Tag-Archive for ◊ Birmingham ◊

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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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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
Author:
• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham, England. She grew up in Solihull, in the English West Midlands, and attended St. Martin’s school from the age of 7 until she was 16, and then joined the 6th form at Solihull School. She studied for a B.A. degree in English at the University of York and then went touring for a year to Australia and New Zealand. Back in England she attended the University of East Anglia and attained an M.A. in their Creative Writing Course. She now lives in Warwickshire.

“Eve Green” was first published in 2004 and it is Susan Fletcher’s first novel. It won the Whitbread First Novel 2004 award.

“Eve Green” is the memoirs of 29 year old Evangeline, who is pregnant for the first time and travels back in time to her childhood when she was just eight years old. She reflects on her mother’s sudden death, her move to her grandparents’farm in Wales, in a remote, small countryside village where people gossip as well as interfere in everybody’s affairs. Especially with so many secrets, betrayal and lies abounding.

The eight year old child, overwhelmed with grief and loss, finds it hard to adapt from Birmingham city life to country life in Pencarreg, Wales.

The author gradually unfolds the story of Eve’s first Welsh summer. Her infatuation with Daniel, the farm help 16 years her senior who represents the missing father figure.

Her friendship with Billy Macklin, a disfigured man excluded from the whole community for being insane, but who is in fact kind-hearted and sensitive. (Read page 260).

It is through Billy Macklin that Eve will discover the truth about her parents’ romantic, mysterious love story which helps Eve resolve her identity problem by discovering the identity of her father and what he was guilty of. This was one of her quests for discovering her family’s dark secret.

There is also the mystery of Rosemary Hughe’s abduction, not forgetting Billy Macklin’s disappearance after the barn fire. Nor Kieran, Eve’s Irish father, who was never seen again after leaving the village, mysteries which will remain unravelled.

The novel does not have an orderly ending. Susan Fletcher says in her interview: “I didn’t want a tidy ending. It would have felt false, to me… it is really up to the reader to decide what happened to Billy, for example, or where Rosie may now be. I feel too that the book becomes more personal that way.” Indeed, unsolved mysteries can be a very up-to-date way of writing a plot. The complete opposite of an Agatha Christie or a Conan Doyle.

In “Eve Green” the Welsh countryside is described in all its breathtaking beauty, which illustrates how the author must love it: “I was keen to set the book in rural Wales. It is this wild, lonesome landscape that first led me to want to write.”

Like an artist painting so Susan Fletcher paints with words. The book is written with a great deal of feeling. The pages are rich, almost too rich, with the description of the Welsh countryside and the small details of everyday country life with its goosip, animosity and mysteries.

In an interview Susan Fletcher reveals that she thrives on descriptive prose but has to be careful not to overdo it. She says the only similarity between her and Evangeline is the red hair and the love of the countryside. Otherwise the book is entirely fictional: “I knew very little when I began to write “Eve Green”. I had no plot, no list of characters, I wasn’t sure of my themes. But I knew I didn’t want my debut novel to be autobiographical. Eve bears a slight resemblance to me, but otherwise this story is hers.”

Susan Fletcher describes her characters in great detail, which makes them alive enough for us to want to piece the story together to have a full picture of the puzzle. As Eve will be doing throughout the novel, painting the souvenirs of lost loved-ones in a touchingly exquisite simplicity.

The style is lyrical, the scenes are evocative and captivating, which helps to create a novel close to poetry. The description of the characters, of the verdant Welsh valleysor even the reminiscence, reveals the author’s evident love for poetry: “Whilst working on “Eve Green” perhaps the greatest inspiration came from poetry, not from prose.” She adds: “I love a good, poetic novel, and I love description. That’s my real passion.”

A good book from a young, promising story teller.