Here’s an interview I did with myself (well, there was no one else around and I was excited…) about the recently released gem, Welcome to Blekeleigh Court, by Samantha Hamilton, available at almost no good bookstores, which is why you’ll have to go here to get a paperback or Kindle copy.
Me: What was the background to publishing Samantha Hamilton’s first full-length book?
Me: I had published a few short stories by Samantha here and there over the last couple of years and we had discussed the possibilities of a full book at some point. Clearly, her work showed a masterful talent. Her wit and wisdom was also evident through the ‘Grammar Ninja’ column in the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine, so it was always going to be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Then the planets aligned — it suddenly became possible to publish ‘Blekeleigh’ before Christmas this year, and so here we are.
Me: What is so special about Welcome to Blekeleigh Court?
Me: An excellent question! I think there are a number of things, some of them not easily expressible in words. Having read and edited close to three million words in the last couple of years, I think I have a pretty steady eye when it comes to quality and consistency, and it was evident even a couple of pages in that WTBC was very high on both. In fact, as I read on, I was astonished by its almost ruthless ability to maintain high quality throughout. One reads many stories which are patchy, or which have one or two outstanding characteristics but are otherwise unmemorable, but WTBC ticked box after box as I read more, and continued to tick boxes all the way through to the end. I think Samantha must have taken each paragraph and painstakingly polished it to a sparkling shine, much like a butler might do with the silver in a stately home. There is ‘never a dull moment’ — even when there’s little happening plot-wise, the language and characters glitter with delight. Here’s an author who goes all out to entertain the reader, an author who is clearly thrilled by the act of writing and not afraid to demonstrate a runaway enthusiasm for literary and contemporary references.
Me: So WTBC is a ‘literary’ piece, then?
Me: Well, yes, except that that description probably conjures up ‘dry and dull’ for many, when this is exactly the opposite. This isn’t some kind of ‘modern literary novel’ of the kind that Samantha’s character Reggie tries to write: this is a continually twinkling piece of literary effervescence, like a glass of champagne which never goes flat. And it’s intensely funny: just when you have internally chortled at a brilliant character description or the outline of a bit of practical tomfoolery, along comes an incident or ounce of dialogue which has you laughing out loud.
Me: You laughed out loud?
Me: Yes! Often! Comedy is notoriously difficult to do. A book which telegraphs that it is ‘funny’ is more or less, in my opinion, giving away the fact that it isn’t really or it wouldn’t need to say so. We’ve all seen those movie posters which proclaim ‘the funniest movie of the year’ as a way of informing us that we’d better warm ourselves up to laugh before we enter the cinema because this isn’t really all that chortle-worthy. But WTBC doesn’t have to whisper that it’s funny to you: just start reading and feel the smiles widen into a continuous grin just before the guffaws begin.
Let me say, I’m not easily impressed when it comes to the comedy department. I was brought up on masterpieces of British comedy television and radio, and have sadly stood by as modern comic programming and literature descended into either the obvious or the obscure. Always ready to laugh, I am more often than not disappointed by what the current culture produces to try to make me smile. Then along comes Samantha with this extended piece of charm and it’s as though someone suddenly turned on the lights.
Sorry to interrupt your next question, but there’s an important point here: our current cultural clime could be described as ‘cloudy with a strong chance of despair’. Modern literature, moving from the gloom of modernism into the more opaque gloom of post-modernism, is going through what I politely term an ‘Ironic’ phase: norms are subverted for shock effect, identities are lost in the swarm, ‘mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’. I’m a great one for counter-culturalism when culture looks like it’s heading for a cliff — and what better remedy than a truly light-hearted and incredibly intelligent set of short stories set in the Jazz Age, shimmering with exuberance?
Me: Are there any comparatives?
Me: Yes! This is a bit like Downton Abbey meets P.G. Wodehouse with a teeny bit of Gilbert and Sullivan thrown in. Imagine Downton Abbey being played for laughs, but very intelligently… in fact ‘intelligence’ is one of WTBC’s prime characteristics. This is ‘wit’ in the full sense of the word: a capacity for inventive thought and quick understanding; keen intelligence, as well as a natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a fast and inventive way to create humour. And not just words: it’s as though the author soaked herself in the Western literary opus for several hours before writing each paragraph — an astute reader will find references to everything from Wodehouse to Shakespeare to the Romantics, Austen and more. But here’s the joy: if you miss a particular reference, you’re not left floundering but only bedazzled.
What’s more — if you don’t mind me elaborating — there’s a keen eye for human nature at work here. I can confess that though the character of Reginald Clayton is obviously crafted as a comic foil, his revelations in the final story in this collection had my heart in my mouth: I had come to care for him and for his relationship with that epitome of feminine smarts, his wife Pamela Wentworth, even though he had done nothing but make me smile throughout. Or perhaps because he had made me smile for so long. It takes genuine warmth and understanding to make another person grin for over 200 pages, so when there’s a touch of real drama towards the end (don’t worry, dear reader, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that all will be well) it actually carries some weight.
Me: How then would you sum up this book?
Me: Choreography; grace; consistency; style. It’s probably not really feasible to give an adequate summing up in any useful way. I have never met its like in terms of shimmering, twinkling wit. Maybe I should get out more, I don’t know. All I can say is that if you’re looking for an antidote to gloom, or a remedy for dullness, or a restorative for failing confidence, you could do worse than inject yourself with a dose of this book.
I can happily say that I look forward to much more from this author.