An interview with Bruce Holsinger – Part I

Category: News

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The publication of Bruce Holsinger’s stunning debut novel is now just two days away, and the Killer Reads team are getting extremely excited! Bruce has very kindly taken the time to answer a few of our BURNING questions (sorry, awful pun), for this exclusive Q&A.

Read on to hear about slang of the fourteenth century, five fascinating facts about medieval life and find out what’s in store next for John Gower…

 

As a scholar of medieval literature, it seems natural that your debut novel is set in the 14th Century. But was this really a no-brainer for you, or did you consider writing a thriller set in the present day?

Actually the first novel I completed (the first “drawer novel”) was a very bad contemporary techno-thriller, though with a medieval background. (A sample sentence: “The mashed potatoes were as white and fluffy as clouds.”) Writing a historical thriller allowed me to draw on my knowledge and love of the medieval world to tell what I hope is an unusual story that could only have taken place in this era. A Burnable Book depends on manuscript culture rather than print culture, on slow travel, on aristocratic politics and London literary culture at a particular moment. But I love reading thrillers and crime novels set in the present day—among my favorite writers are Tana French, Lee Child, Iain Rankin, and the list goes on. I have ambitions to write a contemporary thriller down the road, though for now I’m devoted to the world of late medieval England.

 

What drew you to the real-life character of John Gower?

Originally I had conceived the book with Geoffrey Chaucer as the progagonist. In the popular imagination the Age of Chaucer is often imagined as a kind of Merry Olde England, with Chaucer himself as the jolly, ribald figure at the center.  But I wanted to tell a different kind of story about Chaucer’s London: a darker story of petty crime and betrayal, murder and conspiracy. Despite what Shakespeare does with him in Pericles, John Gower seemed the ideal narrator for this story.  We know he was a friend of Chaucer’s, and he writes thousands and thousands of lines of moralizing poetry in multiple languages, yet none of it has ever felt quite genuine to me, and there’s a real strain of nihilism in certain of his works. I started to wonder what might be beneath the pious mask of his poetry—hence A Burnable Book.

Another aspect of Gower’s character that makes him such an intriguing protagonist to create is his visual disability. We know that he was blind or nearly so by the early years of Henry IV’s reign, though there are no records of the potential cause of his affliction, which seems to have come on over a number of years. There’s an intriguing hint at the end of his great poem Confessio Amantis that the poet was already suffering from impaired vision at the time he wrote his long Middle English poem: “Myn yhen dymme” (“My eyes dim”). That Gower would live and write for another decade and more following the publication of the Confessio is a testament to the durability and richness of his literary imagination, and I’ve made it an emerging part of his story in A Burnable Book and its sequel.

 

Do you feel a need to be historically accurate or does this come secondary to the plot? For instance, did you make up any words, and/or imagine any locations in the writing of A Burnable Book? If so, why?

Story and character have to come first, though accuracy has to be part of the story, I suppose. Most if not all writers of historical fiction strive for authenticity in their depictions of past cultures and settings, but I think it’s a mistake to see accuracy and research as constraints rather than inducements to further creativity. The parts of the book that were the most enjoyable to write were those depicting the lives and lingo of London prostitutes of the fourteenth century. One character, Edgar/Eleanor Rykener, was inspired by an archival document that preserves the interrogation at the Guildhall of a male transvestite prostitute working in London and Oxford in the 1390s—and I had a great time playing with the slang and jargon of the fourteenth-century sex trade: maudlyns, swervers, and so on. Some of the words are historically accurate (Chaucer writes in the Cook’s Tale about a Cheapside prostitute “swyvyng for her sustenance”), others are my own invention. The real test in historical fiction, as the history of the genre since Sir Walter Scott shows us, is feasibility: the author has to make up a lot (this is fiction, after all), but it has to possess the air of plausibility in order to convince the reader of its accuracy.

 

Can you tell us five fascinating facts we didn’t know about medieval life?

1. Medieval people did not believe the world was flat.

2. Medieval physicians would often diagnose illnesses by examining and sometimes even tasting a patient’s urine.

3. Most medieval writing survives on animal skin—parchment and vellum leaves. Some larger books required as many as 700 distinct animals.

4. Sex within marriage was considered an obligatory debt owed by one spouse to the other. The “marriage debt” was an integral part of medieval marriages.

5. Yes, they had forks—but not many of them. Edward I and Piers Gaveston both owned forks for ginger and fruit, and the utensils were prized for a time among English aristocrats.

 

Will we be seeing more of Gower in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I’m hard at work on the second book in the series, which is set a year following the events narrated in A Burnable Book. No spoilers, but I’ll just tell you that the book begins with the grim discovery of sixteen bodies in the privy channels beneath the streets of London.

 

A Burnable Book publishes on Thursday 30th January – order your copy today!

Read an extract now on Scribd

Listen to an extract now on SoundCloud

An audience with J. A. Kerley

Category: News

Picture1Howdy folks, and thanks for letting me take the dais. The topic is Carson Ryder’s recent move from Mobile, Alabama, to South Florida.

Because I can’t speak into microphones without them squealing like a kicked pig, I’m gonna take my beer to the edge of the stage, sit down, and we’ll start the session… First question to the lady in the fuzzy red hat. Ma’am?

‘Did Carson finally make Mobile’s Chief of Police so angry that Carson got fired?’

Thankfully, the Florida Center for Law Enforcement offered to make Carson a major investigator.

‘Wasn’t Carson a major investigator in Alabama?’

Only in the city of Mobile. As a specialist for the FCLE, Carson now has an entire state under his jurisdiction, 58,000 square miles of general weirdness.

Next question to the gent in the bowler hat. Sir?

‘In Mobile, Carson headed the Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team. Will he still go after the nastiest, most deranged criminals?’

It’s Florida, sir. He’ll have a wider variety to choose from.

Question to the lady in the blue bathrobe …

‘Does Carson have a new partner?’

He often pairs with Ignacio Ruben Manolo Gershwin, ‘Ziggy’ for short, thankfully.

‘What about Harry Nautilus?’

I have seen the future, ma’am, and it is sometimes dressed in neon-orange Aloha shirts, lime-green shorts and sky-blue sneakers.

‘Non-readers won’t understand that, will they?’

Not a word.

Next question to the fellow crouching behind the potted plant …

‘I- I liked Carson’s house on Dauphin Island. Wh-why would he leave such a peachy place?’

He found an even, uh, peachier place in the Florida Keys.

Next question to the woman atop the pony, but only if you don’t use the word ‘peachy.’

‘The house on Dauphin Island, Mr Kerley. Might I purchase it?’

Carson decided to keep the house, ma’am, and lease it to vacationers.

‘So he’ll still visit South Alabama?’

I’ll just say that all things are possible.

Next question to the young lady eating from the bag of chips …

‘How about Carson’s brother, Jeremy? I probably shouldn’t say this, but he’s my favorite character.’

I expect Jeremy to continue affecting events in his own special ways, ma’am.

‘Is Jeremy still hiding in Kentucky?’

Not presently. Rumour has it he’s off looking for that one special lady.

‘My goodness! Are you saying—’

Time for one final question. The fellow in the cream linen jacket who just came in the door. Do you have a … Wait, what are you doing here? Look at the sign: It’s the J. A. Kerley session.

‘So why are the questions about me and not you?’

‘I, uh …’

Kerley moves his mouth but no sounds emerge. The newcomer puts his hands in his pockets and rocks on his heels in amusement. The red-hatted woman tugs at his sleeve.

‘I don’t understand,’ she says. ‘Do you write him or does he write you?’

Carson Ryder thinks a moment. ‘It depends on the story, ma’am.’

The woman watches as Ryder turns and exits. Outside, under a floating blue sky, a large black man with a bulldozer-blade mustache is sitting in a vintage Volvo and whistling a tune by Louis Armstrong. Ryder laughs and jumps into the car.
Off they go.

 

The Death Box, the latest novel in the nail-biting Carson Ryder series by J. A. Kerley is out tomorrow! Pre-order your copy today!

 

Paul Finch: blog spot number 3

Category: News

This month sees our third blog entry from the incredible Paul Finch. The Former The Bill scriptwriter turned author is back this week with a sneak peek into his life as a journalist, a period in which Paul feels had a huge impact in becoming the author he is today…

 

People often ask me how it happened that I went from being a policeman to writing police stories. Well, the cross-over is not as straightforward as some may think.

While I was in the police, I wrote almost no fiction at all. I had a yearning to write – I’d always written fiction as a youngster, and my father had been a professional author, but whenever the temptation came over me, I used to tell myself that I was too tired, too stressed and too busy obsessing about dreadful incidents in the real world – and for the most part that was probably true. But it’s also the case that I was being sucked into a radically different discipline. I was buried in a world of procedure and legalities, which came to completely dominate my daily thinking. It was near enough impossible to go home at night and put the job, or whatever case you’d been working on, out of your mind. These were serious affairs after all, and people’s lives and liberties might be at stake.

This is something I’ve tried to bring into the Mark Heckenburg books in fact; the way police life can consume you. Even your recreation time tends to be spent with other police officers, or at least it often was for me, and usually such R&R consisted of drinking hard and yet again discussing the job. Anything else seemed frivolous.

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