2018 news


February 24, 2018 by Lydia Syson

A book cover, an expedition, a story.


At long last I can show off the cover of my adult debut novel, which will be out on May 17th this year. . .

Mr Peacock cover

Enormous thanks to Alexandra Allden and Naomi McCavitt for such exquisite design and illustration. I think the jacket is stunning, and captures the book perfectly.

Mr Peacock’s Possessions is set in the late nineteenth century on an imaginary version of the main island in the Kermadecs, an exceptionally remote volcanic chain about half way between New Zealand and Tonga, where the Pacific and Australian plates collide. Its seed was sown the moment my aunt-by-marriage told me the story of her uncle, ‘King’ Bell, who was born on Raoul; his family were once the island’s only inhabitants. I have been imagining this place – re-imagining it as Monday Island – for three years now, never really believing I would ever get there to the Kermadecs myself.

And now I’m going – I’ve just finished repacking my gear bag! I’ll be one of the crew of a wildly exciting expedition organised by the Sir Peter Blake Trust to explore one of the most untouched and biodiverse places on our planet. There are twenty student voyagers on board who’ll be working with a range of scientists and conservation experts, learning why this extroardinary marine region is so critical to understanding climate change and ocean health. Meet everybody here and find out more about what we’ll be up to. Our adventure begins early on 26th February – after our first night on board – and you can follow it here. Find out more about how schools and classrooms can connect with the expedition here, where you can also subscribe to the daily blog. And of course I’ll be writing about it and talking about it wherever and whenever I can when I get back.

While I’m away, do look out for a new story on a completely different subject . . . which you can read in the March edition of SCOOP, the fabulous printed magazine for 8-12 year olds – available by subscription and in many good bookshops. If you’ve not seen it yet, I urge you to get hold of a copy, or ask your school library if they subscribe. It’s beautiful.

Twenty years ago, I made a BBC radio programme about Britain’s worst maritime disaster, a little known tragedy which happened during the ‘darkest hour’ in June 1940.  Even after the Dunkirk rescue, thousands of British troops were stranded in the west of France. Operation Ariel followed Operation Dynamo, but HMT Lancastria, a cruise ship turned troop carrier, was bombed before she could leave St Nazaire. Churchill was so concerned about the effect this news would have on British morale, he kept it secret. Emilie Henrotin, who was thirteen at the time, and had escaped Belgium with her family was one of the survivors who shared her memories with me. ‘The Secret Sinking’, in this month’s SCOOP, tells Emilie’s story.


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“A mesmerising portrait of a family unravelling” THE TIMES (Best historical fiction in 2018)

“Powerful, intense and beautiful” HISTORICAL NOVEL REVIEW

“This tense, evocative, richly-imagined novel conjures the voices of a strange time and place, and makes them universal” EMMA DARWIN

“Syson brings history alive” THE OBSERVER

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