Hester Prynne, standing on a Boston scaffold, waiting to be marked with a scarlet “A”.
Captain Jack Aubrey, sitting year after year in the corridors of the Admiralty, knowing his great achievements will not earn him a promotion.
Becky Sharp, ignoring the rules governing women’s behavior as she bulldozes her way through English society.
And Tom Jones, an illegitimate abandoned baby boy, acquiring love and fortune and title with a smile on his face.
These stories really draw me in. Underdogs and outsiders: their stories promise that we can change our own lives, overcome the odds, prove our critics wrong. They’re like sports movies, except that these heroines and heroes live at a time when the wrong move could mean a hanging.
I’ve just been watching an excellent Swedish TV series called Anno 1790. A surgeon called Daadh, who has revolutionary ideals, becomes a police investigator and is forced to keep choosing between his job, his love for a married gentlewoman, and his principles. Redheaded, republican, secular, he’s an outsider who’s hiding in the midst of the establishment.
But I think I like the antihero outsider even more. George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman is a brilliantly drawn character: a self-confessed coward, adulterer and liar, he commits acts of involuntary bravery all over the British Empire of Palmerston and Queen Victoria. All the way, he brags about his base motivations and how he has got away with it one more time… and we love him for it. In my own novel, The Bitter Trade, the hero Calumny Spinks is cocky, rude, selfish and rash – but he’s helped by wiser, bigger souls who see his potential.
These anti-heroes use their outsider status to gain our trust, and I find it all the more moving when they are in danger or in love or bereaved: they feel real because they’ve shown us their dark sides.
Cal is also half-French, which is important to me. I’m English but grew up in the small country of Luxembourg: an immigrant there, but now that I live in London I realise that I am not really English either. Many outsider heroines and heroes have that mixed kind of identity: like Elizabeth Bennett, educated to mingle with society but fundamentally from a lower stratum. Or Maximus Decimus Meridius, if you like your history violent: Spanish, but so attached to the ideal of Rome that he would die for it.
Some of my favourite outsider heroes are real. In setting The Bitter Trade during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, I researched William of Orange, who became King of England. He lost his father before he was born, and was orphaned before he was ten; laws were passed at his own uncles’ urging to bar him from the Dutch throne; the same uncles – Charles II and James II of England – made a secret alliance with the French against his country whilst buying him expensive gifts for his birthday. Determined, resourceful, he took the English crown without firing a shot. Now that’s an outsider story!
The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander
Publication Date: April 7, 2014
Formats: eBook, Paperback; 448p
Genre: Historical Adventure/Thriller
In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.
When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.
The Bitter Trade won the PEN Factor at The Literary Consultancy’s Writing In A Digital Age Conference. Jury Chair Rebecca Swift (Author, Poetic Lives: Dickinson) said: “The Pen Factor jury selected The Bitter Trade based on the quality of writing, the engaging plot, and the rich and unusual historical context. Dazzling and playful!”
Praise For The Bitter Trade
“A fantastic debut novel” – Robert Elms, BBC Radio London
“The ambitious, cheeky Calumny Spinks is a great guide through the sensory overload of 17th century London, in an adventure that combines unexpected insights with just the right amount of rollicking ribaldry. I hope it’s the opener to a series.” – Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant and May novels
“This debut novel is a gripping evocation of late seventeenth century London, rich in persuasive dialect and period detail and with a bold protagonist. An unusual thriller that just keeps you wanting to know more about the many facets of this story. You’ll never view your coffee in quite the same way again.” – Daniel Pembrey, bestselling author of The Candidate
“A very exciting and superbly researched novel” – Mel Ulm, The Reading Life
Buy the Book
About the Author
Piers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.
For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
The Bitter Trade Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, October 13
Tuesday, October 14
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, October 15
Thursday, October 16
Spotlight & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, October 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, October 21
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, October 22
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, October 23
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, October 28
Spotlight at What Is That Book About
Wednesday, October 29
Spotlight at Unshelfish
Thursday, October 30
Review at Broken Teepee
Saturday, November 1
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, November 3
Tuesday, November 4
Wednesday, November 5
Thursday, November 6
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books
Monday, November 10
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, November 11
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, November 12
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Friday, November 14