Latest News and Blog Posts

Books, ships and gallivanting…

 

 

SW Canada pb

 

 

The beautiful Anchor edition has just been delivered into my hands, hot off the press! So Canada will have a paperback of THE SULTAN’S WIFE imminently.

This comes at the end of a busy couple of weeks, starting with a packed week in London launching Joe Abercrombie’s brilliant fantasy novel HALF A KING (seen here with our regular interloper, Gemma, who likes to make herself comfortable on my reading seat). It’s deservedly gone straight into the bestseller chart. It’s a terrific read and I feel privileged to have published it.

 

IMG_0610

 

I zipped back home just in time for our biennial Sea Salts and Sail festival, at which Abdel and I always run a book and jewellery stall. The old boats came into harbour and looked beautiful. I sold lots of books – always lovely to meet fans old and new – and Abdel and local artist Tom Rickman cooked the crew supper of Sicilian fish stew and Moroccan couscous with raisins and chickpeas: truly delicious.

 

IMG_1880

 

IMG_0717

 

Artist and jewellery-maker Hannah Willow came to visit with her husband, green-fingered forester, Phil to stay in Abdel’s netloft, Hopway Cottage (which he is now letting out in conjunction with our friend Helen – check out https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hopway-Cottage-Mousehole/721837887873373?ref_type=bookmark – if you fancy a holiday in picturesque Mousehole) and we talked books and art and silver-working and changing your life. We had only ever ‘met’ online, via Facebook, before so it was a real treat to become proper friends in person. Here’s one of Hannah’s lovely paintings. I am wearing one of her amazing bracelets, complete with Cornish turquoise and a bead of topaz and a tiny silver hare, right now, along with my Berber bangles.

 

10313907_10152339064844682_1819544750751450713_o

Hot on the heels of the festival came a talk to a readers’ group in Madron, from which I came away loaded with plaudits and flattery, honeycakes (for Abdel) and beautiful yellow roses. And immediately after this was the annual Penzance Literary Festival and two very successful and thoroughly enjoyable events with historical novelist Robyn Young, and talking exotic places and people in literature with fine contemporary novelists Kate Lord Brown and Sara MacDonald and non-fiction writer Tim Hannigan. And then Abdel cooked us all up a veritable Moroccan feast, at which we were joined by the novelist hailed as ‘the thinking man’s John le Carre’, Edward Wilson. What an excellent evening!

 

images

 

Next month will be even busier, with the publication of the new Fitz and the Fool novel by Robin Hobb, a return to her much-beloved characters who made the first appearance in ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE way back in 1995, the very year in which I launched the Voyager list. It really is the most wonderful series, perhaps my favourite of all time (a tight race between this and George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire) and I am very proud to have been Robin Hobb’s publisher all that time – a rare thing in modern publishing, where editors move houses all the time. In fact this is my 30th year in publishing: and every time I tell myself that I cannot believe it. I barely feel 30 years old in my head: though the mirror tells a different story…

 

Penzance Literary Festival

125_TJ98mS

 

Tickets for events at the Penzance Literary Festival have just gone on sale. I’ll be in conversation with historical novelist Robyn Young at 4pm  on 18 July and at 5.30pm on Saturday 19 July talking with historical novelists Essie Fox and Wendy Wallace about the English and the Exotic in fiction; other guests at the festival include Kate Lord Brown, Patrick Gale and Liz Fenwick. It’s always lively and informal – do come if you can!

http://www.crbo.co.uk/events.php?evGrp=125

Palace slaves and monsters

portrait-of-a-turk-in-a-turban-ferdinand-victor-eugene-delacroix

I was sitting in a restaurant in the coastal town of Agadir on the southern Moroccan coast with my husband. We were on our way back to England from several months in the Berber village in which we live for part of each year and were relaxing over a very good Italian meal. I glanced over his shoulder as a group of people came in, and suddenly became aware of a portrait on the wall behind them. The room was dimly lit, but I could make out an imposing African man in a dark red turban, the look in his eye sullen, yet proud. I couldn’t stop looking at it. I realized it was a nicely framed print of Delacroix’s famous portrait of a Moroccan court slave – known colloquially as ‘The Turk in a Turban’ (the original is in the Louvre). It was familiar to me, yet at the same time I was struck by how powerful and fresh the treatment of the subject seemed.

“When King Hasan II died in 1999,” my husband said suddenly, “his bier was carried out of the palace in Rabat by six of his most cherished slaves. They looked just like that. So proud to be doing their final duty by their king.”
“Slaves? In 1999?” I was too amazed to be outraged.
Abdellatif explained that slavery was abolished in Morocco only in the 1960s and that his mother remembered having slaves in the household. A man cost a bucket of salt; a woman a dish of salt. The royal family’s house-slaves would have been made free men in the sixties, but spent their entire lives within the palace walls. Bearing the coffin out of the palace would have been the first time they had set foot into the outside world.
“Of course,” he went on, “in earlier times they would have been eunuchs, like the chap in the painting.” All male attendants in the inner court would have been castrated in order to guarantee the validity of succession: no entire man could have been allowed near the sultan’s precious harem.

I looked at Delacroix’s handsome ‘Turk’ (a lazy historical term referring to any North African or Middle Eastern Muslim) in a different light. How could he maintain such dignity and pride and defiance in the face of such physical and social insult? And so the central character of my third Moroccan novel, THE SULTAN’S WIFE, Nus-Nus – the Arabic word for a half-and- half coffee – was born. A man taken captive in the jungles of West Africa during internecine tribal feuding, sold as a slave and castrated as a gift to the all-powerful sultan, who had come to the throne by ruthless and bloody means, and held the reins of power in the same manner for all his long life.

Moulay Ismail was the Sultan of Morocco from 1672 to 1727, a remarkably long time to rule over his subjects, whom he charmingly referred to as a ‘basketful of rats’. His glittering empire stretched from the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of North Africa all the way through the desert to Timbuktu. One clue to his success lies in the name by which he was often known by: ‘Safaq Adimaa’ or ‘The Bloodthirsty’. He earned this soubriquet by his utter ruthlessness towards his enemies and rebels, a taste for inventive torture, and his habit when bored of testing the sharpness of the sword he carried everywhere on the neck of the nearest slave.

IMG_0754

Another derives from his policy of exerting authority via display; by generating awe in the populace through the pomp and grandeur that surrounded him. In this, as in the extent and application of his power, he was the last sultan who can genuinely be said to have been on a par with his European counterparts.

In his fifty-five years as absolute monarch he humbled the wild mountain tribes of the Rif and Atlas, recaptured the coastal towns of Tangiers and Mamora, Asilah and Larache from foreign powers, maintained Moroccan sovereignty by defending it against the Ottoman Turks; rebuilt mosques, shrines, bridges, kasbahs and of course the extraordinary palace complex at Meknes, the remains of which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1703, a visiting ambassador asked one of Ismail’s sons how many brothers and sisters he had. After three days, he was presented with a list of 525 boys and 342 girls. In 1721 he was reputed to have ‘700 Sons able to mount Horse’. (The last of Ismail’s sons is said to have been born to him eighteen months after the sultan’s death: which is quite a feat.) His wives and harem members are even harder to keep track of, since even in official records most are noted only by a single Arabic name, often bestowed upon them only on their conversion to Islam, whether by choice or duress. Amongst them all there is only one constant: Lalla Zidana, bought as a slave from his brother for the sum of 60 ducats. By all accounts in her later years she was a huge and monstrous presence, vastly fat, strangely dressed and dreaded by all as ‘the witch Zidana’. Despite this – or maybe because of this – she maintained a thirty-year ascendancy over Ismail’s affections and exercised absolute power over his harem. In the novel, Nus-Nus has to navigate a safe passage between these two extremely dangerous presences, the Scylla and Charybdis of the Meknes court.

Meknes has been called a second Versailles. Moulay Ismail and Louis X1V shared a fervour for building as well as for power, and both were passionately involved in the construction of their respective palaces. Versailles may not have been built with slave labour, but Louis was heedless of the lives and safety of his workmen. In the bitter winter of 1685 there were almost forty thousand men working on the site, despite the terrible cold and the ravages of disease and many of them died. Of course, the fate of the thousands of slaves at Meknes was even more terrible. But where Versailles was symmetrical, ordered, elegant, the palace complex at Meknes, with its fifty connected palaces, mosques, courtyards, barracks and parks, was vast and rambling in its ever-shifting design, as walls and pavilions were constructed then demolished at the arbitrary whim of its creator. His successors continued with his building programme, but in 1755 the shocks of the huge Lisbon earthquake, which is believed to have reached a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale, severely damaged the site, reducing to rubble in minutes what had taken many decades and thousands of lives to create. Of Ismail’s madly ambitious project only his extraordinary mausoleum, parts of the Dar Kbira, the vast granary, some of the outer walls, and the city gates remain. Despite this, the ruins are well worth visiting to gain a sense of the sheer scale of the sultan’s megalomania.

Meknes 086

During the latter years of the seventeenth century Morocco found itself at war with England over the strategic port of Tangiers, which had fallen into English hands when King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza: it came as part of her dowry. Sultan Moulay Ismail was determined to have the foreign presence removed from Moroccan soil; but years of siege and bombardment, of guerrilla warfare and vicious raids had had little effect. At last the sultan decided to send an embassy to London to negotiate a treaty.

The Moroccan embassy of 1682 arrived in London in January under the command of Mohammed ben Hadou Ottur, sometimes known as ‘the Tinker’. The almost-seven-month visit is well documented in the records of the day, and is particularly colourfully described in the diary of John Evelyn who describes ben Hadou as ‘an handsome Person, well featur’d, of a wise looke, subtill, and extreamely civile’. Evelyn and the court were impressed by the modesty and intelligence of his retinue, who found themselves feted by the smartest society, becoming the hit of the season, invited to all the best houses. In the course of their visit they would encounter the most brilliant creative minds of the age: the Royal Society’s Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke and alchemist Elias Ashmole; Samuel Pepys, John Dryden and a young Henry Purcell.

Delacroix’s ‘Turk in a Turban’ was not my only visual inspiration for the novel: three other paintings found their way into the text. The first of these is a portrait of Charles II’s mistress Louise de Kéroualle by Pierre Mignard, a portrait that would have been in progress while the Moroccan embassy was in town: such fun to incorporate it into the novel, as Nus-Nus recognizes her little ‘blackamoor’ slave as a boy from his own tribe.

Louise_de_Kéroualle_by_Pierre_Mignard

Louise – the Duchess of Portsmouth – hosted a grand dinner for the Moroccan embassy at her glorious apartments at Whitehall where there was a ‘greate banquet of sweetemeates and musiq, but at which both the Ambassʳ and his retinue behaved themselves with extraordinary moderation and modesty, tho’ plac’d about a long table, a lady between two Moores, and amongst these were the King’s natural children, viz. Lady Lichfield and Sussex, the Dutchess of Portsmouth, Nelly, & concubines, and cattell of that sort, as splendid as jewells and excesse of bravery could make them. The Moores neither admiring nor seeming to regard any thing, furniture or the like, with any earnestnesse, and but decently tasting of the banquet.’ Wine was served, but the Moors confined themselves to milk and water; throughout the meal they conducted themselves with the most ‘courtly negligence in pace, countenance, and whole behaviour’, returning witty replies to the questions which were put to them. The King himself looked in just as the ambassador was leaving.

The ambassador had his portrait painted twice while he was in London, both by anonymous artists. One of these handsome portraits can be found in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery in London, as can the Mignard portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth.

Ambassador_Ben_Hadou_1682

I’ve visited the paintings many times now: their subjects have taken on a life on their own in my imagination, so vividly did they inhabit the novel. It’s curious to note that the portraits of Ben Hadou show him with the typical dark eyes of the other Moroccans, although he was reputed to have an English mother and to have had grey eyes – which Ismail inveighed against on occasion, damning him for his foreignness. Perhaps the artists took a liberty to make him appear more exotic? But of them all, Nus-Nus, inspired by Delacroix’s masterpiece, remains my favourite: he represents the contradictions of the age, on the cusp between the ancient world and the Enlightenment, between continents and cultures, between traditional gender roles and identities. He will always be my favourite character.

 

 

This post first appeared on the Printsasia site in shortened form:

www.printsasia.com/blog/2014/04/29/palace-slaves-and-monsters-inspiration-behind-the-sultans-wife/ 

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.

http://press.geredonovan.com/2014/03/13/the-sultans-wife/

Berber recipes: Peace pancakes

idernan

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!

Recipe:
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 http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/ — 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:

00000000000000000000janeprint-1024x768

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!

00000000000000000000janeprint2-1024x768

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).

00000000000000000000janeprint3-1024x768

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.

000000000000000000AssassinsApprentice-UK

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.

00000000000000000000janeprint5-1024x768

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…

00000000000000000000janeprint4-1024x768

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

000000000greater

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!

visual 2

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:

NEW RELEASE INTERVIEW: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG VISUAL COMPANION

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

O

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.

O

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

O

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

visual 2

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)

000thorin

and Luke Evans, who plays Bard the Bowman.

000bard

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 https://www.facebook.com/TheHobbitBook and post it up there, or contact me via this site (Contact page).

I’ll report back afterwards!