Recently, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When I’m in full-on writing mode the contents of my bedside table tend to be weighted toward reference material. I made an exception for Jason Goodwin’s The Snake Stone, featuring eunuch detective Yashim. The first in this series, The Janissary Tree, impressed me so much that I bought (and read) the second book as soon as it came out.Visit Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress, and read her "author's spotlight" essay at the Random House website. Also, check out Writer Unboxed, a genre writing blog which she shares with several other writers and editors.
Goodwin’s depth of historical knowledge and, in particular, his understanding of Ottoman culture makes each of these books a rich and compelling journey into early 19th century Istanbul. A particularly fine feature of the books is Yashim’s love of food and cookery, which I suspect allows our hero to sublimate certain other desires that he can no longer fully satisfy. The shopping and cooking sequences are sensual delights. They’re like little windows into this character’s psyche.
Like a meal prepared by Yashim, Jason Goodwin’s writing is of an elegant simplicity, beautifully presented and easy to digest. The Snake Stone has one of the best openings I’ve read for ages:
The voice was low and rough and it came from behind as dusk fell.
It was the hour of the evening prayer, when you could no longer distinguish between a black thread and a white one in ordinary light. George pulled the paring knife from his belt and sliced it through the air as he turned. All over Istanbul, muezzins in their minarets threw back their heads and began to chant.
It was a good time to kick a man to death in the street.
I recently finished Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by versatile Scottish author Iain Banks. Some of Banks’s novels rank among my all-time favourite reads, and some I’ve liked a lot less. I do read all his stuff (in hope of something as good as The Crow Road,) hence the inclusion of a book about Scotch whisky on this list.
Around 2003, Iain Banks was commissioned to travel all over Scotland sampling the wares of various distilleries and write a book about it. Raw Spirit was the result. It’s a wee bit self-indulgent, though I enjoyed the travel aspect of the book and learned a lot I didn’t know before about whisky. Along the way the author indulges at some length his passion for cars and roads. I skipped those bits. There’s a political rant or two, as you’d expect from an author who cut up his passport and sent it to Tony Blair’s office in protest at Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.
Also on the bedside table is Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories by Diane Purkiss. I re-read this as research for the manuscript I’m just finishing, which contains a fair amount of interaction between human folk and the Tuatha de Danann of ancient Ireland. Troublesome Things is both scholarly and entertaining. The author is a British academic. The subject matter is wide ranging and expertly researched, starting with fairies in ancient worlds and following their history via medieval dreams, Scottish witch trials, literary fairies, Victorian fairies and phenomena of more recent times such as fairies in advertising. I was looking specifically for changeling lore and found some unsettling material. In medieval times a woman who did not want her baby, for whatever reason, might find it convenient to label it a changeling. This would provide an excuse to abandon it at a crossroads – a sign that it had no home among human folk.
My manuscript goes to the editor in a week’s time. With luck, I can make a dent in the ‘to be read’ pile before the ms comes back with editorial suggestions attached!