Interview with Langley Hyde Author of Highfell Grimoires

my copy

I had to get it on paperback!

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!

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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!

Laura

Highfell Grimoires by Langley Hyde and Lemon Lavender Cakelets w Lemon Lavender Curd Filling and a Limoncello Spritzer

highfellYou know when you read a book and you KNOW, like deep inside of you that you are in on something amazing? That you are reading something important. That’s how I felt reading this book, like “Wow, I’m one of the first people reading this book, and this book is going to BLOW PEOPLE AWAY.” That’s what I was thinking throughout Highfell Grimoires, from the moment I started reading I knew I was in for something remarkable. Let’s start with the genre, the book is a Steampunk novel, and without exaggerating even a little bit I can say it is the best one I’ve read in this genre, full stop. Second, it channeled some serious Victorian Gothic magic, think Brontë, think Poe, think Dickens…Think BIG, because that is exactly what the writing in this novel was. The excellent world building, the intriguing characters, twisted and fascinating foes, vulnerable and noble heroes, the piercing look at class, inequality, justice, gender biases, misogynistic societal norms, hypocrisy, kindness, love, loyalty, friendship, higher causes, greater good…The whole enchilada my friends. This novel HAS IT ALL…And then THEN, there’s Neil, Leofa and their boys.

Where do I even start? Because seriously if I wasn’t a happily married woman I would have proposed to Langley Hyde about a third into this book. But I digress, let’s talk food and drink, before I dive into the book. Like I said this book is steampunk, and set in a place very reminiscent of Victorian England (with a twist!), given the setting there is a lot of High Teas and such going on in the book. So, I wanted to make something that grooved with that as well as, something the heroes would love. I decided on Lemon Lavender Cakelets with Lemon Curd filling and a Prosecco/Limoncello Spritzer. This was  bit of a labor intensive recipe, I admit, but it paid off beautifully. It’s one of the best things I’ve made. For the cocktail I infused a bottle of limoncello with lavender buds for about 10 days and it gave the spritzer a lovely flavor. I used the Cupcake brand prosecco, which is nice and dry, with lovely hint of lemon, PERFECT for this cocktail, a bottle goes for about $11.

photo 3Now the story…Neil Franklin’s life has been taken away from him. After his parent’s accidental death him and his sister are suddenly faced with a crippling family debt, and to repay it he agrees to leave the city of Herrow and his studies, to become a teacher at his uncle’s charity boarding school for boys. The school is up in an eatherium, estates that float in the air powered by aether. So he will have to leave his sister in the care of his uncle. As much as Neil loves those big floating ship-like structures in the sky, and the excitement of possibly taking part in forming young minds, he is low, because he knows he will never be able to pay the debt he owes, and his sister’a future might be in jeopardy as much as his.

Things get grimmer the moment he arrives at the school, the conditions there are less then optimal, and his students seems to be a group of disreputable urchins…And that’s not not the worst of it, the Nobsnippes, the family who runs the school seem to be pretty shady characters. Neil is not sure what he’s gotten himself into, but the more he learns of the conditions he is to live in the more he despairs. Then he meets Leofa, the “garderner” for the school who he is supposed to be roommates with (the horror), not only is the whole thing unseemly and completely below someone’s Neil social status, but Leofa makes him jumpy. He is all kinds of mysterious and confusing. He is a bit rough with Neil, yet so kind and gentle with the boys. He goes out of his way to feed them and care for them as much as he can…He is also big and beautiful, and that out of everything is the very worst part. Neil cannot have feelings for this man, it is not well regarded for two men to be “involved” and besides he’s not too sure if “gardening” is really what Leofa is getting up to wherever he spends his days…As a matter of fact some of the boys are going in there too and coming back hurt. None of this is Neil’s problem though, he cannot get attached to the boys or Leofa, what he needs is to find a way to get out of the situation he is in, the whole thing is beneath him. Not at all what he signed for, the Nobsnippes give him the creeps, they are nasty people, the boys are barely manageable and then there’s the sleeping arrangement with Leofa…Neil is in over his head, that is for sure!

From the voice (Neil is our narrator in first person POV), to the world, the characters, the toys, flying machines, intrigue, magic, secrets and romance this book was LUSCIOUS. Visually the world is gorgeous, my mind was working overtime to keep up with flying aetheriums,  victorian dresses a la Tim Burton, and magical books secured with hazardous bloodlocks. Neil, like all the others, is a wonderfully developed character. He is so much a man of his time, but he has an ingrained sense of nobility and fairness, he is attached to his place in society and what it has provided for him, but he understands the injustices that exist in his world. When he is faced with the conditions which the boys he grows to care about are forced to live in, out the carelessness of others he struggles with that. He struggles with the reality that a good man like Leofa is forced to work for pennies by nasty people because of circumstances that were not his doing. It is an unfair world, and it shames him that he has never paid much  attention to it before.

Then of course is what he finds in Leofa and those boys. He finds his heart and his purpose. What had never seemed important before becomes paramount, because soon he realizes that these boys and that man are important, not just to him, but they are important because they ARE. Strange things are happening and he fears they might all be in danger, nothing seems to be like he thought it was. Seems like Neil may have been living in the clouds before he got up on the aetherium, ironically, but he’s never been a coward and now is not the the time to start when his, Leofa’s, the boys and his sister’s fate are in the balance.

I won’t go into the mystery or magic because that was such a wonderful part of this book, that I will leave you to discover it yourselves. This story is nothing but goodness, the heroes are brave and valiant, the villains are twisted and grotesque…The archetypes are done exquisitely. The romance between Neil and Leofa is subtle and understated but no less was powerful and moving. I did not miss the erotica (although there were intimate moments), for me the big payoff  for me came from getting to know them and their world. Not that there is not enough in their love story to make one swoon, because THERE IS! It’s a read like you don’t run across very often.

I cannot say enough good things, if I could I would make reading this novel mandatory. For steampunk and fantasy fans this is required reading. For fans of Victorian novels, also a MUST…And if you are fan of good books with good writing, go buy this book NOW.

Effusively and enthusiastically recommend. I hope beyond all hope there is a lot more from Langley Hyde coming our way in the near future, I especially hope that this one not the last form Neil, Leofa and their gang.

Highfell Grimoires will be released by Blind Eye Books and it is available for pre-order here.

For a free copy of Highfell Grimoires comment below or tweet me @readingtipsy and let me know what your favorite decadent dessert is!

Lemon-Lavender Pound Cakelets, with Lemon-Lavender Curd with Whipped Cream Topping

Adapted from The Bojon Gourmet

Be sure to use organic, culinary lavendar for these cakes. I got 4oz on Amazon for about $8.00.

For the cakes:
1 cup organic sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender buds (ground in coffee grinder or vitamix)
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter (or vegan butter spread), softened
zest of two lemons (preferably Meyers)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup of almond milk with 1/2 a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line 10 standard muffin cups with paper liners.

Grind the lavender buds with the sugar in a coffee grinder. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, ground lavender, butter and lemon zest. Beat on medium speed until fluffy and lightened in color, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined, scraping as needed.

photo 1In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, add half the dries, mix until combined. Add the buttermilk (or almond milk mixture), mix to combine, and then add the rest of the dries. Give the batter a final fold with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly mixed, then divide the batter among the 10 muffin cups. 

Bake the cupcakes, rotating once halfway through the baking time, for 20 – 25 minutes. The tops should spring back when pressed lightly with a finger, and a tester should come out clean. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Lemon-Lavender Curd

This recipe makes about 1 cup of curd, which is twice what you will need to fill the cakes. .
zest of one lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice (preferably Meyer)
1 1/2 teaspoons lavender buds
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 ounces (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter, in 1″ pieces
1 tablespoon heavy cream or half and half
pinch salt

Directions:
In a small saucepan, heat the zest, juice and buds to just below a simmer. Cover and let steep for 10 or 20 minutes, once they have steeped strain out the buds. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg and yolks to combine. Bring the lemon juice mixture back to a bare simmer, and, whisking constantly, slowly pour into the egg mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the sides, bottom, and corners of the pot.

Cook until thickened to the consistency of gravy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and immediately whisk in the cold butter, cream and salt until combined. Strain through a fine mesh seive and into a small bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the curd, and chill in the refrigerator until needed. The curd will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

photo 2Lemon Lavender Whipped Cream

1 cup (6 ounces) heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

zest of 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon of ground lavender

Directions:

Put the cream and vanilla on mixer and whip on medium for about a minute, once it starts thickening put on high until you see high peaks. Once you are done, fold in the zest and lavender.

To assemble the cakes:

Remove the paper lining once the cakes are cook. Carefully cut the cakelets across the center, spoon the lemon curd onto the bottom half then cover with the top. Put a dollop of the cream on top of each cakelet.

photo 5For the cocktail:

If you infused the limoncello, make sure you use a strainer to pour it onto a bowl or glass. Pour about one tablespoon of limoncello on a champagne flute and top with chilled prosecco.

I really do hope you give this book a try, I completely loved and think Langley Hyde is one of the most promising new voices in the genre. The cakes were kind of a special project, so I wouldn’t be offended if the challenge to make them is not taken up!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura