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Norwich raised historian to release new book

The cover of the new novel. PICTURE: Penguin Random House

The cover of the new novel. PICTURE: Penguin Random House

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Acclaimed historian and writer returns with her second historical novel.

On July 5 Tillyard’s new novel The Great Level will be released by publishers Penguin Random House.

The book, which follows in the tradition of The Essex Serpent, The Miniaturist and Golden Hill, is set in the sixteenth-century against the back drop of the English fens.

The author said: “Growing up in Norwich I was certainly aware of the fens, and I remember passing Ely often on the way to visit my grandparents in Cambridge. The great skies of East Anglia have always been inside me, and I still love flat landscapes and marshes.

“I am sure that inspired my choice of the fens when I thought about climate change, flooding and the changing use and exploitation of land and people.”

The plot of the novel centres around two people; a Dutch engineer named Jan, and a local uneducated fens woman named Eliza.

“There are little details in the book that come from my family history in Norwich,” said Tillyard, “Jan, my hero, buys boots from Norwich, where there are fine leather workers who have begun to settle there, fleeing from persecution in France.

“This is what my own Huguenot ancestors did. They were leather workers who by the 18th century had set up in Elm Hill in Norwich. The business eventually became Norvic Shoes, with a large factory in St George’s Plain.

“The building is still there, now condominiums, and I think part of it is called Tillyard House. Your readers will know if I’ve got that right.”

Tillyard has also written a number of histories, most notably Aristocrats which was adapted for a BBC mini-series in 1999.

Her first novel, Tides of War, was long-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2012.

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