Some Reference Gems

This week, I have been researching all manner of facts for ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, while writing a few draft chapters. We’ve also had a major storm and a mild earthquake, neither of which are uncommon in Greece at this time of year. However, nothing stops Jackson Marsh when he is in full flow, and apart from the occasional internet outage, nothing stops the research. Actually, when the internet is out, I turn to my books and read, if necessary, by torchlight.

The Larkspur Legacy’ is turning into something of an epic; an end of season double episode, if you like, as it will bring the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries together and to an end. It’s also a book with diverse points of view, because the main characters get flung far and wide as  they struggle to solve the clues and treasure hunt begun in ‘Starting with Secrets.’ So, for that reason, my research has been wide-ranging, and while researching, I came across a few sites that might be of interest to other writers and readers.

Here are some of the subjects I found online while delving into the past this past week. Where I found a decent site, I’ve added the link in case you are interested.

The history of sound recording. (Wiki; always double-check what you read.)

Ships’ bells explained. Did you know eight bells happens six times per day? Once during each of the eight watches, save the first dog watch.

Sea routes and port distances. Ever wondered how long it would take to sail from Alexandria in Egypt to Falmouth in Cornwall? Assuming good weather and a constant speed of 10 knots, this online calculator puts it at 13.7 days.

Here’s a handy list of sailing terms. Not the ‘shiver me timbers’ kind, either.

A short history of the Cutty Sark. For anyone interested in clipper ships.

Irish proverbs. For Silas Hawkins and his mother, of course.

Strong words Vs weak words (for writers) very handy when you come to write the blurb.

A (free) dictionary of Cornish dialect. Me’ansome, me-lover, me-duck, and other colloquialisms to give your character’s authenticity.

Cook’s tourists’ handbook for Egypt, the Nile, and the Desert. [Electronic Edition] Just what I was looking for as it gives routes, timetables, details of sites to visit and much more.

View of the Temple at Luxor, 1880s. Antonio Beato (English, born Italy, about 1835, 1906). Albumen silver print.

500 alternative words for ‘said’ – very handy, but don’t overdo them in your dialogue tags.

Those are but a few of the places I have been this week online. I’ve also looked up the causes of death during pregnancy (1890), names of various piece of Egyptian costume, the distance between Mounts Bay and Bodmin, and Greece and Calais, steamships operating across the English Channel in 1891, how to distil oil from garlic and fish, extinct titles of the nobility, and how to sail a barquentine.

Because ‘Legacy’ sees the culmination of both series, I’ve also had to do a lot of back-checking, because the Clearwater cast are in the book along with the Larkspur Academy Men. In particular, one character’s story begun in 1884, comes to a conclusion in 1891. That character has been in every book through the series, if not on stage then off stage and mentioned, and I thought it high time we rounded him off – as it were.

You will see what I mean in due course.

Catch up with my Work In Progress blog next Wednesday and I’ll let you know how close I am to finishing the first draft.

How One Thing Leads to Another

As Silas Hawkins’ mother would say,

“Today I am serving up a steaming bowl of this is how it is.

I was sitting here at five this morning trying to decide what to put on the blog today, and not coming up with any ideas. I am currently heading towards the crisis/climax of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ (first draft), and my head is full of times, dates, relationships, twists, clues and explainers. I don’t have much room for anything else. So, for inspiration, I turned to my collection of folders and files where I sometimes jot ideas, and there, I came across a folder titled ‘The Castle’. Having no idea what this could be, I opened it and found the file:


Cast of characters

The cast of characters also contained a brief synopsis, and here it is:

  • Fleet saves Alder from a beating. Inventor sees, gives him the chance to escape with him to the distant castle.
  • Fleet has no choice
  • Fleet will only go if the mute comes too – Mute wants to, neither have homes/families (at this stage)
  • Journey at night
  • Arrive at castle not knowing what’s in store.

Believe it or not, those notes are what led to The Larkspur Mysteries, and in particular, the characters of Fleet and Joe Tanner. It’s always interesting to see how one idea can lead to another. I wrote one chapter of this thing, decided it wasn’t right for this idea, and set it aside.

In the absence of anything else to entertain you with today, I thought I would post some of that first chapter, as a bonus read while you wait for something more interesting to come along. For some reason, I can’t get these pages to layout the text as you’d see it in a book, so apologies for that, and also for the state of this rough draft extract of a chapter that never was – or hasn’t yet been. (It might appear in ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters; The Clearwater & Larkspur Companion’ later in the year.)

The eviction of poor Irish families from Leather Lane, London Illustrated News, 1892

The year is 1889, the place is London

A penny bought most things in Leather Lane market. A glass of sherbet, a live mackerel, a comb, a crab, or four windfall oranges with skin as discoloured as the winter-bitten cheeks of the hawkers who lined the crowded path between the stalls. Hard-bake morsels and gown pieces, an inch of braid or a soft potato, finest dates from the Arabs with stones to break teeth, and spices from the Indies laced with bean flour and alum. Everything was sought and anything was available.

‘A posey for your lady, Sir?’ Fading aconites offered in a gloved fist across a tray of crumbling heather; a purple gift of poison in flowering form.

‘Enamel buttons for your coat, young man?’ Drilled and ready. ‘Three-a-penny,’ and recently clipped from the jaw of a corpse.

Onions and old iron, scraps and scabbards, lucky tickets to win a slaughtered lamb, or a brace of pigeons hooked by the feet, necks swinging. Kentish turnips and hops, Suffolk fabrics in stash, stack and bundle, Norfolk eels contorting in the melting ice, and Whitstable oysters whistling their asphyxiation on dry, wooden trays.

Hands that grabbed with, ‘Good fortune for you when you buy a bunch, Sir,’ and toothless mouths that spat, ‘Then the devil will take ye, rantallion,’ when answered with ‘No, thank you.’

Barbary Fleet didn’t need heather, whether charmed or cursed, and he was not a rantallion, not that he was able to prove it without exposing himself. He had no need of Arabic dates or doctored anise, twisted twine or dead men’s teeth to fasten his darktail coat, he had come to the market for a purchase of vital importance, and he knew where it was to be found.

So intent was he on his mission, he failed to notice he was being followed.

Edging between the canvas stalls and clouds of smoke wafted from the chestnut braziers, he ducked the awnings of skinned hares and alley cats, left the polluted stream of bargain hunters, and took the pavement. If the market were a cobbled canal of hucksters and tricksters, the pavement behind the stalls was its towpath, quieter and lined by semi-respectable woodcarvers and tailors. Suited men and women in aprons who didn’t need to sing their wares like desperate chanteurs de rue, and grab at every passing farthing as though it were their last chance, but who stood behind tinkling doors folding cloth and blowing dust from chisels with smiles prepared and welcoming.

Fleet didn’t need them either, nor did he need the annoying drips of gutter rain that tapped his hair, or the wind that leapt from alley openings to slap his already pounding head. The piles of rotting offcuts and steaming dog stools were other inconveniences he could have done without as he picked his way towards his destination at Drift Corner, and the pocket-dipping urchins who swarmed at his tails like flies at the midden were as aggravating as his foolishness.

Who wagers their last five shillings on a bait dog? Who, but a romantic dolt would risk home and hunger on a lone pup because he couldn’t resist the lure of the underdog and believed its handler when told the money would save the hound from a fight? Who but Barbary Fleet would cry when the fight was over, not because he had lost everything bar one shilling, but because the pup lay twitching in its own blood, its sad eyes fading? Who, but a lonesome, straggle of a man like Fleet would spend ten of his last pennies on Shadwell gin with no thought for bread or board because he believed everything would come right in the morning?

‘But you saved tuppence,’ he told himself, swiping away the investigations of a pocket-dipper. ‘You won’t find anything in there, young Sir,’ he said, lifting the child by its collar and turning it away. ‘I should try someone whose pockets jangle like sleigh bells, rather than gasp for sustenance.’

Nearing Drift Corner, he reminded himself that, somehow through his drunken stupor, he had saved tuppence for an exceptionally good reason, and that reason was now upon him.

It came in the form of one of the prettiest girls he’d seen in this part of town. A girl not yet twenty but edging towards it with the hope that youth would remain while experience blossomed, and yet, unlike himself, she was short, demur and employed. She stood at the junction with her tray suspended from her waist but just above his knees, rearranging her wares while singing a tuneless air about a variety of knots and the usefulness of brass-tipped laces. Her ochre eyes were fixed nowhere but in her imagination, and her hair was crammed beneath a straw bonnet.

She returned from her daydreaming, and her song ended abruptly when Fleet announced, ‘Your meal ticket for the day has arrived, Miss. Are you eager to attend it with care and quiet, for its head rages like the storm that sunk the Hesperus taking with it the skipper’s pride in the way a dog’s death has wrecked mine?’

The girl blinked at him, and said, ‘What?’ in the same flat, disinterested tone with which most people greeted Fleet.

‘I need two of your penny laces.’

She tutted, and lifted a pair from her tray as a washerwoman might lift a stranger’s soiled underclothes.

‘Tuppence.’

‘I thought as much,’ Fleet bowed his head. ‘The clue is in your signage, Miss. There, where it states, “Tuppence a pair.” May I suggest — purely for the entertainment of your clientele — you consider something more akin to a challenge in your advertising?’

‘What?’ That time, it was more of a grunt than a question.

‘For a man whose head is as close to combustion as his stomach, the distraction of a conundrum is more soothing than an apothecary’s powder. Perhaps, if your board simply stated, “Laces” or even, for the uncertain, “Boot laces”, your customers might have cause to enter into an absorbing dialogue, and your trade would entertain as well as serve.’

‘D’you want the bloody things or not?’

The bustle of the market was of more interest to her than conversation, as she swayed the laces and yawned. However, when Fleet opened his coat to retrieve his wallet, her gaze slid back into place. He was tall and slender, but not willowy, and he didn’t dangle like her wares, but held himself erect as if self-assured, which, beneath his well-fitting suit, he was not. The girl’s eyes strayed to and fastened upon, the landscape between the bottom of his waistcoat and the rise of his trousers. It rested there an impolite second before travelling to his face and greeting it with an indecent grin.

‘Or would you rather have me for a shilling?’
She winked, and Fleet sighed.

‘I fear your conversation is as unalluring to me as your sex, Miss.’ He dropped two pennies into her tray, took the laces and twirled them around an agile finger until they were coiled like a ring. ‘And there we have it. I would doff my hat, but it has gone the way of most everything else once in my possession. Should you require a Broadway Topper — an American import, I fear — you will find one at leisure in Cohen’s pawnbrokers just off Drury Lane. Thus, Miss, I can only wish you a good day.’

His laces bought, he looked for a place to raise his feet and insert them into his boots, wondering whether he shouldn’t have used the last of his money on something more practical like a meal, but decided that the appearance of tied boots would be more beneficial to a prospective employer than flapping footwear, and approached a step. Glancing at the engraved glass door, he read, “Mouthgot’s Intricate Plasterwork” and thought it a good a place as any, but wondered, ‘Whose mouth has plasterwork and why so intricate?’


As you can see, Fleet started out as a swaggering, slim youth, which is not how he is portrayed in the Larkspur series. As for the mute, and the Joe Tanner character, he enters this scene as Fleet is tying his new laces. Perhaps I will post that section of the chapter another time. For now, Joe is currently engaged in a treasure hunt along with the other Larkspur Academy men, and as I have left them on pause, I need to get back to them and see what they do next. I’ll let you know more about the progress of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ on my work-in-progress blog on Wednesday. Have a great weekend.

Oh, and if you don’t know what a rantallion is, Google the word. It’s a fun one to use as a counter-insult.

Can I Have a Word?

In today’s blog, I am looking at words. Well, it’s what I do every day. Write them, look at them, go over them, misspell them, then go over them again and rearrange them. Some days, I write so much I get a kind of word blindness, and what I think I am looking at isn’t what I am seeing; I see what I meant to write, when in fact it’s gobbledegook.

Gobbledegook is a word that didn’t come into common English usage until around 1936 (there had been some printed instances of it in the 1920s), after that, it shot right up the usage charts to reach a peak in 1955. So, if you are writing historical fiction set before 1936, don’t write gobbledegook. I’ve talked about this subject before, but today, for lack of anything else to talk about, I wanted to present an old favourite of mine: words from the past.

For this, I am using two resources. ‘Passing English of the Victorian Era, a Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang & Phrase’, compiled by J. Redding Ware, originally published in 1909, and ‘Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’, published in 1811 and compiled by ‘Captain Grosse et al.’ Both books are available from ForgottenBooks.com. I’m going to give you some random words from each book, starting with ‘Passing English’ which includes American as well as British words.

To find my first word, I ran a search/find in my PDF version and looked for the word Toby. I found one instance.

Five words/phrases in use before 1909

Cross-life men (Thieves) Men who get their living by felony. Used amongst themselves rather plaintively it would seem, and in remarkable contrast with the 18th century term, ‘gentlemen of the road’, ‘high toby men’, and others.

According to Green’s Dictionary, ‘High Toby’ meant highway robbery; as low toby, on foot, and high toby, mounted robbery.  “[They] were but ‘low toby-men,’ from their frequenting the by-ways.”

Duffer-fare (London. Cabmens’ slang). In the neighbourhood of the theatres, as closing time approaches, the police will not allow cabmen to drive empty cabs through the Strand highway. In order to get past the police, and so obtain a chance of a fare when the theatres vomit their thousands, cabmen will ask a pedestrian to be chummy enough to jump in, and be driven into the Strand. Here arrived the ‘duffing-fare.’

So, a duffer-fae was cabbies’ slang for giving someone a free ride so you could access the Strand when theatres were ‘vomiting their thousands.’ (Love that image.) And talking of theatres…

Ten bob squats (Theatrical) Stalls in a theatre. About 1880 going to the theatre had become so fashionable, owing possibly to the steady patronage of the Prince of Wales, that the price of stalls in most of the best houses was raised. (To ten bob, I suppose.)

In old British money, a ‘bob’ was a shilling. The Bank of England 10-shilling note (notation: 10/–), colloquially known as the 10 bob note was a sterling banknote. Ten shillings in £sd (written 10s or 10/–) was half of one pound. The ten-shilling note was the smallest denomination note ever issued by the Bank of England. [Wiki]

And still talking of theatres, here’s an expression we still use. Barnstorming is ‘to make a rapid tour of an area as part of a political campaign’, and/or to ‘travel around giving exhibitions of flying, and performing aeronautical stunts’, but did you know its origin and original meaning? (From the USA, I reckon.)

Barn-stormers (Theatrical, 18 cent.) Inferior actors who play in barns. Used, of course, in scorn by those comedians who have reached permanent footlights. The term has now almost passed away in consequence of the enormous increase in the number of theatres which now exist, even in the smallest towns. The ‘barn stormers’ hire a barn near a village, and there give their performance – frequently of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in a barn? Whatever next? Next, is another random word, I found hanging about.

Marwooded (Hanged) This term prevailed while Executioner Marwood held office. He died in 1883.

Some words/phrases in use before 1811

Randomly selected from The Vulgar Tongue are these five, picking up where we left off.

COCKLES. To cry cockles is to be hanged: perhaps from the noise made whilst strangling. (This is street slang also known as cant.) Related to this, we have COLQUARRON. A man’s neck. His colquarron is just about to be twisted; he is just going to be hanged.

Not to be too fixated, but related to both of those is CROP. To be knocked down for a crop; to be condemned to be hanged. Cropped, hanged. So now we can see where the expression, ‘to come a cropper’ comes from. Also on the same subject, if you danced upon nothing, you’d been hanged. There are several other words associated with this subject, but let’s move on to something more pastoral and talk about the fruitful vine.

FRUITFUL VINE. A woman’s private parts, i.e. that has FLOWERS every month, and bears fruit in nine months.

Or maybe not. How about returning to my roots on the Romney Marshes and the image of sheep safely grazing in the fields?

WOOLBIRD is another name for a sheep, or you could refer to one as a BLEATING CHEAT (don’t ask me why), just as you would refer to a sheep rustler as a CHEATING RIG.

By the way, we have to thank sheep for giving us condoms. Have a read of this:

CUNDUM. The dried gut of a sheep, worn by men in the act of coition, to prevent venereal infection; said to have been invented by one colonel Cundum. These machines were long prepared and sold by a matron of the name of Philips, at the Green Canister, in Half−moon−street, in the Strand. That good lady having acquired a fortune, retired from business; but learning that the town was not well served by her successors, she, out of a patriotic zeal for the public welfare, returned to her occupation; of which she gave notice by divers hand−bills, in circulation in the year 1776.

Not sure about the use of the word ‘machines’ when describing a cundum, however.

I could go on all day, but I won’t. The point to be made from all this, if there is a point at all, is that when writing historical fiction, you need to be aware of the words your characters and narrator would have known and not known. However, my advice is to also consider your reader. Too many colloquialisms, slang, cant and obscure words, and your writing will be Hubble de Shuff, your readers will be Both-Eared, and your sentences will be Nonsense, which, you might like to know, was the word used to describe the act of melting butter in a wig.

In a wig? Well, there we are.

A Quick Journey Through ‘Starting with Secrets’

A Quick Journey Through ‘Starting with Secrets’

Don’t worry, I am not going to give away any spoilers. Today, I’ve put up images of some of the ‘props’ featured in the next Larkspur Mystery. These are very general, so don’t take the images as the actual locations or props, because if I did that, I would be giving away the answers to clues the Clearwater crew must solve on their treasure hunt. When I say props, I mean all manner of things that are used in the story, and I include locations in that—but not the places you will see below.

I find visual aids such as photos help me imagine my locations, many of which I have never been to, and some of which don’t exist. Larkspur Hall, for example, is modelled on a few stately homes and not just one. So, here are a few images that have inspired locations or ‘things’ in the next book (and one or two for part two of the story, The Larkspur Legacy, which will be the next book). This is purely to whet your appetite. If you want to know how the writing is coming along, check the Wednesday WIP blog.

It starts with a compass. (Btw, Neil bought me one just like this for our wedding anniversary last Thursday.)

I couldn’t resist some silverware

Then, there’s something to do with an old barn…

A country house…

And then to London…

There will, of course, be maps and plans…

And we go to somewhere like this:

And later, there will be a bit of this…

And along the way, there will be a little drama…

And, you’ll meet a new character (or two).

[Photos from Wikicommons]

Work In Progress: 4.5

Starting With Secrets

This week’s update: I am at Chapter 28 and at 99,000 words with, I imagine, four major scenes left to go as we fall into the finale. A scene might be one chapter, or it might be two or three, so I reckon I am looking at around 130,000 words by the time draft one is finished. Remember, this is the first part of a much longer story, which will conclude in the following book. How I am going to make the second one as intriguing, complex and rewarding as this one remains to be seen, but I know I have a fair amount of research to do. How to sail a 19th-century sailing ship for one thing.

Work was briefly interrupted on Monday, and here’s why. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a rat living in the lean-to roof. I saw the evidence before I heard it, and wondered how we were going to get rid of it. They come in from the ruins and pieces of wasteland around our hillside village, and we’ve had one before that used to leave its droppings in the spare toilet, though it never learnt to flush. As the lean-to roof is inaccessible without pulling the whole thing apart, we bought some humane poison from the pet shop. I put down three tablets and left the other five in the bag on the counter. The next day, not only had all three gone but so had the bag.

Victorian rat catcher and his dog (Wikicommons)

The rat continued to occupy the roof and our minds, and the ‘treatment’ appeared not to be working (though it can take up to 10 days, they say). However, on Monday, I heard a yell/scream, and called from across the courtyard, ‘Rat?’ to which Neil replied, ‘Yes.’ Attending the scene, I found he had the thing pinned to the spokes of our godson’s bike, which we keep in the laundry room lean-to, and he was using his crutch to keep it in place. (Neil recently had a bout of transient osteoporosis, so he was using his crutch, not his crotch.) We devised a cunning plan. Wearing an oven glove, I lifted the intruder by the tail and dropped it into an old ice cream tub. Holding the lid down but not sealed, I took the thing up to our dustbin station and left it in a paladin with a bag of rubbish on top. The bin men empty these stations at least twice per day and a visit was due. Ratty would have made his escape when the trash was tipped into the back of the truck, if not there, then when it reached the landfill way up the mountain.

And now, with that story told, I can resume work on the next work in progress. Thinking about it, I might have to write in a rat catcher because that was a busy job back in Victorian times, and now I know what it feels like to be one.

Work In Progress: 4.4

Starting with Secrets

Here we are at 80,000 words of the next Larkspur Mystery, and I have characters all over the place. I have some in London chasing one clue, others on their way to Shropshire chasing another, and a third team about to set off to Kent. ‘Starting with Secrets’ is a treasure hunt at the end of which lies ‘A great treasure and a great secret’ according to the two women who set Archer, Lord Clearwater, the quest. From one clue grew four, hence we have three teams. The fourth clue has not yet been addressed.

I am nearing the beginning of the staggered climax of the story. I say staggered because there are three storylines to resolve, and the first has reached a dead end, leaving two more set pieces to write before the final climax and the resolve. Except, in this case, the resolution will have to wait for the book that comes next, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ You see, ‘Starting with Secrets’ is the first half of a longer story, and thus, its ending is the halfway point of the overall tale.

It will all make sense when you read both books, but when that will be is anyone’s guess. ‘Secrets’ is coming on well and is turning out to be one of those first drafts that writes itself. In the second and subsequent drafts, I will address and expand the emotional side of the story, because, at the moment, we are action-driven. I don’t mind that, but I don’t want it to be one of those Clive Cussler-style books where we leap from one action scene to the next with very little human relationship thread and emotional throughline that will engage the reader.

If you like solving clues, you’ll love ‘Secrets’ and, as usual, they are all based on facts. Obscure facts at times, but still…

And so, to chapter 23 in which I return to clue two and a journey from Hertfordshire to Shropshire to hunt down a clue that reads like this:

By now, I think, you should have found,
Numbers lead beneath the ground.
52.62
-2.31

Starting With Secrets

A Few Resources for Your Historical Novel (Victorian)

The Victorian Period

When we talk about the Victorian period, we are talking about the years of the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901. It was a time of significant change in the United Kingdom. The industrial revolution, the age of the steam train, steam-powered factories, a rise in industry and exploration, inventions, and the growth of the British Empire across the world. It also saw the rise of the middle class, a great divide between rich and poor, and a move from agricultural labouring to factory work for many, because it was in the cities where wealth could be made.

When you’re sitting down to write a novel set in these times, you really ought to know what you’re talking about. Or at least, do your research.

Alison Weir, the writer of many a great historical novel, says that,

“You can’t write a historical novel without being familiar with the sources. You have to have an idea of how people lived. It’s a completely different world and you’ve got to get in the mindset, the zeitgeist, that informs the language.”

If you were writing a book set in, say, the 1990s or 1980s, you may remember what it was like to be around at that time. It depends on your age, of course, but if I was writing about the 1980/90s, I’d remember the clothes, the TV shows, the politics, the way of life, the new-fangled thing like CDs, DVDs and BluRay. I’d know what it was like to be a young person of the time because I was there, so my characters would be drawn from my experience of the zeitgeist, the culture, and the language of the time.

Zeitgeist is borrowed from German and literally translates to “time spirit” or “spirit of the times.” It comes from the German Zeit, meaning “time,” and Geist, meaning “spirit” or “ghost” (as seen in poltergeist, which means “a noisy ghost”).

Clearly, I was not around in 1888 when my Clearwater Series begins, so how do I know how the characters spoke? How did I know what the streets of the East End smelt like? How do I know what it was like to exist in a workhouse or live in Belgravia? And how could I tell what it was like to fight a villain on top of a moving steam train hurtling towards certain death?

I didn’t, and I still don’t. Not 100%, because I’ve never fought a villain on the top of a moving anything, and as a novelist, one must use imagination. But your imagination must be confined to the times in which you are writing. I have to admit, when I started writing the historical series, my mind wasn’t 100% in the times because I started Deviant Desire with the intention of setting it all in a fictional London. Now, with the Larkspur Series (and in the later Clearwater books) we are firmly in London and the world as it was at the time because I have learnt as I have gone along. It’s too late now to change Greychurch to Whitechapel, and Limedock to Limehouse, but it is never too late to learn from mistakes. This is why, a little way into the Clearwater series, I returned to the earlier books and struck out every use of the words okay, teenager, adolescent and others. I’d learnt by then that those words were not in use until the 20th century. They weren’t in the Victorian era zeitgeist. (Nor was homosexual, which was only used in medical terms from the 1860s, and which gets a mention in my next novel.)

Research Ideas

Where do I get my information from? You may ask, and that was the point of this post; to share a few resources with you. I have previously mentioned particular books, but today, I wanted to highlight a few websites I regularly use. These will be useful if you’re starting out on writing a book set in the Victorian period, or you might simply find them of interest. I currently have over 150 bookmarks in my ‘research’ bookmark folder on Firefox, and within it, there are several sub-folders such as ‘travel’ and ‘maps.’

My go-to source for writings of the time is the Dictionary of Victorian London at http://www.victorianlondon.org, an excellent resource created by author Lee Jackson. I have some of his books on my shelves, but I’m talking about online resources here. If you head to this link you will find the index for the Dictionary, which is actually a list of categories, and within them, you find collected pieces from various sources written in the Victorian period. Each section has subsections, so, for example, I want to look up Prison life, and within ‘Prisons’, I find Executions and Punishments, Prisons, Rehabilitation of Offenders and Remand. I go to ‘Prisons’ and there’s another sub-list. Following one of those links, ‘Pentonville’, I find several pieces from newspapers, reports and other publications written between 1843 and 1879.

The point is, at a site like this, I have reports and information directly from the time in which I am writing. By reading them, I gain a sense of the language and how it was used, and also the zeitgeist of the time.

I also use the British Newspaper Archive, where I can search for newspapers published on specific days, and read what was happening in the world on that day in 1891 or whenever. This archive is also useful for checking what day of the week a date was, the weather, finding advertisements to mention in my books to add authentic detail, and finding interesting asides, like actual cricket scores for my character Dr Markland.

Another of my favourite sites is The National Library of Scotland. Why? If you click the link, you’ll find an incredible resource for maps. Ordnance Survey, Military, County, there’s an endless list. I have a bookmark that leads me directly to a London map of 1888. It doesn’t give me street names, but I can see where the railways ran and other details, and, by using a slider, I can reveal beneath it the modern-day map of the city to make a comparison.

Victorian Gay

Specific to my novels is the theme of homosexuality, and if you wanted to know what it was like to be gay in the Victorian Period, you only need to head to Rictor Norton’s sourcebook. His list of articles dates from 1800 to 1891, and it is from here that I find inspiration for the court cases, characters and histories of some of my stories. There is a full collection of reports about the Cleveland Street Scandal, for example. If you have read ‘Speaking in Silence’, you can find the original reports here.

[Rictor Norton (Ed.), Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 1 December 2021]

A Few More Valuable Resources

I could blether on for hours and give you the full list of what’s in my research bookmarks folder, but instead, here’s a list of some others that you might find of interest.

‘Always put the weather in’ is a top tip from many authors, and I always have weather in my books. I also have accurate sunrise and sunset times, and phases of the moon too, and I get all that from Time and Date, where you can search by year and place for accuracy.

I have links to various dictionaries, such as Cockney Rhyming Slang, one for Irish phrases and slang words, and a dictionary of the Cornish dialect. I always check words were in use in my time period, and to do this, I use Google’s online dictionary because it gives a graph of printed usage of words. I have a dictionary of idioms bookmarked along with some oddments such as a list of Latin mottos, a Gothic glossary (Gothic architecture, that is), a glossary of carriages, and my favourite, The Vulgar Tongue (1785) for slang words.

The points of this post are:

  1. Always ensure your characters are acting, talking and thinking within the zeitgeist of the time, and make sure your/their language is time-appropriate.
  2. You can do this by reading novels written at the time, but better, newspapers and other journals, such as those you find in the online archives.
  3. Keep every useful page you come across and bookmark it, making separate folders in your bookmarks if necessary.

You can’t beat a book on a shelf, but for speed, I use the net. What I don’t do, however, is take a search engine’s results as 100% accurate in their information and I always double-check what I read on online encyclopaedias with a website run by experts. If in doubt, do your research.

[I’ll be back on Wednesday with an update on the work in progress, ‘Starting with Secrets’.]

Mapping Your Novel

Or, Getting From A to D via the B and C of it all

Today I wanted to talk about maps and mapping your novel, and how I use maps while mapping my novels. There are two parts to this.

  • 1) The way I structure the paths through the story
  • 2) How I use maps when creating a novel

Mapping Your Way Through Your Story

When previously talking about structure, I have recommended a couple of screenwriting books to read which were written by experts about story structure. ‘Story’ by Robert McKee, and ‘The 21st Century Screenplay’, by Linda Aronson. I can also add to that ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke. (I also recommend the Sondheim/Lapine musical with the same title as an excellent example of how to interweave stories together.) Read those books and you’ll know just about all there is to know about how to structure a story. Add in ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Vogler, and you’ll know all there is to know about character arcs and development, archetypal characters and plot structure.

Essential reading for the budding writer

There are various ways to structure a story, but let’s think simple for now. By the time your story ends, something should have changed, a character should have learnt something or altered his/her state, and you should leave the reader with a sense of things to come thanks to that change, either good or bad. In other words, the end state is far away from the beginning state.

You can start your tale partway through the overall story as I did with ‘Artful Deception.’ There, chapter one starts a few days into the story, leaving us wondering what was happening and how and why the characters were in that situation. Then, in chapter two, we start at the real beginning with the inciting incident that leads to the scene we read in chapter one, and then we carry on from there. That’s a way of drawing the reader in and is very common in films. The point is, the story still starts somewhere and ends somewhere else, and I don’t just mean physically.

To get your action from A to D, you need to go via the B and C, and that’s where you need to map things out. I make a list of ‘hit points’ or ‘plot points’ or twists if you like…

A, everything’s fine and dandy when something happens.

That leads to B, trying to work out what has happened and what we can do about it, which then leads to a twist or change of direction at halfway, and we’re off into…

C, how do we deal with what’s happened? Working through that, through difficulties and challenges, emotional turmoil and whatever, leads us to the crisis. Just when you think things couldn’t get worse or the hero is doomed, he overcomes his fatal flaw, takes a leap of faith, and pulls up his socks.

That done, we then get on the with D of the story, the climax, and, after that, we’re in a different story state. It’s done, and the reader can relax or sigh with relief. We have gone from the A state of normality, travelled with our characters through the B and C (the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune) to the final battle and the D, the resolve.

Don’t take my words literally. You don’t have to have a physical final battle, it can be an emotional one, but it usually involves a leap of faith or a difficult decision. That’s because the emotional plot (character arcs, development, overcoming fatal flaws etc.) runs parallel to the action, and also needs mapping.

There are loads of online resources to use to understand this better, and while searching for a simple illustration of the above, I found the graphic below. This shows you the points of the story I mentioned (inciting incident to climax, etc.) with a typical character arc set against it in a graph.

How I use maps when creating a novel

If you have read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ you will have seen a map of the route of the Orient Express circa 1890 to 1914. I had that map drawn because I wanted to include it at the start of the book, and because I love looking at maps. I can sit at my desk for ages reading a map, imagining the locations, revelling in the romantic place names, the terrain, contours and symbols, and I often have a map open when taking my characters on a journey. I have a map of the Great Western Railway routes, again from the late 19th to early 20th century, and I referred to it while writing my recent Work In Progress blog about ‘Speaking in Silence.’

I have a fantastic book about the history of maps and cartography, ‘The Cartographia’ by Vincent Virga, which sits in pride of place on my desk. Vincent also wrote ‘Gaywyck’, the first gay gothic romance novel. Along with the Cartographia, I have a Reader’s Digest Atlas of the World, a large book that talks about topography, geology, and geography, and comes with detailed maps of every part of the planet. I use this to find remote locations, such as the castle in ‘Negative Exposure’, so I can see where my characters are at any one time when on a countrywide chase.

Then, I have the more detailed Ordnance Survey maps, such as the one of Bodmin Moor where the imaginary Larkspur Hall is found. I have drawn on my copy, filling in a rough estate boundary for Larkspur and marking the location of the ring of standing stones Joe discovers in ‘Keepers of the Past.’ The OS  Explorer maps are great for detail, but if you’re not a map reader and want to see what a location looks like, then Google Maps is where you need to go.

Maps, maps and more maps

I use the Google map service a great deal. I find a place on the map, then switch to the image results to get an overview, and then switch to the Maps option and use the satellite view. With that, you can zoom in, and even place yourself on a street or in the countryside and really get into detail. I used this in ‘Speaking in Silence’ as you will read in the author’s notes at the end. That story is based on a real event, and the newspaper reports I found gave the address of one of the characters in 1891. I went to the satellite service and dropped myself onto the same road, found the actual house and had a look at it, as it is still standing.

Ah yes, you say, but that’s a good point. What we see now on these maps may not be what was there in 1891 when my current novels are set. You are right, I reply, and that’s why I often go to the National Library of Scotland. They have a brilliant online resource for old maps. If, for example, you head to this link: London map 1888 to 1913 you should see a black and white map of London that you can zoom into. In the bottom left corner of the screen is a ‘transparency of overlay’ feature, a slider that, when slid, reveals today’s Google map of the area, so you can compare then and now. The site has hundreds of maps of different scales and from different times and is a great online resource. Here is a link to their list of online digital resources. https://www.nls.uk/digital-resources/

Why am I Even Talking About Maps?

You might wonder why I am talking about maps at all. The reason is that the next novel in the Larkspur series involves journeys, as will the one after it. I am about to release ‘Speaking in Silence’, and have started working on the sixth book in the series, ‘Staring at Secrets.’ After that, we will have ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ and both books will involve characters from Larkspur and Clearwater heading off to various places, trying to put together a massive puzzle and find a ‘secret treasure’, as I’m calling it for now. Because I like to be as accurate as possible, I’m using maps of the time and other resources to work out distances, the time it would have taken to travel, and the means the characters would have had at their disposal. That’s why I also have a copy of Baedeker’s Egypt from 1892, and Cook’s Tourist Handbook for Egypt, the Nile and the Desert, 1897.

While the fun part is happening—the plotting, mapping and planning—I am also mapping the character’s arcs and developments, working out who will be the main character(s), what the emotional and love story will be, and those throughlines will be mapped against the physical action storyline. If you look at the photo of my larger notebook, you’ll see the beginnings of a rough chart that spans both books, as ‘Staring at Secrets’ is part one of the story. That’s good fun to do, but it’s also vital if you are to produce a well-structured action and emotional story through which your characters grow, and through which you take your reader from the ordinary world of A to the new world of D via the B and C of it all.

Work In Progress 3.07

Speaking in Silence is now arriving at Exeter.

If you have been following the ‘Speaking in Silence’ journey from London Paddington to Bodmin, you will know that it’s been an interesting train ride so far. In the word count scheme of things, I’d say I was now at Exeter, being at roughly 72,000 words, with the destination being 100,000 or thereabouts. After some shunting around in a yard several miles back, I have had a clear run from Bristol, and am now approaching the final reel. The final ‘act’ as they say in film terms.

I started the ‘Speaking in Silence’ journey knowing that I wanted it to be about two characters who appeared in the last book, but who we don’t yet know; Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. In this story, Edward is the protagonist, and yet, not only does he hardly speak, he also hardly communicates. That poses a few challenges for the author. Unlike Joe Tanner, who is deaf and communicates through sign language, Edward has taken a vow of semi-silence. The only person he speaks to is Henry, and Henry knows why. We, the reader, come to learn why Edward chose to do this, and we come to understand there is only one thing that will enable him to feel able to speak again. Justice. Therein lies the plot of the novel.

That was what I started with 72,000 words ago, and the rest I have, quite literally, made up as I have gone along, including the characters of Henry and Edward and a hell of a lot of backstory, which trickles out over time. I have used the flashback technique, and it was only while writing those scenes that I came to know the characters. They introduced themselves to me while Henry was telling me his and Edward’s story if you like, and that didn’t happen until I was quite a way into the story. That’s why we had the shunting around a few miles back, and I had to backtrack and change the point of view of some of the earlier chapters. If there’s a lesson there, it’s ‘know your characters before you start’. (A note to fellow authors, if you would like to stretch your character’s bio then you can always drop in for a ‘character interview’. Contact my PA for more details jeninesymi@gmail.com).

To give you a flavour of the novel, and without giving anything away, here’s a short excerpt from the first draft – unedited so excuse any errors. The skeleton is a character who will remain nameless for now, and I have changed the name of the second character to ‘John’ so as not to spoil things for you. John, the villain, is going to see the other villain at his new lodgings in Greychurch:  


The skeleton’s previous lodgings above the ‘Princess Alice‘ had, John thought, been about as low as a man could go, but when he took a deep breath and entered the ‘Hops and…’ as the broken sign described it, he realised he had been wrong.

His foot fell on a rat, but it didn’t squeal because it was dead, but the child playing with it gave him a mouth of abuse, which he ignored. Dishevelled heaps, rather than people, sat at the few tables, some sucking on pipes whose fumes hardly disguised the stench of damp clothes, sweat and something else he didn’t like to think about, while across the room, no more than ten feet from the door, two men stood at a trestle table that served as a bar, while three rested against it on the floor, either drunk or dead. The most unnerving thing about the place, however, wasn’t the landlord with wooden teeth, only one eye and one hand, nor even the miasma of fire, pipe and opium smoke, but the silence. No-one even looked at him, no-one jereed at a well-dressed man from the west of the city entering their destitute realm, and nobody, apart from the child, made a sound.

These people, if he could call them that, might still be able to hear, he thought, and so he prepared to whisper to the disfigured landlord. As he leant over one of those asleep at his feet a movement to his right caught his eye. One of the heaps unwound itself from the table it had been slumped across and dragged itself to its feet. It said nothing, but a skeletal hand emerged from the sleeve of its black gown and beckoned to John like death, before gliding towards a door beside the makeshift bar.

Pleased to be with someone he knew, albeit vaguely and nefariously, John followed the skeleton through to a passage, and down a set of steps to a cellar. Ahead, the scurry of clawed feet suggested their path was clear, but still, when they arrived below ground, several pairs of pink eyes glinted in the candlelight, watching from the crevices for the time they could reclaim their dominion.


The Princess Alice pub was one of the pubs frequented by prostitutes in the East End of London at the time of the Ripper crimes

More on my WIP blog next Wednesday, but don’t forget to be here on Saturday for my other weekly post.

The Old Nichol and a Dirty Old Man

How Research and Detail Improve your Novel

A notorious slum and a dirty old man have led me to write a new book, ‘Speaking in Silence.’ To follow the progress of this novel, the fifth in the Larkspur Mystery series, tune into my Wednesday WIP blog, but to know how research and detail improve your novel, read on.

The Old Nichol was an infamous slum area of Bethnal Green in East London, and I’ll get onto that part of my research later. First, though, I want to tell you what inspired me to write ‘Speaking in Silence’, and it starts with a man on a train.

One night in April 1891

On the night of April 20th 1891, a young man by the name of Christopher Richmond was travelling by train from Horsham in Sussex to East Croydon in Surrey. He was followed into an empty compartment by a man called Charles Fyffe, later described in the newspapers as ‘elderly.’ This man, it seems, had a penchant for young lads. Christopher was 16, worked for the railway as a goods clerk, and had a disability. During the first part of the journey, Christpher said, the man carried out various acts of indecent assault upon him. The precise details are not mentioned in the newspapers of the time, as they considered these things not palatable for the Victorian reader, but despite Christopher’s objects, Fyffe continued his advances even after the pair changed trains at Three Bridges. When they reached East Croydon, Christopher made a complaint to the authorities, and Fyffe was arrested. The young man did the right thing, and was prepared to testify in court, which he later did. You’d think that would have been the end of the matter.

Far from it.

Here’s an extract from a newspaper I found in the British Newspaper Archive, dated 29th April 1891.

Mr C.A. Fyffe, the accepted Liberal candidate for East Wilts, who was summoned to Croydon Police Court yesterday, charged with a serious assault in a railway carriage between Horsham and Croydon, on Monday week, did not appear.

Who was willing to appear, however, was a heap of character witnesses prepared to speak to the high literary and social character of the accused, viz., the Dean of Westminster, Professor Jowett, Sir Horace Davey, Sir George Grove, Mr Benson, London Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr Robinson, editor of the Daily News, and others…

A little more research made it clear to me that there was more to this case than a well-to-do older man pulling out the big guns to save his reputation, and more reading uncovered a few more facts. Fyffe had worked for a newspaper. When arrested, he gave a false name to the police (three times), and later, tried to kill himself.

Right, I thought, this is a case that needs looking into.

I spent some time in the online newspaper archive, and looked around elsewhere for mentions of this case. I found a very detailed presentation of it on Rictor Norton’s wonderful website where he lists incidents such as this as reported in the newspapers of the time, and he’d found more information than I could track down. I have taken inspiration for other stories from this site (the idea for ‘Guardians of the Poor’ came from here), and I suggest anyone writing gay fiction set in the 19th century bookmarks his site as essential reading. Click the link in the citation to lose yourself in historical fact.

Rictor Norton (Ed.), “Prosecution and Suicide of Eminent Historian, 1891”,

Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 September 2021 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1891fyff.htm 

If you head there and read the full reports, you will get all the details of the case, but what attracted me to this story was my own outrage. More facts come out as you read the history, and it becomes very clear that Fyffe pulled in the ‘old boy’ network to protect himself. You can, in my opinion, see the bias in newspaper reports, such as one that came out in the Western Chronicle which uses phrases such as Mr. Fyffe was made the subject of a terrible charge by a lad… Unnerved at his frightful position… a moment of the direst confusion… the deep sympathy of his political friends and foes are with him… No-one who knows him believes him for one moment to be guilty.

There is no such sympathy towards young Christopher, whose testimony was called into question. Why didn’t he get out of the carriage at the next stop? (His disability meant it would have taken time, and he might have missed the train.) Why didn’t he report it before East Croydon as there were several stops along the way? (Because East Croydon was his final destination, and to report it elsewhere would have meant he didn’t get home that night.) Maybe he was complicit or tried to blackmail Fyffe? Christopher swore he was not and did not. From his testimony, he sounds like a very upright young man, after all, he was in a decent clerical job at the age of sixteen.

Outrageous newspaper bias in favour of a man who wrote for the Daily News, I decided. I would have written a strongly worded letter to the Western Chronicle had I not been 131 years too late.

The intrigue continues…

It turned out that the ‘elderly’ Mr Fyffe was 42 (another report puts him at 45, either way, hardly ‘elderly’), and the reason he didn’t appear at the first hearing was because he’d tried to cut his own throat. Later, when he was able to appear, he was brought in on a stretcher. (Drama queen?) His old cronies testified to his good character, and when the case came before the grand jury to decide if it should go to trial, even the judge said something like, ‘Well, we know this kind of thing goes on…’ as if it were nothing.

In charging the grand jury, Mr. Justice Mathew said that what first struck one about the case was that the acts were improbable, seeing that the charge was made against a man of mature years. [Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter. 18 July 1891]

Not only were the newspaper reports biased in favour of Fyffe, so was the Justice. It was improbable that a respected, mature man, standing to be elected as an MP might fancy a lone 16-year-old trapped in a railway carriage by his disability at night and try and touch him up…? Improbable my arse.

In the end, the case never went to trial. Not only was Christopher pilloried in the press and his good name called into question (he was counter-accused of being complicit by asking for ‘a present’ in return for sex, an allegation he denied) but he never got his justice, and that’s what’s at the heart of ‘Speaking in Silence.’

There’s a lot more to this case, and for my novel, I have used it as inspiration, mixing in some facts, but bending the truth in places for dramatic and fictional effect. If you were wondering, Christopher had lost a foot (not sure how, possibly an accident on the railways as his father worked for the company and they lived in railway dwellings in Brighton). Living away from home in a decent job aged only 16, he presented a very reasonable case in court, but because Fyffe know all those important people and was (later) an MP, an Oxford Fellow and an author, the chances were clearly weighted on the side of the villain.

You are Allowed to Fictionalise Facts

To be honest, reading the case makes my blood boil. Happily, though, I found out that Christopher eventually married, and emigrated to Australia, where he may well still have descendants. As for Fyffe… He died the following year ‘from the effects of his self-inflicted wounds.’ We may celebrate at that, but it still left Christopher with no justice.

For ‘Speaking in Silence’, I have moved the incident back a few years, so it forms part of the backstory of my mainly silent character, Edward Hyde (the Christopher Richmond of the story). It was, I thought, about time we found out about him and his constant companion, Henry Hope. Henry and Edward are 18 and 20 respectively and have a genius for science. How, I wondered, is that going to be useful in getting justice for Edward? That is one of the mysteries the reader will, I hope, enjoy as the story progresses.

The other part of the novel is the backstory of Edward and Henry, and for that, I turned to a copy of ‘The Blackest Streets’ by renowned author, Sarah Wise.

The Old Nichol

Even if you have never lived in London, or even England, you may well have heard the nursery rhyme, ‘Oranges and Lemons.’ This rhyme was first published in the ‘Pretty Song Book’ by Tommy Thumb in 1744, and it seems to have appeared simply as what it is: a rhyme that lists several London churches. One theory is that the song was written to help strangers find their way around the city, but whatever it was created for, it mentions Shoreditch.

When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch

The bells in question are those of Saint Leonard’s church, a grade one listed building built in 1740, and a good friend of mine used to live right next door. As I only lived a mile away up the Kingsland Road, and as Julian’s flat was on the way to our regular drinking haunts around Shoreditch and Old Street, I was forever in the area. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was visiting the part of London once known as the Old Nichol, one of the worst slums in the city up until it was demolished and replaced by the Boundary Estate in 1900.

If you look on Google maps and search for Shoreditch or St Leonard’s church, you’ll see the A10 road running south to meet with Commercial Street, and to the east of the church, Arnold Circus, making a wheel-like pattern on the map. That was just about the centre of the Old Nichol, and some of the original roads still exist, namely Old Nichol Street to the south of Arnold Circus, and Boundary Street which runs parallel to the A10. You can find a map of the Old Nichol as it was in 1889 at Horrible Hackney, also there is a plan of the Boundary Estate in 1890. Shoreditch is on the western edge of the imagined ‘Greychurch’ of my Clearwater novels, and on the eastern side of it, I have Limedock (Limehouse). ‘Greychurch’ is a location for several Clearwater stories, and now, part of the backstory of Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. You were wondering when they were going to come back in, weren’t you?

First-Hand Accounts

Henry and Edward lived for a while in a room in the Old Nichol, and when I first started thinking about how that would have been, I turned to my usual resources for first-hand research. In this case, VictorianLondon.org and a copy of Low-Life Deeps, by James Greenwood, 1881 [first published 1875] – Curiosities of “Alley” Life. Those of you who were paying attention a couple of years ago when I was writing ‘Banyak & Fecks’ might remember James Greenwood. He was, allegedly, one of the first investigative reporters, and spent a night in the casual ward of the Lambeth workhouse to experience and report on what casual paupers had to endure. I used that piece of writing to inform a scene in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and Greenwood and other sources to inform the workhouse scenes in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ Here, Greenwood writes a report of his findings after a visit to Devonshire Place, one of the worst courts in the heart of the Old Nichol.

There was but one bedstead in the room — a mite of a place; I measured it with my walking stick and found that it was three and a half one way and four sticks the other, and yet it was made to accommodate mother, father, and eight children.

… a tiny room above and below, with broken floors and blackened walls and ceilings so shattered that every step overhead causes the rotten plaster to crumble and fall…

Reading a first-hand account is probably the best place to start your historical fiction writing. Your job is to help a reader imagine where your characters are, as well as who they are and what they do, and with a little research, you can add facts into your story that will help it ‘pop.’ Such facts come from people like James Greenwood and Sarah Wise, and the book I mentioned, ‘The Blackest Streets.’

That book is deeply researched and so well written I’ve found it a bit un-put-down-able, and I’ve learnt much from it. Not only about Poor Laws and government boards, the rather useless legal framework in place to force landlords to repair homes, and the work of officials and charitable bodies in helping the poor, but also a great deal about the people my characters would have lived among. Not everyone was a ragged, starving pauper withering away on a death bed and devoid of hope, as today’s films might have us believe (although there were plenty of unfortunates like that, of course). What comes from reading reminiscences of the place is the ‘get on with it and make do’ attitude of many residents. The way neighbours looked after each other (when they weren’t beating up each other or their families), the ‘honour among thieves’ mentality if you like, and the way the criminal gangs worked, and the police kept a distant eye.

The book explains the housing conditions, and in one section, describes how, in some dwellings, the lavatory was in the back ‘yard.’ To get to it, the residents had to descend to the windowless cellar, and bent double beneath the ground floor floorboards, walk through the cellar to the back door. This they would do as quietly as they could so as not to disturb the family who lived in the cellar.

From Charles Booth’s poverty map

It’s that kind of detail that I like to put into my novels: real and detailed, and in this case, almost unthinkable. This kind of research pays off, and these kinds of details really bring your story to life.

As I work my way through ‘Speaking in Silence’, I find myself putting in such things as the factual times of trains my characters take. For this, I refer to my railways’ guru who sends me the times and changes necessary for a fictional character to get from A to B on March 22nd 1891, as taken from the timetables of the day. Or, as another example, I find a character standing on Blackfriars Bridge contemplating how far away the railway bridge is, and how high above the Thames he is standing. The old railway bridge isn’t there anymore, just its pillars, but the road bridge was roughly 14 meters above river level.

Research Leads to Detail

Research leads to detail, and detail leads to a more fulfilling read for your reader. It also leads to the author doing a lot of reading and learning a lot of facts along the way. As a final example: Did you know that when someone talks in their sleep, they are giving you a somniloquy, or, I suppose, somniloquising? Well, you do now, and you never know when that snippet will come in handy.


Sources:

The British Newspaper Archive
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Rictor Norton, “Prosecution and Suicide of Eminent Historian, 1891”,

Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 September 2021 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1891fyff.htm 

Horrid Hackney

https://horridhackney.com/f/the-appalling-victorian-slums-of-the-old-nichol-shoreditch

Victorian London org

https://www.victorianlondon.org/publications4/low-11.htm