Welcome to the first in a new series in which one author chooses his/her ‘Porridge & Cream’ book. What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects Love in A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. Today I am pleased to welcome historical novelist, JG Harlond.
“My ‘Porridge & Cream’ novels are the House of Níccolò series by the late Scots author Dorothy Dunnett. In the 1970s I became hooked on her 16th century Game of Kings series featuring the exquisite Francis Crawford of Lymond. Then in the 1980s, Dunnett began the 15th century House of Níccolò series about a flawed Flemish apprentice Claes, who becomes a Venetian banker with his own mercenary army; he’s successful in everything but with his family and the one woman he loves. The gifted, but not good-looking Claes/Níccolò, travels the world, seeking answers and finding trouble.
“The first book is Níccolò Rising, which I read while living in Italy and studying part-time in a Medici building. Later we moved to Holland and I was able to visit Bruges then other locations in the European novels. I was intrigued by the sophistication of the financial manoeuvring behind the Medici banking network, and disturbed by how Níccolò’s life is shaped by a father and grandfather, who refuse to accept him. The stories essentially chart how Níccolò seeks his legitimacy while desperately trying to find his own son. In the process he becomes involved in manipulating the international politics of Christendom and beyond.
“I pick up one of these books every year or so. This month it was Race of Scorpions, about the would-be King of Cyprus and the start of the sugar industry. Why – because aspects of the story relate to research for my next Ludo da Portovenere novel (although this is circa 17th century), but mostly because I was stressed by deadlines for other work and I needed a comfort read. What stays in my memory are the settings. I like separating the narrative layers, as well; trying to work out what Níccolò is up to. What pulls me back most though, is the quality of Dunnett’s writing. And yes – as an author, I am very influenced by Dunnett’s plots, characters and prose.”
Early spring 1635, a storm and pirate raid interrupt rogue Italian merchant Ludovico da Portovenere’s routine voyage from Constantinople to Amsterdam, disrupting his plans and entangling others in a secret commission that has life-changing, devastating results for all concerned. Power and intrigue in international politics and the domestic sphere, The Chosen Man is a fictional version of what may have caused the Dutch scandal known as ‘tulip mania’; it also shows us how decisions made in high places can have terrible repercussions on innocent lives.
JG Harlond’s Bio
JG Harlond grew up in the West of England, studied and worked in various countries and is now settled in rural Andalucía, Spain. For the best part of 30 years, she taught in International schools in Europe. Encouraged by positive reviews for her first work of fiction, Jane re-wrote it as The Empress Emerald then completed a linked prequel, The Chosen Man. She is currently working on The Chosen Man trilogy, charting the international espionage and adventures of the charismatic rogue Ludo da Portovenere around 17th century Europe. Jane writes fiction for Penmore Press and educational material for OUP.
What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects ‘Love in A Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford. Do you have a favourite read which you return to again and again? If so, please send me a message via the contact form here.
‘Níccolò Rising’ by Dorothy Dunnett [UK: Penguin]