Two Historical Novelists Tackling our Deadlines (on the right, Katie Hickman)
Last summer Katie Hickman and I found ourselves doing a joint reading at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. We were both on book tour—Katie for The Aviary Gate, and me for Stealing Athena. We didn’t know each other, but I’d been wanting to meet her. Her best-selling book, Daughters of Britannia: the Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives, contained a substantive chapter on Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, who happened to be the heroine of Stealing Athena. E! Weekly had featured Stealing Athena and The Aviary Gate side by side as having virtually identical book covers (a bit snide, but publicity is publicity). Plus we are both known as inveterate travelers, Katie the more so. She’s actually listed in “Wayward Women, the Oxford Dictionary of Women Travellers.” No sooner had I’d thought, gosh, I’d love to meet Katie Hickman, than the gig at the MM House appeared on my book tour itinerary.
One of my challenges in writing the next book is to refrain from falling into stereotypical “Dickensian” images and ideas of the Victorian period. Because mine is a Gothic novel, the darker imagery of the period would suit so well. However, by 1890, the world looked much different than it had forty or fifty years prior. As someone who works hard to create as vivid and realistic an environment as possible in whatever era I’m writing in, I’ll have to be ultra-conscious as I go along.
Just returned from a walking tour of the dark side of Victorian London. I walked for so long during the tour and afterwards that when I returned to the flat, I could no longer bend my toes. True story. We’ve had two entire days of sunshine, and it’s just too painful to stay indoors. I suppose that my feet are in “Los Angeles” condition, where we spend untold money to pump iron with trainers, but take our cars 3 blocks to the supermarket .
The walking tour mainly encompassed Dickens’ London, whereas by the time my novel takes place late in the century, things started to look different and much more modern. I’m impressed with the Victorians when I compare conditions in Dickens’ time against the reforms that were instituted later in the century. For example, mid-century London had a system of apprenticeship for chimney sweeps whereby the skinniest orphan boys were drafted to shimmy up narrow chimneys that often were no more than nine inches in diameter. It was horrific work. The boys rarely made it to the age of ten, often dying from—yes, burning—but also lung and testicular cancers. This horrible practice was finally ended in 1875.
I’ve settled into a fantastic flat in London’s Pimlico district. The new novel takes place at the end of the 19th century, so I’m renting a place that was built in 1880. It’s got lots of the original décor, including lovely tall French windows from which one can watch gloomy clouds and perennial rain, and a high ceiling in the parlor. A much better ambiance to write a Gothic novel than sunny L. A.
My first night out on the town was intended to be a distinctly un-Victorian experience. My great friend Alex, reigning prince of jazz-fusion guitar in England, invited me to go with him to judge a music contest at a club in Balham. After hearing some fantastic music and a indulging in bit of extremely restrained (ahem) drinking, Alex put me into a taxi.