Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more - something the King himself has forbidden.Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald's journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.
Welcome to the BLOG TOUR for The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes. I have a hardback copy of The Butcher Bird to give away to one blog reader. Entry is simple, fill out your details in the widget at the end of this post. Open to UK entries only. Good luck!
The Butcher Bird was published in hardback by Hodder on 22 October 2015 and is the second novel to feature Oswald de Lacy, following Plague Land (published in September 2014). Whilst The Butcher Bird is the second outing in the Summershill Manor mysteries, it really does stand alone very well. I've not yet read Plague Land but the author expertly provides enough back story to enable the reader to enjoy The Butcher Bird on its own.
So, me and historical fiction. It's not a pairing that is often seen on Random Things, and if I'm perfectly honest, I did have my reservations about accepting a spot on this Blog Tour. I rarely read historical fiction that pre-dates the 1800s, and I don't really like Kings and Queens!
However, I met the author a couple of times in the summer, we had some lovely chats and I liked her very much. We chatted about Karen Maitland's books, and she told me that reading Company of Liars had inspired her to write Plague Land. That sold it to me, I really loved Karen Maitland's books, and surprised myself by how much I'd enjoyed them. I did get a copy of Plague Land (although I hold up my hands and admit that I've not yet read it).
I decided to accept the spot on this Blog Tour, the recommendations were strong and from trusted
readers. I'm so bloody glad that I did. I fell in love with Oswald de Lacy and his world as soon as I began to read. This is an absolutely fascinating and compelling story that I have enjoyed so much.
The reader is catapulted back through hundreds of years; the setting is the Summershill Estate in the Autumn of 1351. The Plague has decimated the estate, in fact the whole country will never be the same again. Half of the population have died, the farms and estates are failing and superstition and suspicion abound.
Oswald de Lacy is the third son of the Summershill Estate, he was never meant to be the Lord, but the Plague did not only take the poor. So, after spending his formative years being educated in a monastery, he finds himself, aged just nineteen, in charge of the Manor and the Estate.
Not only does Oswald have to deal with the crumbling Estate, the lack of labour, the demand for higher wages and the idiocy of many of his servants; he also has to deal with his Mother and Sister. There can't be two other characters who are worse than these two. Spoilt, vindictive, ridiculous and quite frankly, just thorns in Oswald's side, Mother and Clemence really are literary gold. SD Sykes has an incredible imagination, backed up by impeccable research.She has created characters and a setting that jump from the pages, she combines humour and mood. The setting is wonderfully described, with turns of phrase that had me laughing and cringing within the same paragraph.
There is a mystery running through The Butcher Bird. and Oswald is determined to solve it. A young baby is found impaled on a thorn bush and the residents of the Estate are convinced that she was murdered by The Butcher Bird which was released when John Burrows opened up the casket of his dead wife. Oswald, being the educated man that he is, pours scorn on this and is determined to find out the truth.
The Butcher Bird is well plotted and is screaming with atmosphere. I was totally enveloped by Oswald's world and the pace never fails. For me, the stand out parts of this book are the descriptions: the journey through the streets of London, the food, the people; all so incredibly realistic and it all feels so authentic. Oswald is a great character, he constantly battles against the deep-set beliefs of those about him, he tries to be fair and to treat everyone with consideration, even those who prove him wrong. There are some wonderfully descriptive phrases, some of the characters have stunning one-liners and each of them, even the lowliest servant has huge character.
I have been captivated and fascinated by The Butcher Bird, it's a novel that has surprised me, but has delighted me. I really look forward to the next chapter in Oswald's life.
I am delighted to welcome the author of The Butcher Bird; SD Sykes, here to Random Things today. I asked a few questions, here are her answers:
Do you read reviews of your novels?
Firstly I should say that I’m always enormously grateful that another person makes the effort to read and review my books. After all, they’ve willingly given up their precious time to spend maybe two or three days with my story and my characters. I always read my press reviews and my blogger reviews, because I respect the experience, knowledge and standards of these reviewers. I’m not going to be awarded a one star review because Amazon delivered it too late, or because I’ve given the main character a name that they don’t like. These reviews are rigorous, fair and honest. A writer cannot ask for more.
Do you take them seriously?
Yes, very much so. If enough reviewers say the same thing, then, as a writer, you would be a fool not to take this feedback seriously. But I should also say this – a novel shouldn’t be the result of a focus group. This would be letting your readers down. For example, when Plague Land first came out I went to a book club and was berated by a reader who didn’t like the bawdiness of my writing. In particular, she didn’t like mention of piss-pots and the general grime of the 14th century. I came home a little wounded and went to bed thinking that I might tone down the earthiness of my writing. But, after a good night’s sleep I came to the conclusion that this wouldn’t work for me. I wanted to paint an authentic picture of the medieval world – piss-pots and all. I had to stay true to that aim, and accept that some people will not like it.
How long does it take to write a novel?
Plague Land and The Butcher Bird both took roughly a year, from start to finish. Six months to research and write a first draft. Another six months to work with my editor on rewrites and the final polish.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I like to be at my desk at 9am, with a very strong coffee and the door firmly shut on the outside world. My lovely dog Max always lies on my feet and I sit in a position facing a blank wall (so that I can’t look out of the window – I’m easily distracted!) I then write for about three to four hours. Those hours, between 9am and 1pm are the most creative and productive for me. I tend to use the afternoon to concentrate on research, correspondence and social media.
What was your favourite childhood book?
When I was about nine or ten, I found an old copy of Jane Eyre in a bookcase. The book itself intrigued me because it had a battered leather cover and the print was extremely small. I’d never heard of this book, but once I started reading it, the gothic, bleak atmosphere immediately intrigued me. Nothing, however, prepared me for the moment when Jane discovers Rochester’s poor, demented wife, being kept prisoner in the attic. I don’t think that any book will ever be able to quite deliver that moment of shock to me again. I didn’t see it coming. It was both terrifying and thrilling.
Name one book that made you laugh?
I’d just had a caesarian section with my daughter, and a friend of mine came into hospital with a copy of Bill Bryson’s ‘Neither here nor there.’ The descriptions of his travels around Europe made me laugh so much that I had to stop reading the book on medical grounds. Laughter was causing me to strain my stomach muscles, and stretch my stitches!
Name one book that made you cry?
My mother has been a massive influence on me, as both a reader and a writer. She passed her love of books onto my sister and I as children, reading quite long and complicated books to us at night. Wuthering Heights was a favourite. When she read ‘The Hobbit’, all three of us were all in tears at the death of the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield. Even thinking about Mum reading those paragraphs makes me want to cry.
Which fictional character would you like to meet?
One of my most-loved books is ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck. I would love to meet Cathy/Kate – the woman whose evil runs through the novel like a strain of toxic bacteria. She has burnt her parents to death, tried to kill her husband, abandoned her twin sons and now poisoned the local brothel-owner, so that she can take over the establishment. Kate appears to have no redeeming features whatsoever. No guilt or even empathy. A psychopath perhaps? Yet she is on her own, quiet crusade. To take as much delight as possible in the hypocrisy of the men who sit in church one day and then visit her brothel the next. This knowledge gives her power, and she loves power. I would probably not be able to meet Kate in person, as she is both secretive and anti-social. But I could follow her about the town of Salinas, as she furtively scuttles into the outside world on her once-weekly trip to the shops.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
I would give my best friend ‘Summertime’ by Vanessa Lafaye. It’s one of favourite books of the year, capturing the sultry, foreboding mood of a 1930s Florida summer, just as the worst hurricane of the century is about to land. The characters are wonderful. The plot is gripping, and the book brings to light a shameful episode in North American history.
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
I love the novels of Karen Maitland. She captures the atmosphere of the middle ages perfectly. The superstition, the poverty, the politics and the pre-industrial environment. Her books ooze magic and mystery. I’ve always been fascinated by the medieval history, but it was Karen’s book ‘Company of Liars’ that inspired me to write about the Black Death.
What is your guilty pleasure read?
I’m not really guilty about anything! If you like it, then why be ashamed? However, if I have to choose, I’d say the big-format celebrity magazines, like Hello and OK magazine. I don’t buy these publications, but do head straight for them when I make my twice-yearly trip to the hairdressers. There’s something restful (I hate going to the hair dressers) even mesmeric about the perfect, air-brushed, teeth-capped, surgically enhanced lives that fold out before me on those glossy pages.
Which book have you re-read?
I’ve developed something of an obsession with The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I’ve probably re-read this novel about five times. The writing is sublime. The setting is captivating, but unsettling – a crumbling mansion, a crumbling family and the crumbling status-quo of English society in the post war years. It’s a creepy, sinister story, with strange happenings and the ghosts of the past – and a twist that delivers a terrifying ending to the book.
Which book have you given up on?
Thirty years after the event, I now feel able to confess to never having finished the novel that I was set for ‘O’ level English Literature (yes, I’m old enough to have sat GCEs.) It was ‘Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. I’ve always struggled a bit with Dickens, and I remember that I just couldn’t stand the characters in this book, particularly the simpering female ones. In the days before synopses on the internet, I must have copied my friend’s homework when it came to writing essays. Terrible, I know. But, I’m thinking of giving this book another try. A fellow writer recently recommended it to me, and I trust her judgment. Perhaps I was just a feckless sixteen year old, and should have tried harder?
Sarah Sykes aka SD Sykes lives in Kent with her family and various animals.
She has done everything from professional dog-walking to co-founding her own successful business.
She is a graduate from Manchester University and has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She attended the novel writing course at literary agents Curtis Brown where she was inspired to finish her first novel.
She has also written for radio and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.
For more information, visit her website www.sdsykes.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter @SD_Sykes
A Hardback copy of The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes Follow