I’ve published two novels with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, both set at St. Stephen’s Academy, a fictional boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire, during the 1920s and 1930s. (The links below go to Indiebound, but the titles are available through any bookseller.)
H. S. Cross returns to “a school as nuanced and secretive as J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts” (The Rumpus) in Grievous, the sequel to her coming-of-age novel Wilberforce.
St. Stephen’s Academy, Yorkshire, 1931. A world unto itself, populated by boys reveling in life’s first big mistakes and men still learning how to live with the consequences of their own. They live a cloistered life, exotic to modern eyes, founded upon privilege, ruled by byzantine and often unspoken laws, haunted by injuries both casual and calculated. Yet within those austere corridors can be found windows of enchantment, unruly love, and a wild sort of freedom, all vanished, it seems, from our world.
Told from a variety of viewpoints—including that of unhappy Housemaster John Grieves—Grievous takes us deep inside the crucible of St. Stephen’s while retaining a clear-eyed, contemporary sensibility, drawing out the urges and even mercies hidden beneath the school’s strict, unsparing surface. The Academy may live by its own codes, but as with the world around it—a world the characters must ultimately face—it already contains everything necessary to shape its people or tear them apart.
England, 1926. At St. Stephen’s Academy, the students are on the verge of revolt. While the younger boys plot an insurrection, the older ones are preoccupied with sneaking out-of-bounds, thrashing each other, tearing each other’s clothes off–or some combination of the three. Morgan Wilberforce, for one, can’t take it any longer.
Everything Wilberforce touches turns to disaster in his desperate attempts to fight off boredom, desire, and angst. He knocks himself unconscious tackling the unattainable Spaulding on the rugby pitch, his headmaster detests him for crimes committed years ago, and even his closest friends are subjecting him to physical tortures normally reserved for juniors. When a horrific accident at the boarding school leaves him with more suffering than he could have fathomed, he finds himself utterly lost, groping for a remedy to everything the disaster awakened. And a spiritual crisis isn’t going to be solved by Victorian pornography, cricket practice, canings from classmates, or fumbling with the pub-keeper’s daughter.
H. S. Cross’s Wilberforce is a tour de force of adolescent longing that heralds the arrival of a brilliant new novelist.
- “In the Footsteps of the Inklings” — Conversation in the LA Review of Books with Carol and Philip Zaleski, authors of The Fellowship, about the influence of the Inklings and the project for literary writers of faith today
- “Slipping Into Imagined Worlds” — Conversation with Lian Hearn, author of The Tale of Shikanoko series, about creating fictional worlds, and about women writing ambitious, masculine sagas
- My “Five Best” piece in the Wall Street Journal discusses my picks for the five best scandalous boarding school novels.
- In “I Kissed the Rod” at Paris Review, I discuss Ernest Raymond’s 1922 novel Tell England, including its stylistic and theological transgressions.
- I did a photo essay about inspirations for Grievous when FSG let me take over their Twitter feed for a few hours. (You don’t need a Twitter account to view.)
- On the terrific Grammar Girl blog I discuss how and why I use em-dashes for dialogue: “Em-Dashes: Arrows to the Heart”.
- The Strong Language blog is about… strong language, so they asked me to talk about the history of the word fag, which features prominently in both Grievous and Wilberforce, though not in the way it’s primarily used today.
- FSG asked some of their female authors about women who had inspired their writing. I wrote about Adrienne Kennedy.
Interviews and the like
- Leslie Pietzyk asks about Grievous on her blog Works-in-Progress.
- Largehearted Boy is a blog that asks authors to create and discuss a playlist to accompany their novel. I did one for Grievous and also for Wilberforce. They include links to my Spotify list, so you can listen, too.
- Marshal Zeringue asks writers to take the Page 69 Test, that is, to quote page 69 of their novel and discuss how it is or isn’t representative of the book as a whole. I did it for Grievous.
- Marshal also hosts Writers Read, where he asks authors what they’ve been reading. He had me on in early 2019.
- Gregory Wolfe at Image Journal interviewed me in depth about Wilberforce and writing about faith, part one and part two.
- Ilana Masad invited me on The Other Stories to read an excerpt from Grievous and to discuss process, style, and the path to writing.
- Kory French interviewed me on his show Book Talk about Grievous.
- Caroline and Monica Hadley had me on Writers’ Voices to read an excerpt from Grievous and to probe the inspirations for the series.
Reviews & Praise
“If you had told me, earlier this year, that I would be immersed in not one but two long novels set in an English boarding school, I would have scoffed. If you had told me that I would be looking forward to the author’s next book . . . I would have been incredulous. Such is the power of a writer like H. S. Cross.” John Wilson, National Review
“Similar work was done by Flannery O’Connor, say, or Walker Percy, although I would place Cross closer to the Scottish novelist Muriel Spark: the extraordinary ordinary . . . You will find Grievous is strangely hopeful. Indeed, it is a work of love for our demented world.” Victor Austin, The Living Church
“Cross is a good writer who draws on a Kipling-esque nostalgia in her entertainingly peculiar picture of the public school as crucible for young male Brits.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Complex characters lend an intriguing poignancy to this tale.” Publisher’s Weekly
“[Grievous] is beautifully written, a tour de force of psychological insight into its richly realized characters, and an extraordinary exercise in mood, tone, and characterization. It is not to be missed.” —Michael Cart, Booklist (starred review)
“[An] intense . . . and moving narrative about lives of quiet and not-so-quiet desperation . . . Cross’s fine eye for detail and empathy for the human condition . . . [are] rewarding in their emotional insights.” —Kristen McDermott, Historical Novel Society
“_Grievous _is a complex portrait of a sensitive housemaster in a 1931 English boarding school and his nemesis, an angry boy who hides his true self in a box of mysterious letters . . . Perceptively and richly written, this novel tells of a lost monastic worldwhere the need to be loved may never be spoken and yet is in every heartbeat.” —Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille and The Physician of London
“Cross writes with a beautiful precision. Her depiction of inner emotional turmoil inside Morgan Wilberforce’s head could be among the best anywhere. The author crafts passages of agonizing psychological self-torment with a master’s ear for the perfect phrase.” Karl Wolff, New York Journal of Books
“[Wilberforce] has several significant and promising loose ends that support the…Rowling-esque ambitions for more volumes on St. Stephen’s & Co., perhaps achieving ‘the Hogwarts of adult literary fiction.’…A solid start for continued exploration of this strange yet, for many readers, familiar world.” Kirkus Reviews
“Cross, an American, writes a school as nuanced and secretive as J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts” Heather Scott Partington, The Rumpus
“Can’t Miss New Read: For fans of Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis, a wry take on priggish, midcentury boarding schools. It’s a dark take on the coming-of-age stories that’ve populated the book world as of late.”—Huffington Post
Ambitious and accomplished…This convincingly handled work is recommended for all fans of coming-of-age novels.”—Patrick Sullivan, Library Journal
“Cross’s rich gifts as a writer are evident on every page. She has thoroughly researched and inhabited this world, down to its slang, rituals, and historical atmosphere. Saint Stephen’s feels completely authentic, and every word choice is apt.”—Image Journal
“In this riveting and playful novel by H. S. Cross, mental warfare rules among friends and enemies at a boarding school, making for delicious complications and twisted loyalties—a mix of suspense and comedy reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh. Cross’s great talent rests in the highly physical exploration of these young men, their sensibilities revealed through bruises and sprains, desire and suspicion.”—Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola
“Wilberforce will draw you into its world of adolescent bullying, violence, and longing from the first page of this subtle, remarkably authentic, and vivid reconstruction of time and place.”—Sheila Kohler, author of Cracks and Becoming Jane Eyre
H. S. Cross was raised in the waspy suburbs of Detroit, attending co-ed day schools, doing children’s theater, sailing, riding bikes, collecting Garfield paraphernalia, and afraid to kiss boys. She studied history and literature at Harvard, worked in the theater, taught primary and secondary school, and lives perforce in Brooklyn.
Literary Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
Publicity: Lauren Roberts, FSG