The full title...


 
"Novgorod the Great"
 
...sorry, that's all...
 
...but you can click here to view chapter-headings...
  What's the picture?
The rather elegant cover of the book shows a detail from a painting by
Isaak Levitan (1860-1900), the great Russian landscape artist.
Painted in 1892, it is entitled 'Evening Bells'.

What's it about?

Slightly dodgy 1745 map of Novgorod the Great (ACTUAL north is at the south-west point of the pretty compass...) - click to view full-size Novgorod the Great, ancient city of a thousand saints, August 1833. A young widow and a prosperous merchant encounter each other by chance in an inn kept by a man whose antipathy to all guests is matched only by his violent loathing of poets. But during a night spent in each other's company, filled with dawning hope, revelation, unfortunate accidents and pickled eggs, several remarkable stories unfold.

The story of John Cochrane, pedestrian traveller extraordinaire, and deceased husband of the young widow Ksenia; of his infamous father, who spent his life defrauding governments and upsetting Napoleon; of Ksenia Loginova's perilous 6,000 mile journey across Siberia and the unwelcome attentions of a troubadour; of the merchant Horatio who reflects on love, slavery and arithmetic. Among other matters discussed at length in the small hours of the night are carnivorous Colombian elephants, the questionable motives of travellers, and the impatience of Chernobog, Master of the Infernal Darkness.

Why did I want to write this?

Portrait of Mrs Cochrane - aka Ksenia Loginova - made in London ca. 1824 - click to view full-size Why indeed?
Three things attracted me to this story: firstly, the incredible pedestrian journey made by Commander John Cochrane, from Dieppe to Kamchatka and back; secondly, the equally breathtaking venture of young Ksenia Loginova ("Mrs Cochrane"); and thirdly, I have always wanted to write a love story. (Yes, really - I'm just that kinda guy.)

What fascinated me most about the story of John Cochrane is his matter-of-factness about the most horrendous disasters he meets on his journey - from the loss of his trousers to the impending loss of his life in a wilderness of icy rivers and plummeting temperatures. A close second as a curiosity is his treatment of his new wife - "Mrs Cochrane" is mentioned a couple of times in passing in the course of several hundred pages, but no mention is made of her given name, nor is there any record of how she reacted to the grim return-journey across Siberia. This bizarre treatment of the poor girl led me to thinking: what did happen to those brave explorers' wives who were left behind - in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, almost certainly, beyond? This book is a fictional attempt to answer that question.

It must be noted that I have absolutely no evidence, not even the very slightest suggestion, that Ksenia Loginova behaved in any way improperly during her life. But, if I'd been her...

Background reading...

If you want to learn more about the Cochrane family, or Ksenia Loginova, click here

Reviews

The Scotsman, 2 October 2010 'This book will be loved by anyone keen on tales of derring-do, and everyone who's ever met an entrancing stranger and found themselves asking "What if?"'

The Skinny, 22 September 2010 'The tales range into entertainingly bizarre areas... The main characters are well written and it is quite comedic at times... A good story and an enjoyable read...'

The [Glasgow] Herald, 30 October 2010 'It's fun, evoking the period...while ditching most of the ornate language that might be a stumbling block for modern readers. You couldn't make this up.' ('Paperback of the Week')

To read all reviews, click here...