Friday, 20 January 2012

And now for something completely different.

As I explained a couple of weeks ago, both of us are heads down doing things about which it is difficult to write anything exciting (Marcia busy on her next book while I work away at the copy editing of The Sea Garden). Luckily something has happened on the other side of the channel which might be of interest.

When Marcia started writing, it was as if the flood gates had been opened and groups of characters bringing story after story with them began to inhabit our lives. In those days, Hodder Headline were publishing a new book every six months but Marcia was writing a complete novel in a little over four months. She needed to stop – for everyone’s sake.

She didn’t, of course: she wrote some short stories, ‘Just as an exercise’. Some of these were published and four in particular were destined for greater things. These became expanded into full length novels - novels that were very different from the stories Marcia was writing under her own name. Accordingly her agent decided that they should be published but by a different publisher and under a different name. Thus it was that four books by Willa Marsh appeared in the Sceptre list.
 Suddenly, in 2008, and completely out of the blue, Éditions Autremant Littératures in Paris announced that they wanted to publish them. Thus it was that Meurtres entre sœurs (Sisters under the skin) was published in 2009. An option on the film rights to this book has been bought by a French film company, Tessalit Productions. Encouragingly, they have just extended those rights which suggests they are probably going ahead. We shall see.
Le journal secret d’Amy Wingate (Amy Wingate’s Diary) followed in 2010 and Meurtres au manoir (The Quick and the Dead) has just hit the bookstalls.
Under the title ‘Drôle de drame’ the following review appeared in Le Figaro on January 12th.

Willa Marsh, c’est Jane Austen avec l’humour de Blake Edwards. Elle sait depeindre la campagne anglaise, qui comme chacun le pense depuis Austen, est peuplee de vieilles filles à la recherche de l'amour et de séduisants propriétaires célibataires. Dans son dernier roman, Meurtres au manoir, l’auteur britannique imagine aussi deux vieilles tantes indignes qui n'hesitent pas a noyer leur thé avec des psychotropes a base de plantes et de esprits fantómes que n'aurait pas renies Conan Doyle. Voila pour la touche british. L’humour, quant à lui, intervient a tout moment, noir et caustique. Les plus mechants ne sont jamais ceux que l’on croit et les gentils finissent toujours par reveler une nature: plus tordue. Ici, Clarissa pense avoir tiré le grós ot lorsque Thomas, un charmant veuf, lui offre son coeur et son superbe manoir, Tres vite, l jeune Londonienne dèchente. La campagne est bien morne sans amis ni distractions. Et ce beau manoir, n’est-il pas hantè? Surgit un beau cousin. Advient un accident. Dèbarque, intèressèe, la meilleure:copine. Willa Marsh mene les lecteurs par Ie bout du nez. Elle passe du burlesque au tragique avec le flegme d'un lord anglais, I'humour tempérant Ie cynisme du propos. Bienvenue au manoir.”

My French is far from good so the following translation may not be perfect – if anyone can improve on it please let me know.

Funny Drama

Willa Marsh is Jane Austen with the humor of Blake Edwards. She knows how to portray the English countryside, as we all think that since Austen, is populated by old girls looking for love and attractive singles owners. In her latest novel, Murder at the Manor, the British author also imagines two old aunts who do not mind lacing their tea with hallucinogenic drugs and who see spirits and ghosts that would not worry Conan Doyle. That's the British touch. The humour, in turn, comes at any time: black and caustic. The most wicked are never those that are believed to be and the kind always end being revealed with a more twisted nature. Here, Clarissa thinks she has hit the jackpot when Thomas, a charming widower, offers her his heart and his beautiful mansion. Very quickly, the young Londoner is disenchanted. The countryside is dull without friends or distractions. And is this beautiful mansion  not haunted? A handsome cousin arrives. An accident happens. Clarissa’s best girlfriend visits and becomes intrigued.

Willa Marsh leads readers by the nose. It goes from burlesque to tragedy with the coolness of an English lord and humour with cynicism always near the surface. Welcome to the manor.”

I am not suggesting that Marcia Willett readers would enjoy Willa March books – some might but some might not. There is a story from a time when Marcia was speaking in the Great Hall at Dartington during the Ways with Words Festival. She was taking questions and one rather threw her.

I have just read one of the books you wrote under the name Willa Marsh,’ there was a pause: a long pause eventually followed by, ‘and I thought you were such a nice person.’

You have been warned.