Monday, February 20, 2012

Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Her new novel is The Crown.

Recently I asked Bilyeau what she was reading. Her reply:
When I traveled to London to do research for my Tudor England thriller series, I extracted a vow from myself not to load up on hardcover books. There would be little room for purchases in my already stuffed suitcase, and mailing them home would be too costly. But that promise was broken in the shop of The Museum of London when I spied Peter Ackroyd's newest book, London Under. Ackroyd's London: The Biography, published in 2000, is one of my favorites, melding the most interesting facts about the city's history with lyrical prose. London Under wouldn't be available in the States for another month or two, and I simply refused to wait; I bought it that day. Slimmer than the earlier book, London Under tells the story in the same way--nonchrononogically and with wit and insight--but focusing exclusively on what lies beneath. The first sentence of the first chapter flawlessly delivers the book's mission: "Tread carefully over the pavements of London for you are treading on skin, a skein of stone that covers rivers and labyrinths, tunnels and chambers, streams and caverns, pipes and cables, springs and passages, crypts and sewers, creeping things that will never see the light of day." But this is far from a geological book, nor a tribute to technology. It's a book about people, such as a Duke of Portland who in the 19th century built a "system of underground tunnels beneath his estate of Welbeck Abbey so that he could travel unobserved. He never wanted to be seen; he did not wish to speak to anyone, or even be noticed by his own staff. The underground world represented for him safety and invisibility. The moment of birth must have been deeply troubling for him." And there you find it--thanks to Ackroyd's skill, a spare and eloquent, amusing and yet moving anecdote. The Duke of Portland will never be forgotten by me. He is a gem dug up from beneath the surface, one of many to be mined in London Under.
Visit Nancy Bilyeau's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue