Wednesday 15 May 2013

Author Spotlight ~ Bee Ridgway

Photo by kind permission of the author

Bee Ridgway
Author of

Published by Michael Joseph
23 May 2013

1812: On a lonely battlefield in Spain, twenty-two year old Lord Nicholas Falcott is about to die . . . run through by a French Dragoon. But, the next moment, he inexplicably jumps forward in time, nearly two hundred years - very much alive. Taken under the wing of a mysterious organisation, The Guild, he receives everything he could ever need under the following conditions: 

He can’t go back. He can’t go home. He must tell no one.

Resigned to his fate, Nicholas rebuilds his life in the twenty-first century, until ten years later, when an exquisite wax sealed envelope brings a summons from The Guild. It seems for a select few the rules can be broken and Nicholas is forced to return to and confront his nineteenth century past . . .

Back in 1815, Julia Percy’s world has fallen apart. Her enigmatic grandfather, the Earl of Darchester, has died and left her with a closely guarded secret, one she is only now discovering - the manipulation of time.

Hiding dark secrets and facing danger from unknown enemies, Julia and Nicholas are drawn to each other, as together they start to realise how little Julia knew about her beloved grandfather and to understand his ominous last words . . .


Bee was born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a parsonage made from three stuck-together old cottages. She then attended Oberlin College, worked for a year in features at Elle Magazine, and went on to Cornell for a doctoral degree in English literature. After several years spent chasing research materials and true love around the UK, she settled down to teach American literature at Bryn Mawr College. Bee lives with her partner in Philadelphia. The River of No Return is her first novel.

Bee - welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions.

Where did you get the inspiration for The River of No Return? 

I’ve always been fascinated by time travel, and I loved the children’s time travel books I read. THE DARK IS RISING series is incredible, and still haunts my imagination. A WRINKLE IN TIME, of course, and TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN, to name just a few. When I was in graduate school I became addicted to Georgette Heyer, and across the years that I lived in the UK I used to haunt the charity shops (this was before the new rule where they’ll only sell newish books, confound them). I collected fabulous PAN paperbacks of all of her regencies. So time travel and Regency capers go together for me in terms of the kinds of literature I enjoy when I want to just drift away with a great book! But for this particular novel, the idea really just came to me like a bolt from the blue. I was in Vermont, in the house where I imagine Nick waking up from the bad dream in the first chapter of the novel. I was looking out the window on a moonlit winter night, down the hill and across the driveway to a beaver pond that was glowing in the moonlight. And suddenly there the idea for the book was. Or rather, there Nick was. It really was as if he walked in to my house, shook my hand, and said, “Hello, I am a time-traveling aristocrat and I’m in a pickle. I need you to help me figure it out, so if you don’t mind terribly much, let’s get to work!”

Where did your research for the book take you? 

Everywhere. I’m an academic and my field is 19th century literature, so I already had a background in the material I was engaging. But fiction making is a very different beast than scholarship. I found myself looking at endless images of the places I was describing, of the clothing, the hairstyles. I also read through piles of primary documents pertaining to the political kerfuffle that catches up my main character. But the most fun research I did was in working out how to weave in the dozens of fragments of writing from other authors that I worked into my own prose. I wanted the writing itself to have a sense of time travel in it – so I buried citations throughout the book. I don’t want the reader to notice them, but I’d like my reader to have a somewhat uncanny sense of the depth and strangeness of time as she reads. I hoped that weaving these other voices from the past throughout the book might achieve that.

Time slip novels must be tricky to write - how did you control the narrative, or did the narrative ever control you? 

I wrote the novel in three major stages. In the first stage, the time travel was fairly simple. The idea of traveling on streams of emotion was there, but it wasn’t fully developed. Then, once I was working with an agent (the immortal and fabulous Alexandra Machinist), I went in and really turned up the volume on the problem of the Guild, the brotherhood that controls time travel. I had to do quite a bit of development on the idea of how time travel works. Then, when the novel sold and I had editors (one for the US and one for the UK), I cracked the into several pieces and rebuilt it from the inside out. At that point the problem of the future entered the story, and the novel gained the ominous character named Mr. Mibbs. It was then that I had to really map out the idea and make sure that it worked all the way through. In other words, the idea got more and more complicated with every revision. By the end I felt that I had really invented a new fictional world. It was very satisfying. 

What makes you want to write historical fiction? 

My teaching and my research keeps me in the 18th and 19th centuries. For all that I live in the present and lead a very contemporary life (I would never want to live in the past that I study), I feel drawn to the past not in a nostalgic way, but as a sort of looking glass. My novel is historical fiction, but it is also time travel fiction. It is set then . . . and now. My main character, Nick, must negotiate the huge differences between his 21st century self and his 19th century self. The past is a means for him to come to know himself, to make choices about what kind of man he wants to be. And the past should work that way for all of us, I think, even though we can’t actually go there, like Nick can.

And Finally a fun Question – at which event in history would you like to be a fly on the wall and why? 

That’s an incredibly difficult question! There are so many. Obviously if someone said “I can bring you back and show you the Trojan Horse, or Joan of Arc riding into battle, or I can show you the funeral procession for Princess Charlotte,” I would jump at the chance! But I think that rather than events I would want to see places and experience cultures that have been destroyed, or have simply changed beyond recognition. I would like to visit Mexico before the Spanish conquest. The Spanish who first saw it described Tenochtitlan as greater than Rome, greater than any European city they knew or could imagine. In general I would like to see the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.

Listen to Bee talking about The River of No Return

Bee - thank you so much for visiting Jaffareadstoo.

We wish you continued success with your writing career.

I reviewed an ARC of The River of No Return in February 2013


  1. Lovely to see Bee on your blog Josie - as you know, I'm a big fan of her book


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