Gwyneth Jones was born in Manchester, educated by the long-suffering nuns of the Sacred Heart, Blackley and at Notre Dame Grammar School, Cheetham Hill. She is the author of many fantasy, horror novels and ghost stories for teenagers using the name Ann Halam, and several well regarded sf and fantasy novels and stories for adults: notably the Bold As Love series, and the Aleutian Trilogy. She has won the Arthur C. Clarke award (for Bold As Love); the Children of the Night award (for The Fear Man, as Ann Halam); the Tiptree award (for White Queen), two World Fantasy awards (for the story “The Grass Princess”, and for the collection Seven Tales and a Fable), the Philip K Dick award (for Life) and the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim award. She lives in Brighton with her husband, four intelligent goldfish and two cats called Ginger and Milo; she likes old movies, practicing yoga, and staring out of the window.
Gwyneth was my guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf on 16 April, and you can see more about that show here. This week, we’re going to be chatting more about Gwyneth’s work, and talking about books, Europe and rock ‘n’ roll (including the playlists Gwyneth wrote for the Bold as Love series).
Catch the show on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
As part of this day of live performances, there’ll be a special Hannah’s Bookshelf as well. I’ll be on air 2-3pm, introducing live performances by some brilliant local poets. Here’s who’ll be on the show:
Joy France is fresh back from performing poetry at the Isle of Wight Music Festival and still giddy with excitement. Most days you’ll find her on the 3rd floor at Afflecks in the Northern Quarter where she’s set up an unusual space in her role as Creative-in-Residence.
Seamus Kelly is a poet living in the north of England with deep roots in the west of Ireland. In his recent first collection of poetry, Thinking too Much, Seamus invites the reader to think about life, family, nature, politics, justice peace and society.
Andy N is a writer, poet and sometimes ambient musician from Manchester. To date, he has published two solo books Return to Kemptown (2010) and The End of Summer (2015) with a third From the Diabetic Ward pencilled in for 2017 from Goya Press, and two split books A Means to an End (2011) with Jeff Dawson and Europa (2014) with Nick Armbrister.
William Michael Neary writes lyrical poems that cover topics including: cheese, life in general, football, nature, WW1, anti fracking, the steel industry, romance and religion. His latest booklet of 31 poems is entitled Poetry… Yours sincerely Mr Neary.
Sharon Lowe has been on the spoken word and performance poetry scene for a few years following getting the buzz while organising the Leigh & Wigan Words Together Literary Festival in 2012/13. She co-founded the community theatre company, Anteros, in 2015 and is a volunteer organiser of the Wigan Diggers’ Festival taking place in Wigan every September.
George Melling, performing pensioner poet from Wigan, has performed at many North West venues and headlined at several. He’s breaking into the Yorkshire spoken word scene later this year as guest poet. He’s also brought out a charity CD of his poetry set to music with proceeds going to Wigan and Leigh Hospice.
George’s CD is available to buy direct from Wigan and Leigh Hospice, or from any of the 13 Hospice charity shops. You can also get a copy from Joy France at her creative space in Affleck’s Palace. There’s more info about the CD here.
Tune in to the show at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area), or listen online (if you’re further afield). And if you fancy popping along to the Manchester Communication Academy on Silchester Drive, we’d love to see you there.
Lee Jackson is obsessed with the social history of Victorian London. He has an encyclopaedic website, has published seven historical crime novels, including A Metropolitan Murder (Arrow: 2004), and non-fiction, most recently Dirty Old London (Yale: 2014), about the Victorians’ desperate struggle to deal with filth and pollution.
I’ll be chatting to Lee about history, the Victorians and writing in general. And, of course, he’ll be sharing his selections for Apocalypse Books.
Tune on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Amanda is from Yorkshire, but now lives in Manchester. After studying some Open University creative writing courses, she was inspired to pursue her lifelong love of writing. She has published various work on Amazon. Her recent work includes the first two books in the trilogy Hope and Magic and her short novel After The Zombies, which is set in Manchester. She is currently working on a full length novel following on from this. Amanda has also had a short story accepted for the forthcoming Graveyard Anthology by Sez Publishing. The best place to find her on is Twitter.
I’ll be chatting to Amanda about her work and, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for Apocalypse Books.
Catch us at 2pm on Saturday on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Regular listeners of Hannah’s Bookshelf will know that I like to make my themed shows a bit topical – even if the ‘topical’ bit is a little tenuous or vague sometimes. Given everything that’s happened in UK politics over the last couple of weeks, I thought I might try my hand at a related theme (without being too controversial). Despite all the current uncertainty, there is one thing we know for sure – at some point soon, we’ll be getting a new prime minister. So I thought it might be interesting to take a look on my bookshelf for some of my favourite PMs in literature. You can listen again to the show on the player below, but (as promised) here are the books I talked about this week.
I started off with a lesser-known, but fascinating, novel. Written in 1890, Dixie’s utopian feminist fantasy tells the story of Gloriana de Lara, a young woman who disguises herself as Hector D’Estrange and rapidly rises through the political ranks to become prime minister. D’Estrange campaigns and secures women’s suffrage (in fact the book hints that (s)he’s secured universal suffrage, as some working class men talk about their support of D’Estrange as well), and campaigns on an egalitarian manifesto. This leads to a landslide victory in a general election, in which ‘D’Estrangeite’ MPs are joined by ‘Irish, Scotch and Welsh Home Rulers’ to form a ‘precarious’ majority in the House of Commons. However, this majority is unsettled by the fact that, should the ‘Nationals’ and ‘Progressists’ combine forces, the D’Estrangeite mandate might be undermined.
And this is exactly what happens. When Prime Minister D’Estrange proposes a bill to ensure the ‘absolute and entire enfranchisement of the women of his country’, the other two parties collude in a plot to have the new prime minister arrested on a false charge. If this collusion between ‘Nationals’ and ‘Progressists’ seems unlikely, the novel explains: these unusual bedfellows, while ‘hating each other cordially, yet hate still more the high-souled, far-reaching, justice-loving principles of Hector D’Estrange’.
If you haven’t already read Dixie’s book, you should definitely check it out – it’s a fascinating piece of early feminist fantasy that has some curious resonances with contemporary politics (and, as I said on the show, some surprising points of similarity with another book on this list).
H.G. Wells’s science fiction novel begins with two scientists – Mr Bensington and Professor Redwood – developing a substance intended to accelerate growth. They call this substance Herakleophorbia IV, but it more commonly goes by the name ‘Food of the Gods’ (and, later, ‘Boomfood’). When the ‘Food’ accidentally finds it way into the food chain, Britain is faced with the challenge of dealing not only with giant plants, insects and rodents, but also with giant children (who, of course, will one day be giant adults). For the purposes of this show, I was interested in the character of Caterham, the politician who emerges as the man who will deal with the growing sense of resentment and fear.
The ostensibly populist Caterham is described in the novel as a ‘demagogue’ and a ‘vote-monster’; he’s a man who panders to and exploits the ‘little people’s’ fear of the giants, in order to secure his own political position. But to the general public, he’s the ‘Giant-Killer’ – the only person taking a stance on the problem. Caterham’s policies to suppress and restrict the ‘Children of the Food’ become increasingly violent (and include prohibitions on movement and reproduction), but the novel continually satirizes him as a man who cares very little about the violent consequences of his policies. Of course, it won’t be long before the people of the UK (specifically London) start to discover just what those violent consequences really are.
As a side note, unlike some of Wells’s other work, The Food of the Gods has never really had a serious film adaptation. The best known film version is Bert I. Gordon’s 1976 adaptation, which focuses only on the ‘nature strikes back’ element of the story (i.e. the giant insects and rodents). Gordon’s film isn’t exactly critically acclaimed, though it does hold the dubious honour of being named ‘Worst Rodent Movie’ in the Golden Turkey Awards. (It beat Night of the Lepus to the title – and if you haven’t seen Night of the Lepus, you really should!)
In the absence of any novels featuring werewolf prime ministers – and I really can’t think of any, but please let me know if one exists! – I thought it only fair to include a vampire politician on my list. Newman’s Anno Dracula (the first book and the series) is a dazzling meta-fictional alternate history, featuring more figures from history and literature than it’s possible to name in a two-hour radio show. The first book, set in 1888, sees Dracula (who, in this version of literature/history, has survived his battle with Van Helsing) marry Queen Victoria and subjugating British under a new, fierce, vampiric control. The story follows the investigation of Jack the Ripper, a murderer who has been targetting vampire prostitutes. The Ripper hunt is led by Charles Beauregard (of the Diogenes Club) and Geneviève Dieudonné (a vampire), and is actually a very satisfying mystery tale in itself. But, for today, I was interested in the character of Lord Ruthven, who is appointed as prime minister under Dracula.
Lord Ruthven is the vampire bad guy in John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre‘ (1819), which is often credited as the first piece of vampire fiction in the English language. Attractive, suave but ruthlessly dangerous, Polidori’s Ruthven was the template for literary vampires until Bram Stoker’s Dracula – and, let’s be honest, still pretty much the template for literary vampires after Dracula was published as well. Newman’s version of Ruthven still has these qualities, but Anno Dracula sees Ruthven’s energies directed towards politics, rather than seduction. Newman has described his character as a ‘political survivor, sometimes out of office but always ready to return to power’.
Alright… I have to admit this choice was more for nostalgia than anything else. The unnamed prime minister isn’t really a key character in this book, but I thought it would be fun to talk about anyway. Many children of the 80s (like me) have fond memories of Cross’s first two Demon Headmaster books, and many children of the 90s will remember the BBC TV series and the later titles.
Cross’s 1982 novel The Demon Headmaster introduced the character of Dinah Glass, a girl in foster care who goes to live with the Hunters and starts to attend a new school where something just isn’t right. With the help of her foster brothers (Lloyd and Harvey) and some of their schoolfriends, Dinah discovers that the school’s headmaster has hypnotized all the children as part of his plan to take over the country (or the world). The children form SPLAT (the ‘Society for the Protection of our Lives Against Them’) and set about foiling the headmaster’s plans. The second novel in the series, published in 1985, sees the school under a more benign control, and the pupils engrossed in playing a new computer game called ‘Octopus Dare’. Dinah and the other members of SPLAT join the ‘Octopus Dare’ competition, and our heroine succeeds in winning a place in the national final. But when SPLAT travel to London for the competition – which is being run by a man known only as the Computer Director – Dinah starts to suspect there’s more to ‘Octopus Dare’ than meets the eye.
So, okay, the ‘Prime Minister’s Brain’ is actually a computer, rather than the actual person. And we don’t really see much of the threatened politician in question. But I think this book deserves a mention for its 1985-style ‘hacking’ storyline, and for Dinah’s fantastic questioning of the logic of the attempted plan: ‘But what’s the point? The Prime Minister’s not all-powerful in this country. […] We’re a democracy. The Prime Minister’s not a dictator.’
Mullin’s political thriller is set in the near-future, and begins with the shock result of the (fictional) 1989 general election. As the results begin to be declared, ‘it became clear that something had gone horribly wrong with the almost unanimous prediction of the pundits that the Tory-Social-Democrat Government of National Unity would be re-elected’. Instead, a Labour government, led by Sheffield MP and former steel worker Harry Perkins wins by a landslide. As the first chapter of the book announces: ‘Harry Perkins was going to be quite different from any ever presented to the British electorate.’
As Perkins (who is modelled, in part, on Tony Benn) begins his new role as prime minister, it becomes clear that his manifesto – which includes a withdrawal from the Common Market, import controls, public control of finance, the abolition of the House of Lords, an end to the nuclear deterrent and the dismantling of the ‘newspaper monopolies’ – might have won favour with the electorate, but it’s made him some powerful enemies, including media magnates, MI5 and the US. These enemies (supported by a some who are a little closer to home) begin to conspire to bring Perkins’s premiership to a premature end.
One of the things that really struck me when I was rereading Mullin’s book for the show was the points of comparison between A Very British Coup and Gloriana – both in terms of the unlikely prime ministers and the attempts to discredit and remove them. The books were written over 90 years apart, but it seems the fantasy of a wildly popular, left-wing prime minister who can withstand the slings and arrows of the establishment has been around for a long time.
I ended the show with another alternate history book, and another famous figure repurposed for fantasy fiction. My final selection was Gibson and Sterling’s classic steampunk novel, which presents a version of Victorian history in which Charles Babbage was successful in his attempts to build a working difference engine. The book is set in an alternate 1855, and the backstory of this world is revealed gradually throughout the novel. The central characters are Sybil Gerard (the daughter of an executed Luddite rebel), Edward Mallory (an explorer) and Laurence Oliphant (a travel writer with a secret). The stories of our protagonists intertwine around a set of powerful punched cards, the importance of which becomes clear as the novel develops.
For today’s show, though, it’s the political backdrop to the story that interests me. In this version of Britain, Babbage’s invention (in 1824) resulted in a dramatically different political landscape. A new party, the Industrial Radical Party, is formed and led by Lord Byron. The ‘Rads’ defeat the Tory government and the Duke of Wellington in the 1830 general election, and the duke comes to be seen as a traitor to his country. Byron’s Rads are ruthless in their championing of intellectual and scientific development (which, on the surface, seems like quite an attractive prospect), which entails the state suppression of working-class revolutionaries (which doesn’t seem so attractive). While more recent steampunk is associated with the elegance and allure of Victoriana, Gibson and Sterling’s novel is much more focused on the social consequences of catapulting the industrial age into the information age – Byron’s government preside over a society troubled by mass unemployment, increased surveillance and accelerated military development.
And that brought my little look at fictional prime ministers to a close. Let me know if I missed your favourite off my list! (Although, as I mentioned several times on the show, I chose not to talk about House of Cards, so I’ve probably upset all the Francis Urquhart fans out there – sorry!)
To hear more about all these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen again to the show here:
Last week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf had a bit of an intergalactic theme – inspired by British astronaut Tim Peake‘s return to Earth after six months on the International Space Station – and I featured some of my favourite books set in outer space. If you missed the show, you can catch it again on the player below. But, as promised, here’s a list of the books I featured on the show. Let me know if I missed your favourites!
Not one of my favourite books, but definitely an interesting place to start for a run-down of books set on other planets. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ‘planetary romance’ was originally published as a serial in All-Story Magazine (1912), but reissued in hardcover in 1917. It tells the story of John Carter, a Confederate veteran of the US Civil War, who is mysteriously transported to Mars while prospecting for gold in Arizona. There, he meets a tribe of Tharks (green Martians), rescues Dejah Thoris (the eponymous princess and one of the humanoid red Martians), gets involved in Martian politics, wins the girl and saves the day. A mixture of romance (in the older sense of the word), Western and swashbuckling adventure, A Princess of Mars is a significant early example of extra-terrestrial fiction, and it’s been cited as an influence by both fiction and non-fiction writers.
Written in Polish, and translated from Polish to French then French to English in 1970, Solaris is probably Lem’s best-known work (in the Anglophone world, at least). The book is set on the Solaris Station, a research station orbiting an oceanic planet (the ‘Solaris’ of the title). For decades, scientists have been studying the enigmatic planet (giving rise to the scientific discipline of ‘Solaristics’), but have been unable to penetrate the mystery of its (living) ocean. Kris Kelvin arrives at the station shortly after the planet has been bombarded with high energy X-rays – just in time to experience the unexpected results of the experiment. An unsettling and philosophical exploration of the human psyche and the implications of attempts to know the unknowable, Solaris is a bafflingly beautiful (or beautifully baffling) book that, like much of Lem’s writing, is as much about the human conscious as it is about extraterrestrial life.
Dahl’s sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory begins where the first book left off, with Charlie and his family riding in the glass lift that will take them to the chocolate factory. When Charlie’s grandmother Georgina mistakenly prevents Wonka from directing them back to the factory, the lift shoots off into orbit and the party find themselves docking at a newly opened space hotel. The travellers are initially mistaken for aliens by US president Lancelot R. Gilligrass, the party soon have some actual aliens to contend with – in the form of the Vermicious Knids. Let’s hope Wonka had the foresight to make his great glass elevator Knid-proof…
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator has never been adapted for the screen, apparently as a result of Dahl being disappointed in the 1971 adaptation of the first ‘Charlie’ book. Dahl intended to write a third ‘Charlie’ book, which would pick up where Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator left off – entitled Charlie in the White House – but only the first chapter of this book was written. The manuscript chapter of Charlie in the White House is held by the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden.
Another unsettling and mind-bending sci-fi choice now – and an interesting companion to Lem’s Solaris (particularly when you find out about the odd relationship between the two authors). In Dick’s trippy dystopia, global temperatures have risen to the point where Earth is near enough uninhabitable and humans have set out on a massive project of colonization and expansion. In order to facilitate this, a ‘draft’ has been introduced, signing up unwilling settlers to be relocated to the harsh and primitive off-world colonies. For many, the only way of coping is to take the illegal drug Can-D while staring at a ‘Perky Pat’ layout, and to lose themselves in a shared hallucination of Pat and her happy little world. The novel follows the intersecting stories of Barney Mayerson (a ‘precog’ who works for P.P. Layouts and is facing involuntary resettlement to Mars), Leo Bulero (the head of P.P. Layouts and a recipient of extensive genetic modification or ‘evolution therapy’) and Palmer Eldritch (a merchant adventurer, rescued and shielded by the UN on his return from Proxima Centauri, amid rumours that he has brought back an alien hallucinogen – nicknamed Chew-Z – that’s even more potent than Can-D). It’s difficult to say exactly what happens next – but that’s pretty much the point of the book. It’s a complicated and uneasy read, where you’re left more with metaphysical questions about the nature of reality, rather than a solid understanding of plot.
Based on the 1978 radio series, Adams’s novel tells the story of hapless galactic traveller, Arthur Dent, who is recused from the destruction of Earth by his friend Ford Prefect (who, it transpires, is a Betelgeusian field researcher and writer for the titular travel guide). After hitching a ride on the Vogon Constructor Fleet, Arthur and Ford hook up with Zaphod Beeblebrox (President of the Galaxy), travel to Magrathea and discover that Earth’s true purpose was to serve as a super-computer tasked with calculating the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything’ (the answer to which, as computed millennia earlier by another super-computer called Deep Thought, is 42). I probably don’t need to say much more about it here though, as Adams’s novel is incredibly popular. In 2003, it was voted no. 4 in the BBC’s Big Read search for the nation’s best-loved book.
Le Guin’s Hainish cycle of novels and short stories is set in an alternate universe in which the people of Hain long ago colonized all nearby planets (including Terra, or Earth), leaving a legacy of human beings (or humanoid beings) who are remotely related, but who have long since stopped communicating with one another. That’s an awfully simplistic way of introducing the complex backstory to the cycle, but it’ll have to do. The full Hainish history – and its array of worlds and people – is revealed gradually across a number of works, with each book or short story concentrating on a particular period or planet. The Hainish cycle comprises the novels and novellas: Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest and The Telling, as well as seventeen short stories. I did toy with the idea of talking about other books, but I decided that The Word for World is Forest was an apt choice for this list, as it returns us (in a way) to some of the concerns that were swashbucklingly glossed over in A Princess of Mars.
The Word for World is Forest is set on Athshe, a forest planet inhabited by a pacifist people. Before the story begins, Athshe has been partially colonized by Terra, who have set up military logging colonies to strip the planet of its precious timber. The novella is told from three alternating first-person perspectives: Captain Davidson (a Terran military leader), Selver (an Athshean rebel who instigates an attack on Davidson’s camp in retaliation for the rape of his wife) and Raj Lyubov (an anthropologist who participates in the League of Worlds enquiry into the rebellion). The novella is more strident (almost didactic) in tone than the other Hainish stories, and its ecological and anti-war message is hard to avoid – it’s been described as an ‘angry’ book, which I think is a fair assessment. But as angry sci-fi goes, it’s undoubtedly one of the best.
And so I ended my extra-terrestrial edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf on a somewhat downbeat note (or maybe it was a warning note). If you’d like to hear more about any of these books, or my reasons for choosing them, you can catch the show again here:
For last week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf, I decided to go with a topical theme. As we were right in the middle of the group stages of the Euros, I thought football could be a pretty cool topic – until I realized that I don’t actually know that many novels about football! (Maybe I should do a bit of reading so I have a list ready in time for the World Cup.) But then I thought… why not do one of my timewarp shows, and take a look at some of the best books of THE year for English football? I mean, of course, 1966 (which it turns out was a pretty good year for literature too).
You can listen to the show on the player below, but here’s a rundown of some of the literary highlights of 1966. Let me know if you think I missed anything out!
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I started off with an Agatha Christie novel – and a Poirot one at that! 1966 saw the publication of Third Girl, a novel that pairs Poirot with Ariadne Oliver again (and also sees the return of Dr Stillingfleet, a character who had previously appeared in a short story entitled ‘The Dream’). Poirot is consulted by Norma Restarick, a young woman who believes she has committed a murder. It’s up to the great Belgian detective (with the help of his novelist friend, of course) to piece together the tale told by the troubled girl. Of all the Poirot novels, this one feels most closely tied to the time of its publication – it’s definitely set in the 1960s. So much so that Maurice Richardson, reviewing the book for the Observer, said: ‘After this, I shan’t be a bit surprised to see A.C. wearing a miniskirt.’
Originally an award-winning short story published in 1959, Keyes’s Nebula-winning novel tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68 who works in a menial job. Charlie is attending literacy classes (taught by Alice Kinnian), and comes into contact with Dr Nemur and Dr Strauss, scientists who are pioneering a surgical procedure to increase intelligence. Charlie decides to have the surgery, and his life radically changes. Told through Charlie’s ‘progress reports’ (which begin shortly before he has the operation), Flowers for Algernon is a thought-provoking and moving book with a real kicker of an ending.
Tom Stoppard’s absurdist tragi-comedy was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966. It – loosely – reimagines the events (or, perhaps more accurately, some of the themes) of Shakepeare’s Hamlet through the eyes of minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The play opens with the eponymous (but almost interchangable) characters betting on coin tosses, though they have already tossed 92 heads in a row. This leads to a meditation on the nature of chance, existence and reality that permeates the entire play. The first version of the play I ever saw was actually the brilliant 1990 film adaptation, which stars Gary Oldman (as Rosencrantz), Tim Roth (as Guildenstern) and Richard Dreyfuss (as the player).
Georgette Heyer is the undisputable queen of the Regency romance. Black Sheep is, in some ways, very much in the mould she created with Regency Buck in 1935 – a delicious promenade through the fashions and foibles of early nineteenth-century society, surrounded by characters inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. However, there’s a bit of a cynical edge to Black Sheep, and it offers an interesting contrast to many of Heyer’s other Regency romances. The story follows Abigail Wendover (aged 28 – ever so slightly older than the usual heroine) and her older sister Selina, as they take in the entertainments on offer at Bath. Step forward Miles Calverleigh, the ‘black sheep’ of the title – a man who doesn’t possess a title (shock!), doesn’t employ a valet (horror!) and works for a living (I need my sal volatile!). Miles and Abby make a refreshing pair – with a layer of maturity that’s sometimes lacking in Regency romances – and the dialogue, humour and chemistry between them is classic Georgette Heyer.
Capote’s account of the murder of Herb Clutter and his family – and of the subsequent capture and conviction of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith – is the second bestselling true crime book of all time. It was co-researched (if not cowritten) with Capote’s childhood friend, Harper Lee, and remains a highly influential and popular ‘non-fiction novel’. Capote (and Lee) travelled to Holcomb, Kansas almost immediately after the murders in November 1959, and attempted to create an account of a devastating crime that rocked the small town community to its core.
And so to my final book… and the best-selling book of 1966 (in fact, one of the best-selling books of all time)…
Susann’s debut novel tells the story of three women (Anne Welles, Neely O’Hara and Jennifer North), following their lives, loves, triumphs and (most importantly) crises over twenty years. The ‘dolls’ of the title refers to barbiturates, the sleeping pills that all three of the women eventually come to rely on (for different reasons). Loosely based on the lives of various real life players on the Hollywood/Broadway scene (including, perhaps, Marilyn Monroe, Carole Landis, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton and Frances Farmer), this epic novel exploded onto the literary scene in 1966 (in part due to a canny marketing strategy by Susann and her husband), and has since sold over 30 million copies. Adapted into a film in 1967 (starring Susan Hayward, Barbara Perkins and Sharon Tate) and a miniseries in 1981 (starring Catherine Hicks, Lisa Hartman and Veronica Hamel), Susann’s book is the classic of its genre, and it paved the way for writers like Jackie Collins (who was included in my list of the top books of 1983), who would continue to fascinate readers with tales of the lives, loves and self-destruction of the rich and famous.
Susann’s next two books – The Love Machine and Once is Not Enough – were also big hits, making her the first author to have three consecutive titles on the New York Times bestsellers list.
To hear more about all of these books – and about my reasons for choosing them – catch up with Hannah’s Bookshelf here:
David is a short story writer and performer based in Manchester. His latest collection of flash fictions Spiderseed was runner up in the Best Short Story Collection category at the 2016 Saboteur Awards. He is a regular performer on the Spoken Word circuit of Manchester and beyond and he runs his own spoken word night in Stretford called Speak Easy. His weird stories explore myths, futures, the uncanny and the unsettling, with a particular focus on animals and the natural world. He can usually be found loitering on Twitter @DHartleyWriter.
I’ll be talking to David about Spiderseed – and more! – and, of course, he’ll be sharing his selections for Apocalypse Books.
Tune in at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Dori was born and raised in New Jersey. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in History and is a veteran of the United States Army. Dori currently works in the legal field in North Carolina, where she resides with her family. Scout’s Honor is her first novel.
Dori is donating proceeds from sales of Scout’s Honor to the University of North Carolina Lineberger Gastrointestinal Oncology Research Program and Colon Cancer Awareness, and you can find out more about this on the UNC Lineberger website.
I’ll be talking to Dori about writing her first novel and, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for Apocalypse Books. Catch our conversation on Saturday at 2pm – tune in on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Last week I was down in Canterbury, attending a conference at the University of Kent entitled Gothic Feminism: The Representation of the Gothic Heroine in Cinema. It was a great conference, with some really interesting papers, and I thought it would be cool to pick up on some of the themes in Hannah’s Bookshelf on Saturday. Obviously, as it’s a literature show, I concentrated on representations of the Gothic heroine in literature, rather than cinema.
If you missed the show, you can listen again on the player at the bottom of this post. As promised, here are the details of the books (and the heroines) I talked about.
No run-down of my favourite Gothic heroines would be complete without an eighteenth-century classic. I selected Emily St Aubert, as Radcliffe’s 1794 novel was one of the first late eighteenth-century Gothics that I read. When her beloved father dies, Emily is left orphaned and in the care of her aunt, Madame Cheron. When aunt marries the sinister Count Montoni, the two plan to force Emily to marry a man named Morano – and threatening plans start to take shape. Will our heroine escape her fate? Will she be reunited with Valancourt, her handsome and benign suitor? Will she ever get out of the imposing Castle Udolpho?
My next selection was some Victorian Gothic. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1864 novel had me absolutely glued to the page when I first read it – and the locked room mystery at its heart was a big part of its charm, as I am a huge fan of locked rooms! Maud Ruthyn is the heroine here, an inquisitive girl who becomes fascinated by her father’s brother – the black sheep of the family – and the shadowy stories of scandal that surrounds him. When her father dies, Maud agrees to go and live at Bartram-Haugh with the mysterious Silas and his family… but will she survive to claim her inheritance?
Of course my list of Gothic heroines has an Angela Carter book on it! I chose the 1984 Nights at the Circus – the story of Sophie Fevvers, a larger-than-life circus performer with a rather dramatic USP – for two reasons. Firstly, Fevvers is just such a memorable heroine that I felt she deserved to be on the list. And secondly, as with Uncle Silas, I just enjoyed reading the book so much. The book begins with journalist Jack Walser interviewing Fevvers about her life and career, plunging the reader into a fantastical (and perhaps unbelievable) world of magic, performance and other turn-of-the-century shenanigans.
You might have been expecting to see Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre on this list (but if you heard the show, then you’ll know why it’s not included). Rhys’s 1966 postcolonial novel (re)tells the story of a character who only makes a brief appearance in Brontë’s novel: Bertha Mason, the ‘madwoman in the attic’ and first wife of Mr Rochester. Reimagined as Antoinette Cosway (you’ll find out how she becomes ‘Bertha’ if you read the book), Rhys’s heroine is a fragile, tragic and passionate creation, and the author teases out the brutal and violent implications of a story only lightly alluded to in Brontë’s work. I first read Wide Sargasso Sea in 1995, and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. So this is a very strong recommendation!
Time for a twenty-first century heroine, and one of my favourite YA novels. I fell in love with Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely when I first read it, but I’ve chosen the 2008 sequel for this list, as there’s something truly fascinating about its heroine, Leslie. Marr’s series is about fairies, and the second book focuses on the Dark Court. When human teen Leslie decides to get a tattoo (an act intended to help her recover from a horrific trauma), she inadvertantly selects a design that will leave her tethered to Irial, the king of the Dark Court. Will she be able to escape the fairy’s ink? Or is she destined to remain tied to him forever? Ink Exchange is a very stylish book, with a strange mixture of nastiness and hope that makes for a very compelling read.
And finally… the heroine (if you can really call her a heroine) that I spent a big chunk of my early teens wishing I could be. Titus Groan (and its sequel Gormenghast) is undoubtedly in my top ten books of all time, and this is partly because of the sullen, awkward, romantic and naive Fuchsia Groan. Peake’s 1946 novel is quite hard to describe, and is quite an unusual experience to read, but the term ‘fantasy of manners’ has become attached to it. Telling the story (or, more often, setting the scene) of the vast, crumbling edifice that is Gormenghast, the novel introduces us to the family of Sepulchrave, seventy-sixth Earl of Groan, and the rituals, traditions and ceremonies that govern their existence. Fuchsia is the earl’s fifteen-year-old daughter, who is ignored by her parents and annoyed by the birth of her new brother, Titus. Left alone for so much of the time, Fuchsia retreats to her rooms in the attic to daydream and scrawl wild pictures on the wall in charcoal. What’s not to love about that?
To hear more about all these books, and about my reasons for choosing them, listen again to Hannah’s Bookshelf here: