‘Altogether a marvellous writer’ - Sunday Times

The Lady of Misrule

The new bestseller from historical fiction author, Suzannah Dunn

“I saw her file it away: a good Catholic girl come to supervise her in her detention. Every girl in England now, under the circumstances, made sure to be a good Catholic girl. Except her, of course. And, if only she knew it, me.” Escorting ‘nine days queen’ Lady Jane Grey across the Tower of London from throne room into imprisonment is Elizabeth Tilney, who surprised even herself by volunteering for the job.  All Elizabeth knows is she’s keen to be away from home, she could do with some breathing space.  And anyway, it won’t be for long:  everyone knows…

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Praise for Suzannah Dunn

‘A genius for catching ordinary life…an Alan Bennett-ish gift for social observation…Altogether a marvellous writer’ Sunday Times

‘Her ear for the rhythms of speech is unerring, her feeling for the minutiae of experience acute.  It takes a good deal of artistry to create the illusion of real life and she has managed something more difficult still, which is to show us how strange real life can be’ The Times

‘A wonderful wit’ Malcolm Bradbury

‘Dunn is a remarkable writer, a lyricist of ordinary life and ordinary people transfigured by extreme emotions’ Daily Telegraph

‘Her prose has a real tang’ James Wood, Guardian

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Portrait photo of Suzannah Dunn

Suzannah Dunn has enjoyed critical and commercial success for over 25 years, selling over a quarter of a million copies of her historical novels in the UK alone. She was picked by Julie Burchill for a ‘Best Under 40’ list of writers alongside Robert Harris, Edward St Aubyn and Helen Simpson, in response to Granta’s first list in 1993. Suzannah Dunn wrote six critically acclaimed contemporary novels and a short story collection before her first historical novel, The Queen of Subtleties, was published in 2004. Her distinctive Tudor novels provide a unique take on the period, telling the stories of extraordinary women living through extraordinary times.

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Exclusive author piece: Nice Work If You Can Get It

Posted on 1th January 2016

I’ll let you in on a few more pages of my list of words or expressions that I’ve wondered about putting into the mouths of my re-created Tudors . . .
You can probably tell that ‘filch’ is old, and ‘stricken’, and ‘sodden’, but how about  ‘soused’ and ‘clamber’?  Middle English in origin, I’m told, the lot of ‘em.  (And ‘Middle English’? – well, you can argue about it, but it’s defined by OED3 as 1150-1500.)

How about the expression, ‘short shrift’?  Shrift’ probably comes from ‘shriven’  (Old English in origin), which was to do with confession and absolution before death;  it seems that ‘short shrift’ was all you were allowed before execution.  I’ve seen claims that it’s one of Shakespeare’s.

‘Scot free’?  No end of shilly-shallying on this one, I could write you an essay which you wouldn’t want to read – which, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to write – so suffice it to say that it has nothing to do with Scottish people;  rather, that ‘scot’ seems to come from an Old English word which referred to a kind of tax.

So much for old words.  Let’s bring in the new…  You’ll almost certainly know that the expression ‘Nice work if you can get it’  isn’t from Old Norse.  Nope, we’ve Ira Gershwin to thank for that  (and so much more).  My problem is that sometimes it’s just sooo right – nothing else will do!  I’m thinking about using it in my current novel-in-progess…  but, well, don’t worry, I sort of already know that I can’t.  I’ve badly wanted to use the expression ‘demob happy’, too, on occasion, and I’ve used it in a first draft, as a kind of shorthand to myself – This is what I mean, this is how these characters feel – but have barred it from second draft.  (Same with ‘every Tom, Dick and Harry’.)

Can I have a character ‘steel’ him- or herself?  Steel of a kind did exist in the Tudor era…  but, still, I’ve rarely felt happy with that one.  And definitely not with ‘galvanised, for the obvious reason  (def:  ‘to stimulate by electricity’…).  And talking of ‘galvanised’, ‘mesmerised’ is a no-no in my book.  For a long time, I didn’t know if I could use ‘a second’ to refer to a unit of time:  did the Tudors know about seconds?  I tended to use ‘moment’ or ‘instant’, instead, until someone told me that, yes, there’s evidence that they did understand something of ‘seconds’…  but, interestingly, I still avoid it, keep to my moments and instants.

What about ‘at sixes and sevens’?  ‘In spades’?  ‘Roly-poly’, and ‘topsy-turvy’?  ‘Glad rags’ and ‘to the nines’?  Look ‘em up!

What of these?
Smirk
Tetchy
Tantalise
Kid, as in child, and the verb To kid
Gainsay
Squabble
Paralyse
Scupper
Astringent
Gad and Gallivant
Clutch

Fool’s errand
Queasy
Drastic
Hush
Bugbear
Foible
(Isn’t English a marvellous language?!  I’m sure all other languages are, too, but isn’t English?!)

Shall I tell you?  Well, according to various trusty on-line dictionaries:
‘Smirk’ is Old English in origin;  ‘queasy’, ‘kid’, ‘clutch’ and ‘gainsay’ are Middle English, but to kid is nineteenth century usage, and ‘scupper’ as a noun is from the Middle English but we weren’t ‘scuppering’ until the nineteenth century, and not boats until the 1970s.  ‘To gad’ is Middle English but ‘to gallivant’ is from the nineteenth century.  The following have their origins, variously, in Latin, Old French, etc, but weren’t being used in English until the sixteenth century:  tetchy, hush, bugbear, tantalise, astringent and foible.  ‘Drastic’  (from Greek) appears from the seventeenth century onwards, as does ‘Squabble’  (which has Scandic origins), and ‘paralyse’ comes into English from French in the nineteenth century.  And a ‘fool’s errand’ used to be, in Tudor times, believe it or not, a ‘sleeveless errand’, but I won’t be using ‘a sleeveless errand’ because no one would know what I meant.

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