I’m delighted to be joined by Alex Nye today who is going to share #TenThings she’d like her readers to know about her. First though, some brief thoughts from me on her newest novel Arguing With the Dead.
Before I read this book I didn’t know anything about Mary Shelley apart from the fact that she was the author of Frankenstein. (I have to confess that I don’t actually like that book! Sorry to any of you who love it). I now feel much more educated about this remarkable woman.
She had such a fascinating life – I had no idea! I loved reading this story which brilliantly blended the historical facts with a fictional imagined life. Mary’s life was really unusual for a women in the early 19th century. She had a difficult life from when she was a child and right through her adult life. She travelled widely throughout Europe and enjoyed the wild, dramatic landscapes she encountered, which she drew upon in her famous novel. She mixed with some of the biggest names in literature, not just Percy Shelley who she eventually married, but also Lord Byron. She suffered such unimaginable losses from a modern point of view which, due to lack of knowledge and our modern medicine, would have been so commonplace at the time.
She lived with an unconventional life for the time in that she wasn’t initially married to the father of her children. Her step sister Claire also lived with them in a very unusual arrangement that even these days would raise an eyebrow or two! Frankly, Mary Shelley was scandalous, and broke all the rules of society.
Alex Nye brings Mary Shelley vividly to life as well as the historical era in which she lived. Although Mary courageously lived an unorthodox lifestyle, she and all women were still at the mercy of men and had little or no rights in law. This is an excellent book, very well written, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Alex’s Ten Things
- When I was sixteen, I won the WH Smith Young Writers’ Award with a reflective piece about an unborn baby in a glass jar (which we examined during a Biology lesson). The creature was taken out of the liquid and left to drip on a paper towel while we carefully looked at and even touched it. I was enthralled, and wrote a piece of prose about it. The piece won out of 33,000 other entrants. I later found out that Ted Hughes was the judge and organiser of the Award, and selected my story. I’ve never let anyone forget it.
- I was brought up in a tiny Norfolk village and left home at 18 to study at King’s College, London, where I rented a bedsit in Clapham. I had to ask directions to the college on my first day, and was absolutely terrified. Spent the three years making the most of cheap theatre tickets, and still remember seeing Anthony Hopkins play King Lear. I wrote my first novel in my final year, but have lost the manuscript.
- When I was a teenager I once spent several weeks carrot-topping in the school holidays for pocket money – I suppose what you would call agricultural labour – alongside adults who did it every day for a living. You were paid by the crate rather than by the hour, so if you were slow you didn’t get much money. I’ve used this experience in my latest YA novel (due out later this year), called “WHEN WE GET TO THE ISLAND…” about a Syrian boy called Hani who is on the run with Mia, a girl in care. The novel opens with a scene in a carrot-topping shed, based exactly on this experience from when I was 14, even down to cutting my hand on the blade, and the foreman throwing the lot back at me because the frost had made it hard to top the carrots properly.
- I once stayed on a kibbutz in Israel, picking avocados and oranges. My least favourite work was working in the banana plantations, because I’d just discovered they had massive hairy spiders.
- After this, I worked in an amazing second-hand antiquarian bookshop which occupied the interior of a church built by Christopher Wren, just off Regent’s Park. It had an old-fashioned cash register, and the cool echoing shelves sat underneath a magnificent aqua-green dome. Another part of the job was to visit old abbeys and monasteries to buy up entire libraries of old books, often because the monastery needed to raise money. Lots of inspiration there, which I have yet to use in a novel.
- I first began writing FOR MY SINS, my historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1989 when I was living in a tiny bedsit in Edinburgh. Its name is inspired by Mary’s last letter before she was executed. I had the idea back then of Mary in her prison cell, stitching her tapestries while being haunted by the ghosts of her past. I hid it away in a drawer, and it was only published 28 years later in March 2017.
- The first adult novel I ever read was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The year I read the book, Kate Bush released a beautifully weird single called Wuthering Heights, which I still attempt to sing to this day.
- I once had lunch with Colin Firth and his family at his parents’ house in Winchester, and spent the day with him flying kites. True… [Only a little jealous of this Alex!]
- My first novel for children, CHILL, was inspired by my time spent living in a remote cottage on a Scottish moor through a winter of blizzards. The setting of the book – and its sequel SHIVER – accurately depicts the place where I lived.
- I love getting inside the heart and mind of intriguing historical figures, which is what I will be doing in my new novel ARGUING WITH THE DEAD, which tells the story of Mary Shelley and the chaotic forces which shaped her.
My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy of the book. Arguing With the Dead is published by Fledgling Press and available in paperback and ebook formats. You can buy a copy here: Arguing With the Dead
From the back of the book
The year is 1839, and Mary Shelley – the woman who wrote Frankenstein – is living alone in a tiny cottage on the banks of the river Thames in Putney. As she sorts through the snowstorm of her husband’s scattered papers she is reminded of their past: the half-ruined villas in Italy, the stormy relationship with Shelley and her stepsister Claire, the loss of her children, the attempted kidnapping of Claire’s daughter Allegra from a prison-like convent in Florence. And finally, her husband’s drowning on the Gulf of Spezia as they stayed in a grim-looking fortress overlooking the sea. What she has never confided in anyone is that she has always been haunted by Shelley’s drowned first wife, Harriet, who would come to visit her in the night as she slept with her two tiny children in a vast abandoned villa while Shelley was away litigating with lawyers. Did Mary pay the ultimate price for loving Shelley? Who will Harriet come for next?