Something Dangerous by Penny Vincenzi









I’ve just pressed the last click on my Kindle (hmmm, it’s not got quite the same ring as ‘turned the last page’, has it?) and finished ‘Something Dangerous’ by Penny Vincenzi. It’s a fabulous book. A proper family saga, that stretches from 1928 until after the Second World War. There’s a vivid host of characters and I got completely swept up in it – again, doing rather more reading than writing. I was intrigued to read a Vincenzi book, partly because she’s the mother of a friend of mine (Sophie Cornish, with whom I wrote the ‘Build A Business From Your Kitchen Table’ book) but also because she’s a successful – very – novelist, former journalist, and I think one sometimes hopes to be able to detect the magic formula that made it work for her.

One can’t, of course. Each writer is different, each reader is different. But there were lots of things about her book that I thought really worked (and, reader, if you think I’m gushing because of the connection, I’ll tell you now, if I thought it was rubbish, you wouldn’t even know I’d read it). The rich variety of characters, for one, and the way she slipped from writing from all their different points of view. This is VERY hard to do – to have all the different voices, and yet keep the book consistent and keep the reader attached. But she made it very fluid – I found it, oddly, much less disruptive than the current fashion for having alternate chapters for two central characters.

The attention to historical detail was brilliant – just a smattering, just enough for you to know she knew what she was talking about. The names of the fashionable designers, then, or the Society names (she had two Fellowes’s in there – Mrs Reginald Fellowes, a well-known hostess and Daisy Fellowes, a beauty), the clubs they went to, the details of the big events being played out on the world stage and how they infiltrated and infected the smallest of domestic concerns. Sensing how reliable this knowledge is, makes one very comfortable with the rest and gives the right context – a made-up successful author is very quickly believable when set alongside casual mention of Hemingway and Dorothy Parker, for example.

She uses a lot of dialogue, without doing huge tracts of ‘he said’, ‘she said’. These exchanges took me longer to get comfortable with, just because of the use of the period colloquialisms (a bit like reading dialect, which I personally always find difficult). But it was still the right thing for her to do, and it got one into the characters, and helped you recognise them as got further into the book, to feel almost intimately familiar with them. But they also became a brilliant plot device, as conversations would start and you wouldn’t immediately know what it was referring to and you have an enjoyable guessing game.

Vincenzi is an absolute master of setting up tension. I’ve not been on tenterhooks so many times within one book. Two characters will be racing against time in one way or another and because it’s such a big saga, with so many people, there’s just no telling how it will turn out. So many times I either sighed with relief; others, I wept.

And for me, this was a great book because it absolutely tackled a fascinating time in history. A time when women who lost their lovers and brothers to the horrors of the First World War, then found they had to send their sons to the same in the Second World War. I’ve read less around the subject of the latter war, and I was very moved by the descriptions of the bombings in London, the emotional tiredness everyone suffered just to keep going, the people who abhorred the war, the ones who loved it.

Oh, and terrific sex scenes, too.

I’m rather bereft it’s over now. But very exited because 1) there are two more books in the trilogy to read (idiotically, I’ve only just realised this) and 2) I’ve decided I’m going to ask her out to lunch and try to find out more about how she did it. I’ll keep you posted.

If you want to buy the book yourself, go here:

Although you should probably not do as I did, and start with the first of the trilogy – No Angel.


Come, hear me talk!

This is just a little heads up to say that I’m talking this weekend on Saturday 10th November at 11.45am in St Edmund’s Hall, Southwold, as part of the Ways With Words festival. Tickets are £10.

See details here: Southwold Ways With Words

Then on November 20th at 7pm in the Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square, London, I’ll be on a panel with Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame (executive producer) and Allen Leech (Branson), being interviewed by John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times. Tickets are £15, or £10 for Times+ members.

See details here: Times+ event London

Cheltenham Literary Festival 2012

For the second time, I was invited to speak at Cheltenham Literary Festival. Last year, I was on the stage with my uncle, Julian Fellowes, executive producer Gareth Neame and Dan Stevens, the actor playing Matthew Crawley. Mark Lawson, of Radio 4/BBC4, was our chair, and most excellent he was, too.

This year, the theme was ‘Women of Downton’, so I was there with Liz Trubridge, producer, and the actresses playing Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes, Lesley Nicols and Phyllis Logan respectively. We were chaired by the very lovely and clever Kirsty Lang, who presents Radio 4’s Front Row on Friday nights. A thousand people were sitting in the audience, and afterwards a fair number of them came to get their books signed. Of course, most people wanted to rush back home to catch the next episode. I love that in a world of catch-up TV, DVD boxsets and the like, everyone wants to watch Downton at the same time as everyone else.

Anyway, I’ve just found a bunch of photos from the event, so thought I’d put them up here. It was a good night, and not just because HarperCollins treated us to a slap up supper afterwards, with plenty of decent wine drunk. But also because after months of writing alone on my kitchen table, it’s nice to feel that one’s work is connected to so many people. The readers, the publishers, the people about whom the book is written – they all have their own view on it and relationship with it and to have been a part of that is a privilege.