Shelfie with Natasha Pulley
Shelfie with Natasha Pulley

Hi I’m Natasha Pulley I’m the author of
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and this, the shiny new The Bedlam Stacks.
This is a really beautiful Waterstones edition, it’s got blue sprayed edges and
a shiny gold cover; I urge you to come both here to Gower Street where I’m
standing now to buy it, but also any Waterstones. This is probably everything
I know about life, the universe and everything and it is a summation of
everything that I know from the last seven or eight years so please, please,
PLEASE buy this and please be nice to it because these are my dreams. So it is
about a young man called Merrick Tremayne who’s trapped at home with a horrible injury.
He’s been injured in service for the East India Company
but he’s nearly lost his leg and so he can’t work anymore.
He’s at home with his awful brother, Charles, on a crumbling estate in
Cornwall. But there is a terrible malaria epidemic in India, the only known
treatment at the time, and this is 1859, was quinine. Quinine only grew in Peru and
Bolivia, way out in the jungle, it was not easily accessible it was very expensive.
And what the East India Company did was they decided rather than buying the
stuff from the Peruvian government at you know a massive cost to the British
government they would send out an expedition to steal it. This really
happened. It was led by a man called Clements Markham and he really did take
some botanists on the expedition. Merrick is fictional but he goes on that
expedition and when he gets to Peru he finds that he has a very peculiar
history there all of his own. I’m here to talk to you today really about three of
my favorite books ever. The first one is called Dark Matter. It’s by a brilliant
writer called Michelle Paver. It’s actually my favorite ghost story. It
follows an expedition of five men up to one of the islands near Svalbard,
off the coast of Norway, Spitsbergen. It takes place in 1937 and the five men are
out to set up a weather station but very early things start going wrong. They
arrive just on the edge of winter and all through the book the cold deepens
and the dark deepens until eventually we have the long night in the Norwegian
winter. They soon realize that they’ve set up quite close to a station where
hunters used to skin seals to sell further south. And by this stage in the book
some kind of creepiness is already happening, some members of the expedition
are showing a kind of peculiar and really sinister blood lust; so stuff is
already going wrong by this point. But if an abandoned sealing station isn’t
creepy enough with all the flensing knives and chains still out along with
all the bones, they’ve realized as well that this is the site where a man was
killed and left to die. We don’t really know very much about him, he’s a
loner but he was killed out here we think by the sealers and soon after they
realized this something starts to follow them; a figure who doesn’t belong with
them who approaches off the ice and through the book it gets closer and
closer and closer. Standard ghost story. But what I love about this book is the
structure. There’s a countdown. You start out with five expeditionaries and then
one by one they drop away and I love that, because as soon as you can get any
kind of countdown or clock into a ghost story it’s great because it really
ratchets up the tension and I think even if you don’t notice at the front of your
mind that that’s what’s going on there so a little part of you that’s going
what happens when we get to one! And it all builds up to what happens when we
get to one. Because there are five people in this, rather than ten like there are
in And Then There Were None, you really care about all of them. You get to
know them very very fast, so the emotional stakes are really high
especially by the time the second-to-last character leaves. His name
is Gus and the narrator of this, Jack, has fallen in love with him hard which means
that it’s this kind of terrible emotional moment when he leaves and Jack
is left alone on the ice with this thing. Please read it, it is absolutely wonderful. So this is book 2 on my list of my favorite
books. I don’t think Neil Gaiman needs any
introduction but I just wanted to give Anansi Boys a shout-out. This is about one
of the characters who appears in American Gods, the African Spider God Anansi. Now in the book Anansi is brilliant. He is a singing, dancing,
swaggering, green hat-wearing man with enough pizzazz to charm the entire
cancer ward where his wife is staying. Now it’s not really about Anansi; as the
title implies it’s about his sons and in the main one son. The son’s name is Fat
Charlie and he’s everything that Anansi is not. But he’s not fat. The trouble is
that Anansi called him that once and what Anansi says has an awful way of sort of
sticking to you so he’s always been Fat Charlie. He’s unremarkable and he works
at a talent agency in London for a really oily boss but suddenly his older brother
Spider bursts into his life in all his amazing glory. Spider got the God side of
things from Anansi. Spider is confident, he’s brilliant at singing, he’s really
good at getting drunk without like having a horrible hangover which again
Fat Charlie is not and soon he takes over Fat Charlie’s life completely. From
his flat, to his fiancé Rosie who is the only brilliant thing in Fat Charlie’s
life. And desperate, Fat Charlie makes a deal with an ancient God to get rid of
Spider. Of course it goes horribly wrong and most of the book is about coming to
terms with Spider and getting out of this very ill-considered deal. Now I
love this book because it writes, it’s all about people who are not the writer.
Neil Gaiman is white and I think it’s easy to feel very uncomfortable when
you read a book by a white writer about people of color and I think very quickly
you think of the phrases like ‘cultural appropriation’
and I’m white so I don’t get to have an opinion about that. But I think that one
of the grand endeavors of fiction is to write about who you’re not. I think that
women should write about men and men should write about women and young
people should write about older people and vice versa. And all the possible
cultural fissures that we have. I think it’s about understanding people who are
not you.And if we didn’t do that we’d all end up writing this awful kind of
inward-turning, self-centered autobiography and Neil Gaiman is the
absolute opposite of that. So I do hope you give it a go if you’ve not seen it
before. Okay so this is my third and favorite book of all of the ones I’ve
shown you so far. This is Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb. It’s
about a man called Fitz and he was born a royal bastard which means that he’s
always been involved in the kind of shady side of court life but in this
book he’s managed to escape all that and he’s carved out a little life for
himself in a village. His problem is that he has a kind of far-reaching telepathy
and in the book it’s called the Skill. He can hear snatches of conversation of
song of feelings across hundreds of miles and of course this gift means that
he’s very valuable to the Royal family but he doesn’t see it as a gift at all.
For him it’s more like an addiction and if he falls too far into it he is very
much at risk of losing himself in the flow of the magic and leaving his body
behind as a kind of breathing vegetable. So this is really dangerous for him and
he doesn’t want to go anywhere near that life again. At the start of the book his
old teacher turns up and tries to persuade him to go back and of course
Fitz refuses because it’s a terrible idea. But then someone else comes too,
someone who Fitz never thought he would see again and it’s his childhood friend,
the Fool. The Fool is the reason I love this book. He is funny, he’s mysterious
and he’s non-binary. Fitz sees him as a man
but actually the fool is just one of several alter egos this person has and
another is a very beautiful woman called Amber. And he goes through several of
them all through the course of the books You never quite know where he comes from or even what he is, certainly not human,
and he’s just an absolute delight to read. What we do know about him is that
he’s a prophet and he sees multiple futures all the time and he sees it as
his duty in the world to steer time down the path he thinks it should go, namely the
path where dragons do not go extinct. And that is the theme that links the whole
trilogy from this book onwards. Even though it is about you know dragons and
magic, the real heart of this book is Fitz’s relationship with the Fool and
their friendship and the things they do for each other and to each other
actually. And this is the most marvelous introduction to Robin Hobb but in the
second book in this trilogy Fitz and The Fool have an amazing row that starts off
with just a slightly misplaced simile about straw and it is actually the best
fictional exploration of the fracturing of a friendship along its fault lines
that I’ve ever read. Please do give this a go if you haven’t heard of Robin Hobb before.

3 thoughts on “Shelfie with Natasha Pulley”

  1. David Mcqueen says:

    Great book choices, I’ve ordered the bedlam stacks and can’t wait to read it. Many thanks

  2. Frank Bruno says:

    I loved both books.. the Watchmaker.. and of course the fabulous Bedlam Stacks.. these two reminded me why I love real books.. my wife would tease me for wandering around the house with my books.. with work and two young boys to look after my reading time is precious.. Natasha Pulley is worth committing this time to! Fabulous rich stories.. ok Natasha, get busy and write me another!
    Thank you for your books and these cool reviews of others.. nicely done!
    Frank from Boulder, Colorado, USA

  3. Natalia K says:

    Natasha Pulley's books, the two that are currently published, are amazing!! The writing style, along with the characters and plot are just so intriguing and elaborate. I've also found that they are best when read for the second time, as I don't feel the suspense as much and can really enjoy the intricate details and writing style. I hope you keep writing many books in the future!

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