Journalism: The Essentials of Writing and Reporting by James Morrison

James Morrison

9780719809859When Robert Hale asked me to pen a book about journalistic writing, my immediate question was how could I make it stand out from all the other ‘how-to’ guides to journalism and plain English already cluttering college bookshelves, library catalogues and recommended reading lists? In the event, we quickly agreed that our contribution to the canon should have two unique selling points. Firstly, it should cover all forms of written journalism, from news writing to essays, rather than focusing exclusively on the business of reporting or crafting features (as most do). Secondly – and perhaps more ambitiously – it should be as much a critical appreciation of good journalistic prose as a step-by-step guide to the nitty-gritty of how to produce it. To this end, it would need to include not only made-up examples to illustrate the ‘dos and don’ts’ of written journalism, but extracts from classic (and not-so-classic) journalistic texts. I will spare readers a rant about the agonizingly labour-intensive business of clearing copyright permissions (suffice it to say, I am much greyer than when I started out). For what it’s worth, though, I think the book benefits greatly from the inclusion of excerpts from Orwell, Gellhorn, Wolfe and the like – and lesser-known contemporary writers whose work also sparkles – primarily because showing is always better than telling when it comes to explaining how to do something, but also because few ‘how-to’ guides have ever taken this approach.

So what of the book’s structure? As Journalism is the latest volume in an already established series – the Hale Expert Guides – it was felt that it would be wise to adopt a similar overall format to its fellow titles. For this reason, it is divided into two parts, respectively labelled ‘guide’ and ‘aid’: the first section introducing the various forms journalism takes, and the second focusing on specific technical aspects of writing, from how and when (if ever) to use first-person narratives to the importance of active sentences. Peppering the text throughout are examples of good (and, occasionally, bad) practice by named journalists, which have been chosen to illustrate key points about the writing process. As for the sequencing of chapters, I took the view that it was best to start with ‘the basics’: moving from the simplest, least fussy, most formulaic form of journalistic writing (news stories) towards longer-form, more colourful articles (features, reportage) and, in turn, less objective, more opinionated ones like essays, reviews and comment. And, of course, no book about journalism in the digital era would be complete without a chapter devoted to the multifarious pithy and more immediate forms in which it is composed for today’s web and mobile platforms.

But for which audience, or audiences, is Journalism intended? The simple answer is anyone and everyone with an interest in writing – a realization brought home to me ever more clearly as I progressed through the book. For all its limitations as a form of literary expression – a subject I address explicitly at the outset – there is so much variety to journalism, so much invention, so much, in essence, to love about it that I hope this book can be read as a celebration of its subject, rather than a dry, mechanical re-run of any number of previous tutorials on how to string an article together with passable competence. What I would like readers to take away from it is (if you’ll pardon the conceit) a feeling of itchy fingers – the sense of wanting to sit down at the nearest keyboard and have a go at it themselves. Although I expect the book’s primary readership to be trainees and early-career journalists working for newspapers, magazines and websites, I’d also like it to appeal to a wider constituency – the great mass of people out there who, from time to time or more regularly, feel the urge to put their thoughts and observations down on paper, to blog, or to interact with others via social media.

We live in an age when more of us than ever before are effectively journalists already, not only keeping diaries or journals, compiling information on our pet likes and dislikes or exchanging banter, gossip and speculation with our peers, but publishing all this material for the whole world to see – even if we don’t always consciously think of it as journalism. Much of this ‘citizen journalism’ has evolved out of the online firmament, and, as such, is busy establishing its own conventions customised to the needs and demands of today’s mobile, 24/7, forever-on-the-go audiences. At the same time, it is challenging the ways many traditional forms of journalism I explore in this book are done, as news stories and features written by professional practitioners are reshaped and reconceived as three-dimensional, multimedia packages replete with hyperlinks, video footage and discussion-threads.

Yet, for all this flux and change, the mainstays of prose journalism remain remarkably resilient. Indeed, the Internet itself – once seen as the enemy of long-form writing – has lately spurred its renaissance, with sites like http://longform.org/ and http://longreads.com/ curating the best new and ‘classic’ features, reportage and other non-fiction articles from across the web, and http://www.theawl.com/ commissioning lengthy pieces from scratch. Moreover, most people who go into journalism as a career, rather than flirting with it as a hobby, still need to master its tried-and-tested forms if they are to make more than a partial living from it – whether in print, online, or on radio or television. Here in Britain, the best way into the industry is still to enrol on a university, further education or private-sector course accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). The fact that the NCTJ diploma remains one of the few sure-fire passports into gainful employment – or, indeed, sustained paid freelance work – rests on the industry’s continuing confidence that it ‘does what is said on the tin’. Sure, this means equipping trainees with the ever-growing suite of digital skills they need to succeed – but, above all, it rests on nurturing their ability (and eagerness) to write.

Journalism: The Essentials of Writing and Reporting is available to buy now.

New fiction

Angel and the Actress by Roger Silverwood

9780719816154Award-winning actress, Joan Minter, is murdered in front of a gathering of her closest friends. However, nobody knows who the murderer is, nobody saw him or her, and nobody present could possibly be the guilty one. That’s the challenge facing Detective Inspector Angel and his team when they are called out to her luxurious home in Bromersley, South Yorkshire, at the foot of the Pennines. At the same time, an apparently innocent young insurance man is found murdered in his own house. The only clues are a new vacuum cleaner left by the murderer and an open refrigerator. Who committed the crime and what has the vacuum cleaner got to do with the case? This is the twenty fourth story in the highly successful Inspector Angel series.

Son of a Yorkshire businessman, Roger Silverwood was educated in Gloucestershire before National Service. He later worked in the toy trade and as a copywriter in an advertising agency. Roger went into business with his wife as an antiques dealer before retiring in 1997.

Buy your copy of Angel and the Actress here.

Dying Wish by James Raven9780719816932

Murder, kidnap, torture – these are not words usually associated
with Britain’s beautiful New Forest National Park. But when
local author Grant Mason has a heart attack, he makes a bizarre
dying wish: he wants his loyal assistant to burn his house down.
The request sets off a chain of events that leads to a huge police
hunt for a missing couple and a deranged killer. DCI Jeff
Temple and his Major Investigations Team take on their toughest case yet, and in the process they uncover vicious depravity and horror that was meant to lie buried forever. This is the fourth book by James Raven in the hugely successful DCI Jeff Temple series.

James Raven was a journalist for most of his working life. After
reporting for local, regional and national newspapers he moved into
television in 1982 as a news scriptwriter with TVS television where
he then worked his way up to become Director of News across
Meridian, Anglia and HTV. When Granada took over most of ITV he
became Managing Director of Granada Sport before setting up his
own production company. James spends much of his time writing and
travelling and also performs magic at various venues across the
country. James has previously published four novels with Robert
Hale, including Urban Myth and Random Targets.

.Buy your copy of Dying Wish here.

One Bullet Too Many by Paul Bennett9780719816215

Life in the Polish resort of Lake Cezar is idyllic, that is, until
local crime lord, Emil Provda, not satisfied with prostitution,
drug-smuggling and gun-running, starts a protection racket
among the resort’s businesses. But this time Provda has picked
the wrong battle. Local hotel owner, Stanislav, is one of a group of five ex-mercenaries.The old gang – Stanislav, Johnny Silver, Bull, Red and Pieter – must get together for this final fight. Putting their
lives on the line, they decide to close Provda down if it’s the last
thing they do. The gang’s crusade against Provda brings them up against their
toughest opponents yet and the odds against them rise with each
battle, until the final duel on a deserted island. Just when they
think it’s over, there’s one more bullet to come; but who is on
the receiving end?

Paul Bennett was born in London and educated at Alleyn’s School
in Dulwich. He studied Economics at Exeter University and spent
seven years in advertising before setting up a market research
agency which he sold in 1986. He is now semi-retired in order to
pursue writing. Bennett lives in a converted barn in Essex with his
wife and two daughters and his previous novels, Killer in Black,
Catalyst and Mercenary were also published by Robert Hale.

Buy your copy of One Bullet Too Many here.

9780719816314Riding the Storm by Heather Graves

Beginning in tropical North Queensland and continuing in Melbourne,
this is the story of two brothers, consumed by a rivalry that has
dominated their family for generations. Both love the same woman,
and both covet the same beautiful racehorse, Hunter’s Moon. But only one can win. When Robert Lanigan is the loser for the second time, he reaches out to exact a terrible revenge on his brother Peter. One wayor another, he is determined to own that horse. Peter’s death is only the first disaster to befall his son Ryan: that summer, a tropical cyclone devastates his entire life; his home is destroyed, along with the market garden
that is his livelihood, and Ryan’s mother is killed.If Ryan wants to see his father’s beloved horse Hunter’s Moon again,he must go to Melbourne and live in his uncle’s house. Here, past family torments are brought up, and he begins to unearth more about the disputes between Robert and Peter. The last thing Ryan expects is to fall in love with the clever, complicated girl who also happens to be his cousin….

Born in Warwickshire, Heather Graves has spent a great part of her
adult life in Australia, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
Her father maintained a lifelong interest in racing and Graves now
regularly attends races in Melbourne. A writer for over twenty years,
her books include Red for Danger, Starshine Blue, Indigo Nights and
Magenta Magic.

Buy your copy of Riding The Storm here.

Terror by Gaslight by Edward Taylor9780719816611

Victorian London is gripped by fear as a serial killer slays an
apparently random victim on Hampstead Heath every month, each
with a single knife thrust.Two men begin to suspect a mysterious link between the victims: Major Henry Steele and ex-Sergeant Mason have been discreetly retired from Military Intelligence following the suspicious death of a dangerous German agent in the Middle East. Now they work as private investigators, and are helping Scotland Yard hunt the so-called ‘Heath Maniac’. Their search takes them into large Heath-side houses where certain residents seem to have secrets, to the offices of shady lawyer, to the laboratory of a vivisectionist, back-stage at a London music-hall, and
later at the bedside of a dying comedian. Steele and Mason find themselves fighting for their lives on Hampstead Heath, before the Maniac is finally exposed in a shattering
climax.

Edward Taylor wrote and performed with the Cambridge University
Footlights, and was spotted by the BBC during the London run of
their 1955 revue. Offered a twelve-month contract as writer-producer,
he accepted and stayed for thirty-six years, being responsible for
Round the Horne, I’m Sorry – I’ll Read That Again, Just a Minute,
The Men from the Ministry and other top shows. Since then he’s written six plays, and Murder by Misadventure is widely performed throughout the world after a long London run. His first novel, The Shadow of Treason, was published by Robert Hale in
2012.

Buy your copy of Terror by Gaslight here.

What We’re Reading in… June

Books can make you feel familiar in places you’ve never stepped foot in, or pull you right back home, regardless of geographical location.

Inspired by the great site Trip Fiction, dedicated solely to promoting books that “let you see a location through an author’s eyes”, we think of books that have taken us around the world…..

alchemistCatherine, Design and Production Manager:
I’m currently, finally, reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (HarperCollins)- a slim volume from the pile of books yet to be read on my bedside table – only a few years after everybody else, then! So far I have travelled with Santiago, the book’s main character, from the Andalusian Hills in Spain where he tended his sheep to Tangiers as he heads towards the Egyptian pyramids. It’s an uplifting tale about hope and following your dreams while learning from the setbacks on the journey.

I must also recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini (Bloomsbury)a-thousand-splendid-suns – set in war-torn Afghanistan, it is beautifully crafted. Although harrowing and brutal at times, the writing is utterly compelling as the relationship between Mariam (sent to Kabul aged 15 to marry the surly and callous Rasheed) and Laila (a girl who is forced to become a second wife to Rasheed nearly 20 years later) develops. Hosseini’s descriptions of life in Kabul through its tumultuous history are vivid and heart-breaking, and yet the story is inspirational. These women endured so much but still show great courage and self-sacrifice in the face of the most awful circumstances. While it is fiction, there is no doubt that Afghani women have suffered greatly in reality. This book is nothing less than a masterful piece of literature.

netherlandSarah, Marketing and Publicity Manager:
I recently read Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (Harper Perennial), the story of a banker who becomes friends with an unsavoury New Yorker after he is left living alone in New York City when his wife returns to their home in the UK. I’m a little obsessed with NYC and try to read a book set there whenever I get a craving for it. O’Neill conveys the sense of being in the city incredibly well, incorporating the good and bad aspects of it. This is my favourite line: “Sometimes to walk in shaded parts of Manhattan is to be inserted into a Magritte:  the street is night while the sky is day.”


Sam, Design and Production Assistant:
I read Burmese Days by George Orwell (Penguin Modern Classics) on a nine hour bus trip from Zagreb to Berlin. I have a tendency to read books about personal suffering in foreign places while travelling long distances. Also on my list that trip was Richard Flanagan’s soul-pulverising but brilliant Booker Prize winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage) and W Somerset Maugham’s The Gentleman in the Parlour (Vintage), although the latter’s author doesn’t suffer much more than being rigid and inescapably British in South-east Asia.
narrpw road                  gentleman in da parlour

Burmese Days’ protagonist is a fairly commonplace wood merchant with a distinctiveburmese days facial disfigurement, whittling out a living for himself in British imperial Burma. Despite having the best of intentions, he is universally derided and disdained by his fellow expats, a shallow and charmless flock of breakfast drinkers.

He is less dismissive of the local culture than his countrymen and befriends an Indian doctor whom corrupt local officials seek to defame and banish from his profession. The doctor hopes to safeguard his reputation by gaining membership into the British club, which the merchant struggles to get past the deeply bigoted committee. The merchant is introduced one night at the club to a charming but manipulative Englishwoman, who he projects his views of acceptance and egalitarianism onto despite her own bigotry and aristocratic pretentions.

The book is more than a thinly-veiled critique of the entrenched racism of British imperialism that Orwell would have witnessed as an officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. It plays on themes of lust and delusion, loneliness and impotence, and the consuming and in this case degrading struggle for decency in an immoral culture.

helen dunmoreEsther, Editorial Controller:
Love of Fat Men by Helen Dunmore (Penguin) is largely set in Scandinavia, though a few are set in places such as Austria and New York. The whole book has a distinctly un-English feel to it, in that the world Dunmore creates features icy, endless winters, glorious summer nights and European styles and traditions. She writes about human pain, sexuality, isolation and love between a parent and child, but you can never be entirely sure where exactly in Scandinavia these stories are taking place, which is part of the beauty of it all. I found the most memorable stories to be ‘Love of Fat Men’, ‘The Ice Bear’, ‘Short Days and Long Nights’, ‘North Sea Crossing’, ‘Spring Wedding’ and ‘Smell of Horses’ because they have a languorous, sensuous effect, and offer vivid imagery of snow-capped mountains, appetising European breakfasts, afternoon siestas and hot days near water’s edge – things we don’t have much of in the UK. When characters travel, we – the audience – travel with them and bask in their un-English ways that feel so alien to us, we long to be in those countries, even if it’s too hot or too cold!

And finally, some inspiration for your next trip….

9780719808784 (2)         9781910208120        9781910208014

 

 

 

 

The dark side of the author: James Raven talks about upcoming novel Dying Wish

Interview by Esther Lee

Dying Wish is one of many crime books published by Robert Hale. What keeps you writing this genre and why? 

I became an avid reader of crime novels when I was in my early teens. My mother was a big fan of Agatha Christie and the great Mickey Spillane, and she got me hooked. Crime appeals to me because as a writer, you can really let your imagination run wild. I love to develop plots and create characters who are either good and honourable or incredibly evil and vicious.

Where do you find the inspiration for your books?

I’m a news junkie so many of my ideas come from the papers. I also draw on my years of experience as a journalist. Every day there are stories in the news that can be turned into a plot for a book. I have a folder full of cuttings that give me inspiration.

Do you think you have a bit of a dark side?

My friends tell me that I must have a dark side because some of the stories I come up with are so twisted and disturbing. In fact, more than once I’ve had to tone down my manuscripts before Robert Hale considered them suitable for publication.

There has been quite a surge in crime and thriller novels over the past few years. How does Dying Wish stand out from the rest of them, and what have you been doing to market this book?

It’s hard for any book to stand out in the current marketplace, especially in the crime and thriller genre. Competition is fierce. I like to think that Dying Wish will be noticed because the premise is somewhat unusual and some of the sequences are quite shocking. My agent described it as ‘a powerful book that’s not for the squeamish’.

I’ll be doing what I can to market Dying Wish by running online promotional ads, trying to secure reviews and sending out specially-made flyers. Hopefully there will also be a couple of book store events.

How do you want your readers to feel after reading Dying Wish?

Dying Wish is actually a pretty dark story and I’m hoping that readers will find it thought-provoking as well as entertaining. If when they finish it they feel it was time well spent, then I’ll be happy. It’s also the fourth in the DCI Jeff Temple series and it’d be great if readers are encouraged to check out the other three – Rollover, Urban Myth and Random Targets.

Tell us a bit about your next novel.

My next book is entitled The Blogger and also features Jeff Temple and his Major Investigations Team. It’s just been accepted by Robert Hale and is due out next year.

The idea came to me after I read about the huge growth in the number of online blogs and how some prominent bloggers have been murdered in recent years for running controversial campaigns.

It’s about a social justice activist who runs an online blog that has millions of followers. He promotes worthwhile causes and often criticizes governments and global corporations, which means he has some very powerful enemies. So when he dies in a mysterious fall from his balcony, there are more than a few suspects…

Dying Wish will be published by Robert Hale in June 2015.

New non-fiction: The Bishop’s Brothels

9780719816574 The Bishop’s Brothels

Drawing on a wealth of contemporary source material, The Bishop’s Brothels is a fascinating social history of how commercial sex has been bought and sold in London for over a thousand years.

The Bankside Brothels, or ‘stewes’, were a celebrated feature of London life since Roman times. Located on the south side of the River Thames, in the Bishop of Winchester’s ‘Liberty of the Clink’, they were a highly lucrative source of revenue for the Church. In AD 1161 a royal decree ordered that these establishments be licensed and regulated. For many years they attracted the great and the not-so-good, helping to make Southwark the ‘pleasure-garden’ of London.

But who were the people of the Bankside Brothels? What living conditions did they have to endure? How did women cope with the constant threat of violence, unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease? The streets of Southwark and those who walked them are vividly brought to life in this richly researched exploration of the history of this stretch of the Thames over the centuries.

Through the stories of those who lived and worked in this fascinating part of London, we can begin to gain an understanding of a crucial but hitherto neglected aspect of the social history of England.

E. J. Burford
E.J. Burford as a popular historian who wrote several bestselling social histories that explored the lives of ordinary people in England. He died in 1997.

 

Buy your copy of The Bishop’s Brothels here.

 

New fiction: Twice Royal Lady by Hilary Green


9781910208335
Twice Royal Lady

Destined from childhood to be an important piece in the intricate chess game of power, Matilda is the granddaughter of William the Conqueror but also descended, through her mother, from the ancient line of Anglo-Saxon kings.

Betrothed to Emperor Henry of Germany at the age of eight, she is married at twelve and crowned Empress. By her early twenties she is a widow, and the only surviving legitimate heir to her father, Henry l of England. Forced into a second marriage to a boy ten years younger, she gives birth to three sons, the male heirs her father longs for. However, on his sudden death, the throne is usurped by her cousin, Stephen.

Matilda is forced to choose between her husband and her rights as her father’s heir. Intelligent, determined and courageous, she chooses to fight for her rights.

Hilary Green

Hilary Green is a trained actress and spent many years teaching drama and running a youth theatre company. She has also written scripts for BBC Radio and won the Kythira short story prize. Hilary now lives in the Wirral and is a full-time writer.

Buy your copy of Twice Royal Lady here.

 

New fiction: Dreams That Veil by Dominic Luke

Dreams That Veil9781910208236

December 1911. Twelve-year old Eliza Brannan eagerly awaits the return of her brother Roderick from university, a welcome but brief diversion from her otherwise cosy existence in the heart of Northamptonshire with her widowed mother and cousin Dorothea.

Roderick and Dorothea are growing up fast. They are forging lives and loves of their own, and Eliza feels she is being left behind. When an unexpected proposal of marriage leads Dorothea to a search for her long-lost father in the slums of London, Eliza begins to realize that the world is a bigger and more frightening place than could have ever imagined.

Dreams That Veil is the story of England basking in the calm before the storm of the First World War and of a young girl’s struggle with her transition to maturity.

Dominic Luke

Dominic Luke was born in London and studied history at the University of Birmingham. He lives in Northamptonshire and has written four previous novels: Nothing Undone Remained (Buried River Press), Aunt Letitia, Snake in the Grass, Autumn Softly Fell and  Nothing Undone Remained.

Buy your copy of Dreams That Veil here.

 

 

 

 

 

New fiction titles

9780719816086An Oxford Tragedy by Norman Russell

1894, Sir Montague Fowler, warden of St Michael’s College, Oxford, dies from apparent natural causes but an autopsy reveals that his body was full of the deadly poison mercuric chloride. Detective Antrobus of the Oxford city police is summoned to investigate. Who would benefit most from the warden’s death? His three children are all in desperate need of money and each are embroiled in their own scandal. Antrobus’s list of suspects grows as it seems everyone had something to gain from the death. Aided by pioneer physician, Sophia Jex-Blake, the detective sets about unravelling the truth behind this Oxford tragedy.

Norman Russell was born in Lancashire but has lived most of his life in Liverpool. After graduating from Jesus College, Oxford, he served a term in the army and was later awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He now writes full-time. Among his previous novels published by Robert Hale are Depths of Destruction, The Dorset House Affair and The Calton Papers.

Buy your copy of An Oxford Tragedy here.

9780719815607

Imperfect Pretence by Ann Barker

Max Persault loves his sea-faring life as a ship-owner and merchant. When his cousin Alistair, the newly elevated Duke of Haslingfield, appeals for his help, he finds himself masquerading as the duke and on his way to Cromer, while Alistair sets off to France to complete an undercover mission. Before even arriving at his destination, Max has aroused the suspicions of Miss Constance Church. Constance struggles with her misgivings about Max. At first dismissing him, she soon begins to suspect that there may be much more to him than meets the eye. In this lively and comedic tale of love and masquerade, first impressions are questioned, judgments are upturned and pretences must eventually come undone.

Ann Barker was born and brought up in Bedfordshire, but currently lives in Norfolk. For more information about Ann Barker and her books, please go to http://www.AnnBarker.com.

Buy your copy of Imperfect Pretence here.

9780719815843Give Me Tomorrow by Jeanne Whitmee

The Davies family is as dysfunctional as they come. When Frank marries a younger woman, Susan, his ten-year-old daughter Louise feels pushed out, and even more so when baby Karen arrives. Now, years later, with her father gone, Louise feels even more the odd one out. Obsessed with finding her birth mother, she distances herself from her family, hiding the truth of her flailing acting career from them, and spitefully makes trouble for Karen whenever the opportunity arises. Karen meanwhile wants to return to her career as a teacher after baby Peter is born, but her husband Simon has other ideas. Susan longs to see her girls reconciled and to pick up the threads of her own life again.Eventually each one, in her own way, is shown the path to happiness. But will they take it?

Jeanne Whitmee originally trained as an actress and later taught Speech and Drama until taking up writing full-time. She has written many novels including Too Late to Paint the Roses, To Dream Again and True Colours, also published by Robert Hale.

Buy your copy of Give Me Tomorrow here.

9780719813009Sherlock Holmes and the Unholy Trinity by Paul Gilbert

A colourfully dressed Bedouin interrupts the breakfast of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with a cryptic message of warning: they must stay away from the affairs of his people. Before long the detective and his assistant are dispatched to the Vatican to investigate the murder of Cardinal Tosca. Considered the Pope’s natural successor, Tosca was killed as he worked on the translation of an ancient scroll. All clues point towards Holmes and Watson’s Bedouin intruder and there are whispers of the involvement of a so-called ‘unholy trinity’. The duo embark upon a dangerous trip to Egypt, the birthplace of the Coptic Church, to uncover the nature of a parchment missing from Cardinal Tosca’s office and, ultimately, the motives of the Bedouin.

Paul D. Gilbert was born in North London and now lives in Harrow with his wife Jackie and their two sons. As well as his passion for the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, he also enjoys history, science-fiction and Tai Chi. His previous two novels, Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra and The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes, were also published by Robert Hale.

Buy your copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Unholy Trinity here.

What We’re Reading in… May

This month in the Hale office, we think about books we’ve re-read, and how these stories have fared over time.

Catherine, Design and Production Manager:

There are two books that I have re-read several times for pleasure rather than having to re-read them as part of school studies: Dickens’ Hard Times, anyone?!

The first is C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Harper Collins). As a child, lion - coverit was my favourite book and I never tired of escaping to the magical world of Narnia along with Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter. Then, I never quite saw it as a Christian allegory but a simpler triumph of good over evil. As an adult, I read it to my own children as part of bed-time reading. I still enjoyed the fantasy with some of the delightful animal (-like) characters such as Mr Tumnus, the Beavers and the very wise, Christ-like Aslan. I also better understood the darker theme in the book, betrayal. Poor Edmund turns bad rather slowly – from resentful child, to bully, to liar, to traitor. Thankfully, there is a happy ending and Edmund is redeemed with the help of Aslan and the unconditional love of his brother and sisters. It’s still a very positive message in the end: no matter how far down the slippery slope someone has gone, everyone can be helped to change if they want to.

The second book is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (Virago), first read in my early teens after studying Jamaica Inn at school. ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.…’ is among the most memorable opening line of any book. I was captivated by Maxim de Winter and how the evil Mrs Danvers made life so difficult for the narrator, the second Mrs de Winter. I was always intrigued by the fact the rebeccanarrator is never given a first name but, finally understood on the latest reading that it’s a very effective way of making her seem a lesser person than Rebecca – less confident, less capable, less attractive to Maxim – particularly with Mrs Danvers’ frequent undermining of the narrator as well. The Cornish connection was also a great attraction for Rebecca and other du Maurier books as our family visited Cornwall often for holidays – Daphne du Maurier’s Cornish house, Menabilly, was part of the inspiration for Manderley. I read it again three years ago when Rebecca was one of the World Book Day titles, and I took part by giving away several copies of this book at my local railway station to the commuters coming home.

It’s a 20th century gothic romance and, for me, an all-time classic.

Isobel, Marketing and Publicity Assistant:
For some reason, (maybe drawn in by the cute, welcoming cover), aged nine, I picktrainspotting-covered up a copy of Trainspotting (Vintage) by Irving Welsh. We were visiting my cousins in Glasgow, and my family were probably just happy I was occupied. When I reread it recently, I realised approximately 99.99999% of it must have gone over my head the first time around. The story centres on Renton, a heroin-addict living in Edinburgh, and his junkie friends, as they try and fail to get clean. While I might not have followed the storyline entirely, I remember being moved by Renton’s character. I thought he came across as basically a good person, if a bit confused. I couldn’t work out why he never stuck to his word about quitting.

It was strange recognising the naivety that formed my first reading of the book. I am not as instantly sympathetic to Renton’s character now.  I also remember finding the Edinburgh dialect used by Irvine Welsh throughout the novel a lot easier to understand when I was nine, though maybe the phonetic spelling appealed to my far from advanced spelling abilities..

Anne-Marie Vukelic talks to us about Caged Angel, Charles Dickens and Victorian novels

For those of us fascinated by Victorian history, who has not been educated, enlightened, and entertained in some way by the works of Charles Dickens?

During his lifetime he wrote fifteen major novels, drawing attention to the plight of the poor, the injustices of child labour, and the absurdities of the legal system. By raising public awareness of such matters he contributed to a number of social reforms.

My own interest in Dickens was sparked by a visit to the city of Rochester in 2005, where the author spent his final years. With its cobbled streets and crooked houses it is a city in which time appears to have stood still, and Dickens drew both characters and settings for his novels from this place which was very dear to his heart. My own time in Rochester motivated me to begin examining the author’s life in greater detail, and wondering how much of his work was biographical.

How vividly the story of Oliver Twist came to life when I learned that at the age of twelve, Dickens worked alongside other boys in a ‘Blacking’ factory under the guidance of a man named Bog Fagin. I discovered that in this same time period Dickens’s father was being held in the Marshalsea Debtors prison and the proud, solitary figure of William Dorrit came to my mind.

And what of Dickens’s heart? As a young man, it had been crushed by his first love, Maria Beadnell, who coldly referred to him as ‘Boy’. While standing in the shade of Restoration House – the inspiration for Miss Haversham’s Satis House – I thought of poor Pip cruelly spurned by Estella in Great Expectations. Yes, there is much of the pain and rejection that Dickens felt he had suffered in his youth that spilled from his pen onto the page.

By his own efforts, Dickens rose from humbling circumstances to author of great acclaim, but in studying his life I found myself curiously drawn to the shy, clumsy and somewhat disorganized wife who lived with this talented, impatient and restless man.

Little has been recorded about Catherine Dickens and yet, within the numerous pages that have been written about her famous husband, her voice appealed to me and so began the random jottings which eventually became my first novel, Far Above Rubies. Dickens’s world is traced from the perspective of a Victorian wife – the mother of ten children – who struggled through life quietly at the side of an exacting husband. When Dickens cast her aside in later years, he wrote a statement for the newspapers and, creating his own fiction, inferred that it was because she had some ‘peculiarity of character’. It was she who was to blame and not him.

My second novel, The Butterflies are Free, followed the fate of the Dickens children, the legacy of bearing the Dickens name and how their father’s secret affair with the young actress Ellen Ternan influenced their own relationships. The title is a quote taken from Dickens’s novel, Bleak House, and for me captured his wish to escape the life he found himself constrained by in his middle years.

Caged Angel, my forthcoming novel, was written as a result of my enduring interest in Dickens and the discoveries I made about some of his lesser-known contemporaries.

Caged Angel relates the story of the banking heiress, Angela Burdett-Coutts, who was considered a remarkable woman for her time in that she largely ignored what society expected of someone in her position, and chose instead to immerse herself in social issues of the day.

Dickens’s own interest in such matters made their friendship a natural one, and he was an ambassador for many of her projects, one of which was a home for former prostitutes.

Their backgrounds were completely different: Burdett-Coutts, the daughter of a baronet, had been raised on her family’s country estate. Dickens was the son of an improvident naval clerk, imprisoned for debt. Many of Angela’s equals could only have seen her in the context of her position in society, but with Dickens as her champion she was free to explore opportunities not usually open to women of her time.

Angela’s great wealth brought with it many unsolicited marriage proposals and unwanted suitors, the most persistent of these being the barrister Richard Dunn. Exploring newspaper archives and court records, I discovered how his enduring fixation with Angela became a frantic obsession. In a world largely dominated by men, there were no laws at the time to protect a woman from the term we are now familiar with as ‘stalking’.

The streets of nineteenth century London could not have provided a better setting for such a dark story to take place, and it is one by which readers of Victorian fiction are always excited.

I have an ongoing interest in the Victorian era for many reasons but partly because of its contradictions: the extremes of elegance and squalor, the veil of sexual morality twinned with hypocrisy, the contrast between the lives lived by Victorian men and women, and also experienced by those within the different class systems.

My interest in psychology and human emotions means that I am always curious about what drives an individual. What are their motives, their ambitions and inner thoughts? When writing the journal of Richard Dunn, capturing this aspect became even more challenging as Dunn’s thoughts descended into insanity.

When considering the time period in which to set a novel, the author has to consider the social attitudes of the day and how these will influence their characters. This becomes inevitably more interesting when the novel is set in the Victorian era, as so often an individual will find their own wishes going contrary to such attitudes and expectations.

All of the foregoing provides an author with an array of tools which lend themselves to a setting with tremendous atmosphere, a society from which one can draw intriguing plots and interesting characters. I think this is why Victorian fiction is still being written, and enjoyed by readers.