One of my novels, Fleshmarket, is widely read in schools, very often in Scotland in S2 (or 1 or 3) and quite often in England in Y8. Schools like it for the history (it’s historically accurate) and the language (it’s richly descriptive) and because it’s popular with young readers, even turning many non-readers into readers. My favourite two reactions over the years have been:
An email from a parent: “I am writing to complain about your novel, Fleshmarket. My son was up all night reading it and was too tired to go to school this morning!”
And an email from a school: “I want to thank you for writing Fleshmarket. It’s turned my group of non-reading boys into boys who are excited to read the next chapter. One of them said, “I didn’t think books could even BE like this, Miss!””
Anyway, the other day, Peebles High School contacted me on twitter to say that a class was really enjoying it so I asked if they’d like to ask some questions and I’d answer them. So they did. And I did.
Question 1: Would you like a Fleshmarket movie?
My answer on Twitter: Actually, no! (though I wouldn’t say no to the money… 🤣) I just have such a strong picture of it all, including the smells and damp and cold and I don’t think a movie could recreate that.
A bit more: I’ve never thought Fleshmarket would be a film, to be honest. Two of my other novels are currently optioned for film – Mondays are Red was optioned earlier this year and another one is about to be signed so I can’t say which it is yet. It’s exciting to think of either of them being made into a film but Fleshmarket I can’t see working.
Question 2: Will there be a sequel?
My answer: I am not planning a sequel. Sequels are tricky to manage unless planned in advance. If I did, I’d focus on Essie. I’d have her working with James Young Simpson in Glasgow & helping discover anaesthesia. And being feisty!
A bit more: I think Essie could be a very rewarding character to follow and she’d certainly stir things up. But one problem is that in those days there was so little girls could go that it would be hard to make it both historically accurate and yet also interesting, with Essie as the lead character, achieving things herself without the help of men. I think I liked her so much as a young child, when in so many ways she had a lot of freedom, and it might be too frustrating having her as a teenager and unable to act for herself.
Question 3: Who is your favourite character?
My answer on Twitter: Essie is my favourite character. She’s so brave and strong and glittery-eyed. I’d be scared of her if I met her, though.
A bit more: I think Essie is everything I wish I could have been as a child: brave and independent. She’s prickly, which I was (and am), but she’s much stronger than I am.
Question 4: Where did you get your inspiration for Fleshmarket?
My answer on Twitter: I did some “what ifs”? What if heard mother scream + watched her die; fell into terrible poverty + saw father fall to pieces, not understanding any of it? How angry would he be to see the injustice + then overhear cruel words of man who killed his mother? Would it destroy him?
A bit more: I was inspired by the true story of a woman having a breast tumour removed without anaesthetic. I was told that story while standing in the room where it happened, next to the table she could have lain on. That woman had no children (she was older than the woman in Fleshmarket) but I wondered what her death would hav
e done to her children. Then I learnt about the attitudes of the time which stopped surgeons from caring much about pain, partly because pain doesn’t kill you and partly because, according to religion at the time, God created pain so humans shouldn’t try to take it away. I was living in Edinburgh at the time so the research was easy – and fun!
I am so glad schools still read it. It was published in 2003 so people have called it a “classic”. I am very proud of that. I love doing the Fleshmarket events, too, especially as schools are surprisingly happy for me to amputate a leg or two without anaesthetic.
Please, please keep reading it: it doesn’t sell many copies and every class set purchased makes a HUGE difference. Seriously, your school buying a class set could stop it going out of print.
THANK YOU, Peebles High School and all the other schools who choose it.