Miranda Carter plays with history

by Matt Borne @Wildwalker


After lunch the sun came out and we were treated to an enthralling discussion between Miranda Carter and Neel Mukherjee. Already established as a leading historical biographer, Carter has recently made the transition to historical crime thriller with The Strangled Vine and its sequel The Infidel Stain.

Carter has always liked the idea of playing around with history. As a child she fantasised about being a medieval knight, and fell in love with Henry Treece’s Viking Saga, and The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, stories of quest and adventure with real historical backdrops. This early influence comes through in her new books where she uses a background of historical events and people, and ‘plays with fiction’ in the foreground.

miranda carter

Carter is a passionate speaker and becomes even more animated when discussing London in the 1840s, ‘a fantastic decade’. She describes a period of transition between chaotic Georgian England and the equally complex but more ordered and moralistic world of the Victorians. A few years which saw the change from horses to rail, letters to telegraph, the first race riots in London, and the Chartists – the first popular democratic movement.

Carter likens the huge technological transitions of the 1840s to the world now, where the internet has thrown everything up in the air. And she muses on socio-economic similarities, especially the growing gap between rich and poor, and the lack of any effective mechanism to counter it.

Carter’s husband, the writer John Lanchester, is in the audience, and she glances up as she talks about their different approaches to writing:

‘I am a slogger – it’s 99% perspiration, 1 % inspiration. John knocks out 500 words and then watches the cricket. It’s very annoying.’

And then, with self-effacing charm, she shows her true colours :

‘When people ask me what I do, I am always slightly embarrassed to say I am a writer.’

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