Posted by: billpurdue | May 21, 2009

55 An interview with Jonathan Foster

Jonathan Foster is a local author from Mansfield Woodhouse who recently published a book about the life of scientist and inventor Harry Grindell Matthews : The Death Ray [Inventive Publishing £11.99 9780956134806]

The other week I spoke to him about the book and asked him why he decided to write about this largely forgotten scientist. Matthews was well ahead of his time, having invented the world’s first mobile phone: many of his inventions had military uses, but his relationship with the Ministry of defence and other parts of HM Government was fraught with difficulties. Listen here whilst Jonathan explains more about this inventor and find out why this character was “one of the best kept secrets of twentieth century Britain”.

A plague fantasy

MaitlandI tend to shy away from novels set in the distant past – often full of tales of derring-do, knights in shining armour and so on, but I’ve just read – and thoroughly enjoyed – something a bit different. The Company of Liars by Karen Maitland [Penguin £7.99 9780141031910] is set in fourteenth century England , 1348 to be precise, when it rained every day from Midsummer’s Day to Christmas Day and which was a particularly bad year for the Black Death. Our narrator is one known simply as Camelot, a peddler or hawker, someone who sells so called religious relics. It’s a novel about a journey which begins in a town in South West England at about the time when a new outbreak of the plague is beginning.

It is thought that the plague has entered the country via the ports and harbours, particularly Bristol, and so everyone who can tries to escape the pestilence by heading East or North. Though Camelot would prefer to be alone on his journey, a number of people in one way or another join him in his effort to escape the plague. They include Rodrigo, a minstrel with his pupil Jofre, a young couple, the woman heavily pregnant, Zophiel with his horse and cart and mysterious collection of boxes, which he jealously guards. Then there is Cygnus, one of whose arms appears to have been replaced by a swan’s wing and a strange little girl and a woman companion. The girl, Narigorm (a name reminiscent of a Tolkien or Harry Potter novel) seems to be proficient in reading the runes and her prophesies have an eerie habit of coming true.

Their journey is a long and arduous one, often sleeping in the open at night, and beset with arguments amongst the companions.  At night they often hear the howling of a wolf and this sets everyone’s nerves on edge: is it a real wolf, or is it someone trailing them, waiting for the right moment to steal or murder? Then, their numbers begin to dwindle as one by one the companions meet untimely deaths. The first is found hanging from a tree, the next is brutally murdered.

As the story progresses, the reason for the word “liars” in the title becomes apparent: each character professes to be something they are not or they have a guilty secret. Even Camelot has a secret which is not revealed until very near the end. It is this vulnerability that the strange girl Narigorm plays on.

I found this book fascinating and compelling soon after I began to read it and it is just occasionally a little gruesome (but this aspect is not overdone). At times things became so spooky, that I felt a shudder or two – and that’s no exaggeration. Not everyone is enthusiastic about this novel – have a look at this review from the Telegraph, reproduced in the Mediaeval News  blog, but don’t let it put you off.

Books to look our for

Just published: Mr Toppit by Charles Elton [Penguin £7.99 9780141038001] – about fame, fortune and the  problems an inheritance can bring.

Ruso and the Demented Doctor by R S Downie [Penguin £7.99 9780141027265] – a who-dunnit set in Roman Britain.

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