Wednesday 4 December 2013

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox & Author Interview

Uprooted from her home in India, Alice is raised in Windsor by her aunt, a spiritualist medium. When a mysterious Mr Tilsbury enters their lives, Alice finds herself drawn  into a plot to steal one of India's sacred jewels: the priceless Koh-i-nor diamond, claimed by the British Empire after the Anglo-Sikh wars.

Said to be both blessed and cursed, dooming any man who holds it, the diamond exerts its power over the lives of many - a handsome deposed maharajah determined to claim his rightful throne; a man believing he will be blessed with the secrets of eternity, and a widowed Queen who thinks its light will draw her husband's spirit back...

In the midst of the madness, Alice must take control of her life and her fate - and that of the Koh-i-nor.

Published on 5 December 2013 by Orion Books, The Goddess and the Thief is Essie Fox's third novel.

Essie Fox has proved with this third novel that she really is the master of Victorian drama, and excels in making historical fiction appeal to all.   I often struggle with this genre, yet despite a fairly slow beginning, I was soon transfixed by this story, the writing and the masterful way that every intricate detail just seems to flow effortlessly.

Young Alice has been brought up in Lahore, India.  Her mother died in childbirth and she was raised by her ayah.   Alice's father decides that she must go to England, to live with her Aunt Mercy and Alice finds herself in Windsor.   The place is so different, and Aunt Mercy is not what she seems.  Mercy has plans for Alice, plans that would horrify her father, if he knew.    And so, Alice becomes more miserable, but has no choice to go along with Mercy's plans.

The story moves forward, Alice is grown and determined to get away from her Aunt's hold.   Enter Mr Tilsbury into the story; Alice thinks that she dreamt about him, but a few months later it becomes apparent that his night time visit was very real.    Aunt Mercy and Mr Tilsbury are obsessed with the Koh-I-Noor diamond, they are determined that it will be theirs.

The Goddess and the Thief is a novel that meshes together the exotic and lively streets of India with the more sedate area of Windsor, and Essie Fox does this effortlessly and with great skill.   Alice is a beautifully created character, who suffers greatly between these pages, and who the reader can empathise with.   Mercy and Mr Tilsbury are vile and brutal, and it is with a sense of horror that the reader has to experience their treatment and betrayal of young Alice.

The fact that the  novel features actual events adds another layer to the whole story.  The contrast of the different locations is so well handled, with the story slipping effortlessly from one location to the next.   

Fans of Essie Fox's first two novels will adore this one, and readers who are experiencing this author's work for the first time cannot fail to be impressed either.

A truly outstanding novel, well-researched, colourful, sometimes a little dark, often unusual, but very readable and certainly memorable.

I really have to say something about the beautiful, beautiful cover design.  The vibrant green, pink and red really stand out and the illustration perfectly conjures up the whole essence of the story.  The cover was designed by David Wardle from Bold & Noble; a company creating and hand printing wall art and homeware.  They have some beautiful things on their website.

My thanks to Emma from the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I'm honoured and thrilled to be able to welcome Essie Fox here to Random Things today.  Essie has taken the time to answer some questions.   I'd like to share her answers with you ......

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
 I have a Google alert set up for each of my novel’s titles - so yes, I do tend to see reviews, or at least to notice they are there. Once noticed, it is very hard to resist clicking onto the link and reading what’s there - for good or for bad.
There are generally three sorts of reviews. The first, and the best to have, is the complimentary one. To think that a complete stranger may appreciate and like your work is the most wonderful feeling. The second is the reader who doesn’t like the book at all, but still offers some constructive advice. Because of this I always try to read a review as if someone else - to take in the words with an open mind and perhaps to garner any hints as to what I might change in the future to create a better story. The third type (and most every author I know has had some experience of this) are the reviews which are simply malicious in tone. They can be very upsetting. But one way to overcome the gloom is now and then to post them on Twitter or Facebook for others to read as well. The fact is that, when so full of vitriol, those reviews tend to have a comic effect: an entertainment all their own.

How long does it take you to write a novel?
It varies. The Somnambulist took just over a year. I think I was so inspired, and so ‘high’ on the actual process of writing that I simply couldn’t stop myself from writing almost every hour in the day.
My second novel, Elijah’s Mermaid, took approximately eighteen months, but then I had so much more to research, and it has a denser, more literary tone which required a little more artifice.
My latest novel, The Goddess and the Thief, actually took six months to write - but that is somewhat misguiding. The story had been in mind for years. The English setting - which is my home town of Windsor - was constantly before my eyes. The imaginary characters refused to go away. The real ones were fascinating to research. The religious, political and social concerns have emerged as something of a Victorian Sensation - but I hope the messages remain, wrapped up in the plot and the sentiment. There are some serious issues lurking beneath that gothic veil.

Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really - except the habit of getting up every morning to make myself a coffee and then bringing that back upstairs to bed where I have a little breakfast table, upon which my computer sits. If I can get away with it, my preferred way to spend a morning is in my pyjamas, propped up on the pillows, tapping away to my heart’s content.

What was your favourite childhood book?
The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. It has always haunted my imagination, so much so that (along with The Little Mermaid) it actually inspired Elijah’s Mermaid. All that water, and magic and the idea of physical transformation were wonderful themes to work around.

Name one book that made you laugh?
Can I name two?
The Adrian Mole Diaries. I would drive my husband and daughter mad, giggling and reading extracts out loud. They were never so amused. Also, The Diary of a Nobody. (What is it about diaries?) Again there are scenes from that which still have the power to make me laugh.

Name one book that made you cry?
Just one again! There are so many. All right then, I’ll plump for Jude the Obscure. I read that as a teenager when I had a Thomas Hardy obsession. I recall walking around the house with the book held in my hands, and with tears streaming down my face as I sobbed uncontrollably.
Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Boris, from Donna Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch.  So many characters in that book are an absolute triumph of imagination. Tartt makes you care for them so much and yet they are realistically flawed. Boris first appears as a young boy, but even then his charisma shines through, and as the character says himself...his friends all say that he, ‘lights up the world’. He certainly lit up my reading world. I loved every moment when Boris was there. A triumph.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
Today - The Goldfinch. I enjoyed it so much. I feel confident that my friend would too.

Are you inspired by any particular author or book?  
I read a lot and in many genres. I am often awe-inspired. But with regard to my own writing, the biggest influence has been Angela Carter - and I’m very fond of Rose Tremain.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
Can we come back to Adrian Mole?     

Who are your favourite authors?
Angela Carter, Rose Tremain, Kate Atkinson, Michel Faber, Michael Cox, Sarah Waters, John Fowles, Wilkie Collins, Edith Wharton, the Brontes, R L Stevenson, Donna Tartt, Isabel Allende, Mark Z Danielewski, Rumer Godden, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, G R R Martin, Stephen King, Muriel Spark, Tracey Chevalier, Jane Harris...I think I’d better stop. I could go on and on.

What book have you re- read? 
Most recently, The Water Babies.  I don’t tend to re-read very often because I have so many books on my shelves, and far too little time to read.

What book have you given up on?
There have been a fair few. I don’t believe in continuing if you reach mid way in a novel and still feel unconnected. I don’t consider it a failure on my part, or necessarily on the part of the writer. There are times when certain books speak to us, and times when they do not.  

Essie Fox was born and grew up in Herefordshire. She now divides her time between Bow in East London, and Windsor. After studying English Literature at Sheffield University she first worked for the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, then for the book publishers, George Allen & Unwin – until moving on to art and design: a career that lasted twenty years.

Essie became a published author in 2011. She has appeared at various festivals, contributed articles for the national press, and lectured at the V&A. She also created the popular blog, TheVirtual Victorian, and much of the research she does for that website goes on to feature in her books, which are dark Victorian novels published by Orion Books.

The Somnambulist, was featured on the Channel 4 TV Book Club, was shortlisted for the Best Debut Novel at the 2012 National Book Awards, and has now been optioned for TV/film by Hat Trick Productions. Her second novel, Elijah’s Mermaid has received many excellent reviews in national newspapers and magazines. Her third novel, The Goddess And The Thief is published in December 2013.

More information can be found at and Twitter @essiefox - there is also a fabulous Pinterest board dedicated to The Goddess and the Thief

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