Work in progress – an update

It’s quite a while since I posted anything here, so I thught I’d give a quick update on what has been happening.

SS Sultan sails into Fremantle Harbour 1897

In February I finished drafting and editing my book about C. Y. O’Connor and Dr Henry Barnett (which I’ve titled Madness and Marvels ). It’s now doing the rounds of publishers. It’s a fascinating story but it isn’t as sensational as that of The Edward Steet Baby Farm and I suspect it may take a while to find someone interested in taking it on. In the meantime, I’m considering what to write about next. Should it be another non-fiction book, a novel, a collection of shorter biographies? So many possibilities.

Invitations to speak about The Edward Street Baby Farm still arrive occasionally. At the last talk I gave in March, I was delighted to meet one of Alice Mitchell’s descendents, who had a copy of my book for me to sign. We had a great chat.

Last month my website moved to a different hosting arrangement, which will supposedly make it easier to look after the back-end of things. If you notice any glitches, please let me know.

I continue to write a monthly newsletter, The Scribbler, with articles on a wide variety of topics, many of them history related. It also includes updates about my books. You can read back issues here. If you would like to subscribe, please use the box below or in the side bar.

Hilary Mantel – a brief tribute

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell 
by Hans Holbein the Younger
Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
by Hans Holbein the Younger

The death of Hilary Mantel on 22 September, at the relatively young age of seventy, was a sad day for many readers and writers, me included. A truly inspiring writer has gone from the world.

I’ll be honest. Although Mantel wrote many novels and non-fiction works before producing ‘Wolf Hall’, I hadn’t come across her work until I read a transcript of the first of her Reith Lectures, given in 2017. She used the lecture to dissect the boundaries between history, fact and fiction.

At the time I was writing my first book and found her insights helpful. The depth of her research impressed me. But her ability to use language eloquently and succinctly overawed me. I bought and became engrossed in the first two books of her ‘Wolf Hall’ trilogy, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chancellor and hatchet man.

The third book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, contains a conversation which I think epitomizes Mantel’s skill as a writer. Cromwell is talking to Lady Rochford when the teenage Katherine Howard appears. Katherine is already being groomed by her uncle as Henry VIII’s next wife, to replace the unhappy Anne of Cleves. Cromwell looks her over and says,

‘New dress?’

‘Uncle Norfolk.’

Just four words. A lesser writer might have added “he asked” and “she replied”. The average writer would have used full sentences, if not a paragraph or two to say the same thing. But Mantel managed to convey whole pages of information and intrigue in that simple, true-to-life conversation.