Published by Head of Zeus
ebook: 5 October 2017 | Paperback: 8 February 2018
The Coven is the second in the Beatrice Scarlett historical thriller series, the first being Scarlet Widow. The Coven is published by Head of Zeus and is available to buy now in ebook and hardback. When I was invited to take part in the blog tour, this one immediately appealed – a historical thriller – it sounds just my type of read.
For my turn on the blog tour, I have a guest post from the author to share with you.
by Graham Masterton
I don’t think of myself as a ‘crime writer.’ I never read crime novels and I have no particular interest in crime films or crime series on TV. It’s the personalities of my characters that I find most rewarding to write about that – that and the setting in which they live. I started writing about Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire because I was fascinated by Cork city, where we lived for five years, and I had never read a thriller set there. I also wanted to write about a woman who not only has struggles with her job but has to deal with the prejudice of misogynist fellow officers.
It was the same with Beatrice Scarlet, whose first appearance was in Scarlet Widow, set mostly in colonial New Hampshire of the 1750s. Beatrice was the daughter of a London apothecary, and her father taught her all about the latest advances in chemistry and medicinal cures. In this second book in the series, she returns to London. She is a widow with a young daughter to take care of, and no means of self-support, so she has to rely on the nonconformist church to which her late husband belonged to give her employment at a home for reforming young prostitutes. When seven of the young girls disappear, apparently having formed themselves into a coven of witches, everybody in the church declares that it was Satan who took them, but Beatrice uses her chemical expertise to try and discover what really happened to them.
The challenge in writing what is more or less an 18th century CSI novel is that I had to find out all about the chemical knowledge of the period (or the lack of it.) This was an age when arsenic was taken for stomach troubles, and mercury for venereal disease, which made your hair and your teeth fall out. Most ‘cures’ were more deadly than the diseases they were supposed to be treating. Fortunately there is a huge amount of background material on this to be found on Google.
Then, of course, I had to know my way around London of the late 1750s. I found a detailed map which was extremely helpful, because it showed that the city of London was built up only as far as Moorfields, and beyond that it was all fields and farms. Hackney was a small and attractive village where Dr Johnson occasionally used to go for some country air, and there were still dairy farms in Chelsea.
One of the most important sources I found was a book on 18th century London by Professor Jerry White, a huge tome which contains everything you ever wanted to know about the capital during the Regency period (and quite a lot that you didn’t!) That helped me to do what I always try to do when I write, and that is to immerse myself into the places and the atmosphere of those times so that readers feel as if they are actually living the story.
I loved doing it. I loved recreating the noise of the streets crowded with hot pie and long song sellers. I loved writing about the clothes and the snobbery and the lust and the terrible filth. Raw sewage ran down the middle of the streets, along with dead dogs and the guts of disemboweled sheep from Smithfield market. The only problem was that it was a very slow book to write, because I had to keep checking if a particular word was known in those days – ‘flabbergasted’ for instance. The answer to that one is yes. But when a hackney driver suggests to Beatrice that she will need to put a clothes-peg on her nose in London in the summer – that was a no. Clothes-pegs of even the most rudimentary kind weren’t invented until 1820 by the Quakers in Boston. Up until then, clothes were dried by hanging them on bushes or on fireguards in front of the fire, which accounted for a great many disastrous fires in London in those days.
I had written historical fiction before, with a huge saga of American oil tycoons in Rich, the building of the transcontinental American railroads in Railroad, and the story of an ocean liner’s first trip across the Atlantic in the 1920s in Maiden Voyage – and several others. Because of that, I had learned that while it’s essential for a writer to know as much about the period as possible, very little of that research should appear in the finished novel. It’s the story and the characters that matter. All you have to do as a writer is know what you’re talking about. So when you write ‘toilet’ you know you’re not writing about a lavatory but a side-table where a woman could write letters or put on her make-up. You don’t have to explain it – readers aren’t stupid and they will get it.
I also had to bone up on corsets, and every kind of clothing of the period. Did women wear knickers? (No…and their pockets were separate, fastened inside their petticoats with ribbons…hence Lucy Locket lost her pocket.)
It’s the same with 18th century slang. Some of my more vulgar characters use it – such as ‘shoot the cat’ for vomit and ‘queer doxy’ for a diseased prostitute — but I don’t explain it. It’s fairly obvious what they’re talking about.
The great challenge was writing a crime story which still has pace and momentum in an era when there were no telephones and no cars and if you wanted to get anywhere in a hurry you either had to hail a hackney or run. It could take three weeks to get to America if the weather was bad. But I enjoyed every minute of it, and after The Coven I very much want to write more adventures for Beatrice Scarlet in a world that might be long gone but which still hums in my mind (in every sense of the word.)
Thank you Graham for a very interesting post.
My thanks to Blake at Head of Zeus for the invitation to take part in the tour.
| About the book |
They say the girls were witches. But Beatrice Scarlet, the apothecary’s daughter, is sure they were innocent victims…
Beatrice Scarlet, the apothecary’s daughter, has found a position at St Mary Magdalene’s Refuge for fallen women. She enjoys the work and soon forms a close bond with her charges.
The refuge is supported by a wealthy tobacco merchant, who regularly offers the girls steady work to aid their rehabilitation. But when seven girls sent to his factory disappear, Beatrice is uneasy.
Their would-be benefactor claims they were a coven of witches, beholden only to Satan and his demonic misdeeds. But Beatrice is convinced something much darker than witchcraft is at play…
| About the author |
Graham Masterton’s credits as a writer include the bestselling horror novel The Manitou, and the top-ten bestselling Katie Maguire crime series. Scarlet Widow, published in 2016, was his first book to feature 18th-century apothecary Beatrice Scarlet.