What I said last Friday – CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
My apologies to those of you who were at Middle St Resource Centre last Friday night, when I gave this talk:
I started by saying something like the following, trying my best not to move my tongue (I hadn’t gone to the length of having it removed for the occasion):
“Hello again everyone, and welcome. Welcome especially to Ian and Steven. Thank you for coming to help me celebrate the publication of my book, The Servant’s Voice, a book that contains two or three murders, assorted rescues, brawls, and escapes through windows and a politically significant geranium. I’m planning to read some passages and talk about where the book came from, and then hand over to Ian and Steven. There’ll be time for questions at the end.
Is that all clear?
Oh, perhaps I should repeat myself properly. (Repeat.)
The main character in this story is called Hridnaya, and I’d like to start by reading her first job interview.
[I read pages 76-80. This section has been previously posted on the blog here: https://www.penelopewallace.com/the-servants-voice-an-excerpt-spoilers/]
In the land of Ricossa, important people sometimes have secret and private meetings. But they still want servants at these meetings to run errands and pour drinks, so each great Family or organisation employs at least one Voiceless servant whose tongue has been cut out.
At the age of 12, Hridnaya’s life changes completely. From now on, for ever, she can’t share a joke with her twin brother, or ask people at her new home where the toilets are, or defend herself against accusations, or basically make friends.
She also can’t eat properly. If you think about it, you really need a tongue to eat. The Voiceless have to get by on a kind of mashed and liquefied glop called mizzum.
On the other hand, she has job security and she’s well paid. She doesn’t think her life is too bad, until her Uncle Gridor dies in mysterious circumstances, and she discovers that he’s spent the last 18 years trying unsuccessfully to persuade the rich that they don’t actually need Voiceless servants.
And this is her story.
As many of you know, this is the third book in the Tales from Ragaris.
Ragaris (point to map on display board) is this fictional continent, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and sometime at the beginning of the fourteenth century.
It has several countries, as you see. All of them are vaguely medieval in culture, all of them by our standards are brutal and undemocratic, all of them are at least nominally Christian, and all of them abide by my rule Swords Without Misogyny – they are societies that value women as highly as men; and give women equal access to all jobs, positions and privileges, and this is just taken for granted.
But each country is different. My first book, “We Do Not Kill Children”, was set in the land of Marod, in the barbarian north, where the King and Queen gather the 30 noblest women and men in a famous brotherhood or siblinghood to help govern the land and repel invaders.
The second, “The Tenth Province of Jaryar”, was set in the land of Haymon, where they have a slightly different attitude towards invaders, and some of them even think that being alive is more important than being free and independent.
But “The Servant’s Voice” is set over here, in Ricossa, the big eastern country that none of the others know much about, the country that’s secretive and powerful and a little frightening.
I said that all my countries were brutal and undemocratic, but Ricossa is the most authoritarian. This is the country where you really don’t want to say the wrong thing; and where every town square has a space for executions, a well-used space.
But on the other hand, if they cut off your head, they’ll probably do it politely. If you’re dragged into court you’ve got say a 75% chance of having a judge who’s honest, fair-minded and conscientious. It also has the only university on the continent. So it’s not all bad.
When I was thinking what to say tonight, I remembered that last time I was launching a book, it was a story that contained an election. So you may remember that we held an election – there were placards, and party political broadcasts, and a vote.
Today, in the real world, we’re going through an actual election. I’m not going to say much about that, but certainly “The Servant’s Voice” is the most overtly political of my books so far.
It’s a story that asks if ordinary people, without money, weapons, influential friends, or the internet, can actually change society. It’s a story where a few servants wonder if there’s more to life than service.
It’s a story where Hridnaya the Voiceless asks herself if God is a concept invented by the rich to keep everyone else in their place; but where her brother notices and quotes Luke’s gospel chapter 6 verse 24, “woe to the rich”.
So it’s a little bit about the class struggle.
But it’s also, as it says on the posters, about books. I’ve always thought it’s extraordinary how we can make squiggles on a page, or indeed on a keyboard, and someone else looking at the page or the computer screen doesn’t see squiggles, but can instantly look through them to the stories, the jokes, the news or information beneath. The lines and dots become communication.
And when someone is learning to read, or learning a foreign language, the squiggles at first must just be squiggles, until there comes a time when they’re not.
“The Servant’s Voice” celebrates words, spoken, but especially written, which is why the story is punctuated by the occasional document. We have a written constitution, we have a clue stitched onto a napkin, we have an incriminating package of letters, and above all we have a theological tome sent as a gift. Maybe a bit like this tome, except the one in the book is bigger, handwritten, with colourful handpainted pictures, and a cover set with gold and pearls. So not very like this one.
So you may not be surprised to hear that Hridnaya eventually starts to learn to read. And while she’s learning, just at the time when the squiggles are turning into words, she goes on a journey with three other people, and the book.
I want to read you an incident that happens on the journey, but first I need to explain.
This magnificent tome, ironically called “The Blessings of Poverty”, is a ceremonial gift between nations, and it’s being transported by a foreign visitor called Kelji. She has employed Hridnaya as a personal maid. She has another manservant, and they’re also being accompanied by a young man called Mejorad, who’s on the journey for reasons of his own.
The four stop for the night at an inn. Kelji is the first to go to bed. What she doesn’t know is that Mejorad was looking at the book and he carelessly spilt some wine over it before it was put away.
This is what happens in the morning.
[I read pages 196-200.]
As I said, someone who can’t talk can’t defend herself.
Having heard that, you may wonder if anything good is ever going to happen to Hridnaya. And the answer is yes, but not often.
They travel with the book to the university, and it’s about now that the rescues and escapes through windows start to happen, and the story gets rather more complicated. Obviously I’m not going to reveal too much more, because I want you to buy and read the book.
But I will just say that the book Kelji’s bringing was written by one Abbot Paul of Lintoll.
Abbot Paul first appears in “We Do Not Kill Children”, as a teenage boy who gets into a lot of trouble. By the time of “The Tenth Province of Jaryar”, he’s a respected churchman, writing books in his spare time, and is sent by his Queen as part of an important embassy. By the time of “The Servant’s Voice,” he’s been dead for some years, but his writing lives on.
My Tales from Ragaris are not direct sequels to each other, and in theory each can be read independently, but this is the kind of link between them that I like to put in.
Thank you for listening.
I then concluded by awarding Judith Renton her prize for naming the character Simoren b’Asa, recommending this blog, and introducing my two guest speakers – Ian Storer aka Ian Roberts, who writes the “Deeper Realms” time travel adventures and has previously posted here; and Steven M Caddy, author of “In Exchange”, a tale about a boy in space.
The evening was great fun, for me at least, and I sold some books that day and the next.
Love from the PPI Blogger
PS Clint, I’m still waiting for you to justify your heckle!