It’s been a truly hellish last couple of months. Projects at work, house-buying, mortgage applications and my general day-to-day existence have all sought to unravel me. At last — touch wood — I feel like I can actually see the light at the end of this very long, very dismal tunnel. I still have a great many things on my To Do list, but fortunately typing out a blog post this week was not one of them… Hooray!
I asked my very good friends K.F. Goodacre and Oran aka. The Singing Lights to talk about The Mayor for you this week. I have to say, they are alarmingly enthusiastic about my book, and reading back through their answers makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and contented inside.
Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.
29. Guest post: Get a friend who is familiar with your novel to speak about it
I’ve known S.E. Berrow for about 12 years now and, as a fellow writer, I’ve been envious of many things about her writing — her style, her vocabulary, her dedication — but none more so than her ability to craft characters that leap off the page. This has been the case for every story of hers I’ve ever read — whether it be a top-hat-wearing English vampire or a Dutch professor sipping coffee in a New Orleans café — and it is especially true of the characters in her current historical fantasy novel, The Mayor.
Small town socialite Melora Winship longs to break free of her patriarchal restraints and sail on the open seas with her best childhood friend, Jonathan Carson. The only trouble is that her father has already planned her entire life for her — a dull office job within the family shipbuilding business, and eventually a marriage to Jonathan’s kind but equally dull older brother, Jaspher Carson. Her wish for something exciting to happen comes true in the form of the handsome William Kale, but it isn’t long before she realises that he’s not the breath of fresh air she longs for. He’s more of a deadly squall, devastating the port of New Hardway and everything she holds dear.
One of the benefits of having known S.E.Berrow for so long is that I’m privileged to have seen The Mayor grow from conception to execution. It has been an undeniable labour of love, spanning a decade of researching, plotting, honing and drafting — and it’s well worth the effort she put in. The plot itself follows Melora Winship and Jaspher Carson as they navigate their individual, unexpected trials of small town life, against a backdrop of what can only be described as a tense political fantasy-thriller.
The plot is fantastic and multi-layered, weaving its characters together and setting them off towards their journey’s inevitable end but, as I’ve said before, it’s Berrow’s characters that really bring this book to life — and it’s the characters who will stay with you until you turn the last page. Berrow’s particular strength as a writer is the ability to connect emotionally with her readers and so I give you all fair warning: The Mayor will make you fall in love and then yank your heartstrings off one by one, as painfully as possible.
I would place bets on every reader finding a ‘Mayor character to love — whether it be the sheltered, headstrong Melora Winship, the rakishly mischievous Jonathan Carson, or the eminently punchable Bellamy. If it’s the latter, I will want to have words with you. Personally, I’m head over heels for Jaspher Carson, a well-meaning, socially inept academic, and there’s simply nothing I can do about it. Yet, as passionately invested as I am for Jaspher’s story to end happily, there is one other character, one man for whom I burn with such intense hatred, I often find myself fantasising about setting him on fire.
S.E. Berrow’s villain, the mysterious and manipulative William Kale, is one of her best creations to date. His enigmatic motives keep you guessing until it’s too late and his ability to get other characters to trust him is such that you’ll end up screaming aloud at the page. For me, there is no greater testimony to a story’s worth than complete reader immersion and investment, and The Mayor has it all. I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves.
Oran aka. The Singing Lights
So You Want To Read The Mayor, huh?
I’ve known Sally (or S.E. Berrow to you mortals) for the better part of a decade. A friendship that has bloomed to the point where I am trusted to read her WIP is an honour I don’t take lightly!
The Mayor is a deceptively simple tale. Plot-wise it certainly might appear to be: an insular community has a violent shake-up from a new arrival, but that is where the simplicity dies. What you’ll be exposed to is some very complex characterisation.
I’ve said to her many times that she has a way of inhabiting her characters’ state of minds to a near-uncomfortable clarity — you really get a sense of the emotional and physical state of them, feeling the “lived-in” experience, almost as if you are there. Every ache and blemish is computed. I love the melodrama, the witty (and sometimes crude) dialogue, and how easily this could sit on the screen. Honestly, I can see actors in wigs and 18th century-finery charting the slow and dramatic collapse of the relationships in the tale. BBC drama, wherefore art thou?
The characters are satisfying to observe. By far my favourite is Jonathon “J-dizzle” (my addition) Carson, the wayward younger son of Jeremiah Carson, a rake who wishes for freedom and experience unlike his more fastidious brother Jaspher. Between them is the manipulative and bored Melora Winship, best friend of J-dizzle and subject of deep infatuation to Jaspher. All of the characters are pitiable as their stories unfold, all except for one swaggering monstrosity: William Goddamn Kale, aka. Bill, aka. Distasteful Creature, aka. Fuck That Guy.
I have created a holiday to help temper my searing hot rage: International Fuck Kale Day, a daily holiday where humans all around the world come together to express their intense hatred of him. Such is the skill of Berrow’s writing to create a character so distasteful but not to feel like he is a caricature. Cold, ruthless, calculating, competent, he is all you want in a villain. And, loathe as I am to say, he is one you love to hate (I’m never going to hear the end of this). His machinations pave the way for the wider story and he will be the linchpin to their unveiling. I usually can predict where stories can go, which isn’t a problem for me, but I really lean in when I can’t easily guess. The wider story is a mystery to me and I can’t wait to explore its depths.
From the coastal colony setting, with pirates and magic surrounding it all, there’s a very Robin Hobb flavour to it all. This is something to her credit: many years prior, I read Hobb’s The Liveship Traders upon Berrow’s suggestion and the influence from Hobb is unmistakable. The setting, and focus of character…
The Mayor is also much leaner.
I’ve read the draft so it’s very much unfinished even with The End being written down on the story. When she pares down the wordiness, smooths the edges on some of the characterisation, and polishes it up, we will have a very good book become a brilliant book. Did I mention the characterisation? Damn her characterisation.
Thank you so much for such beautiful encouraging words, guys! It means so much to me, especially during stressful times such as these ♥