So what goes into the creation of an historical novelist? A self-belief bordering upon arrogance, limitless quantities of coffee (nicotine optional) and uncontested use of a computer with Internet access. It works for me, anyway.
Second question – what goes into the creation of an historical novel? In my experience as both a reader and a writer, there are two broad types.
The first – epitomised by my favourite exponent of the genre, Ken Follett – is to create a whole set of fictional characters who exist against a backdrop of real-life events from history. So, for example, what was it really like living in Medieval England during the Wars of the Roses, or, if you had been a country parson in Warwickshire when Philip of Spain threatened to invade with his Armada, would you have even been aware of what was going on?
The second approach is that favoured by Hilary Mantel, who gets inside the head of real characters from history – most notably, in her case, Thomas Cromwell – and tells it from their perspective.
So which type do you like to read and/or write? Or am I being too simplistic in my analysis?
And some historical events have been done to death, surely? How many more novelists will feature the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? Or the rivalry between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots? How many new fictional angles can be found in the well-worn geometry of historical events like these?
I grew up fascinated by the horror story of Jack the Ripper, and had eagerly absorbed myself in the many theories that have been put forward over the years regarding the identity of the person who hacked five (at least) women of the street to death in the back alleys of London’s Whitechapel during the Autumn of 1888. So when Sapere Books called for a Victorian mystery novel, there was one obvious topic for me.
One of the well-established theories is that the murders were not random, but were a systematic removal of all those who could reveal a scandal – one that would shatter the moral glass house of Queen Victoria’s immediate family. Another theory that surfaced briefly was that the murderer might in fact have been ‘Jill the Ripper’ – a woman. Combine the two theories, and you have a woman intent on silencing those who could point the finger at her own crimes. All that was needed to complete the story was an innocent girl determined to prove that her good friend was the first of those victims, seeking the assistance of a young police constable in order to bring the offender to justice, and prevent any more slashing of ‘working girl’ throats.
Welcome to The Gaslight Stalker, my fifth published historical novel, and my first for Sapere. I hope you find the theory plausible, while enjoying the burgeoning romance between Jewish seamstress Esther Jacobs and Police Constable Jackson Enright.
I am not the first to tackle this enduring mystery, and I will almost certainly not be the last. So which theory do you favour? Or do you perhaps have one of your own?