Winter overlaps Spring

Go read the post “Little Deaths” by Terri Windling. It’s a voyage through the end of winter, drawn from two separate climates, dry desert and damp Devon.

Her themes include the death of the Sacred King, Le Roi Sacré, at the end of Winter – a theme strongly linked to the underlying mythos of my novels THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN and SHADOWBOX.

Skull small

Another snippet, this time a quote from Ellen Kushner referenced in the post:

“Does fantasy demand that you stay in your adolescence forever?”

Again, in The Last Rhinemaiden, the character of Louis Beauregard is at the end of his life, an elderly man, not frail but aware that his time must come. About as far from adolescence as any man can get.

His aim in the novel is to end in sacrifice, as he knows he must. But he’ll fight it all the way.

“I don’t want to die. But I have to be killed.”

There are young characters in each novel, but Louis is the one who fascinates me. I’m intrigued by his position, by what it would do to someone’s behaviour, his outlook, his friendships. There’s a space of almost sixty years between the novels and perhaps I’ve taken the wrong route between them both, writing the old man before I asked what would make him so.

Writing the end before the beginning; winter overlaps spring.

I found writing the character more fascinating as an old man than the young rascal he is in Shadowbox. (When I’ve finished writing the current series of Petticoat Katie novels, I can see me taking you on a mid-life crisis with no-longer-young Mr Beauregard, one step ahead of his fencing-master and his old Russian nemesis.)

And then who knows?

Another link, this last week, was Dean Wesley Smith on “My Best Work“:

“What happens if your most acclaimed book, the one history will remember you for, is going to be your sixty-third book written? And you only manage to write ten? Or thirty?”

So, to the work then, and let posterity be the judge. None of us will ever know – unlike Louis Beauregard – whether we’ll endure. We must simply travel through time, ever forward, through each little death of the seasons, towards the future.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Winter overlaps Spring  
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Shadowbox: The Maps I Used In 1832

SHADOWBOX takes place in two cities which have very different characters, even in 1832.

Paris, and London.

Both cities are long-established national capitals. Paris has a head start on London, having been absorbed into the Roman Empire earlier by sheer geographical proximity. Over the course of a couple of millennia, both cities were shaped by their landscape, their people and by their wars.

La Bièvre, by Charles Marville c.1865

La Bièvre, by Charles Marville c.1865

While I’m acquainted with the streets of central London (to a very limited extent) from the time I worked in Southwark, as well as visiting for shopping or the odd night out, I have next-to-no knowledge of Paris.

The only time I visited the city for any length of time, other than passing through, was in 1990. At that time I was on a budget that makes austerity look positively decadent.

The other few times I’ve been through Paris, it’s been a short trip on the Metro from the Eurostar at Gare du Nord to one of the other international stations. Not much time for dawdling when you have a sleeper to catch…

On the other hand, my knowledge of London also consists of traversing the city from modern transport hubs to specific other places – museums, offices, a friend’s house, shops. I haven’t the innate knowledge that someone has when they’ve lived in a place all their life, or even just taken the time to explore their neighbourhood on non-motorised transport.

Street Scene in London with Saint Paul's Dome. by Samuel John Hodson (1836-1908)

Street Scene in London with Saint Paul’s Dome. by Samuel John Hodson (1836-1908)

So…

I needed maps.

And guidebooks.

And possibly a trip to visit Paris, although I haven’t made it so far.

In the event, mainly to stop using the lack of a Eurostar ticket as an excuse to stop writing, I made do with a number of online and offline resources that I hope have given me enough flavour of the city to paint its details in words for the reader without affecting the story. For example, is it essential to tell you that:

  • Belleville and Montmartre are in their own respective arrondisements, when those parts of the city don’t feature in the novel?
  • the Ile de la Cité is covered with telegraph wires (which it wouldn’t have been in 1832)? and
  • semaphore towers stretched across the country from Marseilles to Cherbourg, hubbing at Paris Montfaucon (an early technology abused to such devastating effect in The Count Of Monte Cristo)?

Readers only need to know details when they act in service to the story. While factoids like those above are fascinating, if they don’t help me paint you a picture or tell you a tale, I’ve left them out.

So, to the maps.

How far back did I have to go? And how detailed?

First off I found a very basic map of Paris, showing the Ile des Cignes. One of the Seine’s smaller islands, downstream of the heavily-fortified Ile de la Cité, by 1832 this had pretty much been joined to the mainland.

While the Ile des Cignes has some nice supernatural echoes, it isn’t significant in the city’s cosmopolitan circles – the circles within which Charles Lyell and Louis Beauregard mingle, along with Adolphe d’Archiac, Garibaldi and other notables.

Then I took a download of the Plan de Paris en 1787 par Brion de la Tour, and examined the basic street layouts. Much of the streetage in the centre of Paris was laid out by Henri IV in the early 1600s, and wasn’t significantly disturbed until the reforms under Hausmann following the revolution of 1848.

The French revolution of 1848 at the age of the sage site

Lamartine in front of the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, on 25 February 1848, refusing the red flag, by Félix Philippoteaux

But there’s a huge gap between 1787 and 1832 – 55 years, in fact – during which the political landscape changed significantly in France. Did it affect the geography of Paris?

Then I found the highly useful oblique projection of the Plan de Turgot, which shows what sort of farms and houses and river traffic to expect in Paris in 1832. You can see how much detail the map-maker has included, although the scale of this map isn’t great.

The map that gave me much more was the Picquet map of Paris 1814. The link takes you to the wikipedia page for the the full map, which is a massive 89Mb. It’s closer in date to the time of SHADOWBOX. The file is larger, which means you can see more detail. For example, look at the little trees and furrows of the market gardens in this sample:

The tributary rivers of the Seine are clear, and the barrieres across each major road. I originally mistook these for the barricades of the revolutionaries, but after a bit of rootling around I realised they were more like the turnpike gates of Britain.

For London, I used a WikiPedia download of the 1848 Crutchley Pocket Map of London (again, another large file).

This was one of the maps I used in 1888 when I was editing THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, but there was more in common with 1832 than the later period.

In 1848, for example, there was still an open square of parkland in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which had mostly disappeared under buildings by 1888. The railway stations had yet to be completed in 1848 – but in 1832, they didn’t exist, so where they do appear on the map I had to ‘imagine’ them away, or avoid the area altogether.

Goodmans Fields

What I do find rather interesting is how both London and Paris developed most strongly on their northern banks. The Tube map of London shows this most clearly. The map of the Paris Metro doesn’t have the same projection.

But the reasons for that development aren’t found on any maps.

“London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.” ― G. K. Chesterton

I adore maps. I’m grateful to my childhood geography teachers for showing me the language of maps, how to read within their folded sheets the secrets of cities and landscape and geology, developed over centuries.

I like being able to see the history of a place laid out in its streets and gardens, the names and patterns of all ages mingling to bring each town and city a flavour of its own.

And in 1832, both Paris and London had very distinctive spirits, as well as similarities.


Next: The 5th post in the SHADOWBOX series: Rivers of Paris, Rivers of London, a supernatural and physical journey across time and faith.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.

P.S. If you want to find the rest of the posts in this series so far, click on the link to the SHADOWBOX page. When the novel’s available I’ll add links there too.

Shadowbox: Germinal 2

In Germinal 1 I described how the story of SHADOWBOX developed from its earliest beginnings to the point where I knew what I wanted to write – what story I wanted to tell. But still I held off, unwilling to start writing until I had a framework – a storyboard – a script for the action.

In THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, in keeping with the novel’s theme of a Sacred Kingship attuned to the tidal waters of the Thames, I deliberately set the action against the schedule of a complete tide cycle, 24 hours from high tide to high tide. The constriction set the pace for a novel that dealt with action, adventure, peril.

SHADOWBOX is different.

Night: Seaport by Moonlight (1771) by VERNET, Claude-Joseph Oil on canvas, 98 x 164 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

Night: Seaport by Moonlight (1771) by VERNET, Claude-Joseph. Oil on canvas, 98 x 164 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

The overwhelming emotional drive of SHADOWBOX is the grief cycle, the adaptation to change and how different people deal with that in different ways. Grief takes time to manifest itself. I couldn’t cram the action of SHADOWBOX into a single day, nor even a weekend.

I needed more time.

Tied to this was the simple fact that Louis Beauregard travels from England to France. In 1832, this wasn’t as easy as hopping on the Eurostar. Dickens describes the journey in near(er) contemporary terms in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, and on that basis I knew that, again, I needed more time.

Then I remembered the elemental nature of the world I’d created.

The Sacred King – Le Roi Sacré – is attuned to the tides that affect the River Thames in London. The events of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN take place over one tidal cycle, at the Spring Equinox. The one overarching, controlling factor in all this was clear:

The Moon.

Instantly, I grasped that a full month was the timescale I needed. My characters would have time to experience all the stages of the grief cycle in the 28 days, even if the timescale was too short for their grief to run its course.

From Full Moon – when madness stalks the earth – through the utter blackness of New Moon, when the night sky is darkest. A time of spiritual descent into shadow. Of light diminishing, of darkness, of utter annihilation.

But New Moon is also a time of renewal. A time when ideas, like seeds, sprout and grow, culminating in fruition at another Full Moon.

A month – a lunar cycle – gives my characters the opportunity to live for a little while with the consequences of the novel’s founding action.

A month is long enough for Louis to travel to Paris and for Godfrey to develop a life beyond his youthful parameters.

A month is long enough for grief to work on them both.

And thus, with this structure in place, I began to storyboard the novel which became SHADOWBOX.


Next: The fourth post in the SHADOWBOX series: The Maps I Used In 1832.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter (where I’m @LeeMcAulay1) to receive notification of the latest posts. And bring a lantern.

Shadowbox: Germinal 1

I had the idea for SHADOWBOX in 2010, after I’d finished the second or third draft of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. The character of Louis Beauregard fascinated me – here was an elderly man, still vigorous, in an unusual situation. Questions began to from in my mind.

Who was he?

Where did he come from?

How had he become the head of the shadowy organisation known as the Cuckoo Club?

As I’d written THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, some of those questions were answered – briefly, the way you’d refer to Ian McKellen’s Richard III to put his Gandalf into context, or Christopher Lee’s Saruman in the shadow of Dracula, and Scaramanga, and Lord Summerisle.

Ian McKellen. Richard III.

I knew Louis was sprightly. I knew he’d had a long eventful life. When I wrote ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE RIVER I shaped him up to face his future, to make him become the man of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. And there I saw a glimpse of the man he’d been before.

So SHADOWBOX became a story of the young Louis Beauregard, when his position as the Sacred King was a fixed part of him, but he’d yet to fully adapt to the challenges of his destiny. He had to have a life, and I already knew he was privileged. So I asked more questions of myself:

– what was he like, this young rogue?

– what makes a character roguish?

– how would this express itself in its period? How does one become a rogue of the 1830s? When all around is excess?

In order to find out, I had to investigate the times. My notions of the 1830s were way out. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Pride & Prejudice bonnet-land, nor the preRaphaelites, nor Restoration. Deciding the time period was just one element of the story.

And then there was the conflict within the story. Conflict forces the action. It’s the trigger event that makes things happen, that gives us a story to follow in the first place, that keeps us turning the pages until The End.

This is where Godfrey Woolverham comes in. He started out as Pawel Czerczy, a goldsmith, a man who was wronged by Louis Beauregard. The conflict at the heart of SHADOWBOX was always there in my early plans. But it took a while to work that conflict into a shape I could write a novel around.

The key to this was the Amber Room of Peter The Great.

In THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, Sylvester de Winter roams London in an amber-lined coach. Something about the material properties of Baltic amber had a pivotal impact on the world I had created, and this conflict and impact could be used as a plot device.

And thus the amber carvers arrived in SHADOWBOX, to give the story a point of intrigue, a hook, or maybe a MacGuffin. The real story began to spin off, away from a simple tale of supernatural mystery and into a deeper analysis of the conflict both main characters suffered as a result of the novel’s founding event.

Godfrey and Louis were set on a collision course of death and murder, and nobody could stop them.


Next: The third post in the SHADOWBOX series: Germinal 2, deciding the timescale of the novel and other matters.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.

Shadowbox: Bienvenue

This is the first in a month-long series of posts about my forthcoming novel: SHADOWBOX (currently in pre-production for release by the end of June).

Set in 1832, SHADOWBOX is a story of loss and revenge. Excess and obsession. The damage a man does to his soul by refusing to accept change.

In this series of posts you’ll find the story of how the novel came about, the historical research that hopefully found its way onto the pages of SHADOWBOX, and links to places you can discover more. Remember to subscribe to the blog if you want to read the latest updates.


SHADOWBOX: An Introduction

One of the joys of being a historian is the ability to time travel. To go back in time, shedding the veneer of centuries, picturing people much like those we already know in situations very different to our own.

SHADOWBOX could be classified as historical fiction, but the elements of myth and magic within the story produce a Gothic flavour, a gaslit fantasy of Greek tragedy and exuberant adventure that mixes fiction with real-life characters in the usual speculative tradition.

The novel deals with a number of themes – death and revenge, excess and obsession, lust and hatred and fear and grief. It wasn’t an easy story to write. At times I wondered whether I should give up and go write something happy, with sunshine on every page.

But I realised there were important things I wanted to say in this novel, not just because the story forms an early, formative part of the life of Louis Beauregard – one of the protagonists in THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. Sometimes you have to ask a lot of questions before you understand what your real problem is.

1832 was a strange place. Looking back almost 200 years, much has changed in Britain. For one thing, the UK had a king and an Empire that started with Ireland, something odd to those of us who have grown up knowing only Elizabeth II as monarch and a British Commonwealth.

SHADOWBOX takes place in Paris too. And Paris, in late 1832, was a much more peculiar place (to this author at least), its population repressed after a notable uprising and a disastrous cholera epidemic, ruled by a Bourbon king, the city as prosperous and lively as London.

I did a lot of historical research for this novel. Some of this has already appeared, before I wrote the story, in posts such as Giovanni Belzoni Gets A New Assistant and First Steps On The Journey – 1842. As well as (hopefully!) finding its way into the novel without overwhelming the reader, the historical research was great fun.

As I said at the start of this post, one of the joys of being a historian is the ability to time travel.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the ability to take other people with you.


Tomorrow: The first post in the SHADOWBOX series: Germinal 1, covering how I came up with the idea for the novel and the first steps I took in laying out the story.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.

Giovanni Belzoni Gets A New Assistant

A trip to the British Museum this week brought an unexpected resource to  my attention for my current work-in-plan, Project AR: the travel drawings of Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi. The work in progress is a prequel to my novel, The Last Rhinemaiden, and is about the life of that story’s hero, Louis Beauregard, as a younger man.

Edward Dodwell, Simone Pomardi, Panorama from the top of the Mousaion Hill, Athens. Watercolour, 1805. From the British Museum website.

In my short story, All Roads Lead To The River, Louis visits the pyramids at Giza in the company of two English explorers. He’s described as having “caroused around the Greek islands in the company of playboys and poets”, until he arrives with Smyth & Petherick in Libya as their draftsman.

Dodwell and Pomardi were draftsmen.

Gold mine.

All their work took place twenty years or so before Louis fictionally arrives there. The landscape hadn’t changed much in that time, although it did in the ensuing twenty years as the Greeks, having won their War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, proceeded to remove all trace of the overseers.

I originally went to see the exhibition of Ice Age Art (how could I not? I majored in prehistory at university; Ice Ages and their effects on northern Europe play a major part in the story of The Last Rhinemaiden and its offshoots). While I waited for my ticket time to come around, I took a wander.

It’s the British Museum – there’s plenty of things to see. For once I didn’t go to see to Pete Marsh. I avoided the Egyptian gallery too, and the Elgin Marbles (although I began to wish I’d zipped past them just the once after this…)

Serendipity, call it what you will, but I entered the exhibition entitled “In Search of Classical Greece”. I hadn’t heard of either of the two gents whose drawings formed the mainstay of the exhibits, but as I went around I learned a lot more about them and the circles they moved in.

The drawings of the Greek landscape were technically perfect, but lots more interesting snippets popped out of the texts. Names to look up, topographical details, local people in costume, travellers in English period costume. I was scribbling notes like a wild thing. Byron; Shelley; the aforementioned Lord Elgin. A touch of The Stress Of Her Regard (Tim Powers) in the air, perhaps, of the British Museum on a sunny afternoon.

Then yesterday, in a planned day of exploration for more Project AR groundwork, I took a trip to Bristol and wandered around their Georgian House Museum – fascinating – before going up the steep hill of  Park Street to the university area and the lovely, compact but jam-packed City Museum & Art Gallery for a lunchtime talk.

On the drawings of the tomb of Seti I by Giovanni Belzoni.

Wow.

In addition to a peek at some Belzoni artefacts – a chunk of plaster chipped from the wall of the tomb that Belzoni had marked with his name, for example – the talk also mentioned how the paintings were produced: the techniques used, the inks, the paper, the protocols for painting the scenery. I already knew some of the original Egyptian protocols, the dimensions and such like, but it was interesting to see that the copyists used much the same ideas.

And when he’d finished despoiling the tombs he excavated, what did Belzoni do with the goodies?

Belzoni assistant

Belzoni toured with his discoveries. This in the collections of Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery.

He shipped them off to Europe and toured the provinces at their expense.

Belzoni produced the drawings as part of a touring exhibition, and they formed a mock-up that people could wander around in. If I hadn’t been to the Dodwell & Pomardi exhibition the day before, I wouldn’t have known how common that was at the time, to the extent that special rotundas were built in the 1790s-1800s so people could go into a landscape and experience it in 360 degrees – the original Imax.

The Museum staff handed round a handbill of the exhibition of two mummies, an excellent example of the over-wordy printer-going-bananas-with-his-art. And there was a guidebook – a genuine one, from the period, with a map of Egypt that folded out, and about 8 pages of tight typescript explaining the excavation and the exhibition.

Wow. Again.

As a historian, even Belzoni’s artefacts are cool. I have handled a 180-year-old booklet produced for Giovanni Belzoni’s exhibition. Cool.

And in addition to being cool, both exhibitions gave me a nice set of reference points for Project AR and how Louis Beauregard would actually do all that carousing around the Grand Tour with poets and playboys.

The exhibitions are totally free. The talk was totally free. The British Museum, and Bristol City Museum, are getting a big acknowledgement in the front of the finished novel.

But first, I have to write the blasted thing…

On Devilled Kidneys And Marmite

Camille Laguire has a series of posts on her blog about characters at breakfast. Apparently it’s a follow-on from a Guardian piece. Anyhoo, Camille suggests that what a character has for breakfast tells us a lot – especially if that character has to have something different from normal, and their reaction to that.

There’s a whole lot of sense in this. There’s also a lot to play with, as a writer. Here’s my take.

For the household of 36a Centaur Street, breakfast is a peremptory affair. They share lodgings, three of them, with a tiny kitchen off the parlour. The setting is a fictional dieselpunk 1910, so while they have a cellar full of gadgets not one of them is a chest freezer…

Petticoat Katie & Sledgehammer Girl and Darius Fitzgerald, the third member of the household, rely on the kitchen equipment you’d find in a small kitchen of the time: maybe a cold box, where they’ll keep the butter, milk, eggs and cheese, and bacon or sausages, for a day or so. They don’t have space for a pantry.

Cooking equipment isn’t much more advanced – they have a gas ring, maybe two, and a kettle that goes on top, for tea or coffee.

The time period has a lot to answer for. There isn’t much pasta in the standard English kitchen in 1910, although probably more rice than you’d think, with the Empire including India and Pakistan and Bangladesh. One of the housemates has a slightly overseas background too, but that doesn’t extend to breakfast.

So…

There’s a lot of toasted bread products going on. Lack of storage – lack of practice in buying for bulk – means yesterday’s fresh bread is stale and only good for toasting.

Plus, there are toasted teacakes.

Yummmmy.

Oh, the toasted teacake. Cinnamony like a hot cross bun, bunny like a Sally Lunn, sliced in two and toasted and slathered with butter and jam/honey/marmalade. Known to tempt even us desayuno-skippers.

So my characters eat a lot of toasted teacakes for breakfast.

The alternative is Marmite on toasted bread, which is where a lot of people are divided. Petticoat Katie might survive on peppermint creams all day but not without a good solid breakfast. And in The Nessie Collector, both Petticoat Katie and Sledgehammer Girl encounter Scots porridge on a train, to which they add raspberry jam (sacrilege!).

Mainly, however, I don’t put them into a breakfast situation.

I wonder why? One of my friends gets out of bed naturally at six in the morning because she’s hungry and can’t sleep. I can’t say I’ve ever got out of bed because I was hungry, unless I’d managed a long lie until lunchtime. Maybe I don’t picture my characters at breakfast because it’s not action-y enough. Perhaps I ought to.

In The Last Rhinemaiden there isn’t much time for breakfast either. The junior hero, Alf Winchester, skips breakfast to catch an early train and the two female leads skip breakfast because they’re penniless. The real food only arrives at lunchtime, by which time they are gagging for it. Alf, especially, accustomed to a hearty schoolboy breakfast, and encountering events beyond his normal experience, has had enough of hunger and is so vulnerable to the offer of lunch by the anti-hero (and not enough of you have read the book to make that a spoiler) he can’t wait.

Given that the whole story takes place during a single 24-hour period, there isn’t much time for anything other than a light supper at the Cuckoo Club before the action kicks in.

The only main character who manages breakfast is Louis Beauregard, and we don’t dwell on what he eats, only what he reads in the newspaper. On reflection, I rather suspect Louis would have devilled kidneys for breakfast, and we know it’s served with tea. The kidneys might come with a single egg, scrambled, or mushrooms – but not both – and a slice of fried bread or toast, again. But I never thought to put that much detail in the book. It wasn’t as important as what he reads in the morning news.

Notice the absence of coffee?

And no processed cereals in either of these stories. You need to store those somewhere safe from weevils and mice.

And what of muesli? How many characters have I created that eat muesli for breakfast? None.

So far. Heheheh.

Published in: on April 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm  Comments Off on On Devilled Kidneys And Marmite  
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Published – The Last Rhinemaiden

I have published my novel: The Last Rhinemaiden.

What’s it about? Here’s the blurb:

You might think that the most sensational events of 1888 were the gruesome murders which took place in Whitechapel.

You’d be wrong.

A young woman leaps from Westminster Bridge at sunrise on the morning the German Kaiser dies. The only witness is Alf Winchester, who is captivated by her death.

By nightfall London is swarming with armed men and foreign spies hunting for him. And for her.

This is the not-a-jack-the-ripper-novel I’ve been talking about for some time. It’s set in London, in 1888. Go have a look. You can sample 20% for free on Smashwords, and use the “Look Inside…” feature on Amazon.

It will be pushed through the Smashwords distribution system to the iBookstore, Nook store, Barnes & Noble, Sony ebooks and Diesel books in the next couple of weeks.

cover image for The Last Rhinemaiden by Lee McAulay

Amazon UK     Amazon USA     Smashwords

Published in: on January 18, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Published – The Last Rhinemaiden  
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