My father taught history. The politics, culture, and people of different periods was a common topic in our house. When I decided to do what I’d secretly wanted to try for many years, write, my long quiet muse went in search of people and events to build a world around.
Not all periods and places interest me while others have a strong draw for me. I write a Knights in Time series where a part of the story is set in medieval England and occasionally France. The battle of Poitiers, a great English victory fought in 1356, is the common denominator for those characters. My latest release, Silk, a suspense/thriller, is set in Victorian England, London in particular.
I chose Victorian London for a couple of reasons. So much changed over that time period, developments in industry and the expansion of the British Empire are two examples. The period conjures up both romantic images perfect for Christmas cards and menacing images of dark allies and people living hard lives. You could turn a corner and run into a polished carriage pulled by a handsome team of horses, or, you could turn a corner and run into Jack the Ripper. I thought it the most atmospheric of cities for my killer and detective to challenge each other.
Another reason I chose this time period (1888) was for my protagonist’s personal history and quality of character. Several years ago, I had the occasion to visit the South Wales Borderers regimental museum. I was interested in the Zulu wars of 1879 and in particular two battles fought by that regiment: Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift. Eleven Victoria Crosses, the equivalent of our Medal of Honor, were awarded to the men who fought at Rorke’s Drift. After speaking at great length with the volunteers at the museum who gave me a private tour, I knew if I ever wrote a book, one day I’d use a veteran of this battle as the protagonist.
In Silk, Detective Inspector Rudyard Bloodstone was ill with a serious fever when the hospital station at Rorke’s Drift was attacked by thousands of Zulu warriors. He managed to rise and fight after saving the lives of several men unable to walk on their own. As a result, he was awarded a Victoria Cross for “Extreme valour in the face of the enemy.” Rudyard (Ruddy) keeps the medal and the queen’s declaration in his sock drawer. He doesn’t consider himself a hero. To him, he was just a soldier doing what was necessary in battle.
I treat settings like characters. They are living, breathing things. They evoke emotions the way the men and women in the story do. They can be beautiful and make you want to stay in that moment and place. Or, they can frighten as cold fog wraps around the human characters and the dark holds danger. In the Knights in Time books, I loved recreating medieval England without the iconic trappings so familiar with today: Big Ben, double-decker buses, black cabs, and tourists gathered around Buckingham Palace. In Silk, I loved showing London through the eyes of the different classes. The multi—facets of the city. One oddity I discovered in my research was an “entertainment” enjoyed by the middle class. There’s scene in Silk that takes place in an asylum. I learned for a time asylums made a profit by letting so called normal folk view the lunatics (a common term used at the time) for a penny a tour.
I try to recreate the place and time by walking through it mentally. Every sidewalk my protagonist goes down, every room he or she enters I note the details along with them. Since I can’t time travel in reality, I can travel through time on the page.