Amy Jeffs – Q&A

Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain

Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain

Amy Jeffs is an art historian specialising in the Middle Ages. In 2019, she gained a PhD in Art History from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, having studied for earlier degrees at the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Cambridge.

During her PhD Amy co-convened a project researching medieval badges and pilgrim souvenirs at the British Museum. She then worked in the British Library’s department of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern manuscripts.

Her writing is often accompanied by her own linocut and wood-engraved prints, a sample of which may be seen here: www.amyjeffshistoria.com

Amy is a regular contributor to Country Life Magazine.

Amy can be found at:
Website: https://www.amyjeffshistoria.com/
Twitter: @amy_historia
Instagram: @historia_prints

Wild is out now and published by Riverrun, an imprint of Quercus.

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) book?

The delightful, fascinating, often politically urgent manuscripts and stories I was exploring for my PhD in History of Art.

What came first the characters or the world?

The characters existed already, but became real to me through the medium of linocuts and wood engravings, which is how both Storyland and Wild began. In both cases, the medium of monochrome print helped my visualise the world of the texts and define its atmosphere.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

Once I had an agent (Georgina Capel), it felt quite easy, but I had been interested in writing for a general audience and getting to know other writers for a good five years beforehand. For a long time, it seemed out of reach, but the fact of the matter is that I was lucky enough to receive an excellent undergraduate education, which helped me to gain further qualifications and find work in places like the British Museum and British Library. This all helped me build an inventory of ideas and a network of like-minded colleagues. While I had found my place in a writing community more or less incidentally, it was that community that taught me what to do and who to speak to once an idea had crystallised in my mind.

How long did it take to write??

6 months for a draft, 1 year for a finished and illustrated manuscript, building on material I had gathered for my thesis.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

Nope. I forget to listen and anyway they are never long enough!

How many publishers turned you down?

My proposal was submitted to various publishers by my agent, Georgina Capel. I remember getting 3 or 4 offers, which she whittled down to two, who then bid for the book. I don’t remember it as clearly as I would like because I was in a state of high nervousness and excitement.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

At festivals I’ve spoken to teachers introducing British myths and legends to their year 7s with myths in their curriculum. I’ve met students, artists and lecturers interested in the relationship between research and creativity. I’ve met children with strange, insightful questions about truth and teenagers full of ambition and wisdom. The only negative encounters I’ve had have been online, which probably says something!

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

I met a 15 year old in Nottingham who told me about how her school had invited its students to dress up as characters or in costumes from their cultural backgrounds. ‘My parents are Indian’, she said, ‘so I wore a sari, but loads of my British-heritage friends were like, “oooh we don’t know what to wear. We feel too guilty about colonialism and imperialism.” She shook her head and said, ‘I told them they weren’t looking back far enough – they have so many stories to choose from that are much older than the British Empire.’ I was so grateful to her for sharing this anecdote with me and so impressed that a 15 year old had taken herself to a book event on her own.

What can you tell us about your next book?

Storyland

Storyland

My first book, STORYLAND, retold myths that were shared and popularised in medieval Britain. Mostly, they post-date the 12th century and have a strong political dimension. WILD looks further back in time, to 650-1000, and tells stories inspired by surviving texts and artefacts from or contingent to Britain in this period. As in STORYLAND, commentaries come after the tales in WILD, to bring readers into a corpus of amazing sources (and some really are like mazes) that sheds light on an old idea of the wilderness. The main body of the text is followed by beautiful new translations by George Younge, which capture the vivid, often stormy, natural setting of the originals, along with their psychological urgency. This is a less overtly political book. To me, it’s about hope, craft and harmony.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I do, though I’m not always sure it’s wise to draw confidence or otherwise from things like online ratings. Some of my most beloved books – books that seem to me works of undeniable genius – have very low ratings online. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for instance, scores 3.8 on Goodreads and he wrote that from Monkwearmouth Jarrow in 8th-century Northumbria and influenced practically every Western historian who has come since.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Yes.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I was doing a PhD, which involved teaching as well as writing. I also worked in the British Library and British Museum, with manuscripts and medieval badges respectively.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Mainly Laurie Lee, Max Porter and Suzannah Clark.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I love reading medieval monastic chronicles and saints’ lives for the magical realism. I also read quite a lot of poetry and shorter novels with a tendency towards the strange.

What is your biggest motivator?

Can I give three answers? If yes, then: the need to earn a living, the desire to do something I love devotedly and the hope it will bring people joy.

What will always distract you?

I can’t really think of anything. I love writing and carving Lino and find myself disappearing for hours and hours, given the chance. Maybe food?

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

Quite a lot, as I produce the prints that are used for my book covers. However, I’m no graphic designer and feel very grateful to be able to defer to the expertise of the Quercus design team when it comes to broader issues of layout and typography.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes. I am an only child and we travelled a lot. I read and drew and read and painted…

What were your favourite childhood books?

John Seymour’s The Forgotten Arts and Crafts, which I found in the school library when I was about 8 and used to read voraciously. I read a lot of fantasy, including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Harry Potter and the like. I also loved encyclopaedias of birds and animals. They make such good bedtime reading.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Hunting Raven in Frome. It’s my local and always so warm and full of ideas (and maps).

What books can you not resist buying?

Anything containing wood engravings.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Completely clearing my desk, except for a pint of water and a mug of coffee.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I’m afraid I’m quite a chaotic reader…probably about thirty and, apart from the audiobooks, they are hidden all around the house.

What is your current or latest read?

Henry of Huntingdon’s History of the English People.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Max Porter’s SHY. Kate Rundell’s THE GOLDEN MOLE.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

The audiobook for WILD is illustrated with songs, which I wrote with a friend called Robbie Haylett and recorded with a band over the summer. Well be releasing them on Spotify in time for Christmas and are looking forward to playing together at events next year. In the meantime, I’ll be writing and carving Lino for book three (following the form and scale of STORYLAND), which I’m hoping the publishers will give me permission to talk about soon!

Any events in the near future?

Waterstones York, Thurs 3rd Nov
Push the Boat Out Festival, Edinburgh, Sat 5th Nov
Brendon Books Festival, Taunton, Mon 14th Nov
Frome Society for Local Study, Frome, Sat 19th Nov
Waterstones Salisbury, Thurs 24th Nov
Sherborne Literary Soc, Wednesday 30th Nov

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I think it was a love of stories and their genealogies. I want to get lost in a story through fiction and illustration, but I also want to know about its history and its impact. Tracing such things as art and literature into the past can help us acknowledge our debt to our heritage; it is a huge inventory, an ocean of ideas in which to cast our nets.


If you want to help and support this blog and my other projects (Indie Publishers and Big Bearded Bookseller) you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

Hanging with Vampires

Insha Fitzpatrick, Lilla Bölecz. Quirk Books. (128p) ISBN 9781683693413

Hanging with Vampires

Hanging with Vampires

As part of my raid on anything spooky and creepy to read in September and October from NetGalley I was given this to read.

A non-fiction book exploring all aspects of the vampire, from its folklore history to its representation in modern media, and looking at different kinds of vampires from around the world.

A fun read written in an accessible and relaxed tone full of fangtastic illustrations from Lilla Bölecz to complement to words.

Aimed firmly at a younger audience, 9-12, this has great snippets about how to make garlic bread, a brilliant interview with Vlad the Impaler, and a really interesting look at how disease and death were thought of in the Middle Ages.

All without getting too gross or gory, but having just the right amount to keep a person interested, impaling heads, nice aside about vampire bats.

The section about vampires in modern media is also quite good and does look at diversity and representation and doesn’t hold back from criticising Twilight for its lack of either and problematic representation of Bella.

Overall a fun read and as the first in a new series of books called the Totally Factual Field Guide to the Supernatural it comes out running and sets a nice high bar for the rest of them.


If you want to help and support this blog and my other projects (Indie Publishers and Big Bearded Bookseller) you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

Louie Stowell. Walker Books. (240p) ISBN 9781406399752

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

I’m being so slow at getting these reviews out into the world, had read this quite a while ago now, but still laughing at some scenes that pop into my head.

Odin’s had enough of Loki and his behaviour and has exiled him to our world in the body of a school boy, and told that he has to improve his ways of be punished for eternity. All of which Loki finds totally unfair and believes that no one has a sense of humour at all as it was only a joke!

The other problem is he’s not allowed to use his awesome super god powers, at all! So not only has he to navigate normal school life as a bit of a weedy boy (Thor is also along for the fun and is still hunky), he cant even cheat (which is one of his favourite pastimes).

and he’s on a clock.

You can see where this is going can’t you, loads of misadventures, mishaps, and fun ensue, all fantastically illustrated by Louie throughout, and all we want to know is can Loki do it, can he change?

Wonderful writing makes this a fun, fast-paced adventure thoroughly supported by silly illustrations careening through mishap after mistake after misunderstanding.

Looking forward to book two in the series which should be out soon(ish)


If you want to help and support this blog and my other projects (Indie Publishers and Big Bearded Bookseller) you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.

Storyland

Amy Jeffs. Quercus Publishing. (384p) ISBN 9781529407976

Storyland

Storyland

Is it wrong to say that I got this book because the cover was so beautiful, as were the internal prints?

The other reason is I’ve never really read a lot of British myths, lots of Norse and Greek, even Slavic and MesoAmerican, but not British.

This book seemed like a great introduction, written in modern english and interpreting the myths for a modern audience, perfect for the novice.

It also had lots of small chapters making it the perfect bedtime book, a small chapter before falling asleep, though after reading the first chapter I was thankful that the next day was my day off as I read the rest of it in one big sitting (beans on toast for dinner that night).

Amy Jeffs does a brilliant job of adapting these myths to modern language and sensibility, making them thrilling and fascinating in equal measure. From the very start these myths made me want to know more about where they came from and Amy lets you know as at the the end of each story there is a discussion about the myths origins.

Amy also places each story firmly within the landscape of Britain, travelling with you to the places that each was meant to have happened and describing the feel of place and history.

One of my favourites is a bit of Arthurian lore I never knew, Merlin going naked to his ex-wife’s wedding, hilarious.

I absolutely loved this book, so much so that I had to search out a signed hardback edition even though I’d already bought the paperback.


If you want to help and support this blog and my other projects (Indie Publishers and Big Bearded Bookseller) you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.