Black Death research inspires debut novel

Published: 19 May 2016 at 12:44

Dr Helen Marshall

Dr Helen Marshall’s book is snapped up by publishers Random House Canada

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Publishers Random House Canada have bought the debut novel by critically acclaimed author, editor and Anglia Ruskin University academic Dr Helen Marshall, which is inspired by her research into medieval manuscripts during the time of the Black Death.

Everything that is Born tells the story of a girl who, after her sister drowns in a terrible storm, is determined to steal the body so she can discover for herself what dying means in a time of extraordinary transformation, with the world on the verge of ecological collapse.

Dr Marshall, who has recently been appointed Lecturer of Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin, spent the last two years completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford investigating literature written during the period of the Black Death.

Dr Marshall said: 

Everything that is Born developed out of research I was conducting into medieval manuscripts produced during the time of the Black Death. 

“What fascinated me about the fourteenth century was that it was an age of true crisis, one of the few moments in history when the human race teetered on the edge of extinction as a result of the Black Death.  And yet in the literature of the period, it was hardly ever mentioned.  It was a strange, blank space, as if the poets of the age were struck by amnesia.

“The fourteenth century resonated for me with the narratives of massive upheaval that we hear today – economic frustration and international instability, the rise of global health scares such as Ebola virus and the Zika virus, and the fear of ecological tipping points already passed.  There is a sense that we are living through our own age of crisis.

“In Everything that is Born, rather than following a narrative of apocalypses, I wanted to find a way to cast these transitions in a more hopeful light, recognising how difficult it can be to leave behind a way of life but also searching for a way to understand that who we are and what we are is always in transition and always has been, as history attests.

“I wanted to show that at the heart of what it means to survive trauma must be extraordinary compassion: a willingness to be changed even as we find that the ones we love are changing.  I’m so delighted to have found in Amanda Betts of Random House Canada an editor who shares my vision for the novel!”

Dr Marshall’s first collection of fiction, Hair Side, Flesh Side, won the Sydney J Bounds Award in 2013.  Her second book of short stories Gifts for the One Who Comes After, won the prestigious World Fantasy Award for Best Collection and the Shirley Jackson Award in 2015.