Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Elizabeth Speller

Elizabeth Speller studied Classics at Cambridge. She has written for various publications, and has taught at the universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, and Bristol.

She is the author of the novels The Return of Captain John Emmett and The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, and four non-fiction books.

Last month I asked Speller what she was reading. Her reply:
Every year I spend many weeks of the summer in my tiny cottage in Greece. Usually I’m writing a new novel myself so reading, novels or fiction, is a reward to myself for a good morning’s work.

Each year I construct a fantasy literary award for My Book of the Summer and its runners-up. This summer the prize is shared; because they are such different books, I can’t select just one.

I seem to be dreaming of snowy tundra, pine forests and glaciers a lot; yearning for the cold stillness of the far north, perhaps because my summer months are spent in high temperatures and weeks of blue skies, cicadas and searing sun. So my fiction choice is Dan Smith’s The Child Thief, set in post-revolutionary Ukraine. It is a wonderful tale of a journey across the snow both chasing and being chased and knowing all the while that lethal political forces may destroy the life you’ve left behind. Exciting, bleakly beautiful in its description of survival in landscapes of endless snow and, appropriately, chilling. William Ryan’s, The Bloody Meadow (1930’s Russia) Helen Dunmore’s The House of Orphans (early C20 Finland) R. N. Morris’ The Cleansing Flames (mid-C19 St Petersburg), plus shelves of Scandinavian crime fiction continue to feed my appetite for ice.

Alistair Horne’s The Price of Glory is my non-fiction choice. This was first published in 1962 and is (understandably) still in print. At the book’s heart is the horror of the Battle Verdun. But this is no macho war book - but a wonderful picture of Fin de Siécle Paris: its vivacity, its artists and intellectuals, its café society and its colourful scandals and plots. It has delicious pen portraits of the men and women who lived then and who went to war in 1914 in an entirely French way: with astonishing and flamboyant courage, in old-fashioned red ‘pantalons’, and prey to affairs of the heart. One charismatic general shot himself on his mistress’ grave, a sergeant went AWOL because he couldn’t manage his four different wives in the leave he had available. Meanwhile the uneasy history between France and Germany nearly destroyed a generation. Fantastic history writing.
Visit Elizabeth Speller's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Speller and Erwin.

--Marshal Zeringue