Antonia Hodgson Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Antonia Hodgson
Photo: Charlie Hopkinson

Antonia Hodgson

An interview with Antonia Hodgson

As the editor-in-chief at Little, Brown UK, how has your role as an editor influenced your writing process?
I've tried my best not to let it influence me at all! Editing is an entirely separate process—it requires objectivity. While I'm writing I need to be completely immersed in the story, the characters. If I stopped to edit I'd lost my flow. Of course once the first draft is done I can then go back and edit and rewrite. But I still need an editor—very much so.

Have you always wanted to write a novel? Why did you choose to do so now?
I've always loved writing. I wrote a previous novel—it didn't work but I learned a lot from writing it over the course of about four years. So it wasn't really a matter of choice. I would feel unhappy if I didn't write.

How did the idea for the novel originate?
I had an idea for a time (the 1720s) and a character, Tom Hawkins. He's a bit of a bad boy, though fundamentally decent. He's a gambler who never prepares for tomorrow, relies a bit too much on charm and luck, and is terrible with money. In other words—bound for a debtors' prison. After that I quickly discovered a fascinating story about the Marshalsea debtors' gaol. So what began as an opening idea became the main setting for the novel. Also, I loved the idea of setting a murder mystery in a prison.

The novel takes place in a debtors' prison in 18th century London. Tell us about your research.
I spent a lot of time in the British library reading contemporary accounts. There was a poem called 'The Marshalsea—or, Hell in Epitome', for example. A musician and debtor called John Grano wrote a diary during his stay in the Marshalsea between 1728 and 1729 and there was also a government enquiry into London's prisons. This led to the keeper, William Acton, being put on trial for murder. The accounts of his trial also provided a lot of useful information.

Beyond that, there were all sorts of fascinating documents including the confessions of men about to be hanged. They would tell their story to what we would now call a ghost writer, and these would be printed up and sold at the hanging.

Is there anything you came across in your research that you found surprising?
If anyone tells you that early-eighteenth century London was polite and civilized, don't believe a word of it.

Are any of the characters in the book based on real people?
Yes, many of the minor characters really were living in the Marshalsea at the time. The gaol was like a (very dangerous) village, with its own pub, coffeeshop and chophouse. There was a barber called Trim, a French fortune teller called Madame Migault . . . And of course the keeper, William Acton, was very real. But my main characters are all fictional.

What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
A lot of early readers have said how much they enjoyed being transported to London in the 1720s. It was a thrilling and fascinating time. Others have particularly liked the plot twists. A couple quite fancy my main character, which is fine as he's not married.

Are you working on anything now?
I've nearly finished the first draft of a sequel. More murder, betrayal and injustice. And the odd joke.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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