Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Monster, the writer and the lack of blue plaques

Hollywood 1930 and there’s this guy, Boris Karloff,
and he’s playing a monster - Frankenstein’s monster.
Only Boris Karloff isn’t his real name.
His real name is William Pratt and before he was a big star he lived in Enfield.
Well now, Karloff’s paternal grandmother was the sister to Anna Leonowens,
the real-life ‘Anna’ in the story of the King and I,
the most recent of which films starred Jodie Foster,
who also worked with another famous monster,
Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins.
Anthony Hopkins narrated the film How The Grinch Stole Christmas,
which had originally been narrated on TV by our dear friend from Enfield, Boris Karloff.

Now I hope we all remember that Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley,
while she was holidaying a million miles away from the not-yet-invented Hollywood,
in the Villa Diodata with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidari,
because this is crucial to Enfield’s pretensions to literary glory.
Much later, of course, Byron would have a daughter called Ada,
who worked with Charles, the “father of the computer” Babbage.
Babbage went to school in Enfield even though, as far as anyone knows,
he never wrote a story about Frankenstein or vampires.
Talking of vampires, someone who did write about them was Byron,
but chances are that he stole the idea from Polidari.

Anyway Byron’s vampire wasn’t the Dracula we came to know and love.
That Dracula was played in the early movies by Bela Lugosi,
who starred with Boris Karloff in The Raven,
an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s story of the same name -
Poe having been educated in.... Stoke Newington (with apologies to Enfield).
The author of Dracula, of course, was Bram Stoker,
and his brother, Sir William Thornley Stoker,
employed a companion for his wife by the name of Florence Dugdale.
Florence having been born and educated in Enfield, which,
by a strange twist of fate, is where Florence married the writer Thomas Hardy,
who wrote a poem called “Shelley’s Skylark”, after Shelley’s poem “Ode to a Skylark”.

Now the publisher of some of Shelley’s oeuvre was Edward Moxon,
who married the poet Charles Lamb’s adopted daughter, Emma Isola.
From time to time Lamb lived variously in Edmonton and Enfield,
his sister Mary having murdered their mother with a kitchen knife in a fit of pique.
Charles Lamb, in turn, was friends with Charles Cowden Clarke,
whose father taught at a school in Enfield
where young Clarke befriended a sickly boy by the name of John Keats.
Keats died too young for his own good, but before he shuffled off his mortal coil,
he famously entered into an epic poetry competition with Shelley,
to whom he’d been introduced by James Henry Leigh Hunt.
Hunt had been born in Southgate... in the Borough of Enfield 
Well, the story goes that whilst Hunt was banged up at His Majesty’s pleasure,
for having dissed the Prince Regent, he had a visit from Byron,
who of course was with Mary Shelley and that entire monster-creating crew
when she wrote a little story called Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley, as far as I know, never stepped foot in Enfield,
but the monster she created lived on in Boris Karloff, who did,
although there are no blue plaques to that effect.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Debt - Part Three on its way

Part Three of the Venus Squared series is on its way.

Here's a snippet from the first couple of pages, to whet your appetite.

The Debt, the circumstances of depravity bemoaned by Angela Elliott

Chapter One - Spring 1770

Spring came hard on the heels of a bitter winter. Covent Garden, ever bustling with commerce, progressed from ice clad to mud-drenched thoroughfare: the cobbles treacherous, the air fogged with noxious poisons. Sundry persons of a rakish disposition trailed dirt through our hallways, thinking nothing of the mess they made, or the season’s damp diseases. Catching a cold though, was the least of our problems, for that winter Lucy Mead acquired the French pox and was forced to leave our house and find habitation in the lowest of the Seven Dials’ kennels.

Although I gave her money for the cure, I think she spent most of it on Madame Geneva. We all live with the dread of this syphilitic plague. In Lucy, it raged fierce and laid her low with ulcerations, such that no man wished to keep her company. Eventually, she could earn not a crust. One morning she walked out and I did not see her again until she appeared on the steps of the milliner’s shop in James Street. Poor Lucy had a hole in her temple and was quite dead.

I should explain: that morning I sent the maid out for pastries, but scarce had she time to turn the corner and fix her eyes on the bakery, than she spied the bloody remains, weighed up the situation and returned home, empty-handed, but with a story of foul murder, full on her lips.
“You must go see, Mistress Ives, for it’s none other than our own Lucy,” said a breathless Christie. “James Street is blocked by on-lookers, even though the constable’s there and calling for the Bow Street Runners and a Magistrate.”

I did not wait for further elucidation; I simply took up my shawl, flung it around my shoulders and strode out to discover what had become of the late Lucy Mead.  

To Read a sample of The Finish, Book One in the series - click here
To Buy click here
To Read a sample of The Surety, Book Two in the series - click here

Join Angela at her website to find out more about her books
Or find her on Twitter

Thursday, 19 November 2015

18th century nudes - porn or art?

There I was, happily tweeting away on the Historical Novelist Tweet Group on Facebook, when I received a message not to post a picture of a nude woman ever again because it transgressed their rules of nudity. Here's the offending picture.
It's by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Venus and Amor. It's by no means pornographic yet this was deemed to infringe the 'rules'. I argued that it was a work of art, but to no avail. The result was a messy deletion of my membership by their admin, and then further censorship by them so that I couldn't participate in any of the tweet groups run by them. Why? Just because I stood up for art, that's why.

Whilst pondering what kind of person thinks paintings like this are pornographic I realised I had the ideal opportunity to explore whether any of the 18th century old master's nudes are dirty pictures. In doing so, I've trawled galleries world wide to find examples.It is true, the 18th century was obsessed by sex and plenty of illustrations, cartoons, and such like exist as proof of this. However, there were also many genuine painters of high art who considered the naked body to be nothing short of glorious and used it at every opportunity.

How beautiful is this? Painted by Anne-Louis Girode De Roussy-Trioson in 1799 it is a portrait of Mlle. Lange as Danae. Oh but she has breasts! Quelle horreur! A woman with breasts.

This by Van Der Werff - The Judgement of Paris. Everyone's a bit naked here, but is it porn? I don't think so.

In fact Van Der Werff seemed to specialise in nude or semi-nude works like this. Here's another. Venus kissed by Cupid.

 Or this one below - Shepherd and Shepherdess - bit steamy this one. Avert your eyes!

Then, what about this? Rather glorious this one. By Sebastiano Ricci in 1713.

Then there's this below, by Jean-Baptiste Santerre in 1704, which shows Susanna at her bath. Okay, so the 'interesting' bits are covered up, but nevertheless a bath is an intimate thing.

I think what all this goes to show is that, whilst the 18th century was an hedonistic and licentious time, those works of art that celebrate the human form in this way are quite beautiful and nothing to be afraid of.

Right, now I'm off to take a gander at the Rowlandson exhibition in the Queen's Gallery. Watch this space.

Angela Elliott is the writer of The Finish - the progress of a murder uncovered - Find The Finish here

Friday, 16 October 2015

An anonymous interview

Looking through my files, I found these interview questions. I forget what, why, who, where or when I did them, but here they are with the answers.

1.    In 140 characters, what is your book / series about?
18th century Covent Garden prostitute solves crimes - short enough?

2.    When did you start writing?
Is this a trick question? I was about four. I was an avid reader. Writing just seemed a natural progression. At first it was just my name but I soon progressed to whole phrases. Ummm. I guess it’s not a trick question. I started writing in 1988. I was 31. My son had just been born. I wrote a ten minute script for Channel Four, which was brand spanking new at the time. I was short-listed and I just thought ‘I can do this’.

3.    What is your next project?
Never just working on one project at a time. Always got three or four on the go at the same time: French wartime tearjerker, 18th century prostitute solves crimes, ghosts in Paris and Marseilles, 17th century PParisian poisoner.

4.    What is your long term writing ambition?
To build up a body of work that will stand the test of time.

5.    How have you found the publishing process?
It’s a bloody nightmare. Agents are like gold dust and it's not getting any easier. Self-publishing on Amazon has become the slush pile. I still want to do it the old-fashioned way. I would work my socks off for an agent who believes in me.
6.    What did you learn from writing your first book?
To finish it.

7.    What two books would you take to a desert island?
John Steinbeck’s Grape of Wrath, and The Grifters by Jim Thompson.

8.    What was your favourite childhood book?
Muffin the Mule – it had a map. Love maps

9.    What are your three top writer tips?
Forget about waiting for the muse to hit. Just write every single day – good, bad or indifferent.
If you want to be a writer, quit saying it and just do it.
Finish what you’ve started.

10.  Why should people buy your book?
Because you can escape into another world and experience all the horrors, shocks, and excitement of that time. Because it sets your imagination free and allows you to be someone else for a short while. Because it’s a detective story and you love trying to work out ‘who dun it’.

11.  Do you plot or do you free-style in your writing?
I learned to write scripts for TV and film before coming to novels. I plot pretty much every damned thing and then I freestyle it.

  1. School lover or school hater?
Hated every moment of it – except for art.

  1. Who is your greatest supporter?
My son, Jacob.

  1. Twitter lover or Twitter hater? Why?
Used to hate it, then I loved it, now I hate it again. Worldwide Chinese whispers.

  1. What is the best TV series you have seen lately, why?
The Musketeers. Handsome pointy-bearded men. Do I need any other reason?

  1. Do you blog about anything else other than writing? If so, what?
I blogged about going to California in 2010. I have a website for the fountain I am rescuing along with the lovely people of the Friends of Priory Park.  On the whole though, I find it hard to blog. I'm too busy writing novels and scripts to blog much.

  1. What is your life motto?
Never give up


1.    Favourite flavour of ice-cream – I don’t eat ice cream
2.    Crisps or chocolate? – both but also neither – I don’t eat chocolate or crisps. I used to, but chocolate upsets my stomach and crisps are all fat.
3.    Tea or coffee? – I don’t drink either. I don’t do caffeine. I drink redbush and herbals. Aren't I boring?
4.    Wine or water? - Water
5.    Camping or glamping? – What the hell is glamping when it’s at home? I’m strictly a hotel only girl these days.
6.    Must your socks always match?  Oh yes, it is slothful to be otherwise dressed.
7.    If you were to have 5 famous people (dead or alive) to dinner who would they be? – Johnny Depp, Tom Waits, Marquis de Sade, now those three would have a ball together. James Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson.No women, sorry.
8.    If you could relive one moment from history, what would it be? Any of it. All of it.
9.    If you were Noah, which animal would you have left behind and why? – Humans. Do I really need to say why?
10.  Tell us an amusing secret that nobody else knows (fun not serious) – I intend on buying a derelict castle when I make my first million. When I make my second million I might be able to afford doing it up.
11.  Who would you most like to have a good rant at and why? – Women doing their make-up in public. Cheesh, finish your ablutions at home will you?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

What happens next? - Plotting and Planning

Okay, so you've got this amazing idea for a book and you dive right in and write until you run out of go. Then what?

You put it in a metaphorical drawer (usually a file on your computer) and forget about it? You leave it open on the desktop and worry about it? You come back to it each day, but don't write more than a few lines? You start to add to it, but it flounders because you aren't really sure where it's going? All writers have this problem - the story that's going nowhere. The story that's long on idea, but short on execution. You move on to the next idea. You might repeat yourself in an endless cycle of false starts. I know I have.

These days though, I finish everything I write - good, bad or indifferent - because finishing something allows me to move on properly.

Here's how I write now. I get a good idea, or at least what I think is a good idea, and I immediately pose it as a 'what if' question. For The Finish it was 'what if an 18th century prostitute woke to find a dead man in her bed?'

Then I think how will this look as the start of a book? What is she doing? Where is she doing it?

Next up I go straight to the end. What's happened by the end of the book? Has she survived? Has the situation resolved itself? If so, how?

Having envisaged the opening scene and the end scene, I decide which characters will aid her progress and which will cause problems. In Kitty's case it's fairly simple - without giving you the end, I need her to survive because she features in three more books. However, the situation is dire, with the possibility of hanging, if she is brought to trial and found guilty of murder. She lives in a brothel so we have the madam, Mother Shadbolt, and various other prostitutes. We also have a number of clients and the 'bully' on the door. A detective story is plot driven, as the character moves from one set of clues to the next. By its very nature it also requires twists and turns. A good 'who dun it' shouldn't give up the actual murderer easily. It should make the reader think.

All this said, any story can follow this kind of development plan. From beginning to end and join up the points inbetween.

Some people can write straight through, from idea to actuality. That's how I work, but I can only do it because, having been trained in scriptwriting for film, I've internalised the process and format. Some people need to map it all out. I would say, for safety's sake make lots of notes and plan, plan, plan.

Here's some bullet points to help you plot.

1. Have a great hook and make sure it's in the first five pages.
2. Establish the character's goal in the first quarter of the book.
3. Establish all the major characters in the first quarter of the book.
4. Know how your book is going to end.
5. Know what it is that will happen at the end of the first quarter that will propel the character forward into resolving the matter at hand.
6. Chart out the important points of the story on a timeline, taking caring to consider rising action.
7. Know what it is that will happen at the end of the third quarter that will begin to work towards the end of the story.
8. At the end, tie up all the loose ends - explain red herrings

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Who is Kitty Ives?

Kitty Ives is the heroine of the Venus Squared series of books, the first of which is The Finish. In this article I discuss her family background and what brought her to work as a prostitute in London's notorious Covent Garden.

She was christened Katherine Ives, but her father preferred to call her Kitty. She was born in the ancient county of Norfolk, in East Anglia to a farmer and his wife, Joseph and Elizabeth Ives. They had two children, Sophie, born in 1744 and Kitty, born in 1746.

Joseph wasn't a particularly wealthy man, but he loved his family and provided for them as best he could until his middle daughter, Sophie, fell in love with a neighbouring farmer's son. Sadly, this young man was found dead, having been most foully stabbed. Sophie was accused of the murder, but although she was found not guilty, local opinion went against her and she was set upon by a mob, whilst walking from Church. She was dragged through the streets and suffered a thousand cuts and bruises. Sadly, Sophie fell into a decline and died from blood poisoning, brought on by the mistreatment of her wounds.

Quite naturally, the rest of the family were distraught, not least Joseph, the patriarch. He was the next to die, having had an attack of apoplexy. Today we would call it a stroke. This left Kitty's mother, Elizabeth, with something of a dilemma. She had never taken much part in the day-to-day running of the farm. She now had to take up the reigns herself, but in doing so she failed quite miserably to manage the finances and very quickly fell into debt. First the livestock was sold, then individual parcels of land, and eventually the farm house itself. Forced into rented accommodation and living on slender means, Elizabeth Ives found her Kitty employment as a maid in London. Kitty was put on a coach and sent on her way, but once at the coaching inn in London, she was waylaid by an older woman called Mother Shadbolt, who offered to look after her needs and see her safely accompanied to her employer's house.

On the journey across the city Mother Shadbolt fell ill and asked Kitty if she would mind stopping off at her house on the corner of Covent Garden and Russell Street. This of course, was the brothel. Once she stepped over the threshold Kitty was seduced by tales of fine clothes, parties and  riches beyond her ken. Thus, did our heroine fall from grace in quick time.

Kitty was only sixteen years old and had no more desire than to dress in the latest fashion and catch the eye of a handsome beau, and so she was soon persuaded to throw off her employer and remain with Mother Shadbolt, where she was promised her pick of suitors. At first, Kitty was showered with gifts and beautiful gowns and jewellery, but as time wore on and she tired off the life of easy seduction, she tried to leave the brothel and strike out alone, only to find that the clothes she wore were not gifts at all, the jewellery was all paste and she had not a penny to her name.

Now came a time of despondency for Kitty. She fell in with a riotous crowd and ended up being transported to America for the crime of theft. All this is discussed further in The Finish.

You can read all about Kitty's exploits in The Finish and in the subsequent volumes, The Surety, The Debt and The Trade. Collectively, they are called Venus Squared.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

What's in a location, part three.

In this third look at Covent Garden I talk about James Street and Long Acre. First of all, take a look at the map of Kitty's Covent Garden.
James street isn't marked on this map, but it is the road leading from the Northern side of Covent Garden to the what is marked on the map as Hart Street, which is what Long Acre was called in the mid 18th century.

Here's James Street today. It's pedestrianised and usually swarming with tourists. This was a very rainy, cold day. At the top on the right hand corner is Covent Garden Tube Station. Halfway down this street, back in the 18th century, was the house in which the Reverend of St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden lived. I've tried to find a picture of James Street from the 18th century, and even the 19th century, but have failed miserably. There are pictures of St. Jame's Street, but this is a different street, further west.

This is a modern drawing of the houses on the west side of James Street. You can see the houses built in the 18th century are marked in the left hand section, and here they are below. The Body Shop and Fossil are both 18th century. The Cambridge Satchel Company is 19th century, but it looks to be based on an earlier building. In general 18th century windows were longer than those in the 19th century.

Moving into Long Acre, then Hart Street. This is it now, looking in both directions.

Okay, so the building in this photo was built in 1938. Here it is below at that time. It has changed since then. The windows aren't the same. Mostly, buildings like this end up being gutted and the facade kept, while the main body of the building remains.

The sad thing is that this monstrosity of 1930s architecture was built in place of these old houses, which were built in Long Acre in 1690. As you can see, the windows are shorter and wider than the following two centuries. Remember than after the Great Fire of London, in 1666, most of the city was rebuilt in brick, hence the somewhat 'modern' look to terraces built in the 17th century. Gone were the wooden-framed houses of the old city.

In The Finish Kitty goes to a surgeon, who performs an autopsy on one of the murder victims. She would have visited a house very like one of those pictured here.

I did find this wonderful old photo of an Inn in Floral Court, which is just off James Street and Long Acre.

I'm guessing it was taken around the 1930s. I'm not sure if it's still there, but I will go and look and report back.

The other photo worth showing you of Long Acre is this one below.

Now, I'm not sure whereabouts on Long Acre this was, but I've a feeling it occupied the site which the Covent Garden tube station now sits on, which would mean that the facing us is James Street, looking all the way down to Covent Garden. Then again it could be the corner opposite, in which case this looks up to Seven Dials. 

It's a very interesting area, albeit today it's all shops and tourists.  I love the cobblestones in this picture and the old shop window on the left. It's a real shame there's so little left of it.

Part one in this look at Covent Garden is here

Part two is here

The Finish tells the story of an 18th century Covent Garden prostitute who wakes to find a dead man in her bed, and is forced to uncover the murderer for fear she will swing from the gallows.