Tag Archives: “Antonia Honeywell”

A Q & A with Antonia Honeywell, author of The Ship

18 Mar

You know you’ve come across a good book when it stays with you after you’ve finished it. Whether that’s in the way you look at things with a new understanding or whether you find yourself speculating beyond the last page you know that for a time it will be there. Rarely have I come across a book that haunted me like The Ship. Long past that normal period of recalling and reflecting I found it drifting into my consciousness. I read it to Mrs Van and it was the same with her. Months after finishing, we were watching the news one night and a particular bulletin resulted in us turning to each other, eyebrows raised, saying, ‘The Ship!’ It’s no surprise that this book was among my top 5 of 2015, and I don’t need to tell you what an endorsement it is that it was in Mrs Van’s top 3, so I am delighted to be involved in the blog tour for the paperback launch of Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship.

Antonia kindly agreed to answer just a handful of the many questions this book gave rise to. I hope you enjoy her responses.

Antonia Honeywell copyright Chris Honeywell The Ship PB


What sparked this story in your imagination? How did it become a story you wanted to tell?

Do you read Dorothy L. Sayers at all? She is one of my go-to favourites for a good story well told, and her heroine, Harriet Vane, is a poor but fiercely independent woman who writes popular detective fiction. When she marries the wealthy Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds that her unwonted happiness and security sends her writing into darker places. That was my experience too. In my early thirties, for the first time in my life, I was able to look at someone I loved and think, ‘You love me,’ with confidence. (Politically we’re poles apart, but at least mealtimes are never boring.) It set me thinking about the terrifying prospects the human race is facing, and the responses of those with the power to effect change.


The sense of claustrophobia on board the ship is heightened by what’s either withheld from or simply not acknowledged by Lalla. Of the people that interact with her and shape her journey who was the most difficult to get right?

Michael was a tough one – in the early drafts, he was an aspiring cult leader, pure and simple. But as I began to live with him, I realised he was far more complex than that. His overriding motivation is his love and concern for his daughter, which brought him far closer to me (and I hope to the reader) than is entirely comfortable. The people’s motivation was easier – they have all suffered so badly that their critical faculties have been blunted. They’re too grateful for their sanctuary to ask questions. Michael doesn’t have that excuse – but he does want the best for his daughter. So at some point in that cycle, he has to be condemned for what he does – unless you think he’s doing the right thing. And I see that leads me straight into your next question…


One of the themes running through the Ship is the misuse of our planet’s resources. Did you undertake a lot of research around the science involved in the world you portray? What surprised you the most in what you discovered?

I did indeed. I’ve got files full of the stuff. Not just the misuse of the planets’ resources, but the amount of tinned tuna it would take to feed 500 people for 20 years and the biggest bags of rice you can buy and how long cooking oil keeps for and whether you can power a freezer from a solar panel. What surprised me most about the resources question is just how much we know about the damage we’re doing to the planet. It’s no mystery; the information’s all there, researched and proven. We know we are sitting on finite resources, and yet we buy strawberries in December and fly our green beans in from Kenya. We know the cost of cheap clothes, both for the environment and for those who are paid slave wages for making them, and yet Oxford Street is packed every Saturday. And I’m as bad. I have my car and my gas central heating, and although I don’t buy many clothes that’s only because I hate shopping. On the other hand, I don’t fly to Antarctica to personally inspect the impact of global aviation on the environment either. At what point do we stop and tell ourselves that what we’re doing is wrong?


Of those resources it’s arguably food that plays the most important part. Was it always your intention to have this focus or was there a process that led to its prominence in the story?

I think food is where it’s at, ultimately. We have to eat. The way we organise housing and education, the role of technology in our lives, how we travel will change, but if we don’t eat we’ll die. And in the western world at least, food has become increasingly separated from its source. Industrial farming is a long, long way from the pretty pictures on the sanitised packages in which we buy our meat. Food storage is an advanced science; it’s completely possible to eat a full diet using stored food. Tinned vegetables and fruit often contain more nutrients than the fresh ones we buy in the supermarket. By living in such isolation from our food sources, we’re depriving ourselves of the chance to understand them. I feel that we’re understanding less and less about more and more of the things we rely on for survival.


I understand your short story, The Time Being is included in the paperback. Which came first, the novel or the short? Have you thought about writing beyond the last page and doing a sequel?

The novel came before the short story. The publication process for The Ship was already underway when W.F. Howes, who did the audiobook, requested the story. At first I was rather nervous, but the chance to explore Lalla’s pre-ship life was irresistible and in the end I loved writing it. As for writing beyond the last page – well, twelve years ago I was never going to marry or have children and here I am with a husband and four incubii. Having said that, The Ship was written as a complete story.


You are a year on from the initial publication of The Ship – your debut novel. What’s changed since then in your writing, your expectations and the expectations of others?

The Ship was my first published novel, but it wasn’t the first novel I’d ever written. I served a long apprenticeship of failure, during which I learned that the only way to be a writer is to write. And write. And write. I always thought that publication would magically create writing time, so I strove for it, creating time where none existed. Then I got published, and whoever or whatever was going to give me all that time obviously didn’t get the memo. The children still need feeding, meals still need putting on the table, bills still have to be paid… So I’ve learned, really, that nothing changes. Except everything has. I’m still writing surrounded by chaos, making the most of the gaps, but now I’m writing this, for you, because my paperback’s coming out. And that brings a sense of deep contentment.


There’s some really nice imagery in the book, and I particularly enjoyed the subtlety of the inverted Adam and Eve moment in the middle. Were you aware early in the process that you wanted the religious parallels or is this something that emerged during the writing?

I wanted them but wasn’t sure how to get them in. But as I wrote and redrafted, I realised that they were there naturally. I just had to give them a bit of space.


There seems to be a wealth of young adult protagonists in literature at the moment and dystopias of many flavours abound. The future vision of the Ship is particularly stark, though scarily, not that far-fetched. Do you think literature (and by association, writers) has a valid role in waving a warning flag to the younger generations?

Yes. Yes, I do. I remember reading Robert Swindells’ Brother in the Land when I was twelve or thirteen and having my world turned upside down by it. After all, it’s the younger generations who have to live with what we leave behind, just as we had to live with the world our parents and grandparents created. It’s a formative life stage – are you going to continue down the same route as your parents, or challenge it? Literature speculates to entertain, but it also speculates to explore.


What’s the best editorial advice you had for the Ship?

The absolute best? It was terrifying. Brace yourself – my editor told me to change the ending. I was horrified – the ending was the one fixed point, the thing I’d been sure of throughout the writing process. That advice taught me two things – firstly, that nothing you’ve written is sacred. Nothing. Secondly, that the problem doesn’t necessarily lie in the part that’s been identified as the problem. I didn’t change the ending, but I did change almost everything else. It was the right ending, but I’d been so sure of it myself that I hadn’t written up to it effectively. I’m grateful for everything my editor did, but that stands out for me.


With a growing sense of disconnection, Lalla makes her own little Museum to keep important things in. What would you put in your museum?

The value of Lalla’s museum is that the things in it are only valuable insofar as they relate to her story. No gold, no diamonds, no artefacts of exquisite workmanship. What would be in mine? The poem James wrote when he proposed. The cork from the champagne we drank when our first child was born. A paper of seeds from the guerrilla sunflowers the children and I planted all over the garden a couple of years ago. Or this – last week, I took my father to the theatre. The last time we went out together was when he took me to see The Empire Strikes Back when I was nine. I don’t know how you put that in a glass case. Maybe that’s why I write.


Thank you so much for your support for The Ship, and for having me on your blog, Van. It’s been a real pleasure.

The Ship blog tour banner


If you haven’t yet read The Ship (why ever not?) you can find it at your local (Independent or otherwise) book shop. If you have read it, find a friend who hasn’t!

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell is published in paperback by W&N (Imprint of the Year, 2015 at the Bookseller Industry Awards) and is out now http://amzn.to/1K7sAtQ

Van’s top five reads in 2015

7 Jan

What a great year of reading it was! If you don’t know my method, I post about all the books I read. I try to tell you what I liked about those books. If I didn’t like it, I’ll simply post a ‘sorry’ (life’s too short, and the effort of writing a book too great to waste our time shooting them down). If I remember correctly, there were only 3 ‘sorry’ posts last year, and just one of those was a book I failed to finish.
I can’t help but acknowledge the Curtis Brown Book Group, who supplied a consistently high level of books through the year. I didn’t get on with every choice but it says a lot that seven of the books they supplied made the cut for consideration in my top reads of the year. When you throw into that mix the fact that we Book Group members got to chat online with the authors it makes for a very special experience (Agencies, publishers take note: it’s a great way to get your books – and your companies – talked about!). So I start with a very special thank you to Curtis Brown’s Richard and Emma for inviting me to join, and all the hard work they put into making the group work so well. Chapeau!
I’d also like mention BookBridgr here, who have put me in touch with some publicists and their new releases. Bloggers, if you’ve not yet found BookBridgr check it out. It’s a great resource.

My reading for the year divided into a 60/40 split gender-wise, with 60% by women. Only 10% of my reading came from ‘non-white’ writers (quotes due to my very unscientific decision-making over the white or non-white question). I say only because it feels low and I think a conscious effort to get a little more diversity in this year won’t go amiss.
Diversity is about more than ethnicity and there is one very special book that I’d like to mention. Though it made the cut for my top reads of the year I’m mentioning it here because it deserves the space (a debut novel from a small press on a subject about which awareness is growing). That book is Anne Goodwin’s Sugar And Snails. This is the book that made me think about that phrase, ‘reading outside your comfort zone’. It’s also one of the books I spent a lot of time thinking about after I’d finished it. Find it, read it, talk about it.
And so we come to my top five reads in 2015. It could easily have been a top ten (and then a top 7 when I’d managed to whittle a little further) but life is too short to try and get down to a top 3. When I’m ruling out Life After Life, The Girl In The Red Coat, Galina Petrovna, The Good Son and Where’d You Go, Bernadette you’ll know how hard it was to come to a final decision!

But here they are, in the order I read them.

Back in January the first of our books for the Curtis Brown Book Group arrived, and what a book it is! Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship set a very high bar. It’s testament to the power not only of the story itself but of Antonia’s writing and her irrepressible protagonist that a year later the experience is still quite vivid.

In February I was delighted to receive a copy of Harraga by Boualem Sansal (translated by Frank Wynne). If ever you needed an advertisement for broadening your reading horizons and picking up translations Harraga would fit the bill. It’s such a beautiful rambling conversation of a book, and the translation feels invisible, such is the immediacy of the main character’s voice.

I’d missed Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing on initial publication and made one of those promises to get to it ‘soon’. In March I made a trip to the library ahead of an event at Dulwich Books. Thinking I was late I ended up asking Evie, chatting with mates outside, whether the event was open yet. At least it stopped me gushing at her about how good I thought her novel was!

To the library again in June, attracted by a lovely cover I spied through the window. I remembered it from The Literary Sofa’s Hot Picks (in fact four of my top five appear either in Isabel’s Hot Picks for 2015 or Summer Reads). Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans took me back to the Second World War (I think the most-visited place in the books I read this year) and brought me some of the most vivid characters I’ve met. It’s also a book that carries its heartbreak with dignity and shades of humour.

The Second World War again in October, though in Italy rather than England. Look at the cover of Early One Morning and it gives you a good hint as to what lies inside the covers. Something quiet and a little mysterious, yes, but something that begs to be explored. Something beautiful. Yes, this is one of those books that I would say is beautifully written. It’s a simple premise underpinned by flawless characterisation, and it too is heartbreaking yet dignified. You could almost read it in a whisper.

It strikes me there are two things particularly that these books all share: they all had fantastic, stylish and entirely pertinent covers; and in each case the story lives on after the last words have been read. More than the wilful dangling of a loose thread, that incompleteness acts as a sort of reflector on what you’ve read and invites, even taunts you to speculate over what might have followed. If you haven’t yet read them I invite you to give them a try. I think they’re worth seeking out and I hope you will too.

The Inaugural Curtis Brown Book Group – my first six months as a #CBBookGroupie

1 Jul

My first six months with the Curtis Brown Book Group are up, the six books allotted to me all read (some of them twice!). This is the first book group I’ve belonged to but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Aside from the delights of getting the chance to read some of these books before their general release, and of discussing the books (and tartan, tea and any number of other things) with the group members, there was the chance to chat online with the author of each book.

Reading is so often a solitary practice so one real benefit of these discussions was the opportunity to look back over what I’d so recently read with fresh eyes, to pick up on nuances that I hadn’t fully focused on first time around. Questions ranged from prose techniques, tense choices and approaches to plotting all the way through to whether we (and indeed the author) liked a particular character or not, and why. The discussions were quite infectious, one point spinning off into any number of others, with fascinating insights coming to light (like the ‘actually happened’ part of the story in The Rocks, or the cup of tea that was the birth of The Museum Of Things Left Behind – yes, Seni, I’m still waiting to hear that story!).

Having the writers along for these talks was a genuine pleasure and they certainly seemed to enjoy them as much as we did. So I’d like to express my thanks to Antonia Honeywell, Stuart Prebble, Tim Glencross, Seni Glaister, Peter Nichols and Anthony Trevelyan for being so enthused, open and honest about their inspiration, their work and their words. And of course for their books too!

Without Richard and Emma it wouldn’t have happened at all. They have been hosts supreme, providing books of the highest quality, guiding our monthly discussions with the gentlest of hands and filling those days between reading and discussing with tweets and blog-posts to keep us going. Thank you both for all your efforts.

Here are links to my reviews of the books we read.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Published by W & N in Feb 2015 ISBN 9780297871521

You can find Antonia on twitter @antonia_writes and at her blog www.antoniahoneywell.com

The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble

Published by Alma Books in March 2015 ISBN 9781846883545

You can find Stuart on twitter @stuartprebble and at his website http://www.stuartprebble.com

Barbarians by Tim Glencross

Published by John Murray in May 2014 ISBN 9781444788525

You can find Tim on twitter @ and at his website timglencross.com

The Museum Of Things Left Behind by Seni Glaister

Published by 4th Estate in May 2015 ISBN 9780008118952

You can find Seni on twitter @BookPeopleSeni

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

Published by Heron Books in Jan 2015 ISBN 9781848666368

You can find Peter on twitter @NicholsRocks

The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan

Published by Galley Beggar Press in June 2015 ISBN 9781910296417

You can find Anthony on twitter @agmtrevelyan

Just because they’re those kind of people, as if being invited to join the Curtis Brown Book Group wasn’t enough, they also sent me three books as a welcome present.

Alice And The Fly by James Rice

Published by Hodder & Stoughton in Jan 2015 ISBN 9781444790108

You can find James on twitter @James_D_Rice

The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Published by Transworld in Oct 2014 ISBN 9780857522450

You can find Rachel on twitter @QueenieHennessy and at her website www.rachel-joyce.co.uk

The Last Days Of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

Published by Black Swan in Jan 2015 ISBN 9780552773744

You can find Anna on twitter @Annamcpartlin and at her website www.annamcpartlin.com

And then there were those books also came my way through the good offices of the CB Book Group and the kindness of other members (thanks, Jo!)

Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey

Published by Simon & Schuster in Apr 2015 ISBN 9781471139826

You can find Iona on twitter @Iona_Grey

The A to Z Of You And Me by James Hannah

Published by Doubleday in Mar 2015 ISBN 9780857522641

You can find James on twitter @Jameshannah and on his website www.jameshannah.com

I did have a mind to come to the end of the six months and tell you which book was my favourite. How naïve! Instead I’m going to wrestle it down to a top three. Before I do that, I will hand on heart tell you that I don’t believe there’s a bad one among them. This is akin to picking a best-in-show from a bunch of Chelsea Golds.

But here we go. My top three, in the order I read them:

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

It’s such a great read, compelling enough to be with me six months on (I recently ditched a short I was writing when I realised where I’d nicked the plot from). Lalla is a fantastic protagonist, a teenager all the way so you really do want to shake her and give her a hug at the same time. And the world Antonia Honeywell has built around her is minutely thought-out, all the more unsettling for how convincing it is, how possible.

The A To Z Of You And Me by James Hannah

This one’s a beautiful read. Of the three I think the most emotional. Also the funniest, which is what lends it that surprisingly uplifting edge. I particularly love that the premise of the book, the a to z game, is superbly unobtrusive, lending the story structure rather than shaping it. Ivo is messy and complicated and bitter too, but also kind and thoughtful and aware that it’s a bed of his own making he’s lying in. It’s what gets us rooting for him despite the odds.

The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan

One of the very few books that I started reading again shortly after finishing it. It’s possible there is some kind of wormhole going on between the pages as it doesn’t seem possible there can be so much in there. Again, the characters are fantastic, superbly drawn and very distinct. The provision of back story is I think among the best I’ve read – no hint of a judder anywhere – and the unfolding story keeps you guessing all the way. This is another book that’s going to be with me for a good while after the last page is read.

Van has finished reading…The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

26 Jan

This is the first book from my stint as a member of the inaugural Curtis Brown Book Group (@CBBookGroup). As such I’m going to try and depart from my usual ‘what I like about it’ and give a more rounded review.
And what a book to start with! Despite knowing all about books and the judging thereof by covers, I can tell you that photos of the cover of Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship don’t do it justice. Holding my copy in my hands did little to abate the sense of excitement and expectation. When you get your copy I firmly believe you’ll not be disappointed by cover or contents. It’s a truly excellent book.
Teenage girls braving dystopian futures seem to abound these days, but I implore you not to let this one pass you by. Above all else this is a story about people, about family and about love. It’s about the things love makes us do, and the lengths we’ll go to to secure what’s important to us. Lalage Paul (you might think it a bit Hollywood-baby-name at first hearing, but it’s as old as the hills and like all good names there’s a reason for the choosing of it) is like any teenager. Her world is much smaller than the one she walks through. Though Lalla’s excuse for this is a world rapidly falling apart, what we see through her eyes is still that unaffected gaze the brushes the surface of things beyond the family unit. I don’t want to blow any plot points for you so I’ll say only that Lalla is on the brink. She is about to come of age; In her world becoming sixteen means a good deal more than being able to vote. Her world is about to get a great deal larger. There’s a really nice sense of concentricity about Lalla’s awareness that feels very real. She struggles with things and grows by degrees, yet there’s a sense of withdrawal with each expanding horizon, an ebb and flow.
There’s just one point which stuck with me and I found it hard to correlate with Lalla’s character. There is a question that bothers her, the answer to which I doubt will be lost on any readers and it surprised me that it took Lalla so long to figure it out. There are of course extenuating circumstances and it may be we can reconcile the misunderstanding, or perhaps more likely the unwillingness to understand, accordingly. It was simply that for me Lalla doesn’t appear either unintelligent or gauche enough to have taken so long to catch up with the rest of us.
It could well serve as a lesson in how what happens shapes and drives your characters rather than your characters contriving the plot. With the exception of the previous paragraph, there wasn’t a page of this book that made me think the author had shoe-horned a scene to get a point across. Given the scope Antonia Honeywell had in the middle section that’s quite a feat; the sheer aimlessness of a mass of people herding from one thing to the next really underlined the surreal nature of it all. By the middle of the book I knew how it was going to end, but in a way that I think is most pleasing (not least because it allows me to think that I’m there on a wavelength with the writer) because it was the only ending that made perfect sense – at least to me, and I guess to Antonia Honeywell too.
It’s one of those books that has the ability to hold a mirror up to you and ask ‘what would you do?’ The test of this, then, is being able to look past the initial response and see the gap between what you’d like to think you’d do and what you actually might.
It’s a gripping read with a broad appeal. The writing is, I think, very nice indeed, with some truly deft imagery. Above all, it’s a story that has the power to stay with you, to ask questions beyond the last word, and that’s no easy accomplishment. Try it. You’ll not regret it.

The Ship was published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson on 19th February 2015, ISBN:9780297871491
You can find Antonia on Twitter @Antonia_writes and on her website, antoniahoneywell.com