Updated: Mar 25, 2021
Last Christmas I received the rather wonderful gift of a bookshop voucher, and one evening soon after, I hid quietly away from my family and spent a self-indulging hour browsing a thousand different titles. I searched for books that I’ve never heard of before; no recommendations, no favourite authors’ new books, just me listening for the blurbs that whispered tantalisingly in my ear. What a hard thing it is to narrow down the choice to a mere handful.
In that exquisite hour, my Christmas gift choices introduced me to two new authors whose work immediately identifies with all my favourite elements of storytelling. Such a discovery demands to be shared, so here you have it: Bridget Collins and Stacey Halls are both writers of superb historical fiction who write beautifully compelling tales that will stay with you long after you finish reading.
The Binding by Bridget Collins is soul-achingly brilliant. Its mysterious and spellbinding tale embodies the inspired fantasy that books bind people’s secrets, and in doing so, wipe them from memory for as long as the book is kept safe by the binder. Set within a heady mix of Victorian gothic and medieval surroundings, the reader follows Emmett Farmer as he is enticed into the job of becoming a binder’s apprentice. The story develops with intrigue and curiosity as Emmett is entranced by all the books bearing names of customers who have a secret so unbearable that it must be forgotten - until he stumbles upon one with his own name bound to the cover.
What follows is a magical story that is at once enchanting, exciting and heart-breaking; a tale of forgotten love and unthinkable betrayal. The characters will jump from the pages and lodge themselves deep in your heart as you read furiously to keep up with a race to re-discover the unforgettable truth. It is a novel to fall instantly in love with.
Stacey Halls has written two novels to date, and I just had to buy both: The Familiars and The Foundling. Stacey writes with absolute confidence in her era of choice and with seamless attention to the tiniest details; the extensive and obviously passionate research that has gone into both books shines through the mastery of her prose.
The Familiars is set in the early seventeenth century and the inspiration came from the real Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. At just seventeen years old, Fleetwood Shuttleworth is married to the Lord of Gawthorpe Hall and pregnant for the fourth time. None of her other babies survived the pregnancies and her husband is anxious for an heir. Fleetwood meets the mysterious midwife, Alice Gray, by chance, and hires her to help deliver a healthy child. This cleverly devised tale of fiction is woven around real characters and events of the time, and it twists and turns amid the trial of the Pendle witches. I promise you will be curious to find out more about the real witch trials and the history of Gawthorpe Hall when you have finished reading.
The Foundling is a story that will tear your loyalty at the seams as you are confronted with two very different main characters who will fight unashamedly for your affections. In eighteenth-century London, Bess Bright returns to the Foundling Hospital to claim her illegitimate daughter six years after leaving her there as a new-born. Bess is dumbfounded as she is told that the girl has already been collected by her mother - the day after she was left six years before. Bess’s race to find and claim her daughter from a woman whose own tragically wretched history begs the reader to feel understanding and pity is a gripping tale of family ties and the injustice of inter-class struggles. The Foundling Hospital was a real establishment in London, and I guarantee, again, that you will be itching to find out more about the history of such a place.
Stacey has a new book coming out in June this year called Mrs England which promises to deliver the same excellent standard of storytelling as her first two.
I believe the best stories must be shared and enjoyed by everyone, so I will continue to recommend all those I find worthy of a mention.
Thanks for reading. Until next time... Lorna.
P.S. I have had a short break from the actual writing of my novel to work on earning a living from smaller writing projects and catch up on research. My story spans a period of which I still have much to learn. I didn’t finish the first draft by the end of 2020 as planned, but I’m in no rush. I am unashamedly enjoying the bumps and slides along the journey of becoming a first-time novelist.