Stuck in the Pages SPFBO 9 Edition: Susan Maxwell

Stuck in the Pages – Susan Maxwell

Have you ever wanted to visit the worlds and characters of your favorite books? Well, come and walk into our beautiful vast library and let us get you stuck in the pages!

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For SPFBO 9 I’m returning to my old tradition, where I offer to the authors in our batch a spotlight on Queen’s Book Asylum. While in previous years I created a new feature, this year I let them choose between all of my available ones: What the Hungarian?!, Tales from the Asylum, Stuck in the Pages, Party with the Stars, To Be Continued…, as well as the regular author spotlight options of an interview, and a guest post.

Susan Maxwell, author of And the Wildness, chose Stuck in the Pages and so, let’s see how she did with it!

Meet the Author
Susan Maxwell

Susan Maxwell is an independent author and scholar who has had short stories and poetry published in magazines and anthologies. In 2014 Little Island Books published the novel Good Red Herring for the Young Adult market, though as with most of Maxwell’s work, it does not fit entirely comfortably into generic or age-related categories. Further, independently published, books followed this debut—A Wild Goose Hunt, a sequel to Good Red Herring, and And the Wildness, set in the same fictional ‘Hibernia Altera’ universe; the short story collection Fluctuation in Disorder; and the novel Hollowmen, both of the latter slipstream works aimed at an adult rather than a universal readership. 

Apart from writing fiction, Maxwell has served on fiction and non-fiction juries for the British Fantasy Awards; has a PhD in Archival Science and writes on themes related to archives and fiction; and reviews regularly for Inis, the magazine of Children’s Books Ireland. Literary influences come mostly from speculative and modernist fiction, the author being particularly fond of Flann O’Brien, Calvino, Beckett, and Woolf. 

When not writing, or painting, or being an archivist, the author can be found in the vegetable patch, listening to music, reading books, watching old detective series, or catching up on sleep.

Connect with Susan Maxwell
Stuck in the Pages
You are an esteemed guest in the Asylum and you are currently browsing the books in our vast library when you spot a familiar title you really enjoyed once upon a time. You pick it up, nostalgia rushing through you. Which book did you lift from the shelves?

I have picked up Wilkie Collins’ 1859 classic, The Woman in White. 

Turn to page 268 and pick up a passage that’s not spoilery. Share it with us!

“Who’s there?” I called out. 

There was no answer. 

“Who’s there?” I repeated. 

An instant of silence followed; and then we heard the light fall of the footsteps again, fainter and fainter—sinking, sinking, sinking—till they were lost in the silence. 

We hurried out from the trees to the open lawn beyond; crossed it rapidly; and without another word passing between us, reached the house. 

Oh no! Our pet demon just got too excited by your presence, opened a portal into the book, and now you are stuck in the pages. Describe yourself as a character! What is your theme song in this situation?

A grumpy and unsociable writer of all sorts of stuff has landed without warning in the chill of the evening, on the heathy slope near the lake in Sir Percival Glyde’s summer home in Blacklake Park. Happily, short hair seems to have confused the gods of intertextuality, so I am in men’s clothing, rather than being suffocated in respectable layers of petticoats. Unhappily, the man whose clothes I am wearing was built along Sidney Greenstreet lines, and had feet the size of canoes. I will die falling over my own hems.

Same As It Ever Was (Talking Heads)

After the initial shock wears off, you assess your environment. What do you see? How do the other characters react to you if there are any?

It’s evening here, nearly sunset, on a dry, heavy day. I am on a sandy stretch of heath near a rather dismal lake, that lies under a tissue of mist. Behind me, a shadowy plantation of trees looms in the skyline, and I feel distinctly uneasy. I hurry down towards the lake. The whole place is so gloomy and desolate that the desire not to meet alone whatever might walk in the woods outweighs my natural misanthropy. 

Above me, I see the figures of two people—the heroines, Marian and Laura— leaving the boathouse, moving with as much speed as can be achieved in the voluminous dresses fashionable twenty years into the reign of Queen Victoria, and, in the case of Laura, the corset. I can hear their voices—“I am half-dead with fear”, whispers Laura—and realize that it is I who have spooked them, and sent them rustling and bustling for home.

Since you are stuck, you have to decide whether you stay where you are or go and find shelter. What do you do?

There is no way I’m staying outside on my own here, enclosed in this uncanny landscape. I judge my distance as best I can and scurry after the two women without being observed. 

Your decision made, time to think a step further. You need food and drink. Can you find some in nature, buy some, barter or require it any other way? How?

My luck holds. They are returning to the house, and it is as I had imagined it from its description on page 199: a big, well-appointed country seat of considerable age, meaning that it should be easy enough, once I am in, to make my secretive way to the larder, or the cellar if necessary, for a spot of nourishment. I have a bad feeling that there is a dog somewhere about,  but dogs are usually bribable, if you have found your way to the food.

Once you are full, a creature approaches you. What/who it is and is it dangerous?

As full as a butcher’s pup on the supplies I found in the larder, I decide to make the most of my weird experience, and to go exploring. Creeping towards the front of the house, my adventuring eye is caught by an open door, and through it I can see shelves of books—a library! Maybe salvation is at hand. I open the door—and almost step on Count Fosco. 

He is a devious, dangerous, merciless man—spender of other people’s fortunes, abetter to the locking up of perfectly sane women, panderer to rakehells in need of a wealthy wife. He looks at me with “his unfathomable gray eyes…with that cold, clear, irresistable glitter in them”. As snakes are said to mesmerize little birds before consuming them, so Count Fosco regards me, and I cannot break his gaze.

While interacting with this creature, you discover you have magical abilities. What are they? And can you use them at all?

Just as I begin to worry that my enormous trousers are proving too much for my belt, I realise I have acquired the ability to change my appearance, and I now resemble Marian Halcombe (who, happily, did not wear corsets). This is excellent! I can trick Fosco into telling me his plan, so I can help Marian free her poor, stupefied, whale-boned sister from her wretched husband. 

It works—he tells me everything, all his duplicitous plots, all dependent on the death, natural or otherwise, of poor Anne Catherick.

How does your encounter end with the creature?

As he is speaking, I begin to wonder if Fosco is as thoroughly taken in as I had thought. I had “an unutterable suspicion that his mind is prying into mine”, and I tried to look elsewhere. I should leave the room, I know I should. But he stares on, and he talks on. Happily, as well as changing my appearance, I find I can also intrude upon the minds of others as I fear he has intruded into mine. Behind Fosco sits his wife, placidly rolling cigarettes for him. I nudge her to speak, and she speaks. She points out Fosco’s poor manners in leaving a lady (ha!) standing, and as soon as he turns to address her, I bolt out the door like a startled cat.

Meanwhile, the Asylum staff realizes what happened and finally manages to figure out how to get you out of the book. How much time do you think passed? 

I don’t know, but it must be hours—I’m staaaarving.

While the staff fusses over you, your thoughts are whirring. How do you think your character would have changed the story going forward? What impact your short stay had on the world?

Alas, I fear I am unlikely to have effected much change on the den of villains I encountered—much more likely is the possibility that it has changed me, and that I will now be stepping about the place in nankeen trousers and buckle shoes, taking snuff, and looking for wealthy relatives to incarcerate so that I can indulge my spendthrift ways on their money.

The Asylum staff escorts you to a cozy room with a window to our garden and puts you in bed. When you wake up from your nap, you find the book on your nightstand. What’s your first thought? What do you do?

I wake up, relieved that I am once again the same grumpy author I have long known and loved, lying comfortably in a cozy bed and comfy pyjamas, in this civilized Asylum, being tended to by staff, and decent demons of good, if mischievous, ways. I pick up the book idly. I wonder if I did make any change, in my brief sojourn. I open it. 

All the pages are blank. 

Startled, I drop it, and see in horror that my flannel jim-jams are no longer. Instead, I am wearing a long gown of some sort of coarse, tough, cloth. I am not in a cozy room with a window, or with even a nightstand. Only a plain, bare room, with narrow cot, a candle, bars on the window. Recalling what I can of the book, I investigate the labels on my clothes, and there I find, ‘in good marking ink’, the name Anne Catherick.

The Asylum staff, concerned with your behaviour decides to keep you under our careful watch indefinitely. We assure you this does not make us happy but we will let you play with our pet demon whenever you wish. We hope you enjoy your time with us!

Perhaps I could come to an arrangement with the demon about some other books—I have a list—in which I would really like to be stuck, quite, quite soon. Immediately, in fact, would be good…


Grab a copy of Susan Maxwell‘s SPFBO 9 entry, And the Wildness!

And the Wildness by Susan Maxwell

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