In the final instalment of this thrilling dystopian trilogy, Martha and Isaac are on the run, hiding out in the Rises among the poor and powerless. When a wall goes up around them, Martha must act fast. But breath-taking treachery reaches into the very heart of government…
Rowena: I loved the different voices in FINAL7, especially the Death Is Justice scenes and the way you tell the story through script-like dialogue. Which ‘voice’ came most naturally when you wrote from that point of view, and whose voice was hardest to get right?
Kerry: Thank you, that’s great to hear. I studied scriptwriting at university and was also a finalist in a BBC Scriptwriting competition so I did particularly enjoy writing those sections. When I first started writing Cell 7 I found it difficult to switch between the voices and would need to take a break between them, even if that was just going to get coffee (and biscuits), that became easier as I got to know their voices better.
I don’t think there was one that particularly came most naturally or one that was harder, they all had moments they felt natural and moments they felt difficult. I did particularly enjoy writing scenes between Martha and Eve in Cell 7, and dialogue with Eve and Cicero.
To read the Author Allsorts Book Birthday interview in full, click here.
I’m turning hay in the top meadow when I hear the squeak of rusty wheels and look up to see Monsieur Nicolas, the postman, pedalling up the lane. I stiffen, suddenly afraid that I know the reason why he’s here.
Please, God, let it not be Pascal.
Soft summer sounds surround me now that I’m still. Grasshoppers. Distant birds. The eternal hum of bees. The creaking of the bicycle is like some infernal machine, let loose in the Garden of Eden.
Please, God, not my brother, Pascal.
I think about that other August day two years ago, when the jangling of church bells shattered the peace of the valley. Pascal and I dropped our pitchforks and ran to the village square just in time to hear the mayor announce, “Men of France! To arms!”
Father left straightaway, but Pascal stayed long enough to show me how to gather the harvest, how to scythe and how to plough. I was twelve years old and so excited. Now my hands are calloused and my back aches like an old woman’s.
Monsieur Nicolas clatters slowly past the orchard, waking the geese. They flap and hiss as they waddle towards the fence. Mother appears at the kitchen door, wiping her hands on her apron. Her back is very straight.
Monsieur Nicolas clambers awkwardly off the saddle and pushes his bicycle up the hill towards our gate. I hold my breath. My legs shake. My vision blurs with tears.
Please, God. Not Pascal.
Monsieur Nicolas stops again. He rests his bike against our fence. The geese clamour and shriek as he opens the gate to our yard. Stifling a cry, I pick up my skirts and run.
It’s Father, Mort pour la France on some distant battlefield. The letter telling us is crushed in Mother’s hand. I bow my head and make the sign of the cross, then ask, “Who’s the letter from? May I read it?”
She turns hollow eyes on me. “It’s from your brother, my angel.”
“Pascal! Is he safe? Is he well? Oh, Maman, does he say when he’s coming home?”
Relief bubbles inside me. I’m torn between laughter and tears. But when I reach out for the letter, Mother’s knuckles whiten as she tightens her grip on it.
“Your father is dead, Angélique. Have you no feelings at all?”
I hang my head, the pain in her voice cutting through me. For her sake, I try to remember something nice about him. One small thing. But I can’t. All I recall are his fists and his belt and his leather razor strop. Pascal got the worst of it, but sometimes late at night I’d hear Mother whimpering as well.
“Well?” she asks, sounding weary now rather than angry.
My gaze remains fixed on the earthen floor and the dust-flecked shaft of sunlight falling across it, while the ticking of the kitchen clock grows louder between us.
Am I wicked, I wonder, a heartless, unforgivable child because I’m not sad he’s dead?
I try to squeeze out a tear, but inside my head I can hear the thwack, thwack, thwack of his drunken anger, and Pascal’s sobs as he rushed up to his room, and Mother’s muffled voice through his closed door, hushing him, telling him not to fuss.
“I am sorry,” I say at last.
I give a tiny shrug. “For you, yes.”
She sighs, then turns her back on me and takes her apron off.
“See to the animals,” she says, “then come in to change. We’ll go to Mass this evening.”
My mourning dress is stiff and tight, a laced-up hand-me-down. Mother is almost invisible behind her long black veil. As we walk down the lane to the village through the warm, rosy dusk, I half expect a bat to blunder into her or a fox to stop and sniff the air as we pass.
Outside the church the village widows flock around Mother like crows. There are Madame Villiard and Madame Arnauld, and poor young Madame Besançon, whose husband was just nineteen when both his legs were blown off at Verdun.
Old Madame Malpas draws me aside, wringing her bony hands and crying, “What’s to become of you, Angélique? You’ll very likely starve! La Mordue will go to rack and ruin without Monsieur Lacroix!”
“Pascal will be home soon,” I say. “Maman and I can manage till then.”
“Manage, child? When your corn’s still in the ground in August?”
“The farm men have been promised leave.”
“And you expect the generals to keep their promises?”
She sniffs loudly, then stumps off, calling to Mother, “Madame Lacroix! What terrible news! Tell me, did he suffer?”
My best friend, Béatrice Lamy, hurries over to me.
“That woman!” she says, rolling her eyes. Then she kisses me on both cheeks and hugs me tightly. “This is unbearable, Angie. I can’t begin to imagine how you feel.”
Guilt prickles me because, just then, I’d been thinking how much I hate wearing black and having to pretend to be sad. I wish I’d told her the truth before, but Mother always said the beatings would get worse if Father suspected we talked about him behind his back.
And now it’s too late. I can’t speak ill of the dead, condemn a brave soldier Mort pour la France. What would Madame Malpas say?
“I’m fine, Bee,” I say. “Really, I am.”
She cups my cheek in her hand. “You’re so brave, Angie. I’d be in pieces if I’d lost Papa. How did you hear the news?”
I lean forward, hiding a smile, and whisper, “Pascal wrote.”
“Shhh, Bee. Not so loud.” I glance around, but the village women are too busy comforting Mother to take any notice of us. “Come on. Let’s talk inside.”
The cold stone church is empty. We sit in the front pew, the one allotted to the newly bereaved. Béatrice takes both my hands.
“Is Pascal safe?” she asks. “Is he hurt?”
“I don’t know. Mother wouldn’t let me see his letter.”
“Oh, you know. She’s upset.”
“Of course. Silly question. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes brim again with sympathy.
Quickly I say, “Do you want to hear the good news?”
“Good news?” Her eyes widen.
I smile conspiratorially. “The farm belongs to Pascal now – the house, the land. Everything! It’s his.”
“Bee! Don’t you see what this means?”
She shakes her head.
“He can get married whenever he wants!”
“Oh!” Her eyes widen further. “But … Papa won’t let me. I’m too young.”
“Pascal will wait, I know he will. And when you’re both ready you’ll live with us, and we’ll be sisters, a real family. Won’t that be wonderful?”
Her eyes shine, then she blushes. “I do love him so much.”
We start to hug, but just then the door opens and the village widows seep inside like shadows, a horde of veiled and silent wraiths.
“I should go,” Béatrice says.
“No. Please stay.”
“But your mother– “
“She won’t mind.”
“Are you sure?”
I slip my arm through hers while we wait, each looking up at the brightly painted statue of Saint Joan of Arc, high on her pedestal. She’s wearing a full suit of armour, and spearing the devil through his blackened heart.
I’m researching the First World War again at the moment, this time for a short companion piece for my traditionally-published debut novel out next year. It’s a marketing idea borrowed from independent authors: a cut-price short story or novella, promoted on social media via the five-day give-away option on Kindle Select, is designed to tempt readers to your Amazon page, where – hopefully – some will buy the novel too.
Whether it will have any impact on sales I’ve no idea (I’ll let you know next year) but the story is asking to be told, and I find historical research brings its own rewards, so I’m going for it anyway.
I am troubled by the assumption behind this strategy: that cheap is best when it comes to selling stories. After all, this discount culture is one of the main charges levelled against Amazon by traditional publishers and bookshops which do so much to promote authors.
The debate about aggressive discounting of children’s books became particularly impassioned last week following this blog by Tamsin Rosewell, bookseller at Kenilworth Bookshop in Warwickshire:
What provoked her to speak out were the heavy discounts being offered by the biggest names in book retailing on pre-orders for Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, volume one of TheBook of Dust. At the time of writing Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith and Foyles were all offering hard copies for £10.00, half the recommended retail price.
As Ms Rosewell said in her blog: ‘To be part of the buzz, we would (as it looks at the moment) have to sell this book at a loss or for no profit at all, or we could consider not stocking it. But how can we possibly not have The Book of Dust in our stock and prominently on display in the shop? What kind of bookshop would not stock The Book of Dust?!’
Book people on Twitter reacted to her blog with shock and dismay. Philip Pullman himself joined the debate, saying he’s always been a strong supporter of the former Net Book Agreement, which once guaranteed retail prices. By the time Ms Rosewell had to open her shop at 9 a.m. she said she’d received hundreds of replies.
Coupled with her concern about the impact of discounting on author incomes (the lower the shop price, the lower the royalty) her pleas for fairer pricing made me think again about my responsibility towards bookshops like hers in the face of cut-price competition.
Now there’s nothing I can do about Waterstones or Foyles; the price of my novel will be set by my publisher and the stores. But what about Amazon? Should I avoid it altogether as some supporters of the physical book trade advocate? Am I helping to cut the throat of independent bookshops everywhere by giving away my novella, or selling it at the same price as a can of baked beans?
On the other hand, is there any point whatsoever fighting against one of the greatest revolutions in retailing ever? Amazon won’t notice our protests. And with average advances so low, how can authors afford to boycott this global marketplace?
I think my fatalism about Amazon has a lot to do with my early days as a journalist when (and I’ll say this in a whisper) I worked on Fleet Street at a time when vans stacked with the Evening Standard and Sun would roar out from the side streets with the newsprint literally hot off the presses.
I even subbed on the ‘stone’ – a damn great granite worktable supporting the heavy frames for the broadsheets – with a compositor setting the city pages of the Financial Times in hot lead metal. It was another world, another time. The battles fought by the unions against Rupert Murdoch’s new computer technology now seem futile and doomed to failure.
Yes, I know that today there are figures ‘proving’ that e-books are on the wane in the UK and physical books in the ascendance, but I’m afraid I don’t trust them. I think they’re partial statistics being used to make a case that traditionalists dearly want to be true.
As an investigative journalist, I want to dig down beneath the headlines into the real data to find out what’s actually going on. I suspect I’d find at least some of those lost adult fiction sales in the e-book market.
OK, I might also find that children’s books are the exception. But five year olds have phones these days. Why should they only play games on them and not read e-picture books? And what’s easier than giving your child or grandchild Apple Store or Amazon credit as a birthday present? Kids don’t need a bank card to shop for books online.
I worry that by resisting this online trend, by not aggressively seeking out e-sales, traditionally-published authors (and our publishers) risk missing out on a growth sector that should be central to our long-term economic planning.
So yes, I do think authors have to adapt to Amazon whether we want to or not, just as independent shops like Kenilworth Books have to shrug when the big High Street retailers discount the latest Wilbur Smith or Robert Harris, and accept there’s no point in them stocking it.
But like Ms Rosewell, I also think we have to shout out when a big launch like La Belle Sauvage could (possibly) be the HarryPotter for a new generation, and benefit the wider industry from an upsurge of interest in great children’s books.
This blog first appeared on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, the blogging site of the Scattered Authors’ Society, on July 15th, 2017.