Thursday, June 17, 2021

Martine Bailey

The Prophet, Martine Bailey’s fourth novel, is a historical crime novel in which Tabitha Hart investigates a cold-blooded murder and a utopian sect in an ancient forest.

The novel follows on from events in The Almanack and also reads as a standalone mystery.

Cheshire. May Day, 1753. Tabitha De Vallory's perfect life is shaken when a girl is slaughtered beneath the Mondrem Oak on her family's forest estate. Nearby, enigmatic Baptist Gunn is convinced that a second messiah will be born, amid blood and strife, close to the oak on Midsummer's Day. Could the murder be linked to Gunn's cryptic prophecy?

As Midsummer's Day draws closer, Tabitha soon learns the destiny that threatens her and those she holds most dear...

Bailey lives in a village near Chester, England and her first novel, An Appetite for Violets, was a Booklist Top Ten Crime Debut.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I didn’t find choosing a title easy. My sleuth character, Tabitha, is drawn into the orbit of a dangerous preacher, Baptist Gunn. As his prophecies are central to the book I played with poetic phrases about divination and omens but nothing suited. I also wanted a title that neatly followed The Almanack with a similar feel such as The Quickening – but that was recently taken.

The story asks, is it possible to see into the future? Tabitha becomes increasingly fearful that Gunn’s prophecies concern her unborn child. Her husband, Nat, investigates Baptist Gunn’s claims, acknowledging that over centuries prophets have guided mankind. So finally I chose the plainest statement of all – The Prophet.

What's in a name?

Baptist Gunn is a rare but true-life phenomenon, a sleeping prophet who appears to make predictions in a sleep-like trance. In choosing his name I was attracted to the combination of the evangelical with something explosively violent. I discovered his name almost ready made when researching the night-time battles between poachers and landowners and found a true life gamekeeper called Baptist Nunn. Tabitha is also a mix of contradictions. Tabitha is a name I associate with witchcraft (Bewitched on TV as a child) and is also listed in a wonderful book of curious Puritan names. As a former prostitute, I gave her the surname Hart for her warmth as she’s a true ‘tart with a heart’.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I think she would be amazed, delighted and relieved. As a youngster I did have a secret desire to be a writer but the task ahead seemed completely out of reach. However I have two pieces of evidence about my former self hoping to be a writer. Recently, my former school teacher sent me a story I wrote when I was ten years old. It’s about a Tudor serving woman that has uncanny echoes of most of my novels.

Secondly, I remember writing a long story one teenage summer about a woman on a journey rich in symbolism about a jewel. Again, ‘memorial items’ such as rings and hair jewellery are a theme I love. In The Prophet the murdered woman clutches half of a ring in her cold hand. It is part of a ‘gimmel’ or twin ring – where two hoops fit together to form one revealing an engraving. By the end of the book its two bands are destined to be finally reunited.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find it easier to write beginnings. So in The Prophet I had a distinct idea of a folkloric setting in which Tabitha and Nat would discover a victim covered in May flowers in a dark forest. Both recognise the young woman from incidents in their former single lives and this shakes their new found happiness.

When I sent my proposal to my publisher the end was typically fuzzy. That gave me equal parts of creative fun and agony to pull out a good ending right up against my deadline. I love to use misdirection, so I always want the final pages to make the reader reassess everything they’ve read so far.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The folklore of England is my theme, at a time when science and superstition were battling head to head. To get into the atmosphere I walked in (and videoed) my local Delamere Forest in Cheshire, which was long ago known as Mondrem Forest, as featured in the novel. I found ancient forts, standing stones, and wells to explore. Like my characters I picked and pressed wild flowers, foraged for foods, and learned to make soap from the soapwort herb at writer Alan Garner’s Medicine House.

English folk music was never far from my mind as I love a good murder ballad. Singing was also a central activity in 18thC life, especially around the celebrations of the seasons. My playlist includes singer and fiddle player Seth Lakeman, singer Kate Rusby and new folk duo, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage.

I tweet a riddle and more from @almanacktweets every Thursday using #FolkloreThursday which keeps me up to date with the world’s amazing community of folklorists.
Visit Martine Bailey's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: An Appetite for Violets.

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite for Violets.

My Book, The Movie: A Taste for Nightshade.

My Book, The Movie: The Almanack.

My Book, The Movie: The Prophet.

--Marshal Zeringue