Available from Amazon, for 97p. As far as I can work out, it is only available in e-book format.
I downloaded ‘The Steps of the Priory’, the first book in Sally Quilford’s Harcourt Saga, on to my Kindle because I’ve always enjoyed Sally’s competition page in ‘Writers Forum’, which is always a mixture of well-honed experience and common sense. I also follow her blog (as you will see from the list to the left). However, I must point out that I don’t know Sally, either face-to-face or ‘remotely’.
It is now several days since I finished the book. The reason I haven’t written the review earlier is that I needed time to consider what to say, and this prompted me, in turn, to consider how I should review all books on this writing blog. I came to the conclusion that I should do so, not as a reader, but as a writer trying to learn as much as possible about the writer’s craft.
‘The Steps of the Priory’ was aptly named, because it opened with two teenagers placing an unborn baby on the steps of the big house (‘The Priory’) belonging to the local factory owners. Obviously, the baby cast a shadow over the rest of the book, even though the reader knew who he was from 21%. (We Kindle-rs have come to think of books in percentages, not pages!) However, he figured in a totally unexpected twist at the end.
The book was written with a broad canvas worthy of Dickens, with more characters and povs than I could count, ranging across the wealthy Harcourt family, workers and their families and people who had moved away from the area. It also written over a huge timeframe, from 1917 to 1948, during which a whole generation was born and grew up. Maybe so much movement over time disconcerted me because, several nights running, this story kept me awake, the various characters and the plot running over and over in my mind.
I was impressed with Sally’s ability to move so slickly from one moment in time to another, a few years passing in a sentence, without the dreaded asterisks or anything clunky. She enabled the reader to anchor herself in time with passing references to the General Strike, the Blitz, Colditz and concentration camps and ration-books, but nothing in detail because this was nothing at all like historical fiction.
This was a story about people, and only people, as befits Chick Lit. The character who interested me most was ‘Jack’, the baby left on the Priory steps. Although he was a bad lot for most of the book, his struggle with his own badness made him the only character who was substantially transformed, although other characters quarreled and made up. As Sally has written a lot of erotic novels (which I haven’t read), The Steps contained a lot of sex, all very well-written, but, unfortunately, most of it falling within a few chapters, which was off-putting. Towards the end of the book, a ‘Harold Shipman’ lookalike character appeared, killing off his patients and asking others to lie for him – an interesting lead which, maybe, will be pursued in the next volume.
So a lot to learn here. Having read several real chicklit books in recent months, the genre is very different to what I thought it would be. A lot of sex… ugh! I hate writing sex scenes.