London, 1756: In Newgate prison, Tully Truegood awaits trial. Her fate hanging in the balance, she tells her life-story. It's a tale that takes her from skivvy in the back streets of London, to conjuror's assistant, to celebrated courtesan at her stepmother's Fairy House, the notorious house of ill-repute where decadent excess is a must...Tully was once the talk of the town. Now, with the best seats at Newgate already sold in anticipation of her execution, her only chance of survival is to get her story to the one person who can help her avoid the gallows. She is Tully Truegood. Orphan, whore, magician's apprentice. Murderer?
I am delighted to be on the Blog Tour for An Almond for a Parrot which is published by HQ on 27th July 2017. My huge thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book in return for my honest review.
An Almond for a Parrot is written by Wray Delaney which is the pen name for children's author Sally Gardner. Gardner is one of my favourite children's authors; I love her writing so I was delighted to receive an advanced copy of her new novel - her first for adults. And if that wasn't exciting enough, what a stunning and eye catching cover - this book was begging to be given some special attention!
From the very opening I relaxed and settled into the arms of Delaney's narrative, knowing from the outset that I was going to enjoy this tale. Immediately I felt a great interest for the main character Tully who narrates the tale with a bold, original and honest voice.
"I would like to make myself the heroine of this story and my character to be so noble that you could not help but be in love with me."
Well, noble or innocent victim she may not be, but I did fall in love with Tully. I fell in love with her humour, her outlook, her engaging recount of her life to the point at which we meet her (prison), her astute observations, pertinent comments on people and behaviour and, well, everything really. Delaney's writing is well paced yet full of historical detail, fluent and compelling. It is full of life, colour, intrigue, drama and well crafted characters. There is plenty of story and plenty of incident, there are plenty of characters and plenty of themes and ideas but ultimately this is a character driven novel that offers one of the most fascinating and imaginative voices I have come across in a while.
This novel has some strong female characters and I did enjoy Tully's stepmother who stated that wives and husbands who "slept in separate beds had healthier nerves and stronger spirits that those who slept together." I laughed as her "father roared like bedlam and fell to swearing, but all for naught." Delaney cleverly captures the world through Tully's eyes and presents a character who is continually observing, thinking, watching and learning from all she sees around her, reporting back with a candid, wry sense of humour. Tully's life is not without hardship and challenge but I enjoyed every moment, every twist, turn, obstacle and opportunity. This is a novel about coming of age, sexual awakening, propriety and society, women and men, love and marriage, action and consequence and it is truly compelling and captivating.
Delaney's evocation of London in the 1750s is incredibly convincing and underlines her flair, talent and accomplished skill as a writer. In an "age of deception, of wigs, paints and patches....where most of hide behind the painted visage...." Delaney relishes in Tully's "naked" account. I think she has had a lot of fun writing this novel.
Although there are moments of tragedy and sadness, unhappiness and danger, Tully's attitude that the world is a stage and life is a play without rehearsal ensures a buoyant and uplifting atmosphere throughout, alongside a witty sense of acceptance and inevitability. Tully plays a lot with the reader, often speaking directly to the audience which results in a compounding sense of intrigue, a need to turn the page faster and making Tully much more likeable. It is impossible not to feel empathetic towards her, sympathetic to her plight but also at times shocked by her. I also admired her. She is not afraid to speak up for women and defend the choices she has made.
"Women have no money in their own right and many are subjected to the tyranny and cruelty of neglected fathers and husbands. If a woman leaves this so-called protection, she finds the road to virtue closed to her by poverty and necessity. Her body is the only currency she possesses."
The story flits backwards and forwards through Tully's life taking us back to her past and also reminding us of her bleak future as she awaits trial. We are introduced to characters who weave their way in and out of her life and I definitely had favourites who I was pleased to see returning at various stages of Tully's life. I thought each scene was well constructed and Delaney strikes the perfect balance with pace, fluency, description and dialogue. In conclusion, this book is an absolute treat. I loved it. It is a murder story, a story of grief, loss and love. It is a story of magic and faith. It is the story of Tully Truegood.
And if this review hasn't convinced you to go out and buy the book immediately then perhaps reading this extract of the opening chapter will entice you even further!! My thanks to the publisher for this extract to use alongside my review!
AN ALMOND FOR A PARROT: OPENING EXTRACT......
One of the most disgraceful customs observed in the Fleet Prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the performance of the marriage ceremony by disreputable and dissolute clergymen. These functionaries, mostly prisoners for debt, insulted the dignity of their holy profession by marrying in the precincts of the Fleet Prison at a minute’s notice, any persons who might present themselves for that purpose. No questions were asked, no stipulations made, except as to the amount of the fee for the service, or the quantity of liquor to be drunk on the occasion. It not unfrequently happened, indeed, that the clergyman, the clerk, the bridegroom and the bride were drunk at the very time the ceremony was performed.
Appendix VI, The Newgate Calendar
Newgate Prison, London
I lie on this hard bed counting the bricks in the ceiling of this miserable cell. I have been sick every morning for a week and thought I might have jail fever. If it had killed me it would at
least have saved me the inconvenience of a trial and a public hanging. Already the best seats at Newgate Prison have been sold in anticipation of my being found guilty – and I have yet to be sent to trial. Murder, attempted murder – either way the great metropolis seems to know the verdict before the judge has placed the black square on his grey wig. This whore is gallows-bound.
‘Is he dead?’ I asked.
My jailer wouldn’t say.
I pass my days remembering recipes and reciting them to the damp walls. They don’t remind me of food; they are bookmarks from this short life of mine. They remain tasteless. I prefer them that way.
A doctor was called for. Who sent for or paid for him I don’t know, and uncharacteristically I do not care. He was very matter of fact and said the reason for my malady was simple: I was with child. I haven’t laughed for a long time but forgive me,
the thought struck me as ridiculous. In all that has happened I have never once found myself in this predicament. I can hardly believe it is true. The doctor looked relieved – he had at least found a reason for my life to be extended – pregnant women are not hanged. Even if I’m found guilty of murder, the gallows will wait until the child is born. What a comforting thought.
Hope came shortly afterwards. Dear Hope. She looked worried, thinner.
‘How is Mercy?’ I asked.
She avoided answering me and busied herself about my cell.
‘What does this mean?’ she asked, running her fingers over the words scratched on a small table, the only piece of furniture this stinking cell has to offer. I had spent some time etching them into its worm-eaten surface. An Almond for a Parrot.
‘It’s a title for a memoir, the unanswered love song of a soon to- be dead bird. Except I have no paper, no pen and without ink the thing won’t write at all.’
‘ Just as well, Tully.’
‘I want to tell the truth of my life.’
‘Better to leave it,’ she said.
‘It’s for Avery – not that he will ever read it.’ I felt myself on the brink of tears but I refused to give in to them. ‘I will write it for myself. Afterwards, it can be your bedtime entertainment, the novelty of my days in recipes and tittle-tattle.’
‘Oh, my sweet ninny-not. You must be brave, Tully. This is a dreadful place and…’
‘And it is not my first prison. My life has come full circle. You haven’t answered my question.’
‘Mercy is still very ill. Mofty is with her.’
‘Will she live?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘And is he alive?’
‘Tully, he is dead. You are to be tried for murder.’
‘My, oh my. At least my aim was true.’
I sank back on the bed, too tired to ask more. Even if Hope was in the mood for answering questions, I didn’t think I would want to know the answers.
‘You are a celebrity in London. Everyone wants to know what you do, what you wear. The papers are full of it.’
There seemed nothing to say to that. Hope sat quietly on the edge of the bed, holding my hand.
Finally, I found the courage to ask the question I’d wanted to ask since Hope arrived.
‘Is there any news of Avery?’
‘No, Tully, there’s not.’
I shook my head. Regret. I am full of it. A stone to worry one’s soul with.
‘You have done nothing wrong, Tully.’
‘Forgive me for laughing.’
‘You will have the very best solicitor.’
‘Who will pay for him?’
‘No, no. I don’t want her to. I have some jewels…’
I felt sick.
‘Concentrate on staying well,’ said Hope.
If this life was a dress rehearsal, I would now have a chance to play my part again but with a more favourable outcome. Alas, we players are unaware that the curtain goes up the minute we take our first gulps of air; the screams of rage our only hopeless comments on being born onto such a barren stage.
So here I am with ink, pen and a box of writing paper, courtesy of a well-wisher. Still I wait to know the date of my trial. What to do until then? Write, Tully, write.
With a hey ho the wind and the rain. And words are my only escape. For the rain it raineth every day.
Thanks again to the publisher, HQ, for a copy of the novel and a spot on the Blog Tour. Don't forget to look up the other bloggers on this tour!
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