Today I am thrilled to welcome Janet Ellis to my blog for a chat about her debut novel, The Butcher’s Hook.
How did you come to be a novelist and how long have you been writing for?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My desk drawer (and more besides) is full of jottings, poems, beginnings of stories and snatches of prose. But The Butcher’s Hook is the first book I finished. So the answer is really :- for ever and quite recently!
What is your writing process?
I try and write daily, but not always at the same time or with the same word count. I often write scenes that I know I want to include somewhere, then store them – it’s like having a mood board of episodes and characters waiting to be placed in the narrative. I read everything aloud, too, as I think it’s a great way of discovering if the tone is consistent- and avoiding repetition. Of course, that includes dialogue (my poor neighbours).
The Butcher’s Hook is historical fiction but seems modern too, not least due to the way that Anne Jaccob’s sexual awakening is described. It reminded me a little of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White in the sense of it being historical mixed with more modern elements. What inspired you to write this novel, and in this particular way?
Thank you for the comparison, that book’s a favourite. I’m driven by the idea that, although they wore different clothes, saw different sights and were influenced by different things, people of any past time, however distant, experienced emotions as we do. We feel everything from love and hate, or envy, greed and sorrow just as our forbears did. Reading diaries- which illustrate this perfectly- was a big source of inspiration. Confirmation, too, of the fact that no matter what is happening around us in historical terms, we’re all mostly concerned with ourselves. My teenage diaries certainly bear this out.
I found Anne fascinating – at times I really liked her and wanted her to find love and happiness and then at other times she had quite a selfish, self-absorbed streak which made her harder to like. I really enjoyed this about her though, she was in my head all the time when I wasn’t reading as I tried to weigh her up and I miss her now I’ve finished reading the novel. How did her character and personality come about, and did you enjoy creating her?
How lovely to hear that. I loved creating her. She really is a character apart, she isn’t me! And I often felt the same ambivalence about her behaviour. I toyed with a different , rather happier , ending but realised she’s her own worst enemy, and enjoyably so. There’s a kind of twisted logic in how she behaves, everything happens for a reason as far as she’s concerned. I hope she’s funny, too, as my favourite people have a sideways take on life that I enjoy. I’ve got friends whose behaviour is sometimes exasperating -but I love them. I know that -apart from her often terrible actions- I feel the same about Anne.
Finally, is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked and how would you answer said question?
Do you mean apart from ‘How did you get to be so fabulous? (Answer: I have NO idea!)? This is a great question… I haven’t ever met a question that I thought was too awful to be answered, and nothing’s off limits, but maybe there’s something about what my parents would have thought – they’re both dead now- that I’d like to mull over. But I can’t come up with the question myself , as it makes me weepy to even think about it.
Synopsis of The Butcher’s Hook
‘Do you know what this is?’
He holds a short twist of thick metal, in the shape of the letter ‘S’, sharpened at both ends. I shake my head.
‘A butcher’s hook,’ he says, testing the tip of his finger against each point. ‘A perfect design. Whichever way up you use it, it’s always ready. One end to hook, the other to hang. It has only one simple purpose.’ He stands on a stool and fixes it over the bar above him. It waits there, empty.
He climbs down. ‘Pleasing, isn’t it?’
GEORGIAN LONDON, IN THE SUMMER OF 1763.
At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher’s apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him.
The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place. Though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub.
But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.
A vivid and surprising tale, The Butcher’s Hook brims with the colour and atmosphere of Georgian London, as seen through the eyes of a strange and memorable young woman.
About the Author
Janet Ellis trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is best known for presenting Blue Peter and contributes to numerous radio and TV programmes.
She recently graduated from the Curtis Brown creative writing school. The Butcher’s Hook is her first novel.
You can find Janet Ellis at:
The Butcher’s Hook is published by Two Roads; it is out now and available from all good book shops.
I’ll be sharing my review of The Butcher’s Hook on my blog very soon so please look out for that. In the meantime, you can follow the rest of the blog tour here: