“THE MEREST LOSS” Q & A
A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
Steven is giving away (3) Signed Paperback copies of “THE MEREST LOSS.” For your chance to win, be sure to leave him a comment below.
Getting to know Steven Neil, the author.
*What is your novel about?
The Merest Loss: A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris. It is historical fiction but it is also a romance. Most of the novel is written from the point of view of the omniscient narrator, writing in the present tense, although this is interspersed with four strategic chapters, from the point of view of one of the characters, in the past tense. I like the idea of varying the presentation and I also make use of letters, newspaper articles and reviews to provide additional perspective.
Originally I was planning to write a Dick Francis style thriller and I was researching a jockey called Jem Mason, who won the first Grand National at Liverpool in 1839. I found a line in his description which said something like ‘also famous for his relationship with Harriet Howard, who ran away to live with him in London when she was fifteen and who also became Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer’. I decided she was an even more interesting character and I set about writing a fictional account of her life.
*Who are the main characters?
Harriet Howard is the heroine. She is independent, feisty, stubborn, beautiful and intelligent. Jem Mason is the main love interest. He is taciturn, difficult and moody, but also charismatic, talented and single-minded. Tom Olliver, friend to both Harriet and Jem, is loyal, tough, reliable and a brilliant horseman. Louis Napoleon is arrogant, feckless, self-regarding and a womaniser.
*What is the main plot line?
Having settled on Harriet Howard as the main character, I learned that although she did not come from wealth or position in society she became Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer in his ambition to become Emperor of France and she died a multi-millionairess in today’s terms. I could find nothing from research to satisfactorily explain where the money came from or how she came into contact with the future emperor. The Merest Loss is my fictional attempt to explain how this might have happened.
*What research did you carry out?
I did a lot of historical research on the internet and at the British Library, trying to make sure the historical timeline was correct and that the language and cultural references were appropriate to the age. I also read a lot of 19th century novels and books on the history of Britain and France in the 19th century. The Merest Loss took three years from conception to publication: two years of research and one year of pure writing.
*What appealed to you about this subject matter?
I love the Victorian era. I warmed to Harriet Howard as I wrote about her. She was arguably a woman ahead of her time. I also had a strong connection with the character Jem Mason. I have great admiration for the skill and courage of the jump jockey. I share some of his characteristics and was able to empathise with him.
I was also fascinated by the idea of a romance where the two main characters are thwarted by their own temperaments; they are both unromantic, stubborn and uncompromising. How will it ever be possible for them to get together when they seem unable to resolve arguments, even though everyone around them can see they are well suited together?
*What was the most difficult part of writing the novel?
Getting started was probably the most difficult part. Writing doesn’t come easy to me but I am very disciplined and I keep going.
*Why should we want to read The Merest Loss?
Almost all the characters in The Merest Loss are real. Harriet Howard, Jem Mason, Tom Olliver, Louis Napoleon are all real. The timeline is historically accurate but the substance of the storyline is entirely a fiction arising out of my own imagination. You might like to play ‘guess who is the made up character’ when you have finished reading the novel. Oh, and it has lots of five star reviews.
*Do you read your reviews?
I read all my reviews. I know I can’t please all the people all of the time and that no two people read the same book the same way. One of my creative writing tutors advised me to look up my favourite books of all time on Goodreads and see how few of them have an average rating above 4 out of 5. Only one of them did.
*What is your favourite review?
All the five star reviews are my favourites.
*Who would you cast if The Merest Loss was made into a film or TV series?
I think Australian actress Emma Hamilton would make a terrific Harriet Howard. Dominic Cooper for Jem Mason perhaps. Johnny Flynn for Tom Olliver. James Norton as Louis Napoleon.
© Steven Neil
THE MEREST LOSS is available in paperback and eBook in the UK, US, France, Canada and Australia.
Follow Steven Neil on https://twitter.com/stevenneil12 for information on how to purchase the paperback through an independent bookseller in the UK.
Steven has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. He has been a bookmaker’s clerk, bloodstock agent, racehorse breeder and management consultant amongst other professions in his varied career. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire, England. The Merest Loss is his debut novel.
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