When I was invited to become an RSL Fellow and told I would sign the register with either Byron’s or Dickens’ pen, I’m afraid there was no choice there: it had to be Dickens. I am a coward, but Byron is too scary. Recently I’ve been working with the Bronte Parsonage on Charlotte Bronte’s bicentenary (21 April 2016), and discovered there are two Bronte groups: the Charlottes and the Emilys. (Poor Anne is rarely considered – though she should be, as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a cracking novel.) I am in the Charlotte camp, for Emily – like Bryon – is just too extreme for me.
I have two books out soon. One is a collection I edited that is attached to Charlotte’s 200th ; it’s called Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre (7 April 2016). It features 21 contemporary women writers (five of us RSL Fellows) who have written stories inspired by that famous line.
The other is a new novel, At the Edge of the Orchard (8 March 2016). I have long loved trees – I am an Ambassador for the Woodland Trust, a UK charity dedicated to planting more trees in Britain and protecting its ancient woods. I set myself the challenge to write a novel that features trees, making them silent characters. Orchard features California redwoods and Ohio apple trees – with a graft of an old variety originally from Worcestershire called a Pitmaston Pineapple. They are tiny and yellow and have a pineapple finish. I was so taken by them that I planted a Pitmaston Pineapple in our garden.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read a non-fiction book a month, since I tend towards fiction. Right now I’m reading The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller, which is about how the Brontes came to be known for how they lived (or didn’t live), overtaking the reality of their lives. It’s a bit of a cheat, since I needed to read it anyway with my Charlotte bicentenary hat on. Next month I will read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The month after, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Fellows are nominated by peers and elected by our Council of writers – our governing Board. Being elected a Fellow of the RSL is a lifetime honour. This role gives them the opportunity to support other writers, readers and the future of literature. The RSL connects writers in the Fellowship to one another, and to a wider readership.