What the fantastic Buckinghamshire authors have been up to
PUBLISHED: 10:54 16 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:54 16 September 2016
Buckinghamshire authors have been really busy with everything from murder and mayhem to food and fantasy into our towns and villages
When Ivinghoe’s Dr Andrew Dicker retired from his GP practice two and a half years ago he swapped academic writing for fiction. After attending writing sessions at The Groucho Club followed by an Open University course, short stories became his focus. The result? The Seduction of Celia: a collection of intriguing tales which centre around the emotional psychology of each character.
He says: “The book contains 10 stories written over 18 months though the collection idea developed as time went by. They are all drawn from life, my professional experience of encounters of one kind or another which I removed to a different context. The plot evolved from this pairing.”
The stand-alone stories vary in length up to 7,000 words. But it is the strata of society into which Andrew delves that is the key to their grittiness and strength. For instance, there’s Billy and his drug addicted mother, and the desperation of new mum Vicky who is toying with the prospect of prostitution; Celia, meanwhile, boasts success and intelligence yet struggles to form a successful relationship.
“Once an idea is there,” explains Andrew, “I write down key things, usually single words which is the nearest I come to making notes. The story then evolves on the computer screen and I edit endlessly.”
The exploration of personal and social dilemmas is handled astutely. And rest assured, this author may have chosen challenging topics, but the reader will doubtless be absorbed by compelling characters and the life challenges they face.
As a Trustee of Waddesdon Manor and with links to major art galleries and film scripts, Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love not only draws on inside knowledge of the art world but blends such details with secrets from European history and the complexities of human nature.
The idea for the novel first presented itself three decades ago. Hannah had embarked upon “A desperately dull job” at the Louvre when she came face to face with Pierrot, a painting of a lonely looking figure by Jean-Antoine Watteau. The possible self portrait reflected the author’s sense of isolation. A lack of documentation of the artist’s life was like manna from heaven and, coupled with years of accumulated ‘Bits of writing’ stored in a shoebox, eventually led to the creation of this fast moving novel which has been shortlisted for a number of prizes.
She has also taken the bold step of using the painting as the narrator in some chapters, telling the back story of its journey from royal courts to a junk shop and the run down apartment of Annie, the novel’s heroine.
Hannah’s previous book, The Baroness, centres around her great aunt, Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, who abandoned her husband to seek out the jazz musician, Thelonious Monk. The author confesses to personal parallels with the book’s middle aged daughter of a prestigious art dealer, proving an ability to infuse her own knowledge and experience into both her fiction and non fiction titles.
House prices, salaries and lifestyle, we hear a lot about the North-South divide. Today many people crave a life in a Chilterns village or close to the Thames in South Buckinghamshire, but it wasn’t always that way – at one time these places suffered a ‘labour drain’ as young residents across the shire counties headed north to new lives away from agriculture.
Clare lived in West Berkshire’s Kintbury village for many years and it serves as the fictional backdrop for her latest novel, The Green Ribbons. She likes to deal with modern issues in historical settings, and this time it’s ‘How far would you go to save your marriage?’
But beyond that this book looks at the North-South Divide, and there are some surprises in store. Clare explains: “What may surprise the occupants of high priced cottages and country houses in the shires, is that until the middle of the 20th century the North-South Divide was the other way around. The former occupants of their Farrow and Balled houses may well have been living in desperate straits and struggling to make a living in a changing world.
“In The Green Ribbons I explore the south side of the divide. The setting is 1900 in the village of Nettlestock, based loosely on Kintbury. In the 18th and early 19th century the place had everything going for it – the Kennet and Avon Canal passed through the village, there was a thriving whiting mill, supplying chalk powder for wigs, and a silk mill and then the railway arrived.
“But the investment in industrial facilities in the North, combined with the increasing uncompetitiveness of British grain, in what had become a world market, led to depopulation of southern towns and villages like Nettlestock, as agricultural workers moved north to share in the opportunities offered by the cotton, wool, iron and steel industries.”
Harndak the blacksmith, Braklarn the sorcerer and a young scholar named Kandrina are on a mission – to help Aylesbury author Kitty Lewis find success with publication of her novel ‘The Colourless’.
The fantasy adventure novel, set in a world where magic and demons are rife, and strange creatures roam the plains, tells the story of how rebellious Kandrina, the heroine of the tale, approaches her adulthood.
“Most of the things I write have been in my head so long I’ve forgotten where they originally came from,” explains Kitty. “A few of my stories are based on strange dreams I’ve had, but most of my work is stories I’ve been telling and retelling in my head for years.”
When Kandrina’s beloved older brother was taken by the fearsome Lightning Demons, she swore an oath to the gods that she would avenge him. But the demons may not be as evil as the People’s Temples say they are. They may not even be responsible for her brother’s death.
Her tutor Remlik has another theory, but when Kandrina tries to explain it to her father, she is declared a heretic.The priests punish her, but she is rescued by a curious demon, who takes her to their crystal city on the plains and begins teaching her that the two races are not so different.
‘The Colourless’ is a book for teenagers and young adults, says Kitty. “Although it’s set in a fantasy world, many of Kandrina’s challenges are also faced by us when we rebel against our parents or our teachers.”
“This is the first in a series, the second book is ‘Beyond the Serpent Hills’, which I’m hoping to have published next year. I’m also working on a third novel in the same series, called ‘Devil’s Moon’.”
‘The Colourless’ is available in paperback and e-book formats, fast-print.net/bookshop.
Despite a successful role at Sky News, Alex Watts was yearning for change when a colleague arranged to interview Rick Stein. Alex, with a natural flair for cooking, tagged along. The encounter in a Mayfair bar not only provided an opportunity to meet a culinary idol, but prompted the journalist to explore a new career details of which he chronicled in endless notebooks.
“I just understood cooking so gave it a try and ended up working 18 hour days in Michelin starred restaurants,” he says.
Alex blogged about his three year experiences but the more he recorded, the more he recognised the need for a physical hard copy. Down and Out in Padstow and London is a wonderfully insightful, easy to read book whose conversational style is engaging, amusing and even includes cooking tips, from creating the perfect fish stock to the “trick” of orange and beetroot jellies, plus specific recipes.
“I dry roasted coriander seeds, crushed them and added olive oil, white wine vinegar, finely diced red onion, garlic, and tomato concasse to make a vierge sauce to accompany scallops.”
Alex’s foodie journey took him from Rick Stein’s Cornish HQ to the Fat Duck and Masterchef auditions. Each stage is recounted leaving the reader clear about the single minded commitment that success demands.
“The most attractive thing,” Ellesborough based Alex insists, “is you’re making people happy. I have a lot of respect for chefs as I know what they’re up against all the time. Now when I eat out I never complain!”
The Bucks novelist who worked at High Wycombe’s Bucks Free Press as a reporter has now published his fourth book, Seventeen Gifts for Frannie and Jess. It tells the story of Francesca Hartford, who decides to volunteer as a Games Maker at the London 2012 Olympics but is fearful of how she will cope, having just lost her husband.
She takes the chance and during the early shifts meets fellow Games Maker Jessica, an outspoken and Bolshie student from ‘up north’. It seems unlikely that they will get on, but as they spend more time together it seems Jess too is suffering.
This is a heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship. Nasser’s books are full of references to local places – characters are always tracking across South Bucks and beyond.
• A focus on Berkshire’s authors - Our local authors have been busy with everything from murder and mayhem to discovering the secrets of our towns and villages