We are now into March and Aye Write is drawing ever closer. I am teaming up with my good friend (well, if pressed she will admit to knowing who I am) Liz from Liz Loves Books to introduce some of the authors you can see at this year’s Aye Write festival.
Today I am delighted to introduce ES Thomson, author of Beloved Poison, a finalist for the 2016 McIlvanney Prize at Bloody Scotland. The questions were set by Liz so there are no mentions of pineapple pizza or serial killers – themes which have dominated my recent Q&A’s. However, I *was* delighted to learn that ES Thomson is a former employee of James Thin Bookshops (as was yours truly). I am in denial over how long ago that must have been.
Over to Liz :
Tell us a little about your current novel, what readers can expect from it..
My current novel, Dark Asylum, is the second novel I’ve written starring cross-dressing apothecary Jem Flockhart. Its set in 1850s London in a place called Angel Meadow Asylum. One of the doctors is brutally murdered with his own phrenological head-measuring callipers, and his eyes and mouth stitched closed. Jem and her pal Will Quartermain have to discover who did this, and why – especially important as the wrong person has been accused. The story moves from the asylum, to the slums, to the gallows and the convict transport ships. There are some new faces – Dr Golspie who smokes enough hash to turn himself mad; Dr Mothersole, who favours singing and dancing as a method of treating madness; Dr Rutherford who has a collection of 200 human skulls. There are also some familiar faces, such as Mrs Roseplucker and Mr Jobber, the brothel keepers, and Mrs Speedicut, the drunken matron. Readers can expect to enter the dark world of the nineteenth century asylum, the prison, and the convict ship, and find a mystery that keeps them turning the pages (I hope!)
I grew up in Ormskirk, a small market town outside Liverpool, in the 1870s and 1980s. I read a lot of novels while waiting for something to happen. I remember cycling around the block a lot too. I have two sisters (I am the middle one). We all left home as soon as possible.
Academic or creative at school?
Probably not much of either. Creativity was nowhere to be found in Ormskirk Grammar School, and I was pretty average at all my school work due to laziness and being a big day-dreamer. Nothing much interested me – apart from English and History. I really liked those!
First job you *really* wanted to do?
When I was 6 years old I wanted to be a bus conductor. I had a ticket stamper, a whistle and a cap and I was ready to go… Apart from wanting to be a writer, it’s only really the bus conductor idea that’s grabbed me.
Do you remember the moment you first wanted to write?
I used to write a lot at primary school, including the classic poem “I am an Orange” and the short story “The Mystery of the False Teeth”. Then I went to secondary school and gave it up due to lack of opportunity and encouragement. I worked in Waterstones and James Thin’s Bookshop (which shows how old I am!) when I was a student and I read loads… I always secretly still wanted to write. Then I got a job teaching business and marketing ethics at university. It became a matter of “write … or die…”
Who are your real life heroes?
Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915), who wrote Lady Audrey’s Secret. She had 6 children, and looked after 5 step-children while their mother was in an asylum. She wrote more than 80 novels, and was not afraid to do awful things to her characters – including having a bigamous female character kill her husband by pushing him down a well! Go Mary!
Funniest or most embarrassing situation you’ve found yourself in?
I once almost gassed some dogs and blew up a guest house. Not sure whether that’s funny or embarrassing. It’s probably neither, but is just awful.
DIY expert or phone a friend?
I try anything! My repairs have been described by admirers of my handiwork as “crude, but effective”. Duct tape is my favourite medium.
Sun worshipper or night owl?
Both – if possible. I’m generally very tired.
A book that had you in tears.
The last book that had that sort of effect on me was the beginning of Doug Johnston’s The Jump, which I read last year. It was about a woman who lost her son through suicide – the chapters of the book that addressed how she felt were cleverly done. I have two sons. I could imagine nothing worse than losing either of them.
A book that made you laugh out loud.
George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman always made me laugh.
One piece of life advice you give everyone
I don’t give anyone advice unless they specifically ask. Generally speaking though, I think “shut up and get on with it” might work well for many (including myself).
ES Thomson alongside Diana Bretherick will be discussing Ripping Victorian Yarns at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library on 18th March at 3pm. Tickets HERE
The object I drew out was dusty and mildewed, and blotched with dark rust-coloured stains. It smelt of time and decay, sour, like old books and parchments. The light from the chapel’s stained glass window blushed red upon it, and upon my hands, as if the thing itself radiated a bloody glow.
Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.
And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.
In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.