I have some wicked treats for you today! Included in my stop on the Blog-Tour for An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney is a superb extract from An Almond for a Parrot, my review and a truly revealing and extraordinarily engrossing Q&A with Wray Delaney! Believe me you don’t want to miss her candid answers and intriguing insights.
About the Author
Wray Delaney is the pseudonym of the award winning novelist Sally Gardner. She has sold over 2 million books in the UK and her work has been translated in to more than 22 languages. She has won both the Costa Children’s Book Prize and the Carnegie Medal 2013 for Maggot Moon. She also won the 2005 Nestle Children’s Book Prize for her debut novel I, Coriander. She writes books for children aged seven and upwards.
An Almond for a Parrot is her debut adult fiction novel, and what a great debut it is. It is a fascinating combination of historical fiction with a cheeky touch of soft erotica. Writing as Delaney, Gardner has made her mark on the adult fiction genre with this captivating book.
Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’ (readers love to get to know all about their favourite and new authors)
The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) The Tryst by Monique Roffe
Books or authors who have inspired you to put pen to paper? Angela Carter, F Scott Fitzgerald, Brothers Grimm, Charles Dickens, Raymond Carver
The last book you read, that left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. I was blown away by that.
Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of person? (Combinations are possible) Series binger
Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Charles Dickens
All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about An Almond for a Parrot!
I have to say I loved the overall feel of his book. It felt as if the universe had conspired to create a perfect book moment. The cover art (even on the review copies), the characters and the plot. It just felt as if all the jigsaw pieces had come together perfectly. Thank you so much for saying that. I had great fun in writing this book and it was something I wanted to do for a long time, and let’s hope the universe conspires to make it sell many copies. To put a bit more magic into sex, a bit more 18th-Century into the setting, a few recipes, cook it all up and see what happens. It was an idea I had for a long time and thought I should have a go, and thoroughly enjoyed writing it. I have been so lucky with my cover designs, both the paperback and hardback have been so outstandingly beautiful. I do think a cover has to be both immediate and grabbing and Almond has that ‘I want to own you’ quality.
I know there is a cheeky wink at your inspirations for the story in your book, and the whole essence of the book certainly reminded me of Hill and Flanders. How much inspiration did you take from Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders and if not where did the inspiration for An Almond for a Parrot come from? I can’t remember what age I was when I first read Fanny Hill. I think I read it after I had read Forever Amber. But I fell instantly in love with Fanny. It was so delicious to meet a character who thoroughly enjoyed sex and was intelligent about its consequences. It is a romance held together by some classly sexual pieces. John Cleveland wrote this book while in prison. And not unlike Daniel Defoe he took a lot of inspiration from his mistress and there’s even a suggestion part was written by her. I have to say I have a preference for Fanny Hill more than I do for Moll Flanders. I was also fascinated to discover the last time they tried to sue Fanny Hill for indecency was in 1963. The only problem being they could not find one rude word in it. Just a collection of images that made your mind do all the dancing.
There is a wonderful story about a musical singer Marie Lloyd. She was brought to trial for indecency for singing a song that went,
Do you think my skirt is a little bit
Well not too much of it
Just a little bit
It’s the little bit the boys admire
She was referring to her pussy and made that perfectly clear in her performance. Quite a crowd followed this beloved star to court. When asked by the judge what the song referred to Marie Lloyd replied ‘My skirt! I don’t know what was in your dirty little mind.’ The case was thrown out of court. That is the genius of suggestion without being explicit. I also thought I would embrace 18th century language of erotica which was full of vegetables, Maypoles and purses.
I really enjoyed the way you mixed your genres, although admittedly it was done in such subtle and flawless way it seems as if it wasn’t the case at all. Was intentional or did the idea of magic just flow with the characters? Magic realism fascinates me. I think if I’m honest I’m basically a fairytale writer. That is the pot from which I get my best dishes. Magic if used, has to be grounded, earthed like electricity. By that I mean it has to be believable, an essential part of the character not just added on for good measure. I few of the characters in my book have magical or supernatural abilities. But I didn’t want to make it the main feature of the story. And the rest of the characters don’t. I’m not keen on using it just to make everything all right. I’m always very careful when I use magic to make it as believable as possible. I’m not a girl with a magic wand, and no magic can’t make everything better also it often comes at quite a high price.
At the beginning of some of the chapters there are 18th century recipes, such as Hasty Pudding, Hodgepodge or Sheep’s Tongue in Paper. Personally I found them fascinating, although it’s fair to say I won’t be trying tongue in the near future. Are they a subconscious or even a conscious nod to the surrogate mother figure in Tully’s life, the cook? I love the character of Cook she is a drunk, never had children and can’t read, and still hopes there might be a recipe for the bringing up of children . I found a wonderful book from the 18th century with a lot of these recipes in it. They just made me giggle. I definitely didn’t mean them to be tried, I think nearly all of them sound pretty revolting. But their names were just to delicious words ‘Pike in the shape of a Dolphin’ ‘Virgin Eggs’, ‘Tarts, the common or country fashion’- they always refer to something that has happened to Tully. I’m not sure how many people will actually read them I bet they get skipped most of the time. Hopefully they make you laugh.
An Almond for a Parrot is often a wee bit risqué, but it is also witty and light-hearted, despite that you have also included more serious topics in the tale. Was it important to you to show the lack of power women had in that era, and how vulnerable they were to being exploited and abused because of that imbalance of power? What history teaches us if we bother to look at it is how far women have come and the battle it has taken to get here. Still I believe too many women are imprisoned by the lack of finances by abusive partners and by poverty, By the lack of education. In many parts of the world women are still subjected to the tyranny of their fathers’ and husbands’ rule. I believe we in the West musn’t become complacent about the role of women. There is still a long way to go before women and men play an equal role.
So it’s quite useful to look back and see what life was like for women of a different time. It was not all gorgeous clothes and handsome men. In the 18th century the hope of a woman earning her own money, being independent from a man was near impossible. Even if she was born with wealth the minute she married it vanished into her spouse’s account. Women were totally subjected to their fathers’ and then to their husbands’ rule . Domestic violence was considered acceptable. Women were bargaining tools in marriage. Marriage at the age 12 was not unheard of. One means of escaping poverty was prostitution.
I wanted to illustrate this with hopefully a cracking good story. We had in London at that time the highest population of prostitutes in the whole of Europe. Those who have watched the series Harlots will know the Harris list became vitally important for anyone wishing to visit a brothel. Most brothels specialised in various things from Molly houses onwards. Every sexual delight was catered for. For a lot of women prostitution was the only way to achieve any independence.
Yes many tragic and awful stories have emerged and we know about the abuse et cetera. But at least the tragedy of the abuse so many young women and children suffered is out in the open. Which is more than can be said for many brutal marriages that took place behind 18th Century closed doors. Things have changed but I still believe there is a long way to go to make that equal for all women around the world.
I can imagine writing under a pseudonym has been quite an experience for you. Writing as Wray Delaney, has it given you any insights you think you can and will use when writing as Sally Gardner? I very much love my children’s audience and for them I am a gate keeper. By that I mean I am careful of what I give them and how much information. I never patronise, I always think my audience are far smarter than I am. In fact, I’d say the YA audience can accept some very complicated ideas that wouldn’t on the whole appeal to an adult audience as much. The great thing about a book is you can always close it if you do not like it. You do not need to carry on reading it. When I write for adults, there is a freedom because whether you like it or not, the PC police are very much out in children’s literature, and have been for a number of years.
Writing for adults, there’s nothing you have to hold back on, though it’s interesting to see people’s reactions to Tully, who didn’t realise there was going to be so much explicit sex in it.
I was asked by a Sun journalist, wasn’t I a bit naughty to be writing an erotic book for adults now? And I said to him, ‘Where do you think children come from’ Hopefully, joyous and good sex.
I know the book has a pretty tight and well-packed ending, but will we be hearing from Tully Truegood again or perhaps one of the other memorable characters? Perhaps the early life of Mr Crease? I don’t think so. I’d never say never but on the whole I like stand-alones and I really love to idea that maybe you might dream on the characters a bit, and take them further in our head I did a book years ago called I, Coriander which was very successful and I am asked all the time would I write another one. The answer to that is definitely no. I think it’s great if a story inspires someone to tell themselves their own stories. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for asking me a lovely bunch of intelligent questions. I’m really enjoying my blog tour.
Thank you for answering all of my questions, even some of the odder ones!
One of the most disgraceful customs observed in the Fleet Prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the performance of the marriage ceremony by disreputable and dissolute clergymen. These functionaries, mostly prisoners for debt, insulted the dignity of their holy profession by marrying in the precincts of the Fleet Prison at a minute’s notice, any persons who might present themselves for that purpose. No questions were asked, no stipulations made, except as to the amount of the fee for the service, or the quantity of liquor to be drunk on the occasion. It not unfrequently happened, indeed, that the clergyman, the clerk, the bridegroom and the bride were drunk at the very time the ceremony was performed.
Newgate Prison, London
I lie on this hard bed counting the bricks in the ceiling of this miserable cell. I have been sick every morning for a week and thought I might have jail fever. If it had killed me it would at
least have saved me the inconvenience of a trial and a public hanging. Already the best seats at Newgate Prison have been sold in anticipation of my being found guilty – and I have yet to be sent to trial. Murder, attempted murder – either way the great metropolis seems to know the verdict before the judge has placed the black square on his grey wig. This whore is gallows-bound.
‘Is he dead?’ I asked.
My jailer wouldn’t say.
I pass my days remembering recipes and reciting them to the damp walls. They don’t remind me of food; they are bookmarks from this short life of mine. They remain tasteless. I prefer them that way.
A doctor was called for. Who sent for or paid for him I don’t know, and uncharacteristically I do not care. He was very matter of fact and said the reason for my malady was simple: I was with child. I haven’t laughed for a long time but forgive me,
the thought struck me as ridiculous. In all that has happened I have never once found myself in this predicament. I can hardly believe it is true. The doctor looked relieved – he had at least found a reason for my life to be extended – pregnant women are not hanged. Even if I’m found guilty of murder, the gallows will wait until the child is born. What a comforting thought.
Hope came shortly afterwards. Dear Hope. She looked worried, thinner.
‘How is Mercy?’ I asked.
She avoided answering me and busied herself about my cell.
‘What does this mean?’ she asked, running her fingers over the words scratched on a small table, the only piece of furniture this stinking cell has to offer. I had spent some time etching them into its worm-eaten surface. An Almond for a Parrot.
‘It’s a title for a memoir, the unanswered love song of a soon to- be dead bird. Except I have no paper, no pen and without ink the thing won’t write at all.’
‘ Just as well, Tully.’
‘I want to tell the truth of my life.’
‘Better to leave it,’ she said.
‘It’s for Avery – not that he will ever read it.’ I felt myself on the brink of tears but I refused to give in to them. ‘I will write it for myself. Afterwards, it can be your bedtime entertainment, the novelty of my days in recipes and tittle-tattle.’
‘Oh, my sweet ninny-not. You must be brave, Tully. This is a dreadful place and…’
‘And it is not my first prison. My life has come full circle. You haven’t answered my question.’
‘Mercy is still very ill. Mofty is with her.’
‘Will she live?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘And is he alive?’
‘Tully, he is dead. You are to be tried for murder.’
‘My, oh my. At least my aim was true.’
I sank back on the bed, too tired to ask more. Even if Hope was in the mood for answering questions, I didn’t think I would want to know the answers.
‘You are a celebrity in London. Everyone wants to know what you do, what you wear. The papers are full of it.’
There seemed nothing to say to that. Hope sat quietly on the edge of the bed, holding my hand.
Finally, I found the courage to ask the question I’d wanted to ask since Hope arrived.
‘Is there any news of Avery?’
‘No, Tully, there’s not.’
I shook my head. Regret. I am full of it. A stone to worry one’s soul with.
‘You have done nothing wrong, Tully.’
‘Forgive me for laughing.’
‘You will have the very best solicitor.’
‘Who will pay for him?’
‘No, no. I don’t want her to. I have some jewels…’
I felt sick.
‘Concentrate on staying well,’ said Hope.
If this life was a dress rehearsal, I would now have a chance to play my part again but with a more favourable outcome. Alas, we players are unaware that the curtain goes up the minute we take our first gulps of air; the screams of rage our only hopeless comments on being born onto such a barren stage.
So here I am with ink, pen and a box of writing paper, courtesy of a well-wisher. Still I wait to know the date of my trial. What to do until then? Write, Tully, write.
With a hey ho the wind and the rain. And words are my only escape. For the rain it raineth every day.
Appendix VI, The Newgate Calendar
I adored the way Delaney mixed an aura of Victorian era with a hint of modern. For me it definitely had shades of Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders, and to be fair the author does give her inspiration a nudge, wink and its dues.
How to give you an idea of what this book is like? Imagine the aura and setting of an old book mixed with themes of urban fantasy, magic, ghosts and necromancy in an 19th century setting. It is a fascinating combination of historical fiction with a cheeky touch of soft erotica. It’s what I would call a bit of naughty wickedness.
The story starts with our main character sat in jail reflecting upon the past and the choices that have led to her facing the noose. The reader is then invited to follow Tully Truegood, as she is taught to control the passion within her.
She is taught the art of pleasure and how to pleasure others, which unfortunately also means heartbreak and disappointment. In her profession it can also mean violence and having to endure or watch violations and intimate betrayals.
Subtly interwoven into the story is a fascinating element of necromancy and ghostly magic. Tully can see the sins of the past, the horrors that haunt us and the mistakes everyone keeps very well hidden. It’s a talent and also a curse. At the beginning of some of the chapters there are 18th century recipes, such as Hasty Pudding, Hodgepodge or Sheep’s Tongue in Paper. Personally I found them fascinating, although it’s fair to say I won’t be trying tongue in the near future.
Delaney also writes with the eloquence of a writer of the 19th century. Her writing goes down like hot chocolate on a cold day. It’s simply a pleasure to read. I have to say I loved the overall feel of his book. It felt as if the universe had conspired to create a perfect book moment. The cover art (even on the review copies), the characters and the plot. It just felt as if all the jigsaw pieces had come together perfectly.
Hopefully this was the first of many for Delaney. I know I will be both recommending this book and looking forward to the next.