I’m thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations for Janet Ellis’s debut novel, The Butcher’s Hook. Published by Two Roads Books, an imprint of John Murray on 25th February, The Butcher’s Hook is the dark and twisted tale of a young girl in 18th-century London determined to take her life in her own hands. It is available to buy from Amazon UK, Amazon US, from the publisher and from all good book stores.
The Butcher’s Hook
At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher’s apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him.
The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place. Though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub.
But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.
A vivid and surprising tale, The Butcher’s Hook brims with the colour and atmosphere of Georgian London, as seen through the eyes of a strange and memorable young woman.
Getting the Right Setting
A Guest Post from Janet Ellis
The setting of any novel quickly becomes part of the narrative. It would be impossible to imagine the Larkins anywhere other than Kent . Cornwall is as much a part of the story as Rebecca’s nameless heroine and if you took Damon Runyon’s guys and dolls out of New York, they’d probably never meet.
When I started telling Anne Jaccob’s tale in The Butcher’s Hook , she had to be in London. Not just because I live there ( although I am very fond of my home town, carbuncles and all), but because Anne needed a grimy, busy and vivid background. I knew initially that she would be living in the past, away from mobile phones and areoplane rides, but it was a while until it was obvious to me that Anne was a Georgian girl. The Georgian era is quietly insistent. Its bossy grandchildren, the Victorians, quickly took over the place- so that the way we celebrate Christmas, commute to work , bury our dead and much more besides is all a Victorian legacy. But throughout England, waiting to be spotted like a fine horse in a stable of pit ponies, Georgian buildings stand quiet and graceful. The more developed the city becomes, the more the contrast between the sharp, harsher architecture of the twenty-first century and the calm, ordered, stately eighteenth version peeking out beside it.
It isn’t just the look of that time I find beguiling. Until time-travel becomes (a) affordable and (b) an actual thing, I relied on my imagination to supply the other details. London must have stunk! Open sewers, fires kindled with animal fat, horses in every street and a scant acquaintance with personal hygiene would have added up to a constant aroma, thick as jam. In those days, for the first time, the number of town dwellers outnumbered country folk and the city teemed. You could practically walk across the Thames going from deck to deck of the boat traffic up and down its length and, as most people didn’t travel by carriage, everywhere was packed with pedestrians.
All in all, a perfect place to maroon a solitary, singular girl. I’m familiar with Marylebone and the area north of Oxford Street where the Jaccob family lived (the layout is the same) and, in my mind’s eye, I liked to strip away everything built since Anne’s day and set her walking. Primrose Hill was a long way then from anything Kate Moss would recognise, but the ideal spot from which Dr Edwards could show Anne her city. ‘The bald head of St Paul’s’ still dominates the skyline and provides a useful marker for the lost traveller.
If they ever do get the time machine going, I’d love a ticket. What did London sound like ? Was it much colder then ? It must have been much darker without street lighting and who knows what lurked in the little alleys and backstreets, long since demolished. In the map of my imagination, there’s still much uncharted territory to explore.
Janet Ellis trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She is best known for presenting Blue Peter and contributes to numerous radio and TV programmes.
She recently graduated from the Curtis Brown creative writing school. The Butcher’s Hook is her first novel.