Quintette of Questions: Fin J Ross

Today I’m asking Fin J Ross 5 questions about her new book!

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

My newly released novel is Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie. I specifically wanted an alliterative title, so my bookstore name had to start with ‘B’. The title was originally Billings Better Bookstore and Cafeteria, but given that the story features alliterative verses heading each chapter, it was a no-brainer that it should become Brasserie.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Given that my main character, Fidelia Knight, ages from nine-year-old to 19, that’s a tricky one as casting would necessitate a child actor and a late teenage actor. Mackenzie Thomas (currently appearing in the ABC’s Operation Buffalo) could fit the young Fidelia. Kiera Knightly or Emma Watson as older Fidelia. As for Jasper Godwin, I picture Terence Stamp, Jason Isaacs or Sam Neill.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Inspiring, Uplifting, Historical, Mystery, Logomaniacal

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson – absolutely, without question!

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

I Gotta be Me

About Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie

Young Fidelia Knight arrives in Melbourne in 1874, alone except for her treasured companion, Samuel Johnson; well, half of him. To escape servitude, Fidelia hides each night in Bourke-street’s renowned Cole’s Book Arcade. She loves words, you see, and wants to know them all.

What she overhears in Cole’s sets her on a path that will change the lives of everyone she meets, starting with Jasper Godwin, the hopelessly underqualified manager of the new Billings Better Bookstore.

Fidelia’s thirst for knowledge is contagious. She tutors two orphan boys and two illiterate women, inspiring them to unlock their creativity; and her exploration of colonial Melbourne takes her to some unusual places.

Nothing daunts this diminutive genius, except the mystery of what really happened to her parents on the voyage from England.

Buy Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie

About Fin J Ross

Fin is a journalist and creative writing tutor, whose day job is running a boarding cattery in East Gippsland.

She is co-author (with her sister, Lindy Cameron) of the true crime anthologies Killer in the Family and Murder in the Family, and author of the fantasy novel A.K.A. Fudgepuddle.

She is a keen short-story writer and has won eight category prizes in the annual Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Awards, among other competition wins.

She has written an as yet unpublished crime novel, Switchback Road, and is working on a sequel, Open Season, but has diverted her writing attention to an historical novel about Ludwig Becker, a German artist and scientist; one of the five lesser-known men who also died on the Burke and Wills expedition.

Her love of cats extends to breeding British Shorthairs, and in her spare time, she compiles cryptic crosswords.

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Review: Octavius and the Perfect Governess by Emily Larkin

Emily Larkin has released a new book in her wonderful Regency-era Baleful Godmother series, and is taking the series in a new direction after a series of short stories called the Pryor Prequels.

The series began when a woman and her three daughters save a faerie child from drowning. It’s fae mother rewards them with wishes that will follow the family line – as each female descendant reaches a particular birthday, they will be granted a wish. But the Fae are scary folk, and Baletongue will trick them if she can.

Previous books have followed the female descendants, but the Pryor Prequels trace how one descendant transferred her wish to the male line, and the terrible consequences of that wish.

Now, in the first novel following that thread, we have Octavius Pryor, a wealthy young man from a family of men with special, faerie-gifted powers. His grandfather is very strict, however, on the rules of how such gifts can be used, because of what his mother wished.

Octavius in fact has chosen the same wish that Miss Appleby did back in Unmasking Miss Appleby, the book that got me hooked on this series. Like Charlotte Appleby, Octavius has chosen the gift of metamorphosis.

In Unmasking Miss Appleby, Charlotte changes into a man in order to escape her restricted life; here, Octavius first changes shape into a woman as a forfeit on a bet with his brother and cousins, and visits Vauxhall Gardens with them at night. There he discovers just how unpleasant man can be, and how little power women have in his world.

When Octavius adopts a female shape again in order to teach the vile Baron Rumpole a lesson for the attempted assault, he encounters Miss Toogood, the governess Rumpole has engaged to teach his two daughters. He determines at once to find a way into Rumpole’s household in order to protect this courageous, kind woman from the fate that has befallen other women in Rumpole’s household staff.

There follows a novel of Larkin’s usual deft charm, wit and pace. She gives the subject matter the seriousness and drama it deserves, with Octavius learning and absorbing the lessons of how the privilege of been male and wealthy are not extended to others, and how those privileges can be used to abuse others. The characters are nicely drawn, likeable but flawed, and the obstacles to their love are those of circumstance and genuine conflict rather than foolish misunderstandings that could be fixed if people would just talk.

I particularly enjoyed Octavius and his cousin and friend teaching Miss Toogood self defence – this isn’t going to be a story about a damsel in distress, but of two people with agency, learning and becoming stronger together.

The shapeshifting element of Octavius and the Perfect Governess brings an interesting undercurrent, seen also in Unmasking Miss Appleby, of body dysphoria and characters that are not transgender but whose feelings may reflect some experiences of being transgender. This is the element that first engaged me with this series and I enjoyed reading about it from the male-to-female perspective.

I’m looking forward to more books in this series – and there are hints that there may be another gay romance in the set.

You can read an excerpt of the book on Emily Larkin’s website.

Buy Octavius and the Perfect Governess

Lockdown Fiction: Flotsam

This story comes from Clan Destine Press’s 1 June writing prompt.

Flotsam

‘It’s not really umber, is it?’

Didi, pressed closed to Galatea’s side, ceased peering at the sea to blink her bemusement at her new companion.

‘Sorry?’

‘The umber ella. It’s not umber. Perhaps like raw umber, but more like bone. And white, of course.’ Galatea’s dark eyes were open wide as she considered the pretty damask canopy over her head. The sunlight streamed through the thinner white fabric of the pattern, dappling Galatea’s milk-white skin prettily.

Alabaster skin, thought Didi, and an hysterical giggle bubbled up. She almost asked how Galatea knew what to call damask fabric, since the Middle Eastern weavers who first created it came long after Galatea’s time, but honestly, that was the very least of the questions that arose from Galatea’s presence.

Didi decided to stick to the basics. ‘It’s not an umber ella. It’s an umbrella, or more exactly, a parasol.’ The Greeks had parasols 4000 years ago. It should be a no-brainer. ‘Parasols are for the sun, umbrellas for the rain.’

Galatea absorbed this clarification about the not-umber, bone-and-white coloured parasol. She flicked at the little strip of cloth that wound about the body of it when closed.

‘I don’t like this piece,’ she said. ‘You should cut it off.’

Didi side-eyed the fastener, then Galatea, then looked back out to the horizon.

‘Why don’t you like it?’

‘It looks like the bindings that held me prisoner beneath the sea.’

‘It only binds the parasol so it doesn’t flop around the place when it’s closed. It’s useful.’

Galatea scowled. ‘Polyphemus found it useful in his jealousy to bind and keep me, so that I may only partially live and not breathe and watch the world from underneath the waves.’

‘Well, Polyphemus was a creeper and he’s not here, and you are, so sucks to be him and you win, so do you think we can decide what we’re going to do now?’

‘Do?’

‘I know you’re a nymph and marble statue and a myth come to life, so maybe you’ve had some experience with this shit, but it’s all new to me. I’m just a cannery worker and I’m not even that any more since they closed the factory. All those goddamned men in charge pushing the fish stocks to nothing, foreclosing on the mortgages, setting us all up to fail. I’m unemployed, I’m homeless, and I’m desperate. All I’ve got in the world is my car, my clothes, this bloody parasol because it belonged to my gran, and fuck-all skills. I’m nobody.’ The weight of all her losses pressed Didi down, made her shrink, made her small. She remembered the disdain of the bank manager refusing to negotiate a new payment plan; not a shred of pity or kindness in him.

Galatea gazed at Didi as though she were mad. ‘You rescued me.’

‘I found you.’

‘You unbound me. Thank you.’

‘You’re very welcome,’ Didi replied. ‘But I still don’t know what to do next.’

The nymph who had been a statue who had been bound and trapped and hidden in the ocean depths until time, tide, erosion and seismic activity had washed her ashore at Didi’s feet – this Galatea of myth and unexpected reality bent to kiss Didi’s cheek.

Galatea slipped her soft, slender, white fingers between Didi’s brown ones. ‘Let us hold hands,’ she said, ‘and be friends.’

Didi looked at their entwined fingers and squeezed. Galatea’s hand was warm and small in hers. ‘I’d like that.’

Galatea’s beautiful face broke into a smile that was wholly human. No longer marble, flushed pale pink now with the sea air, one of her canine teeth a little crooked. She was lovely. Lovelier than the statue could ever be.

‘And then we shall find a purpose we can share,’ Galatea declared, ‘and never again be imprisoned or discarded by men who wish to keep all good things to themselves.’

‘Smash the patriarchy,’ muttered Didi in agreement.

Galatea’s next grin was less human and it caught at Didi’s heart, made it grow with hope and fire.

‘How do we begin?’ asked Galatea eagerly.

‘Do you mind if we take your bindings with us?’ Didi asked.

‘You mean to use them on our enemies? Then yes!’

‘Great. Let’s visit the bank.’

Quintette of Questions: GV Pearce

Today I’m asking GV Pearce 5 questions about their new book!

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

The book is called Ghost Story, which is also an accurate description for its contents. There were a few themes so it was a little difficult to choose, but sometimes it’s nice to get straight to the point. I’m sure John wishes Sherlock would do that more often too!

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Early 1980s Paul McGann and Richard E Grant. There are some photographs of the pair of them taken behind the scenes of a film that absolutely fits the aesthetic for this John and Sherlock. McGann’s overgrown hair is perfect for an ex-military man finding his new persona, and Grant has always looked a little spooky.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Eerie, melancholy, uncanny, sanguine, tactile.

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

Gomez & Morticia Addams have always been my touchstone for perfect relationships. They’re always there for one another, no matter how strange their lives become.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

‘When You Don’t See Me’ by Sisters of Mercy could easily apply to both the central relationship and the central theme of the book (not to give too much away) 

About Ghost Story

John Watson loves his husband, but he’d like Sherlock Holmes to leave this case alone. They’re supposed to be taking a break from London. From work. But then again, when has Sherlock’s brain ever taken a holiday? And honestly, the strange disappearance of Gloria Evans bothers them both—though for very different reasons.

Buy Ghost Story

About GV Pearce

G.V. Pearce is a mysterious being said to haunt the North York Moors, but is otherwise as yet unclassified by science. Rumour has it that they can be summoned by leaving coffee in a faery circle at midnight.

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Read my review of Ghost Story.

Words are like oxygen