Thursday 31 December 2020

2020: My Year in Reading—A Retrospect

“Read!” is the number one tip I give aspiring writers, and, in 2020, I managed to follow my own advice. With our social lives non-existent, this year was a good year to escape into a great book, and I hit my goal of reading 50.

For the full list, check out my Goodreads profile. I read 43 novels to seven works of non-fiction and 42 books by women to eight books by men. And 11 of the books were by authors of colour.

In this post, I’m not going to summarise everything, but to highlight some of the best—the books that have stood out most to me from the year.

Favourite Fiction

It was so tough to choose my favourite reads of 2020, as different books are great for different moods. But there were three that I’ve been raving about to anyone who will listen. 

Mary Toft; Or, The Rabbit Queen, by Dexter Palmer is the novel I would recommend to everyone, despite its slightly strange synopsis. The book is based on the true story of an eighteenth-century Englishwoman who claimed to be giving birth to butchered rabbits. But it’s so much more than that. A book about fake news, the nature of truth, and the dangers of partisan hysteria, this piece of historical fiction couldn’t have felt more 2020.

I also couldn’t go without mentioning The Mirror and the Light, the third novel in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell. Mantel is probably the best living historical novelist and the final book in the series more than delivers. 

I’ve been reading lots of books set during the French Revolution (check out a recent summary here), and Edward Carey’s Little, an imaginative look at the childhood of famous waxwork artist Madame Tussaud, is a standout. Like Dexter’s novel, this one isn’t for the squeamish, with Carey’s own illustrations bringing a visual dimension to a lively, gruesome, and original novel.

Non-Fiction Favourite

As you can see from my stats, I read much more fiction than non-fiction, but I did read some great non-fiction this year, on everything from ballet to millennial politicians, and Napoleon’s mistresses to Queen Victoria.

My favourite non-fiction read was, unsurprisingly, one of the most fiction-related—How the French Invented Love, by Marilyn Yalom. This book takes readers on a whirlwind tour through French literary history, charting how the country and its capital have become synonymous with romantic love.

Top Nineteenth-Century Read

I didn’t read as many books as usual this year actually written during the nineteenth century, probably because the publication of my own debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, brought me into contact with so many talented living authors.

My top pick of those I did read is decadent novel The Marquise de Sade, by Rachilde. Check out my full review here and venture into this scandalous story of late nineteenth-century depravity if you dare.

Top Neo-Victorian Voices Read

I also continued to review books set in the nineteenth century, but written in the twenty-first, for my Neo-Victorian Voices series. Of those I blogged about this year, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins was my favourite. The story of a woman formerly enslaved on a Jamaican sugar plantation and now on trial for her London employers’ murders, this book is written in a compelling first person.  

Top Reads for Bronte Lovers

If you follow my blog and me, you might very well be a lover of the Brontes. So, as well as recommending you read my Bronte-inspired novel, Bronte’s Mistress, I wanted to suggest some other Bronte-related reads. 

The Mother of the Brontes by Sharon Wright, a biography of Maria Bronte (nee Branwell), is my non-fiction Bronte pick (review here). And novels I recommend you check out are The Vanished Bride, by Bella Ellis (review here), The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James (review here), and Mr Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker (review here).

Self-Published Pick

My reading skews heavily towards traditionally published books, but I also wanted to give you an indie pick—The Best Man on the Planet by C.G. Twiles. This genre-bending modern Gothic is exactly the kind of gem non-traditional publishing gives us. Check out my interview with Twiles here.

Debut Novels

Finally, the best part of 2020 for me has been the support and community I’ve enjoyed from and with other debut novelists. You might have noticed that none of them were mentioned above, but that’s because I didn’t want to pick between them! I still have plenty more novels to read by the other debuts, but here’s a list of the ones I got to this year.

Historical fiction lovers should read Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie (set in post-WWII Japan), and regency rom-com To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters. I’m also shouting out The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner, which I actually read in 2019, but reviewed in 2020, its publication year.

Both contemporary debuts I have to recommend deal with grief. In Lindsey Rogers Cook’s How To Bury Your Brother, a woman discovers undelivered letters from her dead brother and takes a journey to the past. And in The All-Night Sun, by Diane Zinna, a young orphaned college professor develops an inappropriate relationship with her female student.

Love thrillers, mystery and suspense? Sisters are pitted against each other in The Better Liar, by Tanen Jones, and family drama is also at the heart of A.H. Kim’s A Good Family. While Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is a dark and violent tale of a vigilante tracking down drug dealers on a Native American reservation.

What did you read in 2020? I’d love to hear your recommendations! If you did read and enjoy Bronte’s Mistress, please consider reviewing the book on Goodreads and Amazon—every review helps. Wishing you a very happy 2021 and beyond. To stay up to date with books, news and reviews from me, sign up to my email newsletter below.

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Tuesday 22 December 2020

November Articles about Bronte’s Mistress

My debut year is almost over and I’m still sharing roundups of the lovely coverage my historical novel, Bronte’s Mistress, has been receiving. If you’re interested in going back in time, check out the February/March, April/May, June/July, August, September and October editions too!

In November, I received one of my favourite five-star reviews so far—this write up from the San Francisco Book Review. The reviewer calls the novel and my Author’s Note “fascinating,” and concludes, “wicked women of the [Victorian] era were humans as well and deserve to be remembered as such, Lydia Robinson included.”

Bronte’s Mistress was also the weekly book pick for radio show What’s the Story? on The Krush 95.9. Check out the full episode here.

My interview with Carol Fitzgerald at Bookreporter, centred on my research for Bronte’s Mistress, was part of the Miami Book Fair, a huge event in the publishing calendar, which went virtual for the first time. It’s free to register if you’d like to hear us chat all things Brontes and to check out other great literary content. 

Dixon Public Library recommended Bronte’s Mistress on National Author’s Day, which falls on November 2nd. I loved that they used the day to celebrate and support other debut authors and me!

Personally, the highlight on my month was spending time at a socially distanced writers’ retreat hosted by the Highlights Foundation. Check out my full review of the experience here, or check out this blog post from my friend and fellow writer Cate Simon, who was reading Bronte’s Mistress during our time away!

If you’re looking for a great read this holiday season or the perfect book to give as a gift, I’d of course recommend Bronte’s Mistress! And, don’t be a stranger. If you’d like to get in touch for any reason, contact me via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and make sure you sign up for monthly updates on my writing and me below.

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Thursday 3 December 2020

Review: The Marquise de Sade, Rachilde (1887)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading The Marquise de Sade, by Rachilde (first published in French in 1887). 

I’ve read books by other writers who were part of the late nineteenth-century Decadent Movement. I’ve blogged, for instance, about Joris-Karl Huysmans’s 1884 À Rebours (Against Nature), which is often held up as representative of the excesses of the artistic and literary movement. I’ve read Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, some of the most famous Decadent writers in English. And I’ve enjoyed the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, probably the most famous British visual artist in this group.

However, I had no idea until recently that there was a woman writer amongst the leading French Decadent authors—Marguerite Vallette-Eymery, who published under the pen name Rachilde.

The Marquise de Sade, Rachilde (1887)

The novel of Rachilde’s I picked up was The Marquise de Sade (1887), though her 1884 Monsieur Venus is perhaps slightly better known. Flicking through its front pages, I discovered that it had taken more than a hundred years (!!) for The Marquise de Sade to be published in English, with this translation, by Liz Heron, appearing in 1994.

An intriguing writer, a racy title, and a recent translation? I was in, and flew through the novel within days. Now I’m blogging to tell you all about it. Warning: spoilers ahead, as this one’s a little off the beaten track…

CN: Sexual Violence, Animal Cruelty, Transphobia, Homophobia 

First up, the title is pretty misleading. The novel has nothing directly to do with the nobleman, philosopher, and sexual libertine who put the “S” in “BDSM.” Rather, the feminisation of the title (this is the Marquise de Sade, rather than the masculine Marquis) is a reference to the novel’s central theme. Rachilde’s book is a bildungsroman about how a girl grows into a woman with a perverse taste for cruelty.

Second, if you’re expecting sex on every page, you’re going to be disappointed. Mary Barbe, our protagonist, is seven years old in the opening chapter and the book mainly deals with her childhood. This, of course, includes references to her nascent sexuality, but it’s only in the last quarter of the novel, when Mary is an adult, that the content becomes overtly and consistently sexual.

What I was least prepared for was how (deliberately!) funny the book was in parts. Mary is the daughter of a colonel and Rachilde’s satirical depiction of the social life of officers in the French army is incredibly entertaining. 

As a writer, I was also impressed by Rachilde’s convincing use of a child’s point of view, while the narrative still winks at what’s really going on between the grown-up characters. Even as the book plays with the excessive and the absurd (e.g. a brawl between the officers’ children over live lambs, which have been given out as gifts at a kids’ party), I felt like the writer really knew and could empathise with children—something that’s pretty rare in nineteenth-century novels.

I’m no psychiatrist, but Rachilde’s psychological portrait of Mary reads as proto-Freudian and progressive. Mary is initially a sensitive and caring child. But neglected by her family, who would prefer her to be a boy, she is starved of affection and has several early experiences that lead to her associating love and pain. Her first (pretty innocent) fumblings with a boy in her tweenage years are also linked to power play, as she convinces him to steal a prized rose from his employer for her in return for a kiss.  

As the novel progresses, her development becomes less believable. She ends the novel fantasising about murder, having tasted every other excess. And, in a strange twist I didn’t see coming, it is a “transvestite man” that she considers killing. She talks of men who sleep with other men as “fallen” and “ill-equipped to defend [themselves] against women.” And says, “her conscience would be clear if the chosen victim were among that kind!” 

While the ending is a clear escalation in violence, there are also plenty of other moments readers will find problematic, distasteful and shocking throughout the book.

There are various instances of animal cruelty. The opening scene sees Mary faint as she watches an ox being butchered and its blood drained as a cure for her consumptive mother. As a small child, Mary’s beloved companion is a cat (even though it scratches her). I won’t go into details, but, predictably, the cat and her kittens meet unpleasant ends, further cementing Mary’s misandry and misogyny. 

Mary’s own “cruelty” as an adult at first revolves around exercising her newfound power to deny men. She pretends she loves them, but refuses to have sex with them, or goads them into making sexual advances, but then blackmails them about what they have done. Eventually, one of the young men she’s been playing with rapes her, cuckolding his father in the process. The narrative suggests that he is the victim.

But it’s not only men who Mary can captivate and torture. In one of the most memorable scenes in the novel, Mary has a woman who wishes to sleep with her strip naked before her, and then, without warning, brands her with a red-hot poker. Reader, I gasped.

I’ve written before about the misconceptions people can have about the nineteenth century. This was certainly not a period when everyone was swooning at the sight of an ankle or an uncovered table leg. French Decadent literature may be more out there than the novels of British novelists in the time period, but you can be sure that many of our literary greats were reading books like this one. Overall, I’d recommend The Marquise de Sade to enthusiasts for the period with a strong constitution, and to adventurous readers with a taste for more than Fifty Shades of Grey

Compared to The Marquise de Sade, my own novel, Bronte’s Mistress, seems almost wholesome, but, if you love the nineteenth century, please consider buying a copy for yourself or as Holiday gift this Christmas season! Want to get in touch? You can always message me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (no creepy DMs please), and you can also sign up for my monthly email below.

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Wednesday 25 November 2020

Writing Retreat Review: Unworkshops at the Highlights Foundation

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently, as a published novelist with a demanding day job, is how I have time to write. I very much admire those authors who can and do write every day, but I’ve never had a lifestyle that can support that sort of schedule. Instead, I’ve written before about the importance to me of making time to write i.e. setting aside intense periods of productivity, devoid of competing demands and distractions.

My cabin!

Over the last few years I’ve adopted a pattern of going on spring and fall retreat weekends with one of my writers’ groups. We (a group of 10-15 people) typically rent an Airbnb somewhere within three hours’ drive of New York City (e.g. in the Hamptons or in upstate New York). We spend our days writing in companionable silence, and our evenings drinking while making far too much noise. It’s cheap, fun, and effective. However, in 2020, retreats like this (often with crowded sleeping quarters) have obviously been impossible. 

This was why I was delighted when my friend and fellow historical novelist Kris Waldherr introduced me to the Highlights Foundation, a retreat centre in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. The Highlights Foundation normally runs workshops for writers of children’s books, with time dedicated to learning together as well as writing alone. However, during this pandemic period, the facility has pivoted, becoming a destination for “Unworkshops”—unguided, socially distanced retreats for writers. I attended an Unworkshop there in mid-November and wanted to share my thoughts on the experience.

Cosy in my cabin

Is it safe?

The Highlights Foundation has gone out of its way to make their Unworkshops the least risky retreat possible in our current circumstances, and, while I was there, all attendees were scrupulous about following Covid-19 protocols. 

Accommodations are mostly private cabins—each with twin beds, a writing desk, a fully equipped bathroom, and a snacks and beverages station. There’s no need to go anywhere else.

Meals are served at the central barn. You can order your food to go, eat outside (there are heat lamps, as well as crackling fireplace), or dine in the barn, spread out and behind Perspex dividers. I ate almost all meals outside so I could safely socialise between writing sprints. Yes, it was a little chilly, but as someone who’s been alone for most of the pandemic, it was worth it.

Walking in the woods

Is it inspiring?

The Highlights Foundation facility is in a beautiful location, so if you’re inspired by walking through the woods before returning to a cosy cabin, this could be the retreat for you. The books and artwork in the cabins were all focused on kids and children’s literature, so I imagine children’s book writers would feel even more at home.

The view from my writing desk

Is the food good?

Hard yes. The staff was also really accommodating to those with particular dietary needs. Wine and beer was served with dinner (though perhaps not in the quantities of my usual writing retreats!). I brought extra (and harder) liquor for late night nightcaps by the heat lamps.

Is it worth the money?

Everyone has a different tolerance for what they’re willing to spend on a weekend away. This retreat was certainly pricier than the DIY retreats I’ve done with my writers’ groups in the past but, in this case, a) I had much more personal space, b) food and wine was included, and c) there was no need for arguments over who was doing the dishes! 

For me, it was pretty priceless to enjoy a retreat experience safely during the pandemic. I’d even consider going back to the centre in a (hopefully) post-Covid reality, especially if they expanded their workshop purview to include writers of fiction for adults.

The Highlights Foundation

If you want to keep up to date with news on my writing (including on the book I was editing at the Highlights Foundation…), sign up for my monthly email newsletter below. My first novel, Bronte’s Mistress, is available for order in hardcover, audiobook and e-book now. And don’t forget, you can always connect with me on social media—find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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Saturday 21 November 2020

October Articles About Bronte’s Mistress

After a crazy couple of months in August and September, October was a quieter month in terms of press for my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which tells the true story of Lydia Robinson, the woman rumoured to have had an affair with Branwell Bronte, the Bronte sisters’ brother. Still, I wanted to share some of the publications that were good enough to feature the book last month!

In costume for Halloween Gothic panel!

I’m a double alumna of the University of Oxford, with a BA from Merton College and an MSt from Corpus Christi College, so I was delighted that the university’s North American office featured me as the Alumni Author of the month for October. Looking back at their other 2020 picks, I loved seeing the range of topics fellow Oxfordians have written about—from DNA to environmental policy in Vietnam to resilience—but was surprised to be the only fiction writer featured this year.

Clarissa Harwood published a great blog post in support of debut novelists who’ve had to contend with a 2020 release date. I loved seeing Bronte’s Mistress as one of her historical fiction picks. I read and enjoyed A.H. Kim’s A Good Family, one of her choices for women’s fiction, and Tonya Mitchell’s A Feigned Madness and Rita Woods’s Remembrance are definitely on my TBR list! 

Fall in Brooklyn

Writer C.P. Lesley also included my novel on her Fall Bookshelf roundup. I recently recorded an episode for her New Books in Historical Fiction podcast, which I look forward to sharing with you in the next week or so. And speaking of podcasts, check out my appearance on the History Through Fiction podcast, which also aired last month.

Finally, the Attic Girl blog had the distinction of being the first holiday gift guide to feature Bronte’s Mistress! If you’re buying holiday gifts for a literature lover I of course highly recommended getting them a copy of my book! Other novels recommended on the list are Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society, which I wrote about here, and Rachel McMillan’s The London Restoration.

Zoom on...

Thank you for another month of support, nice messages, and reviews. If you’d like to keep up with all news about Bronte’s Mistress and my writing, follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and sign up to receive my monthly email newsletter below.

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Friday 13 November 2020

Review: Cousin Phillis, Elizabeth Gaskell (1864)

After months of blog posts dedicated to Neo-Victorian fiction and the publication of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, I’m back with a review of an actual nineteenth-century novel, Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1864 Cousin Phillis.

This short and sweet work of Victorian realism ends abruptly (it was published in four parts, and Gaskell had apparently planned for parts five and six), but is otherwise a shining example of nineteenth-century domestic storytelling. The novel would make a great addition to student essays on Gaskell’s better-known works.

The plot is simple and undramatic. Engineer Edward Holdsworth meets Phillis Holman, the much-loved only daughter of a clergyman/farmer and his wife. But, while the young man is taken with her beauty, goodness and intelligence, he’s careless with her heart. 

More interesting is the perspective Gaskell chooses to tell the story from. Paul Manning, Phillis’s cousin and Holdsworth’s subordinate at the railway company, is our primary narrator. 

Paul’s own emotional life is never centred. He’s briefly attracted to Phillis, but soon sees her as a sister, since she is a couple of inches taller than him and better at reading Latin (!). When he meets the woman who will be his wife, he only dedicates one sentence to this momentous event. 

Paul struck me as something of a nineteenth-century Nick Carraway. And Gaskell’s skill is apparent in how she develops his character to make this short work into a bildungsroman through the lightest of touches. Paul’s error in repeating Holdsworth’s idle talk to Phillis is believable, naïve, and achingly human. The book may be quiet compared to the high drama of, say, Mary Barton (1848), but that doesn’t that its characters feel any less.

I’d love to watch the TV adaptation from 1982, but so far haven’t found anywhere to stream this particular costume drama online. 

Overall, if you love mid-nineteenth-century prose, Cousin Phillis is a worthwhile investment, even if, unlike for the century’s more famous unfinished novels, modern writers aren’t flocking to anticipate what Mrs Gaskell’s ending might have been.

Do you have a suggestion for which Victorian novel I should read, review or write about next? Let know here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. And if you want updates on my writing and my own novel Bronte’s Mistress, sign up to my email newsletter below. 

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Friday 30 October 2020

September Articles About Bronte’s Mistress

It’s nearly the end of October and I’m still playing catch up in summarising the press coverage of my debut historical novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which was released in August. Bronte’s Mistress imagines the story of Lydia Robinson, the older woman rumoured to have had an affair with the Bronte sisters’ brother, Branwell Bronte. 

Around two weeks ago, I published a post on articles written by me and published in September. This time around, I’m sharing articles about my book that came out last month. Let’s get into it.

First up, I was delighted to receive a wonderful review from the Lancashire Post, which was also printed in various other local English newspapers. Their reviewer, Pam Norfolk, describes the book as “emotionally powerful and written with immense sensitivity.”

Another great review came from fellow Neo-Victorian novelist Essie Fox, writing for Historia, the Historical Writers’ Association magazine. Describing Bronte’s Mistress as “remarkable” she ends the review by saying, “I found myself asking the question: Is Lydia Robinson a victim of her own time—or of herself?”

And I was ecstatic that my book was also reviewed in Bronte Studies, the academic journal of the Bronte Society. The review is behind pay wall, but describes Bronte’s Mistress as “an extremely satisfying read,” with a “stroke of brilliance” in the Author’s Note where I share what is fact vs. fiction in Lydia Robinson’s story.

Meanwhile, Fine Books & Collections included Bronte’s Mistress in incredible company in a piece on recent works of “bibliofiction.” I’m looking forward to reading the other books on their list, especially Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

I was interviewed by DIY MFA on my self care tips for writers, by Saralyn Bruck on my inspirations and favourite things, and for Authors Answer (which asked the quirkiest interview questions so far!).

Further lovely reviews came from History Through Fiction, whose podcast with me went live in October, from My Interdimensional Chaos, and from Flora’s Musings.

Finally, if you’ve been asking yourself the pressing question “which lipstick shade should I wear to match the cover of Bronte’s Mistress?”, I’ve got you. Check out this delicious pairing courtesy of Read Your Lipstick!

Haven’t ordered your (hardback, audio or electronic) copy of Bronte’s Mistress yet? What are you waiting for?! You can check out a list of suggested retailers for buyers in the US and UK here. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And for monthly updates on my writing straight to your email inbox, make sure you sign up to my newsletter below.

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Saturday 17 October 2020

September Articles by Finola Austin, Author of Bronte’s Mistress

For the last few months, thanks to the release of my first novel, Bronte’s Mistress, I’ve been cheating on my Secret Victorianist blog by writing articles for other bigger (though less cool 😉) publications. 

August was wild with nine personal essays going live in Oprah Magazine, LitHub, Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books, Frolic, Historia Mag, Off the Shelf, Bronte Blog, English Historical Fiction Writers and Silver Petticoat Review. By contrast, September was much calmer, but I’m really proud of the four essays I had published and excited to (re-)share them with you today!

First up, I wrote about the real love affair that inspired my novel for both the Irish Times and Town and Country magazine. 

In Town and Country, I talked about my attempt to “capture something of the passion of Charlotte, the social commentary of Anne and the darkness of Emily, in shedding light on this scandalous true story,” and highlighted the things that the Bronte siblings and I do and don’t have in common. 

In the Irish Times, I mentioned the Brontes’ Irish and Cornish roots and shared my excitement at finding, “another chapter of this saga…the history of Lydia Robinson, the older woman blamed for their brother Branwell’s early demise.”

The Brontes were also my subject for a piece for Refinery29, which had a pretty different focus. I talked about the afterlife the Bronte sisters have enjoyed as our archetype for the successful woman writer—poor, plain and virginal—and argued that women need more varied models for dedicating their lives to art. 

Finally, I wrote a more technical piece for Almost An Author, on what fellow writers should consider when writing fiction in the first person. Charlotte Bronte’s line “Reader, I married him” may be one of the most famous in English literature, but what does it mean to adopt the “I” of a fictional character? And what are the traps writers can fall into here?

I hope you enjoy these pieces and my other essays from earlier in the year. If you’ve already read and enjoyed Bronte’s Mistress, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads or Amazon. And, if your book club wants to read my book, I’d absolutely love to join your meeting via Zoom. Download the Bronte’s Mistress reading group guide here and contact me via my website. Alternatively, get in touch via Facebook or Instagram or by tweeting @SVictorianist.  

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Monday 12 October 2020

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins (2019)

You may know me as the author of Bronte’s Mistress, but, when I’m not writing my own books, I’m reading other people’s. For five and a half years now, in my Neo-Victorian Voices series, I’ve been reviewing books set in the nineteenth century, but written in the twenty-first. 

So far in 2020, I’ve blogged about Sandra Dallas’s Westering Women (2020), Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars (2019), Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte (2009), Bella Ellis’s The Vanished Bride (2019), Dinitia Smith’s The Honeymoon (2016) and Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr Rochester (2017). This time, it’s the turn of Sara Collins’s stellar 2019 debut, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

It’s 1826 and Frannie Langton is in the Old Bailey prison in London when Collins’s novel opens. She’s accused of murdering her employer Mr Benham and his wife, a crime she tells us she can’t have committed because she was in love with her mistress. Frannie was born into slavery in Jamaica, and the British press has dubbed her “the Mulatto Murderess.” She doubts the court will recognise her humanity in her upcoming trial, so she chooses to make her confession to us, the readers, instead.

But what exactly is Frannie confessing? Did she kill either or both of the Benhams? Was she a complicit in the dissections and vivisections of slaves back on the plantation? Should we see her as a victim of sexual abuse, a willing party to incest, or both? Or is her confession a cri de coeur about her romantic feelings for a woman, a union this society condemns as equally unnatural?

While the plot unfolds slowly (after all, we know from the beginning that murder will be our destination), Frannie’s voice is distinctive and interesting. This feels in keeping with the unusual circumstances of her life, and, while I’ve read a few reviews from readers who found the frequency of similes excessive, I enjoyed how Frannie’s images were always rooted in her frame of reference.

Emotionally, there are few moments of joy. This is a novel about righteous and unrelenting anger, and the reading experience can be exhausting. There’s no respite for Frannie, but she never acts the part of docile and pitiable victim. A line of advice the character is given early in the book really stood out to me: “[There are] only two types of white people in this world, chile, the ones doing shit to you and the ones wanting you to tell them ’bout the shit them other ones did.” Collins asks (especially White) readers to confront their own ideas of what a narrative about a former slave should be.

While Frannie is an utterly original creation, at times she reminded me of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Like Jane, she’s overlooked and unfairly written off by those around her, and frequently thrust into the role of observer, although her perceptions are sharp and her words can be fierce. At the same time, she is also, of course, akin to Jane’s predecessor Bertha Mason, another famous Jamaican. As in postcolonial interpretations of Bertha, Frannie can be seen as an avenging angel, a personification of the White British man’s fears of his abuses abroad, the source of his wealth, coming back to haunt him.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Confessions of Frannie Langton and urge fellow Victorianists to add it to their reading lists. Do you have a tip for me about a great book for my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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Wednesday 30 September 2020

August Articles About Bronte’s Mistress

It’s the last day of September and the last few months have been so busy that I’m still recapping August!

In previous August-related posts, I shared the articles by me that were published last month to highlight the release of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, and the written Q&As and interviews I participated in. Today though, I’m sharing the best of the best of the articles written about the book by others. Let’s get into it.

Yorkshire Post

Christian Science Monitor was a great champion of Bronte’s Mistress, telling readers that the novel “speculates delightfully” about what might have occurred between Branwell Bronte and Lydia Robinson.  The publication also included in the book at #4 in their list of the best books published in August

Larne Times

Bookreporter named my book a Bets On pick and published a wonderful review, calling the novel “seductive in its tone even when the more amorous scenes are pages behind you.” 

Shelf Awareness gave Bronte’s Mistress a starred review, writing that “this intriguing early Victorian drama unveils the enigmatic temptress who allegedly seduced the infamous Branwell Bronte and caused much grievance to his exceedingly protective sisters.” 

Woman & Home

I was delighted that my novel received coverage in Yorkshire, home of the Brontes, with this piece in the Yorkshire Post. Bronte’s Mistress, they write, is a “great story, extremely adeptly told.”

The Historical Novel Society Review

And I was also very happy to see Bronte’s Mistress show up in a few lists last month, including in Surrey Life and Silver Petticoat Review

Finally, in addition to the major review sites (see Goodreads, Amazon US and Amazon UK), here are ten of my favourite reviews of Bronte’s Mistress from Bronte/book bloggers. Thank you all for making August a great launch month!


Best Historical Fiction 

A Bookish Way of Life

Bronte Blog

The Eyre Review

Laura’s Reviews

The Lit Bitch

Nurse Bookie

Reading the Past

Sprained Brain

Haven’t ordered your physical, digital or audio copy of Bronte’s Mistress yet? Find a list of suggested places to buy here, or get in touch with your local independent bookstore. Want to get my most important updates delivered straight to your email inbox? Sign up for my monthly newsletter below.

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Saturday 26 September 2020

August Interviews with Finola Austin

August was a crazy launch month for my debut historical novel, Bronte’s Mistress, and September hasn’t been much quieter!

So, rather than my usual roundup of relevant articles (see June/July as an example), I’m sharing THREE update posts. Last week, I shared the articles I wrote, which were published in release month. And, in an upcoming post, I’ll be sharing the best articles about Bronte’s Mistress penned by others. This time round though, I’m sharing a recap of all the written interviews and Q&As with me that were published in August. I hope you enjoy them!

One of my favourite interviews was discussing scandalous women with fellow writer, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, for Frolic. We talked about inspiration and research, historical fiction vs. modern values, my most loved historical places and more.

The interview with Elizabeth was part of the Bronte’s Mistress Blog Tour, which also included two other great Q&As. Standout questions included being quizzed by the Reading Frenzy on Victorian motherhood, and telling Historical Fiction Reader whom I would cast in a Bronte’s Mistress movie or miniseries!

I’m always on the lookout for great new historical fiction reads, so I was delighted to be interviewed for the Historical Novel Society Review’s New Voices column, along with three other debut historical novelists. I’ve now added Molly Aitken’s The Island Child, Katie Hutton’s The Gypsy Bride, and Gretchen Berg’s The Operator to my to-be-read list.

In addition to being a member of the Historical Novel Society, I’m also part of the Authors Guild. It was an honour to be featured in their Member Spotlight interview to talk about why writing matters and my tips for overcoming writer’s block.

One of my favourite literary email newsletters, Bidwell Hollow, also interviewed me. We talked about writers I love and how I first developed a passion for Victorian literature. And I also did interviews for fellow writers’ blogs, including an interview with Rebecca Taylor, where I shared my path to publication, and a nerdy chat with fellow Bronte-fanatic Writer Gurl NY.

Believe it or not, I still have more to say (!!), so if you’d like to talk to me about Bronte’s Mistress for your blog or website, please do get in touch! And remember, if your book club wants to read my book, I’d love to join your meeting via Zoom. Download the Bronte’s Mistress reading group guide here. In either case, contact me via my website, or get in touch on Facebook or Instagram or by tweeting @SVictorianist