In celebrating the release of The Legion Prophecy, the latest book in Mark A Latham’s The Appollonian Casefiles Series, Mark has kindly provided a guest post giving an insight in creating this unique world. Please do check out both the post and the series. Also do be sure to check out the other stops on the tour
Creating Victorian London
One of the great challenges of writing the Apollonian Casefiles was creating a believable ‘historical’ world in which to set my nineteenth-century adventures. This was really important to me, because my goal with the first book, The Lazarus Gate, wasn’t just to create a passable version of history, but to write a piece of ‘transreal’ SF – a book that, at first glance, might pass as a historical novel, before the science fiction elements kick in and take things in a new direction. In book three of the series, the Legion Prophecy, I return to Victorian London, and that early groundwork in creating what I hope was an authentic and believable setting paid dividends, giving me a solid foundation to work with. Key locations are by this point already cemented in the readers’ minds, allowing me to introduce new areas of the city for my characters to explore without repeating myself.
So, how did I go about creating the Big Smoke of the 1890s? The short answer is of course, ‘research’. As all writers know, only a tiny fraction of the research done actually makes the final draft, but without it the whole book feels less believable.
The geography of London has changed quite a bit in the last century or so, and getting the key details right was really important to me. If my character cuts down a back alley, then I want to be sure it was there in 1890 even if it’s not there today. If he goes to the pub, I want the name of said establishment and the physical description of it to be as it was, rather than the gentrified gin bar that probably stands there today.
To get the details right, I rely on three main sources: maps, first-hand accounts, and visual reference.
Regular readers of my blog will know that my bookshelves are rammed with period reference – over 200 tomes, in fact – which I call my ‘Victorian Google’. Amongst these are several invaluable guidebooks (the best being Baedeker’s London 1890, Bradshaw’s Handbook of London 1863, and Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1888), which contain extensive descriptions of every landmark, key building and street, as well as peculiarities of local customs. I also own over a dozen maps of the city, including a splendid copy of Bacon’s New Large-Scale Ordnance Atlas of London & Suburbs, 1888). These make plotting the key locations and journeys between them that much easier. If you’re a map nerd like me, you can also find the most incredible interactive resource at the National Library of Scotland’s map department, here
Once my map of the essential action was sorted, I then needed physical descriptions. Many of these are taken from first-hand accounts, such as letters to the Times, the writings of Henry Mayhew, and period fiction. Many are taken from old photographs, again from my book collection. But ultimately, much of Victorian London still exists, and there’s no real substitute for visiting, and footslogging around Jack the ripper’s old haunts, or the Clubland of St James’s and Pall Mall.
Just as my places are largely real, so too are my ‘extras’. The books blend fiction and non-fiction shamelessly – there are many characters who are real historical figures, and where I’ve used them I’ve tried to make it plausible that they’re in the right place at the right time. In the Lazarus Gate, when John visits the Ten Bells pub, the publican named is the real publican of the time. When he goes across the road to Christ Church, Spitalfields (that amazing Nicholas Hawksmoor building), not only is the description of the building accurate from sketches made before its reconstruction, but the Dean of the church really was the incumbent clergyman – I had to email the Friends of Christ Church for that information.
As John Hardwick travels around London for the first time in ten years, he takes in the sights, sounds and smells of a city that has expanded and changed dramatically, and is almost a strange land to him. The crowd scenes I write are all peculiar to the area of London in which they’re set. From the East End with its immigrant population, costermongers, dolly-mops and cut-purses, to the West End with its gentry heading to the theatre of an evening whilst passing entertainers and book-sellers, there’s historical precedent for pretty much everyone I describe in the books.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the dialogue: as an English student, accent and dialect has always fascinated me, and so I turned to several period of dictionaries of slang to get the language right. A few more modern uses of certain words did creep in, nu these were all conscious decisions – Victorian English can be pretty hard to follow at times, and while great for flavour, the last thing I wanted to do was alienate the readers.
So there you have it – my attempts to bring Victorian London to life in a nutshell. Doing lots and lots of research, so you don’t have to!
Lose yourself in Victorian London in The Legion Prophecy, the third instalment in the Apollonian Casefiles series from Mark A. Latham. Following on from the events of The Iscariot Sanction, Latham’s rich and exciting prose will have you instantly immersed in this wonderful fantasy epic.
London, 1893. The Order of Apollo, investigator of mysterious events for the Crown, has been uncovering artefacts and refugees from another world, smuggled through boundaries which seem to be thinning. A breach would mean disastrous consequences for the entire universe.
Meanwhile, rumours abound of an enemy the Order thought long-since dead, alive and gathering followers. Colonel John Hardwick, an embittered veteran of Apollo, is forced to join the fight again, with his former friend Captain Jim Denny and mysterious adventuress Marie Furnival. But facing this new threat brings them to dark secrets which implicate whole nations and threaten the very fabric of reality.
Mark A. Latham is a writer, editor, history nerd, frustrated grunge singer and amateur baker from Staffordshire, UK. A recent immigrant to rural Nottinghamshire, he lives in a very old house (sadly not haunted), and is still regarded in the village as a foreigner.
Mark A. Latham is a writer, editor, history nerd, frustrated grunge singer and amateur baker from Staffordshire, UK. A recent immigrant to Nottingham, he lives in a very old house (sadly not haunted), and is still regarded as a foreigner.
Formerly the editor of White Dwarf magazine, Mark dabbled in tabletop games design before becoming a full-time author. A writer of strange, fantastical and macabre tales, his short stories have been published by Titan Books and Black Library Publishing. Revelling in the moniker ‘the Lost Victorian’, Mark’s research into nineteenth-century life has become something of an obsession, which he salves by writing on the subject for far longer than can be considered healthy.
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