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A letter to readers: Stephen May on Sell Us the Rope

Dear readers,

After five contemporary novels, Sell Us the Rope was a bit of a swerve for me.

I came across the story of a young Stalin in gaslit Edwardian London a couple of years ago and was immediately excited. Then, when I stumbled on an obscure, out-of-print Russian book that suggested Stalin had been a spy for the Czar at this time, as well as organising the bank robberies that financed the Bolsheviks, I knew this was a story I had to write.

This is Stalin – or Koba, as he was known then – at a pivotal moment: a new father, a man under pressure, carrying the wounds of his childhood with him, but not yet the driven monster he became.

However, it’s the characters who have been lost to history that appeal to me most. Young Finnish activist Elli Vuokko; Arthur Bacon, the thirteen-year-old son of Stalin’s London landlord; Joseph Fels, the American soap billionaire who financed the Bolsheviks when they ran out of money – all of them needed bringing back to life.

I hope I’ve done them justice.

-Stephen May, 2022

Stephen May

Stephen May