Interviews with Writers

Historical Fiction | Q&A Steven Neil | The Merest Loss

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I’m delighted to be taking part in a Rachel’s Random Resources tour today with Steven Neil in my hot seat chatting to us about The Merest Loss.

If you enjoy historical fiction, The Merest Loss sounds an awesome read.

The Merest Loss Steven Neil

  • 368 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (14 Nov. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1788039718
  • ISBN-13: 978-1788039710

When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?

Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?

The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.

The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.

The Merest Loss is available to purchase from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Independent Author Network.


Hi Steven,

Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.


Please summarise The Merest Loss in 20 words or less.


The Merest Loss: A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.


What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?

Originally I was planning to write a Dick Francis style thriller and I was researching a jockey called Jem Mason, who won the first Grand National at Liverpool in 1839. I found a line in his description which said something like ‘also famous for his relationship with Harriet Howard, who ran away to live with him in London when she was fifteen and who also became Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer’. I decided she was an even more interesting character and I set about writing a fictional account of her life.


Please tell us about your characters.

Harriet Howard is the heroine. She is independent, feisty, stubborn, beautiful and intelligent. Jem Mason is the main love interest. He is taciturn, difficult and moody, but also charismatic, talented and single-minded. Tom Olliver, friend to both Harriet and Jem, is loyal, tough, reliable and a brilliant horseman. Louis Napoleon is arrogant, feckless, self-regarding and a womaniser.


If you could choose to be one of your characters Steven, who would you be?

Jem Mason. I have great admiration for the skill and courage of the jump jockey. I share some of his characteristics and I was able to empathise with him.


Who would you cast if your book were optioned for a movie?

I think Australian actress Emma Hamilton would make a terrific Harriet Howard. Dominic Cooper for Jem Mason perhaps. Johnny Flynn for Tom Olliver. James Norton as Louis Napoleon.


Did you do any research?  What resources did you use? 

I did a lot of historical research on the internet and at the British Library, trying to make sure the historical timeline was correct and that the language and cultural references were appropriate to the age. I also read a lot of 19th century novels and books on the history of Britain and France in the 19th century.


Panster or plotter?

I am absolutely a plotter. I planned thirty six chapters of not more than 2500 words for my novel, even before I had a subject. This arose from a conversation with one of my Creative Writing tutors.

Me: I can only write short stories. I could never write a novel.

Her: But you can write a 2500 word short story?

Me: Yes.

Her: Well, can you write ten 2500 word short stories?

Me: Yes, I suppose so.

Her: Well, if you write thirty-six short stories on a linked theme, you have written a novel.


Which authors have influenced your writing Steven?

I love the 19th century English tradition, especially Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen and the 20th century American tradition, especially Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Steinbeck.


Do you have a favourite book?

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. It was the first book to make me cry as an adult.


… what are you reading now? Opinion?

I have recently discovered audible books and I am using my monthly credits to revisit the Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope. The writing is quite brilliant. Trollope is such a witty observational writer and Timothy West, the narrator, does a great job in bringing the characters to life. Recommended.


Finally, do you make use of local resources for promoting your book?

As an independent author, without the backing of a big publishing house, I have to work at it to gain exposure. I make sure all my local libraries have a copy of The Merest Loss. Independent bookshops The Booksmith Weedon Bec, Old Hall Bookshop Brackley, Quinns bookshop Market Harborough, Hunt’s bookshop Rugby, the University bookshop Buckingham and Daunts books London have all supported me. I speak at events, including the Delapre Abbey literary festival and I am only too happy to speak to book clubs and reading groups in Northants, North Bucks and North Oxfordshire.


Thank you for being my guest.

Wishing you success with all your writing projects.


Steven NeilSteven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.


Connect with Steven Neil

Twitter @stevenneil12


 Don’t forget to check out the other hosts on tour.

The Merest Loss Steven Neil


Read all posts in the historical fiction genre on Jera’s Jamboree.

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I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.

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