Landing Author: Jacqueline Jacques (Part I)

As I promised on Thursday, here are the results of an email interview that I conducted with author Jacqueline Jacques about her new novel, The Colours of Corruption. I have actually divided Jacqueline’s Q and A into two sections as it is quite a long piece and I will post Part II up tomorrow. Since reading the book and working on the questions, I have learnt that The Colours of Corruption has been put forward by Honno Press for inclusion in the People’s Book Prize 2013. There is still time to cast your vote as the polls close on 20th May (I have already cast mine!).

book cover of Victorian street scene

Colours of Corruption

Art plays a large part in The Colours of Corruption.  Can you start by telling us a little about why you decided to make a painter your protagonist?

 I wanted to write a crime novel from the point of view of someone who was neither criminal nor victim, policeman nor private detective.  I don’t know enough about police procedurals to write confidently about them, but I do know a bit about painting and painters.  Listening to Woman’s Hour one day I heard Lois Gibson talking about her work as a forensic artist, drawing the perpetrators of crime from their victims’ descriptions.  I researched further and was astonished at how large a part such artists play, even today, in the solution of crime.  Archie Price, with his extraordinary gift for almost reading a witness’s mind, would have been invaluable to the police, at a time when photography was in its infancy.  Passionate about his painting, he is, at the same time quite naive about the real world and unprepared for the vicious criminals he comes up against.  He has all-too-human frailties, is weak, is charming.  An unreliable hero.  Perfect.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Brummie, but I still love reading fiction based on London’s many layered past. You said on your blog that Walthamstow features in most of your fiction.  Can you tell us what it is in the place that keeps pulling you back to it in your work?

As a child I felt that it was the best place on earth to grow up in.  It had (still has) an incredible bustle of creativity about it. Easy access to the forest gave me trees to climb, paths to ramble, changing seasonal moods to fire my imagination. There was the wonderful High Street market to explore, the library to feed my soul, the Town Hall grounds to play in, the marshes, the river, Lloyd Park for swings and roundabouts, and London, only half an hour away by train. Why Walthamstow? It was my home and I loved it.

Your engaging and courageous hero, Mary Quinn is an Irish woman whose family had all travelled over to England to find work.  I was wondering if you have any Irish connections yourself.

Probably.  My grandmother spoke of ‘Black Irish’ genes (Spanish Irish) in the family, and of ‘Great Uncle Archie coming over from Ireland,’ but I haven’t done any research on this.  

You really evoke a convincing sense of life in this often sordid part of Victorian England.  How did you set about researching the period?  And I was fascinated by the underground passages.  Did they really exist?

Black and white photo of Jacqueline Jacques

Jacqueline Jacques

 I borrowed books and maps, studied photographs and paintings of the period.  I went for walks on the Walthamstow marshes, through the streets and in Epping Forest.  I trawled the Internet for social history, facts about the police, housing, tile patterns, music hall.  But mostly I relied on my memory. I felt I knew these people; that I’d grown up among them.  I may be a few generations removed from the characters in the book, but we, too, were poor (after the war) and struggled to stay afloat just as they must have done.  My father, who grew up in Walthamstow in the 1920s, once told me about connecting cellars beneath the High Street shops, used by villains on the run from the police.  It may have been a myth for all I know.  My Dad was also a teller of tales. Truth or fiction?  Who knows?  I’m a writer.  I’ll use anything to make a good story.

Following on from the research behind The Colours of Corruption, I was wondering if, while you plotted the novel you knew early in the process where your characters would be at the end of the story.

 I vaguely knew that Archie would be drawn deeper into the criminal network but I had no idea what would happen to the other characters until the very end.  In fact I wrote several endings, none of which worked to my satisfaction.  As I got to know the characters, their histories, their motivations, they more or less told me how they would behave in any given circumstance and I wrote it down.  Sometimes I would drop a fact into the mix, like Mary’s sweet singing voice, or a sword-stick, or a pair of gold cufflinks, just to see where it would take me.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.  It’s a haphazard way of working, but there’s nothing like it for excitement.

I hope you enjoyed that look behind the scenes, more from Jacqueline Jacques on The Colours of Corruption to follow shortly.

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Jacqueline Jacques and Victorian Corruption

This is just a quick post to flag up a new guest on The Landing, Jacqueline Jacques who will be answering questions about her new book Colours of Corruption (Honno Press, January 2013).

Jaqueline Jaques

Jaqueline Jacques

Just to whet your appetite, this the publisher’s  synopsis of Jacqueline’s engrossing crime novel, set in Victorian England:

Mary, a desperately poor cleaner, is a witness to murder. Archie, one of the first artists to work for the police, to support his other work, draws the man she says she saw at the scene. Fascinated by her ‘face full of bones’, he persuades her to sit for a portrait, but the man who buys the picture really wants to buy Mary. When he realises he’s betrayed her, Archie takes her to hide with his friends, but doesn’t realise what he’s started. He has no idea how this one woman links his wealthiest clients, the poorest slums, terrible secrets, and a violent thug who is now looking for Archie – the man Mary described to the police.
 
As this gripping thriller uncoils, Jacqueline Jacques paints an intricate, vibrant picture of the layers of Victorian London, where the poor are commodities, criminals have nothing to lose and the rich can buy anything.
 
And the murders go on…

colours_corruption

I plan to post up Jacqueline’s responses to my gently probing questions on Saturday 20th April so stop by and take a look. In the meantime follow the link above to Jacqueline’s website to find out more about the author and her previous novels:

Lottie  (Honno  1997)

Someone to Watch Over Me   (Piatkus 1997)

Wrong Way Up the Slide  (Piatkus 1998)

A Lazy Eye  (Piatkus  2000)

Skin Deep  (Honno 2004)

Sharp eyed viewers may recall that Honno Press has featured on these pages before, as I have previously reviewed one of their classic reprints, Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards  for Belletrista.

I’ll be back on Saturday….

Picture credits: Honno Press (with thanks)

The Landing Eight: Mortimer on Rumpole

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

As you may recall, I have been re-reading Murderers and Other Friends (Penguin, 1995) as part of the Landing Eight mission. Due to the rather inconvenient fact of being aware that I was to lose my bookselling job come the end of March, my concentration has been somewhat fragile. Consequently, reading anything, even from an old familiar face has been rather a struggle. But, as I am nearing the end of my Landing Eight pile I have determined to soldier on regardless. Judging by experience, any sort of ‘readers block’ that I have ever encountered wilts quickly enough if I batter it into submission. After all temptation is always (and only) a Landing Bookshelf away.

First Rumpole Omnibus

Legal Eagle…

This is John Mortimer’s second volume of autobiography, the first being Clinging to the Wreckage (1982). He also wrote a play about his father’s life as a barrister entitled A Voyage Around my Father (first broadcast as a radio play in 1963). In Murderers and Other Friends, Mortimer picks up the threads of his life’s story in the 1970s, embarking upon his second marriage and acting in the Oz trial. Accounts of legal cases interweave with reminiscences of family and friends. He is an engaging writer who has a wealth of amusing and perceptive stories to tell about the great and the good, as well as the frankly criminal. The book stands up well on the whole to re-reading. However I did find that Mortimer’s more hedonistic adventures with various friends and acquaintances tried my patience somewhat. However, my present state of mind might have a strong bearing on that reaction.

As a confirmed Rumpole fan, I have re-read this book with him in mind, looking out for Rumpole related anecdotes. John Mortimer explains how he put together the various character traits that we see in Rumpole from several sources. For instance, a couple of Mortimer’s colleagues inspired Rumpole’s habit of referring to judges that he disliked, as  ‘old darling’. Closer to home, Mortimer’s father was the source of the Wordsworth quotations at inopportune moments and a waistcoat regularly adorned with cigar ash. The author does however, very modestly disclaim any resemblance to his fictional legal counterpart, ‘I lack his courage, his stoicism and the essential nobleness of his character’.

Rumpole A La Carte

Stern Pose…

As I said in the previous post, Horace Rumple’s first appearance was in a BBC Play for Today, which was later developed into a series. The character was actually created for television, something that I failed to realise on first seeing the Thames Television series in the late 1970s. Mortimer talks about Rumpole’s beginnings, explaining how Leo McKern took on the role of the Old Bailey hack for the first television episode. Mortimer is eloquent in his praise of McKern’s talent, ‘His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet off the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality’. In his memoir, John Mortimer mentions having written the part of Rumpole with nobody in particular in mind to play the part though he felt that ‘Alastair Sim would be excellent in the part, but sadly Mr Sim was dead and unable to take it on’. No doubt Alastair Sim (had he been still alive) would have made an excellent Rumpole, but like many fellow fans, to me Rumpole will always be Leo McKern…

Now what remains to be read of the Landing Eight?

The two adventures of Rumpole illustrated here are two collections from the Landing Bookshelves:

The Omnibus (1983) contains: Rumpole of the Bailey (1978), The Trials of Rumpole (1979) and Rumple’s Return (1980). 

Rumpole a La Carte was published by Penguin in 1991. 

Mortimer and Rumpole Illustrated

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

Lately I have been re-reading John Mortimer’s volume of memoirs, Murderers and Other Friends in between reading a couple of library books which I needed to tackle before they were due back. Still on the library pile is Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis which I have fortunately been able to renew while I finish Lindsey Davis’ Roman crime novel Saturnalia.

I have long been a fan of Davis’ private eye, Marcus Didius Falco who gets embroiled in the seamy underbelly of Roman society with the able assistance of his formidable patrician wife Helena Justina. As I think I have mentioned, I have been having a crime binge lately (apart from reading Mortimer’s memoirs) thanks to my local library.

I hope to discuss the topic of crime novels in a future post, but for the moment I shall return to Mortimer and his well-known creation Horace Rumpole of the Bailey. While doing a Google search on John Mortimer (1923-2009) I came across this short video of an exhibition of caricaturist Tony Healey’s original watercolour Rumpole paintings. If you have not read any Rumpole stories or watched the television versions starring Leo McKern (1920-2002), then these glimpses of the irascible old barrister might inspire you to explore further. The exhibition also includes several lively portraits of John Mortimer.

The exhibition and the video were the work of a London gallery called Illustrationcupboard which specialises in featuring the work of contemporary book illustrators. This definitely sounds like a place to see when I next visit London. Check out the gallery’s website for some fabulous artists such as Jane Hissey, Edward Ardizzone, Brian Wildsmith and Lauren Child.

On  a separate note, I have recently set up a new chapter on the Landing entitled Booksellers Beyond which is aimed at showcasing the talents of various former booksellers who have gone on to explore other creative avenues. My first guest artist is an old friend with whom I used to work in Birmingham, Valleri Jillard who has forged a new career as a mixed media artist. Take a peek at some examples of her work over in Booksellers Beyond by following the links. I hope to add more to this section soon so keep checking back.

But now, back to Mortimer and Rumpole…

Video credit: Illustrationcupboard, uploaded to YouTube 12 March 2012 (exhibition 20 February – 10 March) – with thanks.

More catching up: Landing Eight Challenge

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

In case you were all thinking that I had allowed my Landing Eight Challenge to fade quietly away, I will just slip in this quick post to let you know the next book to be read from the pile. After much deliberation I decided on the one remaining re-read in the pile (the other one having been Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time).

I have opted to read John Mortimer’s Murderers and Other Friends (Orange Penguin edition) again. This title was grabbed for the Landing Eight pile because it has been several years since I originally read it. According to the note written in side the cover in my own fair hand, the book was a Christmas present in 1995. Try as I might though, I cannot recall from whom I received this volume of memoir (apologies to the unknown giver).

The trigger for picking up this book now and not saving the treat of a re-read for the end of my challenge, was that I happened to come accross a DVD of the first episode of Rumpole of the Bailey  while I was browsing in the library. Actually it would probably be incorect to call it a first episdoe since Rumpole first appeared  together with his wife Hilda (She Who Must Be Obeyed) in a BBC Play for Today in 1975. Rumpole became a series in 1978, produced by Thames Television. Mortimer’s memoirs of his work as a barrister were the inspiration behind Rumpole’s creation.

Now, I will re-aquaint myself with John Mortimer and report back in due course…

The Bones of a Good Story: Richard III

I was ridiculously excited to hear about the discovery of the mortal remains of Richard of York this week. Those of you who have been with me for a while will recall that one of my Landing Eight titles featured an examination of the alleged crimes of the Yorkist king. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey is one of my all time favourite books and was included on the blog as a re-read. As far as I know it is still in print, but if not, then this seems to be an ideal moment for a reprint of a title that is a great introduction to Richard III’s life and career.

I have found a couple of news snippets to illustrate the story of the research and discovery of the remains, including a fascinating piece about the facial reconstruction carried out:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-21328380

As Phillipa Langley of the Richard III Society says, “It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant. I’m sorry but it doesn’t. “He’s very handsome. It’s like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now.”

The video below was taken from YouTube and produced by the University of Leicester:

After 500 years Richard III will once more formally be laid to rest. But what of his shady reputation? Perhaps it is time for another appraisal of his life and times; maybe he will yet be posthumously acquitted of his crimes. We will wait and see…

In the meantime, tomorrow  I welcome a visitor to The Landing, as debut author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald talks about the inspiration behind her time travelling YA novel Back to Blackbrick (published by Orion on the 7th February).

So enjoy catching with the news on Richard III and look out for another edition of #LandingAuthor here tomorrow…

John Buchan on film: those elusive thirty-nine celluloid steps

Orange Penguin cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

Our edition of The Thirty-Nine Steps

As I mentioned previously, I watched one of the film versions of John Buchan’s classic adventure The Thirty-Nine Steps after reading it recently. The Hitchcock re-telling was one of my favourite screen versions, made in 1935 and starring Robert Donat (as Richard Hannay) and Madeleine Carroll (as Pamela). It was not until I read The Thirty-Nine Steps that I realised just how far were the screen versions from Buchan’s original story. I thought I knew the plot (more or less, a variation here and there perhaps) but now I concede that I knew absolutely nothing. Except that, thirty-nine steps (albeit with variant meanings) were involved and so was a large segment of rugged, almost deserted (except for the baddies) Scottish landscape.

For those of you who have never read The Thirty-Nine Steps, I will give a brief outline of the plot before

Cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

A first edition of the novel

confusing you with the plot of the film: Hannay is a Scot, recently returned to the Old Country from South Africa who is heartily bored after three months. After an evening at dinner and a music hall show, he has determined to leave for the Cape if nothing interesting turns up within another day. Something certainly does turn up and Hannay finds himself fleeing across Scotland in several different disguises while in possession of a secret that could mean the difference between war and peace. Figuring out what or where the thirty-nine steps might be is a vital part of his un-looked for mission. As Buchan wrote the book in 1915, the plot’s threat, which involved the assassination of a European leader, was rather apposite. The Thirty-Nine Steps was Richard Hannay’s first adventure and it involves him in some tight moments and plenty of narrow escapes.

Moving on to the film version: I found to my surprise that whereas in Buchan’s original novel I found a distinct lack of women characters, two feisty ones pop up in the screen action. In the book, an occasional anonymous female supplies much-needed sustenance (fleeing dastardly spies is hungry work), but where, oh where is the glamorous Mata Hari type figure (Annabella Smith, played by Lucie Mannheim) that I saw in the film? In Buchan’s spy yarn, a mysterious American called Franklin P Scudder gives the vital information to Hannay. He does eventually wind up dead, but not as soon and arguably not as splendidly dramatically as Smith does.  In Buchan’s world, spying is obviously strictly a man’s game.

Film poster of Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll

Film Poster

Hitchcock’s film further alters the female/male balance of the cast by adding the cool and elegant Pamela, to function as the ‘love interest’ part of the chase. I wonder what Buchan, who died in 1940 thought of the changes made to his story. He did not live to see the further screen adaptations, none of which was any more faithful than the 1935 film to the original tale. Carroll’s character is noticeably less exotic than the deceased Annabella Smith is but sparks soon fly between her and Hannay. Initially she disbelieves Hannay’s far fetched claims so betrays him to the police before finally realising that he was telling her the truth all along and so she helps him.

One side effect of playing with Google to research for blog pieces is that you find out other snippets of information. I found a site set up in tribute to Madeleine Carroll, who was apparently one of the few film actors to make a successful transition from silent movies to talkies. She was born in West Bromwich, England of an Irish father (Co Limerick) and a French mother and spent part of her early career with Barry Jackson’s Birmingham Repertory Theatre. A memorial was set up in her hometown in 2010 and an account of her life by Derek Chamberlain was published by Troubadour Publishing Ltd. If I manage to get a picture of her memorial next time I am in the area, I will post it up.

Follow the links given in the text for further information. Thanks to Wikipedia for the gorgeous The 39 Steps film poster and the shot of the first edition jacket.

If you are interested in further information about John Buchan’s life and work, I found a link to the John Buchan Society which has plenty of useful material.

Now, after John Buchan, which of the ‘Landing Eight’ shall I tackle next….Any thoughts?

A Centuries Old Mystery: Josephine Tey and Richard III

Cast your minds back to the post with the selection of the TBR Pile featured. I did say that I would be tackling them ‘in no particular order’ but the one I have been reading for the past few days was indeed at the top of the list. See photograph below for proof. The book in question is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (real name Elizabeth Mackintosh) about Richard III and the Princes in the Tower mystery.

This was I think always going to be my first choice (it was the first one that I picked out as well as being the first listed). The reason being as I am sure you have guessed by now that this is a re-read of an old favourite of mine. The book was originally published in 1951 (the last book to be published in Tey’s lifetime as she died in 1952) and issued by Penguin Books in 1954. My edition is a 1969 reprint bought second-hand and it certainly shows: foxed is not the word for it I am afraid. The pages are heavily discoloured and threatening to fall out; both the front and back covers are damaged. Maybe one day I’ll treat myself to a new edition (I am not sure if the title is still in print) or a fine second-hand copy.

pile of classic novels

Working from the top down…

Two things make this book an old favourite: my affection for Josephine Tey’s crime novels and my long fascination with Richard III and the mystery of the princes in the tower. This fascination was in fact inspired by reading Tey’s book as I am sure was the case with many other readers. Indeed the Richard III Society credit her with helping to rehabilitate the king’s reputation and restore him to his rightful place in history. Shakespeare has much to answer for in his creation of the wicked hunchbacked uncle with a rather long crime sheet.

Tey’s novel features her regular detective character Inspector Alan Grant who is laid up in hospital after an accident and is terribly, mind numbingly, bored and frustrated. When his fascination with faces (from the bench or the cells?) causes him to become interested in the mystery surrounding Richard Plantagenet, the scene is set for a modern-day investigation into a historical crime. With the help of an amiable American student as his able-bodied research assistant, Grant delves into the murky doings of the fifteenth century. He is surprised by what he comes up with during his quest and is by no means impressed with your average historian’s powers of reasoning.

On the strength of reading this investigation into the Yorkist monarch several years ago, I did some further digging around and discovered more novels and academic studies on the subject. I then read as much as I could find on Richard and the Wars of the Roses and his eventual demise fighting at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. I was keen enough on the topic to become a member of the Richard III Society though I eventually let my membership lapse. Having looked at the website recently I am tempted once more to become a Ricardian.

Meanwhile, back to the novel to follow-up a few leads! Are there any more Richard III enthusiasts out there? If so, let me know what you have been reading lately, I would love to know.

Just to finish with, here is a link to a fascinating site on Josephine Tey which is well worth a look if you are a fan of her writing.