I’m not sure how old I was when I first read Keith Roberts’s Pavane, maybe fifteen or sixteen, but it had a profound effect on me.
I’d begun my science fiction reading at junior school with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and an enormous, dog-eared book that mixed fiction and fact, with pieces about Charles Fort and John Merrick packed in alongside stories like “The Screaming Skull” and “The Dunwich Horror.” The mid-’70s were a golden age of science fiction cover illustration, and I moved on, attracted by the work of Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington and others, to short story collections—I read mostly short stories, back then—by Asimov and Heinlein and Niven and EE “Doc” Smith. It was a wonderful, innocent time of discovery, and sometimes I miss it.
One day, going along the science fiction shelves of WH Smith in Worksop, I came across a book called Pavane, by an author I’d never heard of before. It was the Panther edition, with a very strange cover involving a castle on a distant crag, a line of robed figures queuing up before an executioner, and the disembodied head of a woman floating in the foreground. I can’t remember what the back cover blurb was like now, but it must have been interesting enough for me to buy the book. And my world changed.