Festival of the Gargoyles is an historical children’s adventure story set in the mid 1770s around the muddy Thames estuary marshes. It is a time when tall ships brought in exotic goods from around the world and exported nasty criminals who were banished to the other side of the globe. The thriving harbours in the Thames meant smuggling was a way of life for many people, who used local superstitions and ghostly legends to their advantage to keep nosy parkers out of their way.
A renowned Essex historian, Robert has used his in-depth knowledge of the region to give young readers a true flavour of life in an era when the deadly marsh fever could wipe out entire families, transport was by foot, and only by horse or barge if they had money. It was a time when belief in imps and demons lurking among the mists on the marshes created a real fear in people and caused neighbour to turn on neighbour. Yet it was also a time of great change, as they began to enjoy foreign tastes, listen to the music of Handel and experiment with hot-air balloons. That change came slowly to the countryside, where school and education – especially for girls – was still thought to be quite unnecessary. But Lizzie proves them wrong!
Robert is also author of several historical non-fiction books about the Essex region and a fiction title: Essex Ghost Stories; and he was formerly a professional typographer and photographer. It was while researching an Essex organist, who was a protégé of Handel, that Robert was inspired to write ‘Festival of the Gargoyles’ – his first children’s story – in which he uses real historical characters to build up the suspense. Robert often appears at book events dressed up as one of his characters, the evil smuggler Sam Smagge, who likes to tell children smuggling is far better than school!
“I first wrote about Lizzie in a short story which I sent to a children’s magazine in America. They’d already printed some of my children’s poems and they loved Lizzie and illustrated the story lavishly in their pages, as well as on the cover and the title page. Lizzie had made her first conquest, so I carried on writing and, well, you can read the results now, again lavishly illustrated by an imaginative artist and printed with care and imagination.
“Lizzie lives in a time quite different from today, but there are also similarities. There are still places in the world where it is thought that girls should not be educated and there are still girls who stand up to the bullies, even if they have to face the grim consequences. I recommend Lizzie to you.”
Check out our regular updates and fascinating images posted by Robert on the Festival of the Gargoyles Facebook page
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