as to the cover so they have put the three options on show and asked readers to vote for the one they prefer. You can see the designs and register your preference here (I think voting closes today); meanwhile, here's the UK cover, and this is what the book is about:
"5th January 1800. At the beginning of a new century, Alma Whittaker is
born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is
a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings
as a vagrant in Kew Gardens. Alma’s mother, a strict woman from an
esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five living languages (and two
dead ones) and her knowledge of botany is equal to any man’s. An
independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma
comes into her own within the world of plants and science.
Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of
evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction
– into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is
a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose is a Utopian artist. But what unites
this couple is a shared passion for knowing – a desperate need to
understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all of
The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a
big century. It soars across the globe from London, to Peru, to
Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. Peopled with extraordinary
characters – missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea
captains, geniuses and the quite mad – most of all it has an
unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age
who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern."
What an exuberant novel this is - full of energy, atmosphere, idiom, and colour. She Rises by Kate Worsley is a debut, and an impressive one, a piece of character and integrity (it has a very pleasing sense of identity and wholeness about it), and one that has been crafted and buffed smooth.
Keep in mind the epigraph, which is from Swinburne's The Triumph of Time, and then we'll go on -
"I shall sleep, and move with the moving ships, / Change as the winds change, veer in the tide, / I will go back to the great sweet mother, / Mother and lover of men, the sea. / I will go down to her, I and no other, / Close with her, kiss her and mix her with me."
I shan't say much about the plot other than that it's set in Essex in 1740 when dairymaid Louise Fletcher goes to work in the port of Harwich as maid to a sea captain's daughter. This new world in a prosperous and almost exclusively female household serving a selfish and thoughtless young mistress takes much adjustment on the part of Louise, but while her proximity to the sea is unnerving - for it claimed the life of her father, and possibly that of her brother, too - she is both fascinated and perturbed by the novelty, the flooding of the streets at spring tide, the network of smugglers' passages connecting houses in its narrow lanes, and the nearness of sailors, that rough crew from whom she may just be able to discover something about her brother's fate.
Louise's story is interwoven with that of Luke, pressganged in a tavern and taken to serve on the warship Essex. Luke soon finds that life aboard is tough in every respect, and whether below decks or aloft in the rigging in a heavy sea, he must watch himself and choose his friends carefully on what becomes for him both "a floating prison" and "a vessel of hope". How his fate is linked to Louise's is for you to discover as you read the book.
This is a love story, an adventure, it has action aplenty, intrigue and secrets. It is a sensuous book with its roots deep in a real place, and as its tale of "disguise, deceit and deception" unfolds, it does so with vigour. If at times the plot takes an implausible turn or two, then in keeping with its subject matter it's riding the waves of fiction and moving with the story's swell.
"Gost is surrounded by mountains and fields of wild flowers. The summer sun burns. The winter brings freezing winds. Beyond the boundaries of the town an old house which has lain empty for years is showing signs of life. One of the windows, glass darkened with dirt, today stands open, and the lively chatter of English voices carries across the fallow fields. Laura and her teenage children have arrived.
A short distance away lies the hut of Duro Kolak who lives alone with his two hunting dogs. As he helps Laura with repairs to the old house, they uncover a mosaic beneath the ruined plaster and, in the rising heat of summer, painstakingly restore it. But Gost is not all it seems; conflicts long past still suppurate beneath the scars."
"A beautiful, moving story about the aftermath of civil war in the Balkans, its descriptions of the Croatian landscape are breath-taking and the novel's gentle pace reflects the trepidation with which the characters face the horrors of the past."
"Immensely enjoyable ... full of energy, intelligence and delicious turns of phrase," says Sarah Waters of Kate Worsley's first novel She Rises.
Set in the mid eighteenth century, this is a tale of drunken sailors, press gangs and smugglers, but at its heart a love story:
"Louise Fletcher, a dairymaid on an Essex farm, has long been warned of the lure of the sea, for it stole away her father and brother, but when she is offered work in the naval port of Harwich, as maid to a wealthy captain's daughter, she leaps at the chance to see more of the world.
Young Luke is drinking in a Harwich tavern when he is pressganged and sent to sea aboard a warship. He must learn fast if he is to survive the brutal hardships of a sailor's life, above and below decks.
Louise navigates her new life amid the streets and alleys of the town where fine houses concealing smugglers' tunnels are flooded by spring tides, and love burns brightly in the shadows. And Luke, aching for the girl he left behind and determined to find his way back to her, embarks on a long and perilous journey across the ocean.
When Luke's and Louise's worlds collide the consequences are astonishing and irrevocable."
Lastly, something from the recent arrivals pile: Amy Sackville's first novel The Still Point was very much on my radar as one to look out for, well she has a new book out soon, and a brief description of Orkney
was enough to grab me straightaway:
"On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?"
By the way, click on the picture to enlarge it and get a better view of the beautiful jacket, designed by Kanitta Meechubot.
A literary location: snapped at dusk, The Eagle and Child - also known as The Bird and Baby - a public house dating from 1650 in Oxford's St. Giles, extra-mural meeting place of The Inklings, and as such referred to by Edmund Crispin.
I wish I'd had time to go inside when I was there last week; that will have to wait for the next visit.
Books to treasure: I am fortunate in being invited to many literary events in London, but living up in Scotland means that I can rarely accept these lovely invitations. One such 'do' which I couldn't attend was a recent evening hosted by The Guardian to showcase the beautiful books of The Folio Society.
All those of us who prize quality of production and design in our books - fine paper and bindings, exquisite illustrations to complement the text - will be familiar with Folio Society books. If you're looking for
special Christmas gifts, their site is well worth a visit: take for example their 2013 diary shown above, the favourites in this list, or - to follow on from the Inklings - C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, and don't miss this wonderful short video which brings books alive!
"Deep waters. Dark secrets." That's the strapline on the cover of Essie Fox's new novel Elijah's Mermaid, "a tale of obsessive love and betrayal moving from the respectable worlds of Victorian art and literature, into the shadowy demi-monde of brothels, asylums and freak show tents - a world in which nothing and no one is quite what they seem to be."
The web-toed baby Pearl was found floating in the Thames one foggy night, and was brought up in a brothel known as the House of Mermaids. Now near her fourteenth birthday she discovers she is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Orphaned twins Lily and Elijah live in a secluded country house with their grandfather, but on a visit to London a chance meeting with Pearl will have repercussions for all of them, "binding their fates in a dark and dangerous way ..."
Essie Fox - who blogs at The Virtual Victorian - is of course the author of the very popular The Somnambulist which was a Channel Four TV Book Club choice earlier this year (click on the link there to watch the programme). "A spellbinding tale of lost love, grief, murder and madness in Victorian England," it features young Phoebe Turner who one night spots an enigmatic stranger in the audience at Wilton's Music Hall. When this Mr. Samuels offers Phoebe the job of companion to his reclusive wife at their country home, Dinwood Court, little does she know that the grand house may be haunted and hold the darkest of secrets.
Months ago I wrote an introductory post on Lawrence Norfolk's new novel John Saturnall's Feast, and after making an excellent start with the book - I was enjoying it greatly - I had to put it down in favour of 'deadline reading' and I'm only now about to pick it up again.
Having begun with the proof, here is the beautiful finished copy with jacket design by Holly Macdonald, but for an even stronger visual impression of the novel's subject matter, have a look at this short film of the author talking about the story - and the history of English cooking which inspired it - in the atmospheric setting of early seventeenth century Ham House.