Susanna Clarke

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Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke March 2006.jpg
Clarke in March 2006
BornSusanna Mary Clarke
(1959-11-01) 1 November 1959 (age 59)
Nottingham, England
Genre Fantasy, alternate history
Notable works Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
Partner Colin Greenland

Susanna Mary Clarke (born 1 November 1959) is an English author best known for her debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004), a Hugo Award-winning alternative history. Clarke began Jonathan Strange in 1993 and worked on it during her spare time. For the next decade, she published short stories from the Strange universe, but it was not until 2003 that Bloomsbury bought her manuscript and began work on its publication. The novel became a best-seller.

Debut novel first published by an author

A debut novel is the first novel a novelist publishes. Debut novels are often the author's first opportunity to make an impact on the publishing industry, and thus the success or failure of a debut novel can affect the ability of the author to publish in the future. First-time novelists without a previous published reputation, such as publication in nonfiction, magazines, or literary journals, typically struggle to find a publisher.

<i>Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell</i> novel by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the debut novel by British writer Susanna Clarke. Published in 2004, it is an alternative history set in 19th-century England around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Its premise is that magic once existed in England and has returned with two men: Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange. Centred on the relationship between these two men, the novel investigates the nature of "Englishness" and the boundaries between reason and unreason, Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Dane, and Northern and Southern English cultural tropes/stereotypes. It has been described as a fantasy novel, an alternative history, and a historical novel. It inverts the Industrial Revolution conception of the North-South divide in England: in this book the North is romantic and magical, rather than rational and concrete.

Hugo Award set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year

The Hugo Awards are a set of literary awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and were officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards until 1992. Organized and overseen by the World Science Fiction Society, the awards are given each year at the annual World Science Fiction Convention as the central focus of the event. They were first given in 1953, at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention, and have been awarded every year since 1955. Over the years that the award has been given, the categories presented have changed; currently Hugo Awards are given in more than a dozen categories, and include both written and dramatic works of various types.


Two years later, she published a collection of her short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (2006). Both Clarke's novel and her short stories are set in a magical England and written in a pastiche of the styles of 19th-century writers such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. While Strange focuses on the relationship of two men, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell, the stories in Ladies focus on the power women gain through magic.

<i>The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories</i> short story collection by Susanna Clarke

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, published in October 2006, is a collection of eight short stories by Susanna Clarke and illustrated by Charles Vess. The stories, which are sophisticated fairy tales, focus on the power of women and are set in the same alternate history as Clarke's debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004), in which magic has returned to England. The stories are written in a pastiche of 18th- and 19th-century styles and their tone is macabre as well as satirical. The volume was generally well received, though some critics compared it unfavorably to Jonathan Strange.

The setting is both the time and geographic location within a narrative, either nonfiction or fiction. A literary element, the setting helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may include culture, historical period, geography, and hour. Along with the plot, character, theme, and style, setting is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.

Pastiche art genre

A pastiche is a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.


Early life

Clarke was born on 1 November 1959 in Nottingham, England, the eldest daughter of a Methodist minister and his wife. [1] Due to her father's posts, she spent her childhood in various towns across Northern England and Scotland, [2] and enjoyed reading the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen. [1] She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from St Hilda's College, Oxford in 1981.[ citation needed ]

Nottingham City and unitary authority area in England

Nottingham is a city and unitary authority area in Nottinghamshire, England, 128 miles (206 km) north of London, 45 miles (72 km) northeast of Birmingham and 56 miles (90 km) southeast of Manchester, in the East Midlands.

Northern England Place in England

Northern England, also known as the North of England or simply the North, is the northern part of England, considered as a single cultural area. It extends from the Scottish border in the north to near the River Trent in the south, although precise definitions of its southern extent vary. Northern England approximately comprises three statistical regions: the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. These have a combined population of around 14.9 million as of the 2011 Census and an area of 37,331 km2. Northern England contains much of England's national parkland but also has large areas of urbanisation, including the conurbations of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Teesside, Tyneside, Wearside, and South and West Yorkshire.

Arthur Conan Doyle British detective fiction author

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a British writer best known for his detective fiction featuring the character Sherlock Holmes. Originally a physician, in 1887 he published A Study in Scarlet, the first of four novels about Holmes and Dr. Watson. In addition, Doyle wrote over fifty short stories featuring the famous detective. The Sherlock Holmes stories are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction.

For eight years, she worked in publishing at Quarto and Gordon Fraser. [2] She spent two years teaching English as a foreign language in Turin, Italy and Bilbao, Spain. She returned to England in 1992 and spent the rest of that year in County Durham, in a house that looked out over the North Sea. [3] There she began working on her first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. [3] In 1993, she was hired by Simon & Schuster in Cambridge to edit cookbooks, a job she kept for the next ten years. [2]

Gordon Fraser (publisher) British publisher

Gordon Fraser was a British publisher and literary editor. Through his eponymous gallery, he is considered to have "revolutionized greetings card design and quality".

Turin Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Turin is a city and an important business and cultural centre in northern Italy. It is the capital city of the Metropolitan City of Turin and of the Piedmont region, and was the first capital city of Italy from 1861 to 1865. The city is located mainly on the western bank of the Po River, in front of Susa Valley, and is surrounded by the western Alpine arch and Superga Hill. The population of the city proper is 878,074 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat to be 1.7 million inhabitants. The Turin metropolitan area is estimated by the OECD to have a population of 2.2 million.

Bilbao Municipality in Basque Country, Spain

Bilbao is a city in northern Spain, the largest city in the province of Biscay and in the Basque Country as a whole. It is also the largest city proper in northern Spain. Bilbao is the tenth largest city in Spain, with a population of 345,141 as of 2015. The Bilbao metropolitan area has roughly 1 million inhabitants, making it one of the most populous metropolitan areas in northern Spain; with a population of 875,552 the comarca of Greater Bilbao is the fifth-largest urban area in Spain. Bilbao is also the main urban area in what is defined as the Greater Basque region.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Clarke first developed the idea for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell while she was teaching in Bilbao: "I had a kind of waking dream ... about a man in 18th-century clothes in a place rather like Venice, talking to some English tourists. And I felt strongly that he had some sort of magical background – he'd been dabbling in magic, and something had gone badly wrong." [4] She had also recently reread J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and afterward was inspired to "[try] writing a novel of magic and fantasy". [5]

J. R. R. Tolkien British philologist and author, creator of classic fantasy works

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor who is best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

<i>The Lord of the Rings</i> 1954–1955 fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.

After she returned from Spain in 1993, Clarke began to think seriously about writing her novel. She signed up for a five-day fantasy and science-fiction writing workshop, co-taught by science fiction and fantasy writers Colin Greenland and Geoff Ryman. The students were expected to prepare a short story before attending, but Clarke only had "bundles" of material for her novel. From this she extracted "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", a fairy tale about three women secretly practising magic who are discovered by the famous Jonathan Strange. [6] Greenland was so impressed with the story that, without Clarke's knowledge, he sent an excerpt to his friend, the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Gaiman later said, "It was terrifying from my point of view to read this first short story that had so much assurance ... It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata." [6] Gaiman showed the story to his friend, science-fiction writer and editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Clarke learned of these events when Nielsen Hayden called and offered to publish her story in his anthology Starlight 1 (1996), which featured pieces by well-regarded science-fiction and fantasy writers. [6] She accepted, and the book won the World Fantasy Award for best anthology in 1997. [7]

Colin Greenland British writer

Colin Greenland is a British science fiction writer, whose first story won the second prize in a 1982 Faber & Faber competition. His best-known novel is Take Back Plenty (1990), winner of both major British science fiction awards, the 1990 British SF Association award and the 1991 Arthur C. Clarke Award, as well as being a nominee for the 1992 Philip K. Dick Award for the best original paperback published that year in the United States.

Geoff Ryman British-Canadian writer

Geoffrey Charles Ryman is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, slipstream and historical fiction.

Fairy tale fictional story featuring folkloric fantasy characters

A fairy tale, wonder tale, magic tale, or Märchen is a folklore genre that takes the form of a short story. Such stories typically feature entities such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends and explicit moral tales, including beast fables. The term is mainly used for stories with origins in European tradition and, at least in recent centuries, mostly relates to children's literature.

Colin Greenland, Clarke's partner, did not read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell until it was published. Colin Greenland.jpg
Colin Greenland, Clarke's partner, did not read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell until it was published.

Clarke spent the next ten years working on the novel in her spare time. [9] She also published stories in Starlight 2 (1998) and Starlight 3 (2001); according to The New York Times Magazine , her work was known and appreciated by a small group of fantasy fans and critics on the internet. [6] Overall, she published seven short stories in anthologies. "Mr Simonelli, or The Fairy Widower" was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001. [10]

Clarke was never sure if she would finish her novel or if it would be published. [9] Clarke tried to write for three hours each day, beginning at 5:30 am, but struggled to keep this schedule. Rather than writing the novel from beginning to end, she wrote in fragments and attempted to stitch them together. [11] Clarke, admitting that the project was for herself and not for the reader, [12] "clung to this method" "because I felt that if I went back and started at the beginning, [the novel] would lack depth, and I would just be skimming the surface of what I could do. But if I had known it was going to take me ten years, I would never have begun. I was buoyed up by thinking that I would finish it next year, or the year after next." [11] Clarke and Greenland fell in love while she was writing the novel and moved in together. [6]

Around 2001, Clarke "had begun to despair", and started looking for someone to help her finish and sell the book. [6] Giles Gordon became her first literary agent and sold the unfinished manuscript to Bloomsbury in early 2003, after two publishers rejected it as unmarketable. [11] Bloomsbury were so sure the novel would be a success that they offered Clarke a £1 million advance. [13] They printed 250,000 hardcover copies simultaneously in the United States, Britain, and Germany. Seventeen translations were begun before the first English publication was released on 8 September 2004 in the United States and on 30 September in the United Kingdom. [6] [14]

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is an alternative history set in 19th-century England during the Napoleonic Wars. It is based on the premise that magic once existed in England and has returned with two men: Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange. Centering on the relationship between these two men, [15] the novel investigates the nature of "Englishness" [16] and the boundary between reason and madness. [17] It has been described as a fantasy novel, an alternative history, and an historical novel and draws on various Romantic literary traditions, such as the comedy of manners, the Gothic tale, and the Byronic hero. [18] Clarke's style has frequently been described as a pastiche, particularly of 19th-century British writers such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Meredith. [15] [19] The supernatural is contrasted with and highlighted by mundane details and Clarke's tone combines arch wit with antiquarian quaintness. [20] [21] The text is supplemented with almost 200 footnotes, outlining the backstory and an entire fictional corpus of magical scholarship. The novel was well received by critics [22] and reached number three on the New York Times best-seller list, [14] remaining on the list for eleven weeks. [23]

A seven-part adaptation of the book by the BBC began broadcast on BBC One on Sunday 17 May 2015. The book was adapted by Peter Harness, directed by Toby Haynes, and produced by Cuba Pictures and Feel Films. [24] [25]

In 2006, Clarke published a collection of eight fairy tales presented as the work of several different writers, seven of which had been previously anthologized. [26] [27] [28] The volume's focus on "female mastery of the dark arts" is reflected in the ladies of Grace Adieu's magical abilities and the prominent role needlework plays in saving the Duke of Wellington and Mary, Queen of Scots. [29] The collection is a "sly, frequently comical, feminist revision" of Jonathan Strange. [30] In tone, the stories are similar to the novel—"nearly every one of them is told in a lucid, frequently deadpan, bedtime-story voice strikingly similar to the voice that narrates the novel." [30]

The title story, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", is set in early 19th-century Gloucestershire and concerns the friendship of three young women, Cassandra Parbringer, Miss Tobias, and Mrs. Fields. Though the events of the story do not actually appear in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, they are referenced in a footnote in Chapter 43. Clarke has said, "For a long time it was my hope that these three ladies should eventually find a place in ... the novel ... I decided there was no place for them ... I deliberately kept women to the domestic sphere in the interests of authenticity ... it was important that real and alternate history appeared to have converged. This meant that I needed to write the women and the servants, as far as possible, as they would have been written in a 19th-century novel." [31] Reviewers highlighted this tale, one calling it "the most striking story" of the collection and "a staunchly feminist take on power relations". [32] In her review of the volume in Strange Horizons , Victoria Hoyle writes that "there is something incredibly precise, clean, and cold about Clarke's portrayal of 'women's magic' in this story (and throughout the collection)—it is urgent and desperate, but it is also natural and in the course of things." [33]

The collection received many positive reviews, though some critics compared the short stories unfavourably with the highly acclaimed and more substantial Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Hoyle wrote in her review that "the stories ... are consistently subtle and enchanting, and as charismatic as any reader could wish, but, while the collection has the panache of the novel, it lacks its glorious self-possession." [33]


Clarke currently resides in Cambridge with her partner, the science fiction novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland. [10] She was, in 2004, working on a book that begins a few years after Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell ends and which will centre around characters who, as Clarke says, are "a bit lower down the social scale". [12] She commented in 2005 and 2007 [34] that progress on the book had been slowed by her ill health. [35] In 2006 it was reported that she suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. [36]

Awards and nominations

World Fantasy Award Novella Award2001"Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower"Shortlisted [37]
Man Booker Prize 2004Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellLonglisted [38]
Whitbread First Novel Award 2004Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellShortlisted [39]
Guardian First Book Award 2004Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellShortlisted [40]
Time 's Best Novel of the Year2004Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellWon [41]
British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award2005Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellShortlisted [42]
Hugo Award for Best Novel 2005Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellWon [43]
World Fantasy Award for Best Novel 2005Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellWon [44]
Locus Award for Best First Novel 2005Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellWon [45]
Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature2005Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellWon [46]
British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year Award2005Best new authorWon [47]

List of works

Clarke has published her short stories in multiple publications. This list contains the first publication of each as well as her collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories .

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