Books by my bedside: Katie Hickman

Katie Hickman is the author of seven books, including two bestselling history titles, Courtesans and Daughters of Britannia. Her novels The Aviary Gate and The Pindar Diamond have been translated into 19 languages. Her latest novel, The House at Bishopsgate, was published earlier this month.  

What’s currently on your bedside table and why?

Julian Sayarer’s Interstate: Hitchhiking through the State of a Nation (Arcadia Books, 2016).

I was recently a judge on the Dolman-Stanford’s Best Travel Book Award, and this unknown young English writer was the unanimous choice of all six judges on the panel, even beating that famous heavy-weight, Paul Theroux, across the finishing line. 

Sayarer’s "voice" is fresh, uncompromising and modern—a huge talent to watch out for in the future. Interstate recounts a journey across the crumbling hinterland of the American mid-West. 

If his book had been required reading before the US election last November, we might not have been quite so surprised by Trump’s victory.

 

Which book would you give to your closest friend, and why?

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

This is my ultimate "comfort" novel. I have read and re-read it more times than I can remember, from my earliest teenage years until now. Like all classics, it reveals something new and surprising every time you open its pages, but it also has a rip-roaring plot and is very, very funny. The perfect novel.

 

Tell us about your latest book?

My latest book is The House at Bishopsgate,  the third and concluding volume in my Aviary Gate series (although it reads as a stand-alone story). 

It follows the fortunes of a 17th-century Levant Company merchant, Paul Pindar and his love, Celia Lamprey. Celia has spent several years enslaved in the harem of the Great Turk in Constantinople, but she escapes and finally the couple are free to rebuild their lives.

The House at Bishopsgate sees them return to London, where Paul has created a magnificent mansion in London’s Bishopsgate in which to house not only his wife, but all the trappings of a wealthy merchant: an extensive collection of furniture, books, paintings, and gemstones—including the legendary and mysterious diamond, The Sultan’s Blue. But Celia is still frail, and the couple’s marriage is strained. How will Celia survive in such new and unfamiliar surroundings? 

The insinuating and sinister Lady Sydenham, a widow befriended by the couple on their voyage home, appears at first to come to Celia’s rescue—but all is not as it seems. What could be her real motives? The story is about love, sexual jealousy and... a very large diamond!  

Altogether the series took ten years to write. I have lived so long with the characters that they have become like old friends, and sometimes I almost forget that they're not real people.

 

Do you discuss your own work in progress?

Very, very rarely. People often ask, "so how’s the writing going?" but usually they don’t really want to hear the answer!

The only exception to this is my son, Luke (now 21). He and I have had a tradition of taking long walks together around the ancient Wiltshire hills in which The House at Bishopsgate is partly set (I live in London, but our family home is there). Even as quite a young boy Luke would ask me questions about how I "found" my characters, how my plots were developed, and so forth—and we would have these long discussions as we tramped across the muddy fields.

He was—still is—a very good listener, and I delighted in being able to have the time to really answer his questions properly (I don’t think I bored him too much...). 

 

Which book made you want to write?

C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The story of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy’s adventures in Narnia had a profound influence on me as I was growing up. Like most children, it was only when I returned to the book much later that I realised that it was a religious allegory. At the time I read it as a marvellous adventure story, full of mystery and magic. Best of all, it showed children having wild adventures, free from interfering adults. Wonderful stuff!

 

If you weren’t writing now, you’d be…..?

In the British Library researching my next book, Daughters of the Raj. We all know (or think we know) about the Victorian and Edwardian memsahibs, but my interest lies in the very earliest women travellers to India. 

I am bowled over by their bravery. In the 17th century, women as young as 12 endured truly terrifying voyages of up to a year on tiny little ships to seek their fortunes there (and find husbands). They arrived to find a land so different from anything they could have known, it must have been like ending up on the moon. 

The earliest source I have found so far is 1614. It’s real detective work finding such early documents, and I'm completely addicted!

 

The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman is published by Bloomsbury 
 

Read more: 7 Books you can't miss this February 

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