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A Conversation with Andrew Hillier

Only connect… famous words by E.M.Forster, who was baptised at Holy Trinity, Clapham and who explored, in fiction, the relationship between British imperialism and India. Clapham has its share of real imperial connections, some reaching further eastwards, to south-east Asia and China in particular. Andrew Hillier’s Mediating Empire: An English Family in China, 1817 – 1927 (Renaissance Books, 2020) examines Britain’s presence in China through the lens of one family, his own.

Julie Anderson (JA) ; Mediating Empire uses papers and photographs from your own family archive, going back to the early nineteenth century. What prompted you to write about your own family and its history?

Andrew Hillier (AH); My grandfather, Harold Hillier, was a keen genealogist and put together the outlines of the family story but, apart from summarising their careers and a few obituaries, it did little to explain what we were doing in ‘the Far East’ during that time. I knew, for example, that his father, Harry, had been ‘in the Customs’ but this meant nothing to me, nor to other members of the family, who, perhaps, conjured up an image of someone sitting in a kiosk waving cars onto a ferry. In fact, China’s Imperial Customs Service, in which Harry served for forty years, latterly as a Commissioner, formed the backbone of the country’s economy for over sixty years and a key, if controversial, element of Britain’s informal empire.

In the back of my mind, I thought that I should try to find out more about our past, but it wasn’t high on the agenda, at a time when I was struggling to get going as a barrister and my wife, Geraldine,  & I were living with a couple of small children in a flat in Abbeville Road. What really sparked my interest was when, in 1976, Jim Hoare & Susan Pares moved into the flat below us and soon became close friends. They both worked in the Far East section of the research department of the Foreign Office, and Jim began telling me how valuable this family archive was and that I should do something with it. A few years later, they were posted to the embassy in South Korea and, one day, Jim phoned me to say he was standing in front of the foundation stone of the embassy, laid by the wife of the British Consul, ‘Mrs Walter C. Hillier, on  19 July 1890’. He went on to use some of our photographs in his book, Embassies in The East (Curzon, 1999).

With his encouragement and the insistence of my wife, who didn’t want me hanging around doing nothing when I retired, I started a Ph.D. at Bristol University, studying under Robert Bickers, the doyen in this field, and completed my dissertation in 2016. I have now developed this into what I hope is an engaging account of how this family both shaped and was shaped by empire.

JA; There is increasing scholastic interest in the politics and influence of domestic life, with the advent of inter-disciplinary academic fields like women’s studies, which consider how society and power impact upon women. Your book examines how one family, including its women, acts as an outward-facing cultural and social mechanism in support of British imperial power. How important are women in Mediating Empire?

AH; Very important. I have been able to bring their lives out of the shadows, by using four generations’ worth of family papers, including some sixty letters from my great, great grand-mother, Eliza Hillier. These describe her life in Hong Kong, with her husband, who was the colony’s Chief Magistrate from 1846 to 1856, and who died when she was twenty-eight, leaving her with four children under the age of eight and one more on the way – an extraordinary life, but one which typifies what so many women in empire had to go through and the important but unsung contribution they made in normalising Britain’s overseas presence.

JA; One of your current projects is to portray the day-to day life of the military in China, how officers and other ranks interacted with their surroundings and local Chinese people, using regimental photographs, letters and journals. Will this form the basis of another book?

AH; No. Britain had an almost continuous military presence in China from the start of the Second Opium War (1856) until the late 1930s and Historical Photographs of China, is the ideal format for displaying and discussing these regimental photographs – see http://visualisingchina.net/blog/2017/03/20/andrew-hillier-on-images-of-war-and-regimental-memory/ . The collections provide a fascinating insight into daily life outside the combat zone and into how these experiences helped shape Sino- British cultural relations. Many of them are little-known and are in danger of disappearing for lack of funds and one purpose of the project is to demonstrate their importance as a source for both British and Chinese historians.

JA; Given Forster’s exhortation, will you be making yet more connections, bringing together more historical sources to inform your next book?

I hope so. What fascinates me is exploring the lives of ‘ordinary’ westerners in the Far East through diaries, letters and photographs. Having completed editing Eliza’s letters, I am now researching the wives of China consuls amongst others. There must be plenty of readers whose forbears were in China and who still have their own mementos of that time and I would love to hear from them and try to piece together their stories.

Mediating Empire: An English Family in China, 1817 – 1927 is available on-line, in local bookshops and at Orca Book Services ( direct.orders@marston.co.uk ). RRP £75, currently on offer at £45. More information can be found on Andrew’s web-site at  https://www.andrewhillier.org/

This interview was commissioned by the Clapham Society, for the June ‘Literary’ edition of its Newsletter.

Talking about books… with Andrew Duncan

In mid-March, when lockdown started, I was approached by the Editor of the Clapham Society Newsletter and commissioned to carry out a series of virtual interviews with local, debutante authors. The Newsletter, which goes out to people in south London, is usually inundated with requests for publicity for any local events, but, thanks to COVID-19, most of these events ( including the Clapham Book Festival, unfortunately ) were being cancelled. So copy was needed and this seemed a good way to support local authors – whose books might otherwise sink without trace without the oxygen of publicity – as well as to entertain and inform the readers and fill the Newsletter.

Consequently readers of my blog page will see a number of articles over the coming weeks, entitled ‘A Conversation with……’. The first of these is a conversation with Andrew Duncan.

As the seventy fifth anniversary of VE Day, on 8th May 2020, passes during CORVID19 lockdown, now might be the time to read about WWII. If fiction is your preference, try ‘Somerville’s War’ by Clapham author Andrew A Duncan (Vineyard Books, 2020). This novel evokes the tranquil, timeless and sometimes petty-seeming world of rural southern England and its response to war; from the pilots of the RAF and ATA, the Special Operations Executive agents and the spy masters at the famous ‘finishing school for spies’ at SOE Beaulieu, renamed SOE Somerville in the novel. Beginning at a sailing club on the Somer (Beaulieu) River in the Hampshire countryside, the novel takes the reader to war-time London and thence to occupied France, as a large and varied cast of characters, crossing generational, class and national divides, contribute to the war, often for very different reasons.

Julie Anderson (JA): Why, as a long-time Clapham resident, have you chosen to write, so evocatively, about rural Hampshire.

Andrew Duncan (AD):  I grew up at Beaulieu, Hampshire, where my grandparents went to live in the 1930s.  I inherited a house there and now divide my time equally between Clapham (my London based publishing business) and Beaulieu.  As a writer you will know what a head start that gives you in writing a novel, especially a first novel, if the geography is at your fingertips.  Then there is the fact that Beaulieu/Somer is and was a unique place – and that I love the variety of the scenery and the closeness of the sea – you can never get bored with this extra dimension.  It really got under my skin aged around sixteen – just like the Henry character in the book – though I’m not the basis for his character.

Also, I felt that there was a vacant slot for a ‘Beaulieu’ novel; not just that, but that the place itself could be a character in the novel in its own right – as London is in Dickens – but, heaven forbid, I am not comparing myself with him. 

JA: It has been said that England and the English never quite recovered from WWII, so deeply is it embedded in the national psyche. What is it that drew you into writing about this period?

AD: Partly just that: WW2 stories can be good sellers as a genre, maybe third in popularity after the chick lit-female interest-romance and crime genres.  Also because I had some more or less original material – SOE Beaulieu and the ATA women pilots – which had not yet been realized in fiction – anyway not properly. It’s also a bonus that Kim Philby taught at SOE Beaulieu.  I felt this last could give not only reviewers, but readers, something fresh to latch on to. 

Like many another of my generation WW2 had an indirect impact on my life, but this story also struck me as a handy vehicle for a psychological subtext. All four main characters start with obsessions.  By the end they are either destroyed by them or come to terms with them. I hope some readers will enjoy thinking about why and how this happens. There are clues all through the text that they are dealing with obsessions, and on page 332 there is a fuller explanation.

Also partly because I wanted to explore writing a story that exists in the twilight zone between fiction and non fiction – history is not half handy for that.

JA: One central strand of Somerville’s War is a love story, told from the point of view of a young woman ATA pilot.  Why did you make Leonora such a central character and have her feature so strongly in the tale?

AD: In part because realizing one of those women doing men’s work long before it became commonplace seemed to me of special interest to modern women – and men. It puts feminism in perspective.  Partly because I know the territory:  my mother was one of those ATA women and, although it was very hard to get her to talk, I did come to understand what the experience was like for her and consequently I felt I had the insight to write about it.  Leo is partly based on my Mum but only the foundations.  What you see of Leo when she’s in the air is different to my mother, more like other females I have known.

In Leo I wanted to create a real heroine – a human with quality but some serious flaws.  She is truly courageous, not because she feels less fear, like some people, she feels plenty: her nervous system gets slammed by the dog fight and by the storm. Yet she finds her way out of it through moral fibre.  I wanted to show the moral dimension of courage in women operating in the same way as it does in men. I also wanted to explore female aggression, a considerable thing…   I am hoping that in Leo’s dogfight I get near the heart of that, especially when she presses the trigger.   

So Leo was a vessel for these themes and that is why I have her near the heart of the story.

JA: Events in Somerville’s War take place in 1940 and the book captures the attitudes, prejudices and morés of the time using the language then widely used. To this reader, at least, the style and pacing of the book also reflects the literature of that period or earlier. How did you set out to write, in 2020, in this style?

AD: This question got me wondering.  Indeed the story telling is generally straight and traditional, but I hope not anachronistic.  But a major feature of the style – frequent short scenes, much hopping from place to place – is influenced by contemporary cinema.

For that authentic feel, yes I tried to recreate the attitudes, morés and speech of the 1940s. But as you suggest it goes a bit further than that.  At the heart of the story is the Brigadier or ‘Brig’, a man who is really a Victorian.  The whole story is in the Brig’s mind, though told by others.  So it seemed right to have a traditional story structure – patrician story telling as the Brig might have done it had he actually written the story.  This is partly why the sex and action climaxes are underplayed:  for Maxwell and his contemporaries, saying less was their way of saying more.

This straight style does also overlay a subtext, a story of psychological development, but reinterpreted in the light of up to the moment understanding of neuroscience. By the way, I’m hoping the story will make readers think again about the Brig and his like: I hope he represents the best of his kind.  That generation and that type are often ridiculed these days, sometimes unfairly.

Lastly, I must admit I wanted to stick up two fingers to much contemporary story telling style which seems to me to be all form and no content. Form should work hand in hand with content – as I hope I have achieved in Somerville’s War.  I deliberately took no notice of trendy story telling devices hoping that clear structure where characters are allowed to develop in a measured pace in the first half would enable a faster paced, action oriented second half.  I was aiming for a natural, easy read and for readers to know the characters before the action gets going – this means the tension is heightened because you care about them even if you aren’t hugely attracted to them.

You haven’t asked about character and hope you won’t mind my adding my thoughts.  In quality commercial fiction Robert Harris and his like are very dominant – superb plotting and story telling but often at the expense of ‘rounded’ characters.   I wanted to have a go at good story telling but also with three dimensional characters, not cardboard cut-outs.   Others must judge if it worked…

Somerville’s War is available online and at bookshops on request at £10.99.

The Plague story continues…

Since my last post Stranger than Fiction on 16th March, there have been even more examples of how elements of the plot of Plague are featuring in real life news.  Two weeks ago we had pharmacies hiring body guards because of attacks from members of the public attempting to access medicines or other items which were out of stock.  This happens on Page 106 of the novel! And there’s a real life procurement scandal, as reported in The Guardian, on 1st May, with an NHS manager allegedly selling PPE using his NHS contacts.  And what about those non-tendered contracts being given to companies owned by Conservative party donors, while companies expert in their field and offering their services are ignored? Not quite the level of corruption which features in the novel, but getting there.

The book is scheduled for publication on 15th September (Claret Press, £9.99) and I hope potential readers are not deterred from reading (and buying) it.  When I expressed my concerns about this on twitter recently a fellow crime/mystery writer pointed out to me that ‘Contagion’ the 2011 film about a killer pandemic is currently the most viewed film on Netflix.  So, you never know.

The novel is already available to NetGalley members at the moment, at no cost (other than the time it takes to write a review ).  If you are interested in reading it you can sign up with NetGalley, using the widget in the sidebar on this web-site. The site is digital only, but it provides versions for most of the main reading devices. If you like reading on a Kindle, Nook or ipad, why not sign up and give Plague a go?

It’s a murder mystery, with some serious points to make about power and democracy, and a lot of edge-of-the-seat thrills along the way. There is romance too and one or two plot twists which, I am told, one can’t see coming! I hope readers find its insights into the functioning of Parliament  interesting and there is also quite a foray into the little known history of a particular part of London. I won’t say which. Here is the blurb –

‘Work on a London tube line is halted by the discovery of an ancient plague pit and in it, a very recent corpse. A day later another body is found, also in a plague pit. This victim is linked to the Palace of Westminster, where rumours swirl around the Prime Minister and his rivals.
As the number of deaths climbs, the media stokes fear. Government assurances are disbelieved. Everyone feels threatened. This has to be resolved and fast.
A disgraced civil servant and a policeman must find the answer before Westminster closes for recess. Power, money and love curdle into a deadly brew that could bring down the Mother of all Parliaments.
Time is running out. And it’s not clear what – or who – will survive.’

Plague is available to read and review now on NetGalley. Log on, sign up and signal your wish to get the book. I’ll respond within twenty four hours. If you’re a media professional contact me at this site, or via twitter, for interviews, podcast and other information. If you  run a book club try using the items in the Press Kit, Author Q & A, book club discussion questions and links.

Plague – Stranger than Fiction

As COVID-19 dominates all news and social media resounds with Italians singing on balconies, people applauding the NHS and other support workers and lots of speculation ( and condemnation ) and ranting of so-called commentators, I find myself in an unusual situation – and it isn’t self-isolation. Or no more than is usual for a writer, anyway.

Back in 2018 I began writing a novel, a Westminster murder mystery/thriller entitled ‘Plague‘. Without giving away too much of the plot (for which my publishers would not thank me) the story is about a potential outbreak of a strain of plague in London in 2020. The atmosphere is tense and fearful and there is a general reluctance to accept what the authorities are saying, including medical experts and the police. People believe the real facts are being withheld. Entrenched and aggressive positions on left and right don’t help and a predilection for opinions, what ever their source, which reinforce existing prejudices, heightens anxiety. Sound familiar?

None of this was new when I began writing it.

Populist politicians choosing to deny facts have given new life to the counter-enlightenment. The current President of the United States springs to mind, but there are European heads of state who do the same. This is amplified in the echo chamber of social media. We were told in the UK, by those now in government, that the British people had ‘had enough of experts’. Not such a good message now.

In medicine, Anti-Vaxxer groups illustrate how people make potentially life-changing decisions based on belief rather than on fact. It has also shown how individuals can exploit this for their own benefit. Former doctor Andrew Wakefield, barred from practising in the UK and described as fraudulent by the BMJ, made the spurious link between the MMR vaccine and child autism. This resulted in a reduction in vaccination rates and subsequent suffering and death. My villain in the novel chooses to exploit circumstances to increase his own fortune and power, despite knowing the views he encourages are false. He uses social media to help do this.

Given this anti-enlightenment push-back I wanted my book to highlight, in so far as I could within the confines of a commercial thriller, how dangerous disregarding fact and science is and how easily it can be exploited by people for their own ends. And it is, of course, a Westminster based thriller, so politics and democracy are involved. As are the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, who regularly give press conferences. Just like now.

It’s genuinely unsettling to find events, so similar to those in my tale, unfolding in real life and seeing the reactions of media, institutions and individuals to the COVID-19 virus.  Some I didn’t anticipate, being too bizarre, like the video of monkey gangs in Thailand fighting over food in the absence of food supplying tourists. Some are just too vicious, like ‘hoax’ COVID19 tweets. (Lizzie Dearden, correspondent at The Independent, received tweets from someone claiming to be infected and to have met her. Dearden knew it was a hoax because she was out of the country when the meeting supposedly took place.)

Some is horribly familiar – and irresponsible. Celebrities asked for views on something they are not qualified to comment upon or TV ‘personalities’ and the media rabble-rowsing.  As a character in my novel says ‘It’s dishonest and dangerous!’. Even as I wrote this piece the first set of demonstrators arrived outside Downing Street, to protest the ‘lack of action’ by government, something which occurs in ‘Plague’.

The number of usually well informed folk who simply don’t believe that government plans are based on science and the over-riding priority to save lives alarms me. Are they right? I don’t know.  Government communication strategy, press conferences aside, seems to be shambolic, with unattributed briefings and Ministers making statements which are obviously wrong.

It’s a new disease strain.  There is much we don’t know.  Like in the book, it’s frightening. I spent eighteen months writing a novel but in life I can’t write the ending. That’s what’s scary.

Plague‘ will be published by Claret Press in September 2020.  It will be available for review on NetGalley in April.

Troy: myth and reality

Terrific exhibition at the British Museum, which, among other things, tells the stories of the Iliad, the Odyssey and, to an extent, the Aeniad, through the artefacts of the ancient world, I recommend it very highly. Beginning with the marriage of King Peleus and sea-nymph Thetis, to which the goddess Discord was not invited, through to depictions of the characters in the Trojan epics in more recent art, this exhibition immerses the visitor in the world of Troy, the imagined as well as the archaeological city.  I spent several happy hours in it yesterday (and will be returning next week).

The words of Homer’s epic poems feature through-out, as you would expect, though Virgil gets a look-in too. The exhibition begins appropriately, with the opening lines of the Iliad ‘Rage – Goddess sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles‘.  Quotations sprinkle the show and there are recorded readings, in Greek and English.  The Roman bust (left) of Homer as blind poet can be found at the start, it is a copy of an older Greek original.  Statuary, in marble and, on a smaller scale, in metal and on stone sarcophagi features.  So do ceramics.

I had forgotten just how exquisite the painted decoration of Greek ‘red ware’ and ‘black ware’ was, from the coloured figures, like those on the large two handled pot depicting Achilles killing Amazon Queen Penthisiliea (right) or the Judgement of Paris on a wine krater, to the delicate line drawings showing Briseis being led away from Achilles’ tent.  I will also remember the stone bas relief showing this scene, with Achilles looking away in anger, but Patroclus placing a consolatory hand on Briseis’ shoulder as she is collected by Agamemnon’s soldier. A tender gesture.

It is testament to the power of the ancient story that the characters live so vividly again. But then, the story has been told and retold, as evidenced by the lines from the epics scribbled by ancient Roman children on the papyri copy books displayed. Its retelling is brought bang up to date with the poster from the, much derided, 21st century Hollywood film Troy and modern versions of The Judgement of Paris – photographic – and The Siren’s Song ( see left for the ancient depiction, below for the modern collage by Romare Bearden ).  Aficionados of the male body please note, Brad Pitt has quite a lot of competition in the buffed masculinity stakes, though it’s interesting that, even where a ‘hero’ such as Odysseus is obviously beyond youth and is depicted on artefacts with an older face, his body is still drawn as youthfully ideal. Hollywood’s fixation with perfect bodies is nothing new.

There is a very interesting section on the real city of Troy, or what we now believe is the real city. Not Schliemann’s much too early, if appropriately burnt, discovery but a later version. I didn’t realise just how many Troys there were, built on top of one another, but there are informative graphics showing just how these cities developed and when.  Indeed the whole exhibition is  well organised, with clearly written and illuminating captions. Technology, from the annotated drawings in light of various pieces of complex decoration to help the viewer unscramble some of the detail, to the videos showing the massing levels of the different Troys is used cleverly and well.

Personal favourites – the bas relief in which Paris looks thoroughly bored as Helen is loaded, along with the other treasures, on to his ship and the wonderfully evocative Fuseli drawing of the grief of Achilles as he kneels over Patrolus’ body.

The exhibition runs until 8th March and costs £20 to enter ( concessions £17 ). It is popular, so don’t leave it until the last minute, it will be very crowded. It took us two and a half hours to go round, taking a look at just about everything, ( though there were at least two school parties to deal with ).  It may take longer if it is even more full.

Very last chance to see…. wonderful…

…exhibition by Olafur Eliasson In Real Life at Tate Modern. It ends on 5th January, so if you live in or near to London and have a little spare time I strongly recommend that you go (but check ticket availability first, this is a VERY popular show and there are only a few days left so tickets might be hard to come by ).

People may remember Danish-Icelandic Eliasson’s brilliant, single The Weather Project bringing sunrise to the Turbine Hall of this same gallery some years ago and he has returned since then with his blocks of Greenland ice melting on the Thames-side forecourt in Ice-Watch to illustrate and draw attention to global warming, but this is a major show. It can be found on Level 2 of the newer part of the Tate ( although there is also a waterfall/fountain to be seen outside in courtyard ).

The first room is a collection of Eliasson’s models for larger works, often created with mathematician collaborator Einar Thorsteinn. Many of them are beautiful in themselves with lots of natural shapes, based, one imagines, on fibonacci sequences.  One model is of a finished work Your spiral view (2002) shown later in this exhibition. Room 2 contains early works and already we see the cleverness and simplicity of Eliasson. Window projection (1990) has the silhouette of a window shone, in light, on to a wall. At first sight the viewer imagines the light is coming through a window from outside, but no, there are no windows it’s just a lamp with a cutout on its lens. In Rainwindow (1999) the artists uses a real window but recreates the effect of the weather. These are typical of Eliasson’s interest in light and weather.

Room 2 also contains trickery in mirrors and glass, an insect’s eye glass and a mirror which is actually a hole.  This leads on to the Kaleidoscopes Room ( via a very interesting corridor which challenges the senses – I’ll say no more ). Here there are hanging reflective spheres and a walk-through corridor of reflections. Thence to a room with a projected, slowly transmuting image – all calm and tranquillity – followed by a room full of energy in which viewers find themselves part of an ever-changing art work on one of the white walls. It is so simple it seems effortless, but of course it isn’t.  Like Big bang fountain which is found in a small curtained-off room with no light at all save for a periodic strobe which illuminates a fountain, freezing the water into silver metallic images before the viewers’ eyes.

This exhibition is child friendly and there were plenty there today, many eagerly experiencing the changing light and reflections, most especially in the room with the mirrored ceiling and an, apparently, circular sculpture. This exhibition is also great fun (but heels are not a good idea ).

There are serious points to be made with the twenty year sequence of photographs showing the withdrawl of the ice-cap in Iceland and very beautiful works capturing the impact of melting ice on paint wash and colour discs which use the palette from two of Caspar David Friedrich’s romantic nature paintings. In The Expanded Studio room we see the genesis and development of a number of projects, the design and creation of a solar powered light, the measuring of the disappearing ice and other environmentally engaged work, through film, artefact and notes.

It’s impossible to describe it all. Suffice to say that the visitor will come away with a new perspective on how one uses one’s senses, especially sight, as well as having learned a lot ( I certainly did ).  I have been wanting to see this exhibition since it opened and I’m glad I caught it. I’m only sorry that I didn’t go before and could return again!

Olafur Eliasson In Real Life is at Tate Modern until 5th January. It costs £18 for non-members and is worth every penny.

For more on Art see    Portrait of an artist        Bonnard Colours       Zubaran Impossible Light 

Less than two seconds….

… that’s the time a potential reader gives to the cover of each book when scanning a bookshop display or online screen.  So say the publishers. In that time the individual takes in the design, the title and whatever is written – tag-line or glowing review – on the front cover. If it doesn’t get their attention, their eye moves on to the next. So the pressure to make the cover arresting and appealing is intense.

The new novel from yours truly – a contemporary political thriller set in Westminster, entitled Plague – is due for publication in the Autumn of 2020, with review copies available in the Spring.  So I am currently engaged with publisher Claret Press and designer and artist Petya Tsankova in deciding upon the cover. Petya is a freelance graphic designer who frequently works with Claret Press.

I am used to working with cover designers. Readers of my blogs at The Story Bazaar will be familiar with the work of Andrew Brown, who designed the cover for Reconquista  see ( Reading a Book by its Cover ) and that of Dan Mogford ( Final Touches ) who designed the cover for The Silver Rings. Both are excellent designers who created covers which, in my humble opinion, have stood the test of time, with arresting images, bold and interesting lettering and sufficient of a theme to link the two together. Credit for this must go to Dan who designed the second of the two  and continued the pattern – quite literally when it came to the tracery at the foot of each cover.

Incidentally, both books in the Al Andalus series can be had half-price, for less than the price of a cup of coffee, at the Smashwords Christmas Sale which runs from Christmas Day until the New Year.

This time around, however, it’s not just the cover for Plague ( a very early version of which can be seen above left ). Plague is the first in a series of novels with the same protagonist, so there must be commonality in the designs for each of the covers, thereby establishing a brand. A quick visit to Amazon or any other online bookstore to take a look at a long running series will show how that translates in design terms.

So I have received not one, but three covers recently, for the first three books in the series. For Plague, but also for Oracle, the second in the series, which is set in Delphi, Greece and Opera the third, which returns to central London ( and which I have not yet started writing – although I know its last line – I have my writing life mapped out until December 2022! )

The covers aren’t final and they will change and develop ( the photo right does not do that cover justice ).  The title needs to be clearer I think, especially of Plague – two seconds, remember, and the eye moves on, the gaze won’t linger to decipher a word which isn’t understood immediately.  I do like the fractured nature of the space in the first set of covers,  the jagged edges which promise the excitement of the thriller within which remind me of film titles of the nineteen sixties.  But there’s a way to go yet….

In the meanwhile Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers!