This week’s Inheritance Books come from the fascinating Lucienne Boyce. Hi Lucienne, would you like a cup of tea? While I get that, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and brought up in Wolverhampton in the Midlands, but I now live in Bristol, which is an inspiring place for both my fiction and non-fiction work. The streets and quays of Bristol are full of history, and we’re blessed with museums, art galleries and historic buildings, many of which date back to the eighteenth century, which is when my fiction is set. In addition, Bath, with its eighteenth-century streets, is not far away. Further out from the city every village, tree and field has a story to tell.
My non-fiction work focusses on the history of the women’s suffrage movement, and in particular the local women who worked so hard for women’s right to vote. The two areas – historical fiction set in the eighteenth century and non-fiction about women’s suffrage history – may seem disparate, but in fact they are connected by my interest in radical history and the history of protest.
I studied for an MA in English Literature with the Open University, specialising in eighteenth-century fiction, and graduated (with Distinction) in 2007. I’d been writing since I was a child, and already had a pile of “bottom drawer” novels behind me, but in 2010 I gave up paid employment to focus on my writing. I published my first historical novel, To The Fair Land, in 2012, which is set partly in Bristol. I’m now working on a series of historical detective novels featuring Dan Foster, a Bow Street Runner who is also an amateur pugilist. I’m also writing a biography of suffragette Millicent Browne, who campaigned in Bristol and North Wales.
I’m a member of the steering committee of the West of England and South Wales Women’s History Network. Next year is a big year for us as we’re organising events in Bristol to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of votes for (some) women. We’re working with Bristol MShed – Bristol’s museum about Bristol! – to put on a day of events on 19 May 2018, together with associated events throughout the year such as suffrage walks and talks.
Which book have you inherited from the generation above? Why is it special?
I can’t point to a physical book as an inheritance, though I do still have a few of my favourite books from childhood. But I was drawn to reading at an early age, and one of my very favourite books was The Little Grey Men by BB. It was beautifully illustrated by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, who was in fact the author. It was published in 1942, but I have no recollection of who gave it to me or suggested I read it. All I know is that it is a book I loved and read over and over again.
The Little Grey Men tells the story of the last gnomes in Britain, three of whom set off in search of their missing brother, the explorer Cloudberry. What I particularly love about it is the sense of place – it’s set in Warwickshire in the Midlands, so that it’s a landscape I recognise. I also like the fact that these gnomes are not, as the author promised in the introduction, “fairy-book tinsel stuff”, but much more down to earth creatures of nature.
The book speaks out for nature: I have never forgotten the impact of the scene when the gnomes encounter a gibbet on which hang friends of theirs who have been shot or killed in cruel snares, Otter amongst them. Years later as an adult, the lines of John Clare’s beautiful poem Remembrances resonate with that childhood reading: “Inclosure…hung the moles for traitors”. With Pan’s help, the gnomes exact a terrible revenge. They voice the right of wild things to freedom: “There’s no such thing as private property in Nature! The woods and fields belong to the earth, and so do we.”
It’s quite a shock to look at The Little Grey Men today and realise how deeply it influenced me. It’s prompted me to reread it. Though I no longer possess the copy I read as a child, I do have one that I picked up in a second hand bookshop a few years ago.
You can find out more about Denys Watkins-Pitchford at the BB Society website http://www.bbsociety.co.uk/bb-the-author.php
Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?
My most treasured possession is a set of the four volumes of The Earthly Paradise by William Morris. Morris is a great hero of mine, for his politics, but also for his poetry and writing. I love The Earthly Paradise as a poem, but what makes these particular books special is that in two of them a former owner has pasted two hand-written letters by William Morris. The thrill of owning these, penned by the hand of the great man himself, is immense. I shall be very careful to leave them to someone who will care for them as much as I do!
In 2014 I did some research into the background of those letters, and if you’re interested you can read it on my blog here. It’s in two parts, http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/ and http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/
That’s incredible! They are certainly things to be treasured.
Thank you for sharing your favourite books with us Lucienne. All the best with The Fatal Coin.
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