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The Sultan’s Wife in the USA

The Sultan's Wife by Jane Johnso

I am delighted to say that THE SULTAN’S WIFE is at last available as an ebook in the US. I love Gere Donovan’s description of the novel:

Sidi Kabour was the greatest poison expert in all of Morocco, a tidy old man operating from an obscure stall in the back of the Henna Souq. He was also dead, and the blood was all over Nus-Nus.

Nus-Nus, the eunuch. Nus-Nus, the food taster, scribe and keeper of the royal couching book. Nus-Nus, the innocent, framed in some twisted palace intrigue between the Empress and the Grand Vizier.

Alys Swann was a blonde, blue-eyed English rose whose pale complexion made her particularly valuable to the Barbary corsairs who’d taken her ship. She wasn’t dead, but she might wish she were—Sultan Moulay Ismail was known to have a taste for the exotic, and compared to the hundreds of other women in the royal harem, Alys Swann would be exotic indeed: an alabaster pawn in great strategic game of the seraglio.

Thrown together, Alys and Nus-Nus form an unlikely alliance. Two powerless prisoners in a world of brutal, 17th century intrigue, each finding strength in the other to endure that which must be endured in the hope of a better tomorrow. “And that, at the final count, is all any of us can ask.”

Rich in detail with compelling characters and an ambitious scope, The Sultan’s Wife is a remarkable tale of adventure, romance, history, and friendship.

Berber recipes: Peace pancakes


We had idernan – Berber pancakes – for breakfast today, nothing to do with St Valentine’s Day. Abdel says that back in the time before Islam came to Morocco (in the 8th century) local tribes were at constant war, decimating the male population. They wanted to end the conflict but neither side could lose face. At last a travelling wise man negotiated a truce. The agreement was that on a certain day each year the tribes would make breakfast for one another, turn and turn about; and idernan – like very thin crumpets, served hot with butter and honey – were the result. The tradition has been kept in this region all this time, for 1300 years or more. Which puts most of our fake-antique ‘traditions’ into context!

250g fine semolina durum wheat
250g flour
45 cl of warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
8g fresh yeast or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp sugar

In a bowl, combine the semolina, flour, salt and baking powder. Then add the warm water and yeast, diluted in a little warm water, and sugar. Leave the batter to rise for an hour. Just before cooking, stir it gently.

Pour a small ladle of batter onto a hot frying pan. Cook only on one side, without turning. When you take it out, look on the other side and you’ll find there are many tiny holes. An alternative name is ‘the pancake with 1000 holes’.

Serve hot with either a mixture of honey and melted butter or with argan oil or jam.

30 Years A Slave … To Books

Reproduced here is a terrific interview carried out by that extraordinarily talented artist and writer, Jackie Morris. If you don’t know her work you should do yourself a favour and visit her website at — or better still, buy some of her art – as prints or notebooks, or on a book cover or between the pages of her lovely books, if you can’t stretch to a painting. The picture on the wall beside me is one of hers:


The conversation began when I visited Cornwall and stayed with Jane in Mousehole. Or maybe it began when Jo Fletcher sent Jane a Christmas card some years ago. I wanted to know things about editing, wanted to understand more about how publishing works. The conversation was interesting, so I thought I would find a way to share it.

But first, let me introduce you to Jane Johnson. We met when she commissioned me to do cover art on the books of Robin Hobb. But that is another story. Our paths had crossed before though I hadn’t realised it, because the editor’s name is seldom on the books they edit and it is rare for them to gain any credit for the work they do outside a small circle of people. If they do their work well it passes unnoticed. But I wanted to know more, and so I asked Jane a few questions.

How did you first get in to the world of publishing?

Jane: I had taken 3 degrees – in English literature, Old Icelandic and teaching – and found myself over-qualified for just about anything, so was working in Ladbrokes, until a chance meeting with a neighbour landed me an interview at George Allen & Unwin Publishers, who published JRR Tolkien, my favourite author since I was 11. I lied about my typing and shorthand abilities and got the job: within 6 months was running the Tolkien list. An incredible bit of serendipity and strategic risk-taking!

What would you say is the ‘job description’ for an editor?

Jane: The job of an editor is twofold, and that binary function can in itself create tensions. You are employed by a publishing company to find good work that will reach and please a significant audience and therefore be commercial and generate revenue and profit to that business. But at the same time you are there to deliver a service to the author, and so also to the readers. In that aspect, the editor’s job is to enable the writer to tell their story as simply and effectively to their readership, without letting their own ego, prejudices or corporate strictures to get in the way of that magical, crucial process. In addition, you represent the author and their work in-house, acting as a locus point for all information about the writer and their books, negotiate the contracts with the agent; are the conduit of information back to the writer and agent, and also the driver of enthusiasm, support and success for the books in the publishing house. It’s impossible to occupy that position effectively without some degree of friction, there are so many warring and sometimes incompatible forces at work. You end up requiring a very wide-ranging skillset — receptive reader, economist, negotiator, communicator, psychologist, therapist, generator of ideas, warrior, nit-picker, information store. Some of these skills are in themselves incompatible: there’s really no such thing as a perfect editor!


By this time my head had caught up with Jane’s reference to Tolkien. At college Alan Lee had been a real hero of mine and when my son was 10, maybe 11 I bought him the Lord of the Rings illustrated by Lee. I asked Jane, was she responsible for these books?

Jane: I commissioned both Alan Lee (illustrated LOTR) and John Howe (calendars and then book covers). I commissioned Alan back in 1987/8 to produce 25 watercolours to illustrate the centenary edition of LOTR (to celebrate the 100th year of the author’s birth) We devised a plan which had to take into account the technical requirements of printing the book (where ‘signatures’ fell where the art paper would be) and Alan’s wish to be oblique in the subjects: to illustrate scenes that were less known, and at a slightly different angle. It ended up as the most beautiful book, and was a great success, selling over 100,000 copies in a high-priced hardback in the first year. In many ways Alan’s illustrated LOTR remains my proudest publishing achievement: we succeeded in both aesthetic and economic terms, and Alan really did magically manage to capture my vision of Middle-earth. And as Peter Jackson said when he invited me to New Zealand in 2000, I’d ‘given’ him the look of Middle-earth by bringing both artists to the work. (That was the first of a dozen trips to the NZ production: the producer dubbed me ‘the 10th member of the Fellowship’ by the end, and I felt I was!) I also commissioned John Howe’s classic Gandalf striding through the rain cover for the single volume edition of LOTR, which remains for me the most iconic image of the wizard; and in the calendars many of the best Middle-earth monster paintings that certainly had a big influence on the creation of the Balrog, orcs, Uruk-hai etc. I also then commissioned Alan to illustrate THE HOBBIT, also a beautiful edition.
( Certainly for me the most beautiful thing about the Peter Jackson films was seeing these books of Alan’s and John Howe’s vision on the big screen.)

How long have you been an editor at Harper Collins?

Jane: I started in publishing in 1984: George Allen & Unwin (by then Unwin Hyman) were taken over by HC in 1991, so this is my 30th year as an editor! Voyager as a list was launched by me in 1995: 20 years old next year, which is hard to believe. My tagline for the list was ‘For travellers of the imagination’ and that holds as true today as it did back then. Emma Coode is now running the list in HarperCollins: she and I have worked together for 15 years. We’re like a two-headed beast. On different continents (I work remotely now and am rarely in the offices).


Can you remember holding the first of the Game of Thrones books in your hands? What did you think then?

I remember reading the manuscript when it came in to my boss (Malcolm Edwards) and he asked me to read it. I read the scene in which Bran climbs up the tower and inadvertently sees the king’s wife and her brother having sex, and the brother then pushing the child to his death (as we thought then) and thinking, Crikey, this is something different – sex, in fantasy, and not only sex, but kinky sex! And going straight to the publisher to recommend we buy it. I remember it was the Fiction Department’s Christmas lunch when we were involved in the auction, and we were all goading him to increase the offer. It kept going up and up, because everyone was bidding for it. We won the auction for what was at the time an unspeakable amount of money. My boss’s face was white when he realised how much three books (our initial purchase) added up to. When Malcolm moved to Orion I took over his authors so have been looking after George for more than a decade now and was the commissioner for the remaining 4 books. I’m not head editor for George: I read and give my input to his US editor, Anne Groell. I’m his UK publisher. And also his resident climbing expert! He asked me for advice when writing the scene in which Jon Snow and the wildings scaled the Wall.

I am Robin Hobb’s head editor, also Raymond Feist’s, Mark Lawrence’s and now Joe Abercrombie’s. I was Stuart MacBride’s worldwide editor (he’s currently #1 in hardback) having persuaded him to turn a science fiction crime novel into a present day one: he’s still working with those characters. I am Jonathan Freedland (BBC/Guardian)’s editor and also the UK publisher of Dean Koontz, Terry Goodkind and Tom Knox.


And the first Robin Hobb you read? Which one? What did it feel like? Was it manuscript?

Jane: I first bought her work when she was writing as Megan Lindholm, back in 1987 and published several books by her under that name. They sold respectably for a small independent house, but nowhere near enough to sustain a place on a corporate publisher’s list. But I was at HarperCollins when her first Fitz and the Fool manuscript was submitted and I remember reading it with goosebumps all over me. I knew it was a bestseller at once. So then her agent and I devised the Robin Hobb pseudonym for her and I came up with a strategy for making ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE a bestseller from a standing start, which I’m proud to say we achieved.

That feeling – the editor’s hunch – is a rare thing. I got it when I read the first paragraph of Mark Lawrence’s PRINCE OF THORNS (soon to be followed by KING and EMPEROR OF THORNS) – I knew I had to buy it by the end of the first page. We were late to the auction on that one, and acquisitions usually move at a glacial pace at big publishing houses, who never take any decision except by committee, after scads of paperwork have been completed and circulated, but I made such a nuisance of myself with that one that I bought it within a day of receiving the manuscript. Then again when Joe Abercrombie’s agent sent me what he called a YA project called HALF A KING. Again, the writing was so good I could hardly read it fast enough, and we’d convened the entire publishing team and created a pitch document within 24 hours. Sometimes, you just know.


Sales, can we talk about sales? Would you know things like what was the print run for first George RR Martin book compared to what it is now? And co-eds for first books? Compared to now?

Jane: We printed, I seem to remember, only around 1500 copies for the trade of the first hardback of A GAME OF THRONES. We sold over 300,000 copies of the hardback of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS in 2012… In 2012/13 George sold somewhere in the region of 9 million copies worldwide.

As an author it sometimes feels that the writer is on the outside of the publishing process. George RR’s position seems very strong now, with everyone watching and waiting and almost bullying at times for what comes next. But was it always like that? The series has taken a while to build. Has the publisher always had faith that they had a real game changer on their list, or has it been a battle at times to convince them?
Jane: It was a slow build and we were out of pocket in a pretty massive way for many years. It took two or three goes to get the book up and running. It came out first of all with some very striking covers by Jim Burns on them, but they were too genre-oriented to reach out to the widest possible readership so I did recommission the covers about 10 years ago and that style is being used worldwide now. Sometimes you have to be very dogged and determined: it doesn’t always make you friends in-house. With fantasy, it is always a battle: it always amazes me how few publishing people read in this time-honoured area, even though it often bankrolls the entire business (Tolkien, Martin, Twilight, Harry Potter etc). They always have the erroneous and ridiculously snobbish idea that it’s read only by teenage boys who never leave their basements and will therefore somehow miraculously find its market without being supported by advertising or promotions. I’ve had to fight for marketing budgets for all my key authors over the years. Don’t have to do that for GRRM any more…


Between the receiving of finished text and publication date how much editing happens would you say?

Jane: It depends entirely on the author and the book. Sometimes there’s hardly anything to do but a bit of tidying around the edges; sometimes a book may require 5 or 6 structural edits before it’s working properly.

The Sultan's Wife by Jane Johnso

And can I also ask you about your writing? Have you always written?

Jane: Ever since I can remember. I was always writing stories at junior school. I wrote a 60pp novel called THUNDERBOLT THE DARTMOOR PONY when I was 9. The first long piece of fiction I can remember writing before that was a revision of the ending of Bambi, so that Bambi’s mother didn’t die. I also told ghost stories to kids at school: they paid me 6d between them for a new story. I got into trouble because kids were being late to school since they’d no longer walk through the churchyard because I’d told them so many tales about the undead, or the mistakenly buried, fighting their way out of graves… But I stopped writing when I started publishing: I was overawed by other people’s talent for a time before regaining my own confidence. It was writing THE TENTH GIFT that really gave me the confidence to call myself a novelist. I had never tried to write a historical novel or about our real and recognizable world before and it was a huge challenge: but researching the Barbary corsairs and finding out more about them and their numerous raids on my native Cornish coast was so utterly fascinating it was soon clear it would be impossible to write a dull book with such thrilling subject matter at the heart of it. It started as a novel about my abducted family member (Catherine Tregenna in 1625) and then became a heartfelt love story and what I hope is a sympathetic and informed examination of the interface between Christianity and Islam: for when I set out to research the novel in Morocco, I got so immersed in the place and its people that by the end of the year I came away with a Berber husband. Which is simply the best payback for writing I could ever have dreamed (though even my imagination would never have come up with anything so outlandish!). We’ve just celebrated 9 years together, and I’ve written three historical novels with Morocco at their heart: THE TENTH GIFT, THE SALT ROAD (amongst the Tuaregs of the Sahara) and THE SULTAN’S WIFE (set in the 17th century Moroccan and English courts).

Sorcery Rising, UK hardback

You write under many different names. Why?

Jane: My first published novels (4 books as Gabriel King) were written with my ex, literary novelist M John Harrison. We’d recently broken up and I think the shared project was way of keeping in contact. So we had to come up with a pseudonym that would encompass us both. Jude Fisher as a name came about because of my work with Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS movies: I had to write the companion works under a pen-name because it would have been awkward for the estate if I’d been involved under my own name, even though by then I had stepped away from being Tolkien Publisher. And I was too well know in the fantasy field – I didn’t want my fellow editors judging the submission of my work because of who I was but on its own merits. My historical novels are all written under my own name, though.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Visual Companion

What are you working on at the moment (editing and writing)?

Jane: I’m editing my draft of a 12th century epic novel which focuses on the build-up to the Third Crusade, on Gothic cathedral architecture and its debt to Islamic sacred buildings; on miracle-fakers and the Siege of Acre. It’s called THE BOOK OF MIRACLES: it’s my WAR AND PEACE! I also have a rather odd project in the works which I’m writing sort of secretly. Only my agent has read any of it so far…

Editing? Constantly: already this year two big fantasy novels, including the new Robin Hobb (FOOL’S ASSASSIN) which will be published in August; and two thrillers (which I also publish) including the new one by Jonathan Freedland, aka Sam Bourne. I now have Mark Lawrence’s next manuscript on my Kindle for reading.

Forgot to ask, this is a techy question. When you edit, do you do it all on screen or do you print off and read on paper ( just imagining the block of paper you would need for George RR.)

Jane: Everything is now edited on screen and sent back and forth with tracking showing every change. I run a paperless office. Which is just as well, since with temperatures hitting 47 degrees here in the summer, it’s impossible to run a printer: the inks just dry up. I read manuscripts on my Kindle, then they get transferred to an editing program on my laptop when we get to structural edits and finally copy-editing. I do like to see a book through from acquisition to printer. I don’t think there are many editors around who do that, but I see it as a crucial act of faith between me and the author.

One of the driving forces behind this conversation with Jane was my wishing to understand how the phenomena of A Game of Thrones came about. The series has been a game changer in publishing and also in tv adaptations. It is an epic that took time to build from its initial print run of 1500 hardbacks to the monster it has become. Time has played a part in this, with each book that was published new people discovered the series, and the publishers kept the back list in print so that new readers could collect all and read all. And the books had their own champions who fought for the writer and backed what has been a very long game, convincing the publisher that it was worth investing, until the series hit that tipping point. And where was that? Sales rocketed with the adaptation for the small screen. HBO brought many new readers to the books.

It is one of those books that again champions fantasy fiction until there are few households left who haven’t either read the books or watched the series. Having enjoyed both screen and book I would like to thank George RR Martin for having the vision to hold such a behemoth in his imagination, and Jane and all his editors for the work they do, and Harper Collins Voyager for buying the book and keeping the faith.

We didn’t only talk about books. I also told Jane I wanted to revisit an old haunt of mine. Every year when I was a child we would go on holiday to the sea, to a small place in Devon called Torcross. I loved it there and to a land locked child it was so wonderful to be beside the sea. We always sat on a shingle beach and I would read and doze and draw and swim. Above us a small private hotel, the Cove House Guest House. I would dream of another life, being a child, growing up there, drawing on the stretch of concrete in the sloping garden, watching the sea boil with mackerel, the storms, talking to the ghosts of the soldiers who had died there during the war. Jane went quiet. Then she went to fetch a photograph, a small black and white of a child, with a great roll of paper stretched out on a strip of concrete in a garden by a shingle beach. It was the same garden. Jane had spent the early years of her life growing up in the same house, beside the sea.

A Place of Greater Safety


This weekend I finished re-reading a novel that – for all the author’s immense and deserved success with her more recent Cromwell novels – stands for me as the finest historical novel I’ve ever read: Hilary Mantel’s French Revolution epic, A PLACE OF GREATER SAFETY. It is a phenomenal feat of research, mediation and technique, full of stylistic fireworks and extraordinary characterization, subtle, complex and horribly satisfying. The ending is – although we all know the outcome, as with Anne Boleyn – completely gut-wrenching. There are not many books that reduce me to tears, and I never wept for Boleyn or Cromwell, but for the fate of Camille and Danton, I bawled. As a political exposé it is, for me, unrivalled: a brilliant dissection of the corruption and cannibalism inherent in every revolution – we have only to look at what is happening in Egypt today to acknowledge the terrible truth at the heart of Mantel’s masterpiece. As with WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES it demands patience and commitment from the reader, but boy, does she repay your attention. I was staggered to discover it was her first novel (she wrote the first draft of it in the 70s when she was ridiculously young) though I am sure it went through many more drafts until it was published in 1992. I have absolutely no idea why it didn’t win every prize going back then. A hugely humbling experience for this historical novelist to appreciate the extraordinary skill and outrageous technique Mantel brings to bear on her subject.

Jude Fisher interview

Here’s an interview with me by Shawn Speakman done around the time of the release of the second Hobbit movie which I somehow forgotten to post at the time. Too taken up with writing the Visual Companion for the third movie: THERE AND BACK AGAIN, which I have just delivered!

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens on December 13. It will likely be the largest grossing film of 2013, if I am a guessing man. That is not all. The movie is surrounded by a plethora of merchandising, some of it pretty mediocre, some of it absolutely fantastic.

It is easy for me to report that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion by Jude Fisher is one of the latter. It is a gorgeous book, filled with new photos, artwork, and behind-the-scenes type of information that any Tolkien lover would… well… love!

The person who brought it to life? Jude Fisher. She has been responsible for five previous Tolkien Visual Companions and she has a long history now of working with Peter Jackson and company. She has been allowed into the inner circle. And it has allowed her to create something beautiful and unique.

Here is more about The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion:

The second epic instalment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will see The Company of Thorin Oakenshield encounter even greater perils in their quest to claim their long-forgotten gold. After setting out from the safety of Bag End, Bilbo Baggins has journeyed through Middle-earth with his fourteen companions, fighting through fire, Wargs, Goblins and even escaping the creature known simply as Gollum.

Introduced by Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, and with over 100 rich illustrations, the Visual Companion is the perfect guide to the Company’s passage to Erebor and the Dragon that awaits them… I asked Jude Fisher to join me here on Suvudu in an interview.

Here is her interview:


Shawn Speakman: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG VISUAL COMPANION is in bookstores now! How did you become a part of this beautiful book and what can readers expect within its pages?

Jude Fisher: I was – under my real name of Jane Johnson – for many years the UK publisher of the Tolkien list and was the editor to commission artists John Howe and Alan Lee to illustrate Middle-earth in books and calendars (including Alan’s amazing illustrated editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit). It was as a result of that involvement that I was invited by Peter Jackson to visit New Zealand in September 2000 to watch filming of Lord of the Rings (or ‘your book’ as he termed it…). He had been inspired by their paintings and had pitched the look of Middle-earth to Hollywood execs by pasting copies of many of their illos onto moodboards to give them the idea of how the world of the movie might appear. I came away from that trip awe-struck and in love with the entire venture and at once offered my services, under the pseudonym of Jude Fisher, to David Brawn, who had taken over Tolkien publishing after I’d stepped back to pursue a writing career. My relationship with the team continued when Peter took back the filming of The Hobbit.

The Visual Companions offer a guide to Middle-earth, a companion for fans who want to know more about the world in which the story unfolds, about the dangers, the philosophy and the magic that underpin the tale and the characters and creatures that populate Tolkien’s world. We get the chance to choose images from thousands of production stills and on-set photos and our publishing team has, I think, made a beautiful job of designing the book.

Shawn Speakman: You worked on the THE LORD OF THE RINGS COMPLETE VISUAL COMPANION as well as AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY VISUAL COMPANION. What kind of access did you have with Weta / New Line / Peter Jackson during all of those projects? See anything that you had to keep to yourself since the new movie isn’t in theaters yet?

Jude Fisher: I was dubbed ‘the 10th member of the Fellowship of the Ring‘ by Lord of the Rings producer, Barrie Osborne, I spent so much time in New Zealand during the filming! So, yes, I saw all manner of things that never made it to the big screen on those amazing visits. I went on location all over South Island and can attest to the fishing abilities of Aragon and his acolytes, Merry and Pippin and Legolas (though rather less to their cooking skills). I saw all sorts of miracles being produced by Richard Taylor and his team at Weta, and by Dan Hennah’s Art Department and all at such an early stage in the evolution of these movies, before anyone really had any idea how immense – both artistically and financially – they were going to be. By the time The Hobbit was being made though, the world had entirely changed shape: everyone knew these were blockbuster movies and New Line had given way to Warner Bros. Security is extremely tight! I have signed away my house, my husband’s life and my own on keeping schtum till the movie is released, so all the secrets I am allowed to divulge are in the book!

Shawn Speakman: What did you enjoy most about delving into Middle-earth?

Jude Fisher: I think the greatest revelation of all has been seeing John Howe and Alan Lee bringing their artistic vision to life under Peter’s guidance, or with his indulgence! They are both so brilliant at capturing every aspect of the world, so caught up in the details. To see Lake-town emerging into maquette form from their hundreds of drawings, and then to a full-sized set complete with lake (!) was incredible. And then to see the already phenomenal landscape of New Zealand given the Art Department’s tweaks simply transported me into the heart of Middle-earth. Still the most magical moment of all for me was driving through wilderness to Mount Potts on a crisp October morning in 2000 to find an almost-deserted Anglo-Saxon settlement on a crag above me, and then climbing up to it to discover Alan Lee putting tiny finishing touches to the Golden Hall of Edoras the day before filming was due to start. That will stay with me till my dying day.

Shawn Speakman: Out of curiosity, how many times have you read THE HOBBIT? Watched AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY?

Jude Fisher: Interesting question and probably an unexpected answer! It was LOTR I came to first, at the age of 11, and I was utterly captivated by it, felt as if I had suddenly found my place in the world. I read and reread it every year, specialised in Anglo-Saxon and then Old Icelandic at university because these were Tolkien’s subjects and fell into my job in publishing – at George Allen & Unwin, JRRT’s original publisher – because of the spell that book cast over me. I didn’t read The Hobbit till I was 13 or 14, by which time I was a bit too old for it. So I’ve read it only half a dozen times rather than the 20+ times I’ve read LOTR. I’ve seen the first movie 4 times, and keep finding new things to love in it.

Shawn Speakman: Most people find themselves in love with Bilbo or Thorin when they read THE HOBBIT. Do you have a favorite character?

Jude Fisher: My problem was I was already spoiled by having fallen head over heels for Aragorn at age 11, so no one was ever going to top that. I do rather adore Smaug, though.

Shawn Speakman: I have to ask: Did you fall head over heels for Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn then?

Jude Fisher: No human woman or elven maid could resist Viggo in Aragorn mode.

Shawn Speakman: What is the coolest thing people can look forward to in THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG VISUAL COMPANION?

Jude Fisher: In the Visual Companion to Desolation you’ll find, amongst many other things, spreads dedicated to Beorn and skin-changers; Dol Guldur and the Necromancer; the history of the enmity between the Dwarves and the Elves; the Elves of the Woodland Realm, including Tauriel, head of the king’s guard; Lake-town and its inhabitants; and of course dragons… There’s also a gloriously gruesome photo of Azog the Defiler. But I think the coolest thing of all in the book is Richard Armitage’s very fine introduction in which he talks about the effect of dragon-sickness on Thorin Oakenshield and the dangerous parallels in our own world that too great a love of gold can inflict. It’s beautifully written and very thoughtful.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion by Jude Fisher & Richard Armitage is available in fine bookstores now!

Beware the dragon!

The Desolation of Smaug


So the new HOBBIT movie, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG opens today across the globe and will no doubt become one of the highest grossing films of all time. It is extremely entertaining, even if it has diverged a great deal from the original, and there are some standout performances, not least from the two rather attractive gentlemen above, Luke Evans, who plays Bard the Bowman, and the King Under the Mountain himself, Thorin Oakenshield, embodied rather brilliantly by Richard Armitage of Spooks, North and South and (complete with fetching eyeliner and kinky black leather) the villainous Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood. Richard was also kind enough to write a thoughtful and well argued introduction to my Visual Companion to the film: here are the three of us at the launch for the book at Waterstones Piccadilly.

Just over 100 lucky fans were offered the opportunity to come and listen to me quiz the boys on their roles and the experience of filming the trilogy in beautiful New Zealand and we all had a lot of fun, not all of it intentional as Richard was wonderfully indiscreet and then dropped a hilarious double entendre that had some audience members weeping with delight. There are links to videos from the night on my Jude Fisher Facebook page.


Then we happily signed books for a time before Richard and Luke sped away on other publicity duties.


A thoroughly enjoyable evening had by all. And now I have to finish writing the third and final Visual Companion!

Exclusive Hobbit event 6th December at Waterstones Piccadilly

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At 6.30pm on Friday 6th December I’ll be onstage at Waterstones Piccadilly to interview Thorin Oakenshield — Richard Armitage (North & South, Spooks, Robin Hood) who contributed a fine introduction to my Visual Companion (under my pen-name of Jude Fisher)


and Luke Evans, who plays Bard the Bowman.


It’s very exclusive: only 100 tickets, each of which includes a copy of my book, and if you have a question you’d like to ask go to and post it up there, or contact me via this site (Contact page).

I’ll report back afterwards!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion

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…is published today!

It’s a guide to the world of The Hobbit, to the place and the people of Middle-earth – the Dwarves and Elves, Orcs and Wargs, the Necromancer, Beorn the Skin-changer, Wizards and Hobbits. You’ll get a glimpse of the Dragon and of Lake-town and its corrupt Master, of the ruined city of Dale and the abandoned Dwarf-kingdom of Erebor, in the Lonely Mountain.

As a sneak preview, here is the magnificent Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, who was kind enough to agree to write an introduction to the book, in which he makes some telling comments about the nature of greed not only in The Hobbit, but also in our own world.


Tauriel is a new character for the movies, one who doesn’t appear in the book: but Evangeline Lilly makes a kick-ass head of King Thranduil’s Woodland Guard:


And speaking of King Thranduil, father to Legolas, here is the wonderfully stylish Lee Thranduil in one of the Elvenking’s many sumptuous costumes:


I’ll sign off for now with this portrait of the Master of Lake-town, his once-glorious clothing rotted and stained with food and mould, a fine symbol of the corruption of Men, played with superb comic timing by the wonderful Stephen Fry:


The book is out now, available at Amazon, in supermarkets for a ridiculously small price and at all good bookshops, where I will be signing as many copies as I can.

The English and the Exotic: Thames Valley History Festival


On Saturday 9th November at 7.30pm in the Baldwin Hall, Eton the fabulous Essie Fox, D.E. Meredith and Lloyd Shepherd and I will be talking about the fascination the English have always had with far-off places, foreign customs and stories, harems, jungles, dreams, drugs, and curses! If you’re in the Windsor/Eton area we’d love to see you. We’ll be opening up the discussion to questions and signing books.

Paste this link into your browser for more details:

Seeking an ancestor; finding a husband…

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

That first research trip to Morocco for THE TENTH GIFT to seek information about the Barbary pirates in general and the fate of the ancestor they abducted in 1625 in particular landed me with a great deal more than I had bargained for.

Everywhere I went I took notes and photographs, absorbing the atmosphere and details that would later populate the book. I wandered with other tourists through the old part of the city of Rabat. Little did I know then that that very experience would also find its way into the novel. I had set out to write a fully historical novel set exclusively in the 17th century. But fate took a hand and a year later, with the concept of the book changed beyond all recognition, I was to find myself incorporating modern Morocco as well as ancient Morocco into the manuscript, and a modern woman experiencing it, like me, for the first time. It had become a sort of meta-text:

‘The medina was bustling with traffic, human animal and machine. Just as you thought you had entered a pedestrianised area, a man on a scooter would come roaring around the corner, hand pressed exigently to his horn, and everyone would flatten themselves up against the narrow walls. Quite how the mules and donkeys coped with such indignities I had no idea, but they seemed philosophical about it, standing patiently in their traces or tethered to their posts while ever greater burdens were added to their carts or backs.’

01 mule

The sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Moroccan souk have not changed much since the 17th century. Traders still sell many of the goods they sold back then, the stuff of life – dates and fruit, vegetables, couscous, herbs and spices – all weighed out by eye or in little brass balances, and with such ease and grace and economy of movement that you know these are gestures that have been repeated endlessly down the ages.

02 old men

Some not so everyday things too: ingredients for magic potions – minerals, bits of birds and animals, antimony, crystal and claws…


I took note of the robes the men wore – gandaouras, without hoods, djellabas with – of the way they wound their turbans to frame faces with such distinct bone structures and a world of stories told by their skin.

Look at the seams in this remarkable old man’s face, the way he has screwed his eyes up against the harsh Moroccan sun. When he is in the shade, when his expression relaxes and the seams part, you can see the original pale shade of his skin before the weather tanned it like leather. I used that detail when describing my tough corsairs, subjected to the travails of wind and sun on the decks of their xebecs and caravels.

03 old man
I watched men in cafes smoking shisha pipes and saved the notes for use in the novel:

A bulbous glass jar stood on the ground, half full of some clear liquid. A long tube with purple silk and tassels woven around it snaked up from this container, terminating in an ornate silver beak. As the captives were whipped into view, the corsair took a long draw, making the liquid in the glass stir and bubble. Closing his eyes, he inhaled blissfully, then exhaled a great fragrant cloud. Truly, Cat thought, seeing him wreathed about by curls of smoke, he is the very Devil, with his fierce profile and strange, dark skin, sitting there on his chair, as in on the throne of Hell, in triumph over us poor sinners.

That fierce profile had a very specific inspiration. It was the inspiration that was to change the course of THE TENTH GIFT, its entire structure and storyline; and my life. In all my travels I had yet to find someone who fit my idea of what my ‘raïs’ – corsair captain – Qasem bin Hamid bin Moussa Dib (or for ease Al-Andalusi) might look like. Until the night my travelling companion Bruce Kerry and I walked into a traditional Berber house in the far southwest of Morocco, around 500 miles away from where I’d been researching the novel on the north coast.

The house was a small private restaurant and we had been invited there by a group of British rock-climbers with whom we’d met up. Bruce was, by pure chance, my only friend who was free to travel in February 2005. My devil’s bargain with him was that if he’d come with me while I traipsed around Rabat and Salé on the trail of my Barbary pirates, I would take him climbing on the huge quartzite cliffs of the Ammeln Valley, a bargain that would never have come into play had any other of my friends been available.

To cut a very long story short, an imposing Berber in a crimson turban and traditional robe, opened the door and I just stared at him; and he stared at me. It was as if we’d always known one another, but neither of us spoke a word of the other’s language. That night I took note – in a notebook and mentally – of the way he wrapped that turban, of the way he shuffled off his battered mustard-coloured babouches each time he moved between tile and carpet – a gesture, like those of the market-traders, repeated endlessly down the ages by generations of Moroccan men. The food he served us – spiced lentil soup and fiery tajines, soft flatbreads and almond biscuits – were all described in loving detail in the book (by which time I knew how to make them all); and so was the plangent Berber music played by my raïs and his friends.

04 abdel

As for the man himself: I am happy to say that Abdellatif resembles the cruel corsair captain in looks and gestures alone, but the extraordinary connection that linked us like a lightning bolt (a true coup de foudre, as I was later to learn in French), saw us married by the end of that year. It led to my leaving London for Morocco and to living my own research in a way I could never have imagined.

Authenticity is not usually gained by such serendipity: a pure gift of fate not only to a writer but also to someone who had given up on the idea of love. Eight very happy years later, I’ve written three historical novels set in Morocco, and a huge epic inspired by the Islamic clash with the west (THE BOOK OF MIRACLES, due out from Doubleday next year). THE TENTH GIFT sold in 26 countries.

man and donkey