I am always looking for unique historical fiction novels, whether it be the era, location or characters etc. Then I happened to stumble across Lucy’s novels via Twitter, which ticks all the boxes for me.
Let me know what you think and what your favourite historical fiction novels are and why? 🙂
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) I’m lucky enough to have had two historical thrillers published by Quercus in the last few years: The Trader of Saigon, set in 1980s Vietnam, and The Road to Rangoon, set in 1980s Myanmar (then called Burma).
Trader is about a US Army deserter turned human trafficker, the desperately poor young Vietnamese woman he tries to ensnare, and how their paths cross with a former highflying businessman, now unable to pay his financial and political debts to the government. The context to the novel is bleak but, in a way, it’s a redemption story really – and a story of self-determination. Each character is battling to take control of their life when the personal, cultural and political odds are stacked against them.
Rangoon takes place in Burma’s exotic ruby-mining region, against the backdrop of the world’s longest running civil war. It follows three characters again; a young woman smuggling gems to escape her past, the British Ambassador’s son, accidentally out of his depth and alone in the mountains, and an ambitious military officer determined to better his lot at any cost. It’s a story of cunning and resourcefulness in the face of enormous danger, but one of hope and salvation too.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) I completed the first draft of Trader on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. I wrote the novel quickly, found an agent quickly, and was rejected by a dozen London publishers quickly too. Though the manuscript didn’t sell, I received such positive feedback and encouragement that I didn’t feel ready to jettison it quite yet. I spent six months rewriting, took my time in finding a new agent who I believed would really champion it, and was thrilled to sell with a choice of lovely offers in the end, and a two-book deal.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) Patricia Highsmith, for the darkness of her wit and how she somehow leaves you rooting for characters that are utterly deplorable. Amitav Ghosh, for his mastery of language. The way he can capture the essence of a time and place is astounding. George Orwell, for how he champions the underdog, and his caustic judgments on the nature of power. Corban Addison, for how he seamless stitches contemporary political issues with compelling characters and riveting plots. I can’t talk about favourite books or authors without naming Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn, too. I’ve never read anything more devastating about war. It’s a masterpiece.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) Anything by Roald Dahl. I adore him. His imagination and sense of humour is still unmatchable, in my mind. I can’t wait until my children are old enough to enjoy him too.
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) Being shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award for Trader was such a surprise and a real honour, but it’s probably a handful of personal emails I’ve had from readers who lived in Vietnam and Myanmar at the times my novels were set that I treasure most.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) My husband. He was the person who told me to stop talking about writing a novel and actually put pen to paper in the first place, the person who has ready every word of every draft and told me the truth about what’s great and what’s rubbish, and the person who always says ‘keep going’ when I want to stop. Trader could only ever have been dedicated to him.
Guest post: #Inspiration
The Inspiration behind The Trader of Saigon
My debut novel, The Trader if Saigon, was inspired by a chance meeting on a flight between Singapore and Vietnam in 2007, though I was unaware of this fact at the time. I had been travelling through Asia for several months and was heading to Vietnam for the first time to pick up my intended route, having taken an unexpected detour from Cambodia to the isolation ward of Singapore General Hospital with a nasty bout of suspected (though ultimately fraudulent) Bird Flu.
I was travelling with my husband, Scott, and we were seated beside a well-fed Asian man in a sharp grey suit and tinted glasses. The plane took off and he hailed the stewardess for a whiskey, then he pulled out his wallet, presented his business card, and casually told us how he made his fortune selling women. He said he’d sat next to a missionary couple on his previous flight and was delighted to have better company, this time. It quickly became clear that this was an exaggeration – he was not at all interested in talking to me – but I filtered my questions through Scott and listened intently. His business was strictly legitimate, of course; he sold nothing but brides. His women were young, beautiful, smart and ambitious. From across the continent, they had sought him out and were looking for love. These days, the market was mostly in China, where men outnumbered women and it was often difficult to find a wife, but he had sold his girls all over the world. American, German and British customers were not uncommon. Asian brides were the best wives a man could get – so loyal and obedient. Demand was unprecedented. He’d been clever to capitalise. Business boomed.
I continued my travels with his card as my bookmark for the rest of our trip. I had no intention of writing a book about this (or anything else) at the time, but several years later when I did sit down to write, the man on the plane was the character I just couldn’t shift.
The Trader Of Saigon
In the chaos and corruption of 1980s’ Vietnam, three seemingly unconnected lives are brought together by greed, fear and hope.
As a US Army deserter, Alexander is a man without country; trapped in a life he no longer controls and embroiled in the dark business of trading women. His latest victim is Hanh, a rural girl who moved to Hanoi to escape inevitable poverty and who sees Alexander’s arrival as the answer to her prayers. Neither of them has ever met Phuc – a Vietnamese businessman who backed the wrong side in the war and is now unable to pay his financial and political debts to the Party. But his struggles are about to change both their lives.
From a society torn apart by war comes a tale of redemption and salvation; a thrilling saga and an explosive debut novel.
The Road To Rangoon
In 1980s Burma, the British ambassador’s son goes missing.
Discovered in the north of the country, Michael Atwood is in imminent danger, trapped between sides fighting a bitter civil war and with no way of getting back to Rangoon. His best hope of salvation is to trust Thuza, a ruby smuggler who offers to help him escape.
Beautiful and deeply scarred, Thuza has spent her entire life in a frontier town between rebel and government forces, never choosing a side but trying to make a living from both. For Thuza, the ambassador’s son is her ticket out of poverty. For Than, an ambitious military officer, exploiting those caught up in the war offers an opportunity for promotion and distinction.
But as all three learn to their cost, in this exotic, enigmatic and savage country, everyone has a price.
Lucy Cruickshanks’ love of travel inspires her writing. A great fan of the underdog, she’s drawn to countries with troubled recent histories, writing about periods of time when societies are at their most precarious and fraught with risk.
Her debut novel, The Trader of Saigon, was shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and the Guardian Not The Booker Prize, and named a Top Ten Book of 2013 by The Bookbag. The Road to Rangoon was described as a ‘gutsy atmospheric thriller’ by Women and Home magazine, ‘enjoyable and well-written’ by the South China Morning Post and ‘haunting and heart-wrenching’ by Novelicous. It was chosen as Book of the Month by Candis.
Born in 1984 and raised in Cornwall, UK, Lucy holds a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Warwick and an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She lives in Hampshire and divides her time between writing and caring for her two young sons.
*Both novels are currently on offer via Kindle Ebook for just 99p in the UK*