The Secret Commonwealth

By Jane Stevenson

History and folklore collide when a 17th century alchemist discovers there are supernatural forces at work as England slides towards Civil War

Monday, 24 October 2016

How did I get the idea?

I've often found it true that one book leads to another, even if they're very different. It's hardly obvious that one of the starting points for this particular project was writing the biography of a painter, Edward Burra, who was born in 1905. Burra was no optimist; he had to cope with crippling pain from arthritis and other chronic health problems, and he had a great sense of the darkness of life. Quite a few of his paintings contain demons, spooks, and indeterminate supernatural figures, mostly up to no good. However, he did love Spain very dearly, and it so happened he was visiting there at the onset of the Spanish Civil War. He found the experience deeply shocking.  In a stream of letters sent from Madrid, rapidly followed by a series of very powerful paintings when he got home, he expressed a profound feeling that Spain was possessed by demons. Suddenly, civilised people, his personal friends, were greeting news of atrocities with a shrug, and ‘So?’  Much later, reading about the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, I came across eloquently expressed views of anguished English men and women, Roundhead and Cavalier alike, saying in one way or another, ‘have we all gone mad?’ ‘how has this happened?’ Something clicked in my mind between Burra's demon-haunted Spain, and the idea of a country toppling into chaos. Eventually a plot turned up, and everything went on from there.

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Nicholas Graham
 Nicholas Graham says:

Janey - delighted to support this, and thrilled that this wonderful story, that I so loved reading in manuscript, will be enjoyed by so many more people via Unbound.
In a Britain gone mad, it has much to say to us.
Margaret & I are looking forward to the launch party . . .

posted 24th October 2016

Clémence O'Connor
 Clémence O'Connor says:

Ralph and I couldn't put the manuscript down, and we know that so many friends would find it equally wonderful and compelling. Nicholas Graham's comment that 'in a Britain gone mad, it has much to say to us' is my sentiment precisely.

posted 24th October 2016

Mark Gibson
 Mark Gibson says:

I’ve read all of Jane Stevenson's published novels and found every one of them compelling – beautifully plotted, fabulously imagined, elegantly written and with a depth of scholarship worn astonishingly lightly. I'm hugely looking forward to this next one...

posted 28th October 2016

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