Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Guest Post and Giveaway! Janet Todd, author of A Man of Genius

I'm so thrilled and honoured to have Janet Todd on the blog today to delight us with an excerpt from her new novel, A Man of Genius. I've long been an admirer of Janet's non-fiction books on Jane Austen, though she's also known for her feminist works on Mary Wollstonecraft and Aphra Benn. 
Janet is very kindly giving away a copy of her new book A Man of Genius, which has been described by Sarah Dunant as 'A quirky, darkly mischievous novel about love, obsession and the burden of charisma, played out against the backdrop of Venice's watery, decadent glory', and by Philippa Gregory as 'Strange and haunting, a gothic novel with a modern consciousness.' 
All you have to do to for a chance to win is answer the question, "Would you rather meet Jane Austen or Lord Byron?" 

Please leave your answer in a comment at the bottom of the post. The book is very generously being offered internationally, and the competition will be open for a week. The winner's name will be drawn from the hat on Wednesday 16th March and announced on the blog.

Here's a little blurb to whet your appetite, and I'm sure you'll love the excerpt that follows! You all know how I love descriptive writing, and in the scene below the passage conjures up sparkling visions of Venice that are exquisitely drawn.  
Ann, a successful writer of cheap Gothic novels, becomes obsessed with Robert James, regarded by many, including himself, as a genius, with his ideas, his talk, and his band of male followers. However, their relationship becomes tortuous, as Robert descends into violence and madness. 
The pair leaves London for occupied Venice, where Ann tries to cope with the monstrous ego of her lover. Forced to flee with a stranger, she delves into her past, to be jolted by a series of revelations--about her lover, her parentage, the stranger, and herself.

She’d come to the Palazzo Savelli without Giancarlo Scrittori: he
had some business to do, he said, but she suspected he wanted her
to go alone. He wished both sides to be impressed
The palazzo didn’t disappoint. It was full of glass, the chandeliers
intricate, elaborate Murano, mainly white with touches of pink in the
mantels. They hung, huge fossilised sea anemones from a waving sea
of dark wood rafters. On the wall were ornate mirrors in panes, some
flecked with rust spots, all distorting, exaggerating or decanting the
scenes before them. It was hard for Ann to know where she was.
Impossible not to see oneself in different postures: made now picturesque,
now grotesque, always obscure.
Her ungloved hands had coarsened from too much washing in
cold water, but here in these tarnished mirrors the roughest hands
were smooth and indistinct. Ann was not displeased to look down at
hers when she’d removed her gloves.
She’d been shown in by a diminutive manservant, followed at once
by the old woman they’d seen before – well, not so old, she now
noted, someone very unlike her mother with her rouge and false hair.
This woman had embraced ageing in her black garb, voice and stance.
She was helped by an absence of all front teeth.
Then a footman, slightly shabby despite magnificent powdered
wig setting off his brown face, ushered her up a wide flight of marble
stairs with walls of fading frescoes. He left her in a large gloomy room
after muttering what she supposed was a version of her name in too
many syllables. Heavy curtains shaded the windows; the paintings in
their ornate gilt frames were hardly visible in the dim light, darkened
further by poor placing and layers of dust.
A woman in shades of elaborate black was seated on a sofa of
faded crimson velvet embroidered in dark silk swirls. Her face was
pale and lined, framed by black lace.
Not unkind but not prepossessing, a little haughty.
‘I am the Contessa Savelli,’ she said in heavily accented English.
‘You are Signora Jamis. Please to sit. I speak not much English.’
Ann sat on a lower facing chair upholstered in the same faded
velvet. A young twinkling voice interrupted the silence. ‘Signora, we
are most content you are here.’
It was the girl she and Giancarlo Scrittori had met the last time
they visited the house. Now she was ready for courtesies. Again, as
with Signor Scrittori, no mention was made of the first strange
‘Signorina,’ she replied. ‘I too am content.’
There followed more Italian pleasantries, which Ann was unsure
how to answer, the girl speaking in her light musical way, the mother
in lower tones from a smiling mouth beneath remote eyes.
Then the Contessa left the room. Ann rose as she went. She
glanced at a ceiling fresco of pink and white cherubs displaying undulating
stains on plump flesh.
‘Let us go to another smaller place. There is good light,’ said the
girl. ‘We will sit near a window. There you hear the sound of water.’
‘I would like, Signorina, to do exactly what you have in mind. We
have an hour for conversing or reading, what you will.’
‘Beatrice, please.’ The voice fell like a warm spray over them both.
‘And I am Ann S–’ She stopped, realising she’d almost used her
maiden name. How absurd.
Frederick Curran said it was always best to be more than one
person. She presumed he meant on paper.
‘But that is not so correct,’ laughed Beatrice. ‘You are the
‘Yes, I suppose so. I am old.’
‘Not old Signora, no, just older than I am and you are married and
will teach.’

The girl was all sunshine, all smiles and shifting music. It was
impossible not to respond.
So they chatted and nodded and chuckled and Beatrice wrote down
phrases in a small notebook exquisitely covered in an intricate
geometric pattern of muted red and cream. The hour passed in a flash.
At moments the wintry sunlight on the canal beneath was reflected
through the arched window on to the carved ceiling and from there
to a tarnished mirror: then all was moving, dazzling on the patched
and shredded green damask walls.
‘You make more of the sunlight
here,’ said Ann.
‘Possibly,’ replied Beatrice.
When at the end of the session the Contessa, with her mingling
of stateliness, anxiety and polite hospitality, came in to check that
everything had proceeded well, she must have seen the success of the
lesson. Perhaps she was glad the new teacher had amused her
daughter, who, Ann knew now, was quick and might become easily

She’d passed some test. The Contessa would be honoured if she
and her husband – a famous English author, she understood – would
attend for a social evening. Not in the next weeks, for the Marchese
would be in town and would want her company. The Contessa gave
a smile both proud and deprecating. ‘And my son, you will have
chance to meet the Conte if he will be seen.’
An odd phrase, perhaps it came from inadequate English. It
chimed with Beatrice’s mention of this young man who was and was
not in residence. Ann supposed he lived elsewhere for part of the time.
She saw that the girl gave her mother a quick glance as she spoke of
him. There might be sibling jealousy.

She hoped no invitation would ever come, that its suggestion was just

polite formality.
Thank you so much for joining me on the blog today, Janet, and for sharing such an intriguing excerpt.

Readers, please don't forget to check back on the 16th to find out if you are the lucky winner. In the meantime, if you'd like to hear (and see) the wonderful actress Miriam Margolyes reading an excerpt from the audiobook, you can watch it here.


Annabel Mallia said...

Without doubt I would choose Jane Austen. I think I would have more in common with her than with Lord Byron, and plenty to gossip about. I imagine that the hours would fly by as we spoke of our relatives, friends and neighbours, our love of dancing and reading; cooking and country walks; the places we have visited; and writing and receiving letters. Good conversation and a lively sense of humour makes Jane Austen the perfect companion.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Annabel for your comment. It's a difficult question, but I love your answer - what a lovely time you'd have! I've added your name to the hat.

Diana Birchall said...

As I have devoted much of my adult life to the study and enjoyment of Jane Austen, I would have to say her, of course, just to see what she is (was) really like! However, much as I savor her letters, I have to admit that I believe Byron's were better - his are among the best letters and journals in the world, and they convey his voice, his amazing personality, incredibly vividly, as if he was there in the room with you. If I had to choose just one of the two authors to meet, I would be desperately disappointed to miss the other one! By the way, I have read Janet Todd's book and know that whoever wins the giveaway, will be very lucky. Venetian atmosphere, breakneck plot, subtle psychological characterizations, and compelling voice, make it a very special read.

Sue Wilkes said...

What a difficult question to answer! Of course I would love to meet Jane Austen best. Perhaps Lord Byron could gallop past though while Jane andI drink tea genteely at Chawton, and we could peek at him from behind the curtains!

Jane Odiwe said...

I totally agree - whilst I would love to meet Jane, Diana, I'd be so intrigued to meet Byron, even if it was just to understand what it was that was so mesmerising about his personality and looks. I know that sounds very shallow, but first impressions always count ; ) It would be fun to be in a room with him and see how others react- both in this time and his own.

Jane Odiwe said...

Sue, I love your picture of Byron dashing past as you're enjoying a genteel cup of tea- thank you so much for visiting, and I'll add your name to the hat.

Diana Birchall said...

Not one bit shallow, Jane. Byron's letters are utterly mesmerizing, arresting, captivating - even without seeing or hearing him! He speaks to you one on one, as it were, as vividly alive as if it weren't across centuries. How could anyone, having read a fair selection of his letters, not wish to meet the man! Jane Austen's letters are not her art, not better than her books (though of course glimpses of her genius peer through at times). In my opinion, Byron's letters are the best of his writing! Heresy? Maybe, but it's fun to think about.

Jane Odiwe said...

Yes, Byron's letters really give him away as a personality, whereas Jane's always seem so guarded- perhaps Cassandra burned the ones that truly showed her personality!

Annabel Mallia said...

Oh, those lost letters. So sad!

kaewink said...

I'd love to meet Jane Austen, of course! As I'm reading your new novel, Jane, I do imagine what it would be like to meet her in the present time and what she would say to our lifestyle now.

Ms Todds book Sounds fabulous! Very interesting. And what a beautiful cover!

Jane Odiwe said...

Kaewink, doesn't the book sound fabulous? Thank you so much for adding your comment-I'll put you in the hat!

Lee Bowles said...

If I could go back in time, I would just love to meet Jane Austen. She and I would have so much in common and so much fun. We could go bonnet, ribbon and lace shopping, drink tea together and natter about our love of the Dorset coast and gothic romance authors. We would take long walks in the countryside and pick wild flowers from the hedgerows and if there was enough daylight left, we would embroider together. Yes, we would do very nicely together indeed! Janet Todd's book sounds lovely and the palazzo she describes reminds me of a scene from Daniel Deronda when he meets his mother for the first time. I agree the cover looks beautiful and it gave me lovely memories of a very special time spent in Venice.

Jane Odiwe said...

Can I come too, Lee? I feel very envious of your outing with Jane-it sounds exactly like my idea of fun. Janet's excerpt transported me to Venice again-mouth-watering descriptions! Thank you for stopping by-I'll add your name to the hat!

Anonymous said...

I would love to stroll through the country side with Jane Austen and maybe stop for a cup of tea at her cozy home in Chawton and listen to her talk of her family and friends.
Janet's book sounds very interesting...I wonder if Jane had had the chance would she have traveled to Venice...

Lynn F

Jane Odiwe said...

I can imagine Jane in Venice, can't you, Lynn? I bet she'd have loved to travel-imagine the walking she'd have enjoyed! Yes, I wish I could visit her at Chawton, and meet all of her family. Thank you for visiting-I'll add your name to the hat!

Adalgisa SD said...

Greetings from NYC
I am 100% Jane Austen. However, I would love to meet both Jane A & Lord Byron! Why limit myself to one if I can meet both? Jane because she is everything & Lord Byron because his letters are just an enigma better paired with a face & a few questions over tea, coffee or mulled wine :)
Lastly after reading the excerpt above I am piqued as to what happens next. My imagination running wild already....I am fascinated by strong and very intelligent man characters in a love story. I'm such a girl :)

Jane Odiwe said...

Hello, Adalgisa, I'm so glad you could join us! I'd love to meet them both too, and I agree, the excerpt is fascinating-I'm looking forward to reading this book. I'll add your name to the hat.

PdxIrishGirl said...

I would so much like to meet Jane Austen
for tea and walking and conversation, enjoy her keen observations about people. I especially want to learn things about her we can not know because letters were destroyed and family was protective. And since we're imagining, I want desperately to
let her know how beloved her "darling children" are and how her art is so highly

Jane Odiwe said...

Yes, PdxIrishGirl, wouldn't it be wonderful to tell Jane just how much her books are loved - thank you so much for visiting - I've added your name to the hat!

Vee said...

I would love to meet Jane. Although Lord Byron would be wonderful too. And as Diana mentions we don't get much from Jane's letters so I would love to hear her thoughts and conversation. 'A Man of Genius' sounds wonderful. Thanks for the excerpt.

Jane Odiwe said...

Lovely to see you here, Vee! It's a difficult choice, isn't it, but it would be lovely to have a chat with Jane. Thank you for visiting-I'll add your name to the hat!

Catherine Curzon said...

I'm going to be in the opposite camp and choose Byron. I grew near Newstead and my granddad's tall tales of Byron's escapades were one of the first things that drew me to the 18th century, back when I was still in single figures.

Anji said...

As most of the others have said, it would have to be Jane Austen for me too. It would be lovely to bring her up here to Yorkshire, see what she made of the environment that the Brontĕ sisters knew (it's not that far from us) and ask if it would have influenced her writing in a similar way to theirs. Of course, a Yorkshire cream tea would have to be involved at some point!

Jane Odiwe said...

Catherine, your Grandad's tales sound wonderful - I'm so glad he told them or we might never have known you! Thank you for visiting, and for your lovely comment.

Anji, I wonder what she would have thought of Yorkshire - I imagine she'd have loved walking in the dales. I love the idea of the cream tea! Thank you for stopping by.

Vee said...

Many thanks Jane :)

Joana Starnes said...

What a difficult question! Would they be willing to say exactly what they thought, or would one be a proper lady and the other flippant and dismissive? I fully agree with earlier comments, whichever one I'd choose I'd regret missing the chance to speak to the other. I'd like to ask Jane Austen what was cut out of 'First Impressions'. I'd love to tell Lord Byron to run a mile from Miss Anabella Milbanke. I wonder if he'd believe in time travel or the supernatural enough to heed the warning and marry someone else. Then maybe Don Juan would have been finished. And maybe it wouldn't be half as good :)

Let's face it, I'd kick myself if I didn't choose Jane Austen.

Thanks for this lovely post and the exquisite excerpt, 'A Man of Genius' sounds like a fascinating book!

Mira said...

I think Jane, but honestly, I would afraid of her. I would also go for a date with Lord Byron, that would be less scary... I have many questions to Jane, so I stick with her.

Such a shame I didn't know about the launch and also a shame I had to work when the society met last month.

BeckyC said...

Austen is my automatic answer, but wouldn't it be something to meet Byron!

Jane Odiwe said...

Joana, your answer really made me laugh! Yes, First Impressions- the deleted scenes- I bet that would make fantastic reading. I've a feeling Byron might be open to the idea of time travel- whether he'd heed any warnings, I'm not sure- I think you need to write the book! Thank you for stopping by, and leaving your brilliant comment.

Mira, I know what you mean-I think I'd be a bit frightened of Jane- though wouldn't be able to resist the chance of meeting her, but equally, I think I'd be cautious of Byron too. I hope I'll catch up with you at the festival later this year! Thank you so much for visiting-I've added your name to the hat!

Jane Odiwe said...

Becky, yes-it's a difficult one, but Jane seems to be the favourite choice! Thank you so much for visiting-I've added your name to the hat!

Halle Mason said...

I would love to spend a day with Jane Austen, and not just to pester her with any and all questions pertaining to her fictional heartthrobs like Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley. There's so much in Austen's books that I'd love to learn more about. Her world brims with such a level of civility and grandeur that is difficult to imagine in this day and age. In fact, I write a blog ( called "Looking for Mr. Darcy," and I would relish to get Austen's feedback on my 20-something perspective of dating in the 21st century. (The blog sustains an Austen twist with each new post). I find her use of language fascinating, and I confess I've read her novels more times than I'm willing to admit. As a writer myself, passing the day with a woman at the very center of such public fascination--even cult obsession--would be a day very well-spent.

Jane Odiwe said...

Halle, a day spent in Jane's company would always be time well spent, I'm sure, a dream come true for all her loyal fans. Thank you for letting us know about your blog - I've added your name to the hat!

Jeanna Massman said...

I would definitely love to meet Jane Austen. She was a woman blessed with an amazing gift who found a way to use her talent to write a classic that has withstood the test of time. While Byron was a master poet, I think his success would have come a little easier because he was a well-born male.

Syrie James said...

I would love to meet Jane Austen! I have left two lengthy comments on this post already, but strangely neither of them has shown up… but I will try a third time… And I hope this one will actually appear! It would be a thrill and delight to meet the authoress who I revere so much, who has inspired me to write three novels about her including her very own missing manuscript. What a treasure it would be to meet Jane Austen in person, to experience her wit and perception firsthand, to share in the delights of a walk in the countryside or a cup of tea. I should love to learn some of the truths of her life that we can only imagine… and let her know what an impact she has made on the world of the future!
On another note, I can hardly wait to read Janet's book, which has been so highly and reverently praised by Diana Birchall. Thank you for the chance to win!

Jane Odiwe said...

Jeanna, I completely agree- any career Byron would have chosen would have had a much smoother course. Wouldn't it be wonderful to meet Jane Austen. Thank you so much for visiting the blog, and I will add your name to the hat.

Syrie, I'm so sorry you had trouble leaving a comment-you're not the first to say so-I do apologise, but I've no idea why it's not working properly. It certainly would be a treasure to meet Jane, and share some time with her! Janet's book sounds fabulous, doesn't it? It's lovely to see you here, and I'll add your name to the hat!

Deborah Ann said...

That is a difficult question to answer as I thoroughly enjoy Byron's poetry and Jane's literature. I believe I'd have to go with Jane. The book sounds intrigueing. Thank you for the generous giveaway.

Jane Odiwe said...

Deborah Ann, it's lovely to see you here - thank you for your comment, but I'm not surprised by your choice ; ) I'll add your name to the hat.