Collected here are the books I have published over the years, four novels and six works of non-fiction. A handful of other books and projects have never taken flight, among them Bad Flowers, my homage to Baudelaire and anti-horticulture (for a time I was labelled a historian of flowers), and a novel that took me to the Slovakian castles of Countess Erzsébet Báthory, so hauntingly reimagined by the French surrealist, Valentine Penrose.
A feeling for place is the thread that binds all my books together, from the tropical forests of Martinique in my first novel, The Taking of Agnès, to the marshlands of coastal Suffolk in The Angel Cantata and the atmospheric ruins of Jamestown Island, Virginia, where English settlers first put down permanent roots on North American soil.
The Jamestown Brides
My latest book is called The Jamestown Brides, The Untold Story of England’s ‘maids for Virginia’. Published by Atlantic Books in the UK (October 2018) and Oxford University Press in the US (spring 2019), it follows in the footsteps of fifty-six young English women shipped to Virginia nearly four hundred years ago and traded for tobacco as wives to the planters. The English colony was just fourteen years old and the Virginia Company of London hoped to root its unruly menfolk to the land with ties of family and children.
While the women travelled of their own accord, the company was in effect selling them at a profit for a bride price of 150lbs in weight of best-leaf tobacco. Rewards would flow to investors in the near-bankrupt company, who were also promised a stake in a new settlement called ‘Maydes Towne’.
But the women – what did they want from the enterprise? Who were they and why did they agree to make the dangerous Atlantic crossing to a wild and dangerous land from which they had little hope of return?