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Author:
• 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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Author:
• Monday, April 27th, 2009

Jon McGregor was born in Bermuda in 1976 while his father was appointed as a vicar there. The third of four siblings, he spent his childhood in Norwich,Thetford in Norfolk, England, where he later joined Bradford University to study Media Technology and Production.

He started writing during his final year at university. He had a short fiction published by Granta magazine, and a short story : While You Where Sleeping, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He now lives in Nottingham with his wife.

Jon McGregor has to date written two novels: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things published in 2002 which won several awards and So Many Ways to Begin, published in 2006 and which took Jon McGregor three years to write and was short listed for the Encore Award in 2007 and long listed for the Man Booker Prize.

So Many Ways to Begin has an uncomplicated, slow-paced plot of an uneventful story of love, disappointments, frustrations, resentment and family secrets. A sad story where “chances” play a big part. The author recognises and celebrates the triumph of love over the hardship that life brings; it’s emphasized by the undying and intact love of David Carter for his adopted mother, Dorothy and to his wife Eleanor.

David Carter, a museum curator, dreams of one day having his own museum and leading a happy and peaceful life with the girl he loves and marries. But he ends up having his dreams and his wife’s dreams slowly suppressed and shuttered in the commotions of everyday life.

His wife, not being able to continue her studies to become a geologist, often succumbs to debilitating bouts of depression and he will never own a museum, or even succeed in keeping his job as a curator in the Coventry museum and ends up without even achieving a career.

His life will take a different turn when he finds out, inadvertently, in his early twenties, that he was an adopted child. His hunt for the truth and the search for his biological mother will begin without success. But he doesn’t give up, and when he reaches his fifties he goes on another journey of self-discovery by working out all the missing pieces of the past to unravel his roots and in order to find his own identity and with it his own salvation. As he was never able to come to terms with the ship replica in the museum, he could never accept nor live with a false identity.

The novel, set mainly in Coventry, England, covers three generations of the Carter family by going back and forth through several decades, from the first world war to the present time.
Each chapter is headed by various mundane artefacts description, like in a museum catalogue, in an attempt to try and uncover the secret behind them and to underline the strong feeling of attraction, of the main character, to debris and discovered old objects.

The author also wanted to prompt the reader to make the connections about, where does the object come from? How did David get hold of it? And what further narrative information does it bring? The characters, although somewhat distant, are described in a touching, moving and human like way, with their different emotions and their everyday trials.

In So Many Ways to Begin, the author mentions the different, unexpected things that can change one’s life, like : “chance meetings, over-heard conversations… history made by a million fractional moments too numerous to calibrate or observe or record… But what he had would be a start, he thought, a way to begin.”

In an interview with Jon McGregor, he was asked, what is So Many Ways to Begin about? His answer was : “It’s the story of a marriage; it’s the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It’s also about museums, identity, story-telling, and the difficulty of starting again”.

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