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• Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Jenni Mills was born in Birmingham, England, in 1952 and was educated at Edgbaston High School for girls. From 1970 to 1973 Mills studied at Sussex University, followed by an MA with distinction in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University where she is at present tutoring part-time. Jenni Mills wrote most of Crow Stone while preparing for her Creative Writing MA. .

Jenni Mills worked in broadcasting for nearly thirty years before writing her first novel. She has presented and produced programmes for BBC radio, four of which won her an award and has worked as a director for both BBC-TV and ITV. She also works as a freelance television director and has written articles for newspapers and magazines.

Jenni Mills, like her character Katie, has been very fond of archeology since her childhood and the fact that the limestone quarries around where she was brought-up have been mined since Roman times, influenced Mills to write Crow Stone without too much effort.

In one of her interviews, Jenni Mills says she found a quarry near Corsham and went underground there in order to be able to describe in detail what goes on in the mines. She found the experience “thrilling rather than scary”. She conversed with a female mining engineer after Crow Stone was published and realised that she described Kit’s job well, when the woman mining engineer told her: “I believe you were writing about me”. She now lives in Wiltshire, in the West of England.

Jenni Mills has written two novels to date: Crow Stone published in 2007 and The Buried Circle published in 2009.

Crow Stone intertwines the past and present story of Katie, an introverted, vulnerable teenager who lives a difficult, under-pressure life, with her austerely temperamental and violent father since her mother left them when she was small. Katie is a bright student who realises her childhood dream and becomes the successful mining engineer Kit Parry, despite her difficult relationship with her father and her uncovering his atrocious deed in the summer of her fourteenth year which changes her life for ever. The novel follows the evolution of Katie and her interaction with the various occurrences and people that she comes across in life.

After several years of hard work, Kit accepts an interesting project for stabilising the dangerously unstable quarries that run under Bath, her home town that she had left in a big black car when she was fourteen and decided then to change her name to Kit as a new start in life. She has never returned to Bath since then, nor ever seen her father again. All the painful memories that Katie has tried to bury all these years are going to resurface and haunt her on her return, twenty years later. Her father now dead, the adult Katie who becomes Kit is still susceptible on the inside but offensive on the outside. Some wounds are difficult to get rid of, they stay implanted in the psyche for ever.

In her new assignment, Kit has to withstand the hostility of the other male workers in a field dominated by men and where workers believe that a female engineer brings bad luck to the mine shafts. Not everything is negative though – the long sleeping flame is rekindled when Kit finds out that the site manager happens to be the same Gary Bennett that her superficial, foolish, unreliable, friends, Trish and Poppy and herself used to be infatuated with from afar when they were all teenagers.

The author describes masterfully and in an amusing way, the psychology and behaviour of teenage girls portrayed by Katie, Trish and Poppy, whether at school or outside it, underlining Trish’s strong character which contrasts with Poppy’s and Katie’s.

Katie is very enthusiastically passionate about archaeology and geology and ironically the two big events in her life take place while she is in the quarries. Her first disturbingly macabre discovery was at Crow Stone quarry during the summer of her fourteenth birthday and the second fantastically thrilling event of the decade was the uncovering of the lost Roman Mithraic temple with the help of her colleague and friend Martin Ekwall, the senior lecturer in archaeology at Sussex University.

The story takes place in Bath, one of the oldest and most charming cities in England, full of historic relics above and below ground. The author embarks with her readers on a journey of concealed underground labyrinths of quarries and the historic, touristic attractions of Bath, like the famous Royal Crescent built by the eighteenth century Freemason, John Wood. There is also some information about the Mithraic mysterious religion which was practised in the Roman Empire, a cult with a saviour, sacrifice and rebirth.

Crow Stone as the author puts it, is about “fear and survival” and the setting turns out to be perfect on “all levels: mythical, metaphorical and emotional”. A captivating psychological thriller with a well constructed plot.

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One Response

  1. 1
    Sunanda Krishnamurty 

    Crow Stone is a book I will remember for a long time.

    The setting/backdrop is well suited for the plot. Bath, a historical town, known for the Roman baths and also for its latter day architecture. The stone quarries have an air of mystery, danger, and hold many secrets. On top of all this the of Mithraic cult brings in an added dimension.

    Past and present, Katie and Kit alternate in the narrative. This is an effective technique and popular with current writers. The past holds a horrendous secret that the protagonist wants to forget, but can’t. It deeply affects her psyche.
    The protagonist: Katie is well portrayed. She is vulnerable, a victim of abuse, yet she is brave and determined. In spits of the blows she gets, she can focus on her studies most of the time(!). She has the courage and presence of mind to help when the party ends in a disaster.
    Katie is unable to say ‘no’ to Trish who has a strong personality, physically more developed and appears to know more about boys and love.
    Her relationship with her father intrigued me when I read the book for the first time. Why didn’t she seek help? Why didn’t she hate her father? Even after she got to know that he killed her mother? After my second reading I realized that it was much more complex.
    He was all the family she had. He cared for her in his strange way. And she cared for him, in spite of the her dislocated shoulder, her bruised head, and her burnt hand. She had a home at least, Where she had a comfortable bed, her toys, her books, her stones. It is not easy for an abused child to leave home for the unknown.

    She decided to leave when she was convinced that the his affair withJaney, the woman from the library was turning serious and that Janey would move in with them and come between her and herfather.

    As Kit says, Martin’s words (on page 464, paragraph 2) about God (Mithras) explains her feelings towards her father. Kit is strong too. She is a qualified professional. She has two battles to fight: her memories of her past and also a smaller battle, to work and be respected in a male-dominated profession. She wins the second battle, but the first is harder. After her long reminiscence with Gary, when she speaks out about the past for the first time, she comes to terms with it to some extent, but the scar would remain forever.

    I find that in the first chapters, Kit appears to be aggressive, especially in the language she uses. Would a woman, a professional, who has just joined a new job, use that kind of language in her conversation with her new colleagues? Her colleagues do it too, even at formal meetings with people from their mother company.

    Knowing Katie, I find the transition abrupt. The reader is not given much information about her years with her adoptive family, only a few glimpses. How did her personality develop as she became an adult?

    She did not visit or communicate with her father while he was in jail. Is it because she did not wish to have any connection with her past? Or was it because she felt guilty that he was jailed because of her?

    Other comments:
    The conversations among her office colleagues don’t flow well. A bit stilted. I felt like skipping some of paragraphs.

    Dickon doesn’t seem to have any redeeming quality. This character is overdone in the book I feel.

    On the whole the sections about the past (Katie) is better written than the sections on the present (Kit), except in the last few chapters.

    On the whole, it is a remarkable book, interesting and well-written.I am glad I got to read it.

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