April 21st, 2016

intrigues on romney marsh: the body on the doorstep

Huge congratulations to the two writers who are AJ MacKenzie, whose exciting-looking book comes out today! I first met Canadian husband-wife team Marilyn Livingstone & Morgen Witzel at the wonderful Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai; we spent a lot of meals together and they were fascinating. Morgan had some great tales about growing up in the wilds of British Columbia and Marilyn's been writing as a medieval historian for 25 years; she and Morgan decided to try something new, diving into the 18th century and trying their hand at crime fiction, something page-turning and fast-paced but still very much grounded in history.

the body on the doorstep

Here's the cover art, designed by Jet Purdie (who won and had two titles shortlisted for the most recent Kitschies Inky Tentacle cover awards) and he commissioned the illustration from Head Design. And here's the blurb:

Shocked to discover a dying man on his doorstep - and lucky to avoid a bullet himself - Reverend Hardcastle finds himself entrusted with the victim's cryptic last words. With smuggling rife on England's south-east coast, the obvious conclusion is that this was a falling out among thieves. But why is the leader of the local Customs service so reluctant to investigate? Ably assisted by the ingenious Mrs Chaytor, Hardcastle sets out to solve the mystery for himself. But smugglers are not the only ones to lurk off the Kent coast, and the more he discovers, the more he realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew.

I had a couple questions for AJ MacKenzie:

Marilyn and Morgan, I can't wait to read this new book! What are a couple of the most exciting bits of the history that made you want to write it?

The 1790s were quite a dangerous and (if you don’t have to live in them) exciting time. Romney Marsh, where The Body on the Doorstep is set, was rife with smuggling and dark nights would see parties of smugglers landing on the beaches and carrying cargoes of gin and brandy inland over the Marsh, pursued by the Preventive men, the law enforcement officers of the day.

Then there was the threat of invasion from France, which by the mid-1790s was becoming very real. There is a earlier Hogarth print at the Fitzwilliam Museum that shows hordes of ravening Frenchmen threatening to descend on England:

It looks sort of comical, but in fact the threat was very real and was taken seriously; there were plenty of invasion scares. From Romney Marsh, you can see the French coast on a clear day. In the next picture, the line of clouds is where France begins; it’s only about thirty-five miles.

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announcing... THE PRINCE OF PANTS!

HURRAH!! I'm finally allowed to share the new Scholastic UK book I have coming out in September... with writer Alan MacDonald... THE PRINCE OF PANTS!!!

I've had SOOO much fun working on this book, it's a great big loony feast of PANTS and strange corgis and fat ponies and lots more... Here's one of the pages of watercolour artwork on my desk: little Prince Pip trying to find out where all his pants have disappeared to.

Now here's a funny thing: I had a contract to do a picture book with Scholastic UK and I was so busy on the Pugs book that when the time rolled around, my editor Pauliina Malinen was like, 'So where's your picture book text?' And I was like, 'UH.' And then, 'I'll write one, let me get back to you soon!!' And Pauliina was like, 'Well... I have this absolutely amazing script from Alan MacDonald that you could illustrate, I think it's perfect for you.' And I was like, 'No no no, I'm going to write my own book, just you see. ...But hey wait, let me just have a little peek at it anyway.'

And then I read it. And started laughing.

And suddenly saw all the awesome ways Alan had packed in room for me to make loads of little visual jokes and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, I HAVE to illustrate this book, gimme gimme gimme'. And Pauliina was thrilled, and my new designer Strawberrie Donnelly has turned out to be ACE to work with. I'm proud that we got their names in the credits, too!

The Prince of Pants doesn't come out until September - arghh!! (here's a Hive pre-order page and Waterstones) - but in the meantime, I'm going to TRACK DOWN THAT ALAN MACDONALD because weirdly I have still never met him and it feels bizarre not having met my co-author. Lucky Alan is in for a McIntyre Invasion.