Hello everyone! Today I am so thrilled to have the lovely Langley Hyde, author of one of the best books I’ve read this year the Steampunk novel, Highfell Grimoires visiting. HG is a complex and rich story, so I had tons on questions for her about her inspiration, the characters, the world, how she got into writing this genre, and also the very important question…What is your favorite dessert? 😉
Here is what we chatted about…
The Tipsy Bibliophile: Before we start the interview, I just wanted to say that Highfell Grimoires in one of the best books I’ve read this year. It grabbed me from the first page, and did not let go until the last. I fell in love with the world you created. Herrow was magical, with the aetheriums ( I want to go on one so bad!!), the lore, the magic…Everything was so vivid, and interesting. There is a lot to fall in love with in this story, but my heart was stolen by the characters, Neil, Leofa and their boys were so wonderful to read. This book is a grand adventure, so much goodness.
Before I get into the book, I wanted to ask you a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
Langley Hyde: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in telling stories. I know that I didn’t start writing until I was about eight, though. Until that point I’d been an illiterate barbarian—I’d refused to read or write out of pure stubbornness. I’d insisted that what I was making up was better. Then I read a book, The Prince and the Pauper, and I thought, “Huh. I couldn’t make that up.” And the concept that I wasn’t alone, that I could become a writer among other writers, that I could embrace and be a part of a community of ideas, was a revelation.
TB: When I was reading HG, I got that feeling I get when I am in the midst a truly special experience…I love books and the places they take me, and I am forever in awe that someone’s mind can conjure up amazing worlds, and bring them to life in my head! With HG everything was so vibrant and magical, so much of all that stuff I love in a good story. There was a serious Victorian Gothic flavor to this book, and numerous times while I read I thought to myself “this could definitely have rolled with Dickens, Brontë (Emily!) and Poe with no trouble at all!”
So that being said, what was your inspiration for this book? Which authors have influenced your writing?
LH: I love all those writers! You caught me.
I fell in love with Poe when I was about nine. I may have been a morbid child. I discovered the romanticism of the Brontë sisters when I was seventeen. I loved Wuthering Heights but Jane Eyre has troubled me ever since I first read it, so I think about it a lot.
As for Dickens, in my family it was a holiday tradition to read A Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve. At this point I read about one book by Dickens a year, sometimes rereading favorites. One of my friends described Dickens’ writing—not in a loving way—a being “drowned by an effluvium of words” but that’s kind of why I like his writing. Plus Dickens depictions of class really fascinate me—they’re not inane, unlike Thomas Hardy’s work, which makes me go ugh.
I think that H.G. Wells and R.L. Stevenson are often judged on the other merits of their work, but that the rhythm of their prose is underappreciated. I had a collection of R.L. Stevenson’s work growing up that I loved. I also had a phase when I lived in Germany where I read a huge amount of Gothic fiction. And I would like to write a book that resonates with Gothic themes, which are really fun.
TB: You basically created a full world here, it was reminiscent of Gothic England, albeit a MUCH cooler version of it. I could see those floating estates, and the strapping men flying gliders in between them, clear as day. It must have been an incredibly fun book to write.
When you began building Herrow for your novel, what were the parts of it that were most prominent in your mind? Did you base the society on a particular time in history?
LH: I drew on several periods of history to make a society I thought would be compelling. At the time I was more interested in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. I wanted to have a feeling of great change and societal transformation in the story, but I also didn’t want to focus on modern conveniences, like cars or the telegraph. I am very fascinated with the transition from brute labor to automation.
The characters kind of just ended up wearing the clothes I wanted them to wear, however.
When I built Herrow, I wanted to include the diversity that I experienced when living in London, especially in regards to wealth and status. I lived off Baywater, near Kensington, in an area filled with immigrants, North African, Indian, along with some Turkish and Chinese.
The buildings, all erected around the turn of the century, were refurbished tenements. For two hundred pounds a week, you could live in a single room with a bathroom two floors down that you shared with eight people. I shopped mostly at a Turkish store and ate lentils, because I could buy a ton of lentils at the Turkish store for a pound fifty. The streets were filled with people jostling, buskers, no tourists really. But I’d walk a couple of blocks over, I’d see the emptiness of Kensington, these grand mansions, gigantic for London, all white columns and perfect hedges, or Portobello lane with its little cutesy kitschy, brightly painted buildings and its restaurants at fifty quid a plate.
I am very fascinated by stark class differences so naturally that is a huge feature in my writing. And I wanted that type of contrast to be a big part of Herrow as well as the characters’ experiences of their world.
TB: Neil and Leofa…They stole my heart…Actually it was them, and the kids, and everything else, but I digress. What a wonderful set of characters. Did you set out to write a love story with two male characters or did that just happen?
LH: Good question. I think I set off to do it, actually. I read a lot of classics. Sometimes the relationships between the male characters are so much more intense. So I guess that inspired me.
TB: This world you made Langley, is too amazing not to revisit, personally I went right back into it the moment I finished the book, and re-read my favorite parts. Which leads me to the next question, will we get to go on more adventures with Neil and Leofa? The place I left them, certainly seemed like a great beginning!
LH: I would like to explore their world more deeply, and you’re right—Neil and Leofa have so much to look forward to! I guess I have so many options I’m a little spoiled for choices. Really, there are so many possibilities that I need to do a lot more thinking before I can give a definitive answer about what happens next.
TB: As you know my blog is a bit different, in addition to the book review I usually pair the story with a wine and/or recipe I think goes well with the story. For Neil and Leofa, I’ve chosen to make Lemon Lavender Cakelets with a Prosecco and Limoncello Spritzer for drink. I think Neil would be all over the cakelets! What is your favorite dessert, and what do you like to sip on a hot summer afternoon?
LH: Neil definitely would be all over the cakelets. He might have to pocket one for later, in fact. As for me, when it comes to desserts I basically love buttercream frosting. If you covered a brick in buttercream frosting (vanilla please) I would gnaw on it until my teeth broke.
When it summer cocktails, the gin and tonic never lets me down. Also when I’m drinking it I can pretend to be a nineteenth-century lady adventuress. Quinine to stave off malaria, and a lime wedge to get the scurvy away!
Again many thanks to Langley for taking the time to visit and for the great answers. I am hope this is just the first of many visits to discuss her wonderful stories.
Highfell Grimories is available for purchase here. If you have not gone to buy it yet, GO NOW. This is some of the best reading you will do this year. I PROMISE!
Cheers and Happy Reading!