Monday, 31 August 2015

What about location - Covent Garden then and now part two

In part two I take a look at the streets surrounding Covent Garden. It's more difficult to find decent prints from the 18th century, but thankfully, I have found some Victorian photographs. Most of the buildings in these photographs were the same in the previous century.

Here's an 18th century map of the area. You can see Russell Street marked on it, and Bow Street coming off Russell Street. Follow Russell Street and you come to Drury Lane. On this map, you can just see the word 'Lane'. if you carry on across Drury Lane, then the next road is Great Wild Street, which is the extent of our journey today.

Okay, so Kitty's brothel is on the corner of the Covent Garden Little Piazza and Russell Street. Here it is again today.

See that street going off to the left? That's Russell Street. Three or so doors down this street was Thomas Davis's bookshop, which was where James Boswell first met Dr. Samuel Johnson, and where Kitty goes first, to ask after the dead man she's found in her bed. The original building still stands. Here it is below.

It's the one with the red awning. The blue plaque explains the Boswell/Johnson thing. I can't find an old picture of the bookshop, but here's a picture of Thomas Davis.

If you follow Russell Street to the end and turn left, then you reach Bow Street. Number four was where the magistrate's court and home to the Bow Street Runners was.

Here it is, and below a picture of the inside with the court in session.

Sadly, today the entire west side of Bow Street has been rebuilt and now forms part of the Opera House.

Below are two photos of Drury Lane, where the Theatre Royal stands.  Drury Lane is named after Sir Robert Drury, who built a house here in 1500. The Theatre Royal, which has been rebuilt four times on the same site, was the main competitor to the Covent Garden Theatre (now the Opera House). In the first photo you can see the columns outside the theatre on the left. They were originally painted maroon and it was given the nickname, Rhubarb Alley, because they looked like sticks of Rhubarb. Prostitutes would gather underneath, to wait for the punters to come out of the theatre.
Watch this space for a blog post about the history of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Looking the other way up Drury Lane. If you look carefully, you can see a building at the far end of the row on the left, just by the lamp post, but past it into the background - this is the same building as in the old photos below.

Now here is an old photo of Drury Lane.

And another of the same buildings, but looking in the opposite direction.

Go one street further east and you come to Great Wild Street, which is where Kitty went in search of the dead man's lodging house.

Great Wild Street today is a mess of newish buildings and the old alley's leading off the street, such as Wild Court, below.

Was this where Kitty witnessed a vicious argument between man and wife?

The pic on the left of this triptych is the same view as the new photo above it. 

Okay, enough for part two. Part three, going north of Covent Garden into James Street and Long Acre can be found here.

If your appetite  has been whetted to learn more of Kitty's life in the stews of 18th century Covent Garden you can find out  more by following this link

Kitty Ives is an 18th century Covent Garden prostitute who must solve a murder or risk swinging from the gallows

Sunday, 30 August 2015

What about location - Covent Garden

Kitty Ives, the main character in The Finish, lives in Covent Garden, which still exists today in pretty much the same state that it did back in the 18th century, save that in the middle now, there's what is called the Floral Market, and some of the buildings have been rebuilt, albeit on the same footprint.

Here, I take a look at Covent Garden then and now in this series of photographs and prints.

Covent Garden - Hogarth - It's often shown the other way round. Prints were copied and reprinted many times and the image flipped. The writing above the door on the left reads correctly, and if you compare the present day photograph below, you can see that the church and the building on the right are still in situ. Also, check out that square column on the church's portico. See above there it is? Now look at the photo I took. Yes, there's that square column. Hogarth had a good eye for detail. Btw, you can visit Hogarth's house for free in Chiswick.  I'll be paying it a visit soon to report back.

Here's another take on this, below. 
Here you can see the arches of the Piazza to the West of James Street

And here's those same arches today.

The arches below are those on the east side of James Street, in the Great Piazza.

And below, the same today, although now rebuilt.

At the end of this row of arches is an entrance to the Opera House, although in the 18th century this corner of the Piazza would have had the entrances to both the Bedford Head Coffee House on the right, and on the left the Shakespeare's Head Tavern. The Covent Garden Theatre, as the Opera House was called, was situated behind these establishments. There may have been a entrance here to the theatre too, but it would have been nothing more than a door. Well, in fact, that's all it is today.

 Here' then you can see Covent Garden from the east, looking West to the Church. King Street runs off the north side of Covent Garden and to the south side is Henrietta Street. 

Here's the Church today. The 'entrance' is actually just a blank. There's no door there and there never was. The door is at the rear, in the churchyard. 

The actual entrance to the Church in Covent Garden. It's accessed through this quaint alley from King Street. Just to confuse visitors to London, The Covent Garden Church is called St. Paul's, like the cathedral about a mile to the east.

On the corner of Henrietta Street was the Unicorn Tavern, where Kitty attends a coroner's inquest. Below is the building today - rebuilt as a Nat West Bank.

Here's the Floral Hall in the centre of the square. It wasn't here in the 18th century, but it was occupied by a large number of wooden shacks, of which one was called the 'Finish', so  named because it was the last place to close, in the early hours of the morning. The square building in the centre of the pic shows the location of the 'Finish'. In the pic above you can also see down the east side of the square. The little Piazza, on the far right of this pic, burned down in March 1769, so this is all rebuilt.

Opposite the 'Finish' was the brothel run by a Mother Gould. It was over a distiller's by the name of John Bradley. In my book, Mother Gould has been renamed Mother Shadbolt, but John Bradley and the distillery are one and the same. This is it today.

We've already seen the picture below, but this is now a blown up portion of it, which shows the little Piazza as it would have been before the fire.

Continuing into the corner of the Little Piazza, in the 18th century we would find the alley way to the privies, which also connected Charles Street with Covent Garden. Next to the alley was the Bedford Arms tavern.

Today, the London Transport Museum occupy this space in the corner, but there are still toilets here in what was then Tavistock Court.

The Finish is part one of a four part series called Venus Squared. Set in 1769, it tells the story of Kitty Ives, a prostitute, forced to solve a murder for fear of swinging from the gallows.

What's it all about, Kitty?

Shock Horror - Prostitute Kitty Ives in murder intrigue

The Year of our Lord, 1769
In which I tell of a man’s death.

In the dead of night when our door is locked against thieves, dogs and the devil in disguise, the moans of men come to my ears. Some promise themselves many times over, such is the nature of their lust. Yet when daylight seeps through the shutters, we whores are cast aside and our lovers go out into the fine morning as if bound on a journey to America. Well, I have been there; transported for the sin of thievery, though I found a way to return. It is a story I will tell in due course, for more recently I fought to keep myself from the gallows and I fear I am going mad.
William Westman. There, I have told you my tormentor’s name, though doubtless you will think him no tormentor at all.
At first I thought he was one of our usual gentleman callers. It was on such a night as this, cold and damp, with a hint of frost and the air abroad swirling with mysterious poisons. He entered our establishment through John Bradley’s gin shop, on the corner of Covent Garden and Russell Street. He offered a fortune; five guineas and a promise of more if I would let him use me until daybreak. Mother Shadbolt could barely contain herself and welcomed him across our threshold as if he was the prodigal son, her Bible clutched to her bosom with one hand while she pocketed his cold hard cash with the other. He smelled of hashish and ale, but wore well-tailored garments and clean boots. His face was soft and not a bit lined or careworn. I filled a dish and pressed an orange segment against my lips. He grasped me about the waist and kissed away the juice. I thought I saw a dark shadow at his shoulder, but thought little of it. Many men carry their ills thus. It is not for me to judge them.
I took him to my boudoir and asked what delights he had in mind. He did no more than raise my petticoats, sink to his knees and taste the region hidden from view. I gasped and pushed him away, pretending to be coy. Some men require soft words and innocence, while others prefer a harsher tone. Others still, need silence. They do the deed and are gone. I trusted I would not have to do more than was absolutely necessary, for I was tired and wanted an easy time of it.
My cully removed his wig. His own hair was fine and auburn in colour, and, for such a young man, receding a little at the temple. The fire crackled in the grate, casting a golden hue over our bodies. I judged him in need of kindness and poured two small glasses of gin, turned back the bedcovers, and beckoned him forth. He had, after all, paid handsomely, and I was obliged to perform until such time as exhaustion descended on him.
Westman reached out to stroke my d├ęcolletage with ink-stained fingers. I let slip my chemise and led him to the bed, whereupon he cosseted me with fine sentiment and laboured to give me pleasure, before satiating his own needs. In truth, I feigned my enjoyment. I had already been bedded that afternoon by no less than three men, the first of whom had brought me much satisfaction (he being a young buck with energy a-plenty), the second being a regular client whose needs were catered to by my pretending to innocence and he to my ‘first’ deflowering. The third was an elderly gentleman who often sleeps in our dining parlour. From time-to-time he relieves himself. It often comes to naught. I believe he enjoys our wit and the warmth of the fireplace more than anything else.
This then is what happened after Westman’s desires had been satiated: we fell on the gin, gave a toast to Venus, talked a little of his wish for literary success, and mine for financial freedom. He asked how it was that a seemingly educated gentlewoman, such as I, might find herself prostituted thus. I did no more than inform him of my father’s demise and our family’s fall from grace.
“A woman has three choices in life,” I said. “She may marry. She may become a servant, or she may become a whore.”
“And you became the latter? But why?”
“I had no dowry. My mother sent me to London to work as a governess.” I took my gin up and knocked it back in one. “Mother Shadbolt intercepted me. She promised me riches beyond measure. I was young and foolish.”

My cully laughed and topped up my glass. He was delighted to have found such an educated whore. As the night wore on we became more and more inebriated. You may find it hard to comprehend, but when I woke the next morning I was pinned beneath a dead man – and not just dead, but bloody and terrible. What could I do but scream and claw my way out from beneath him?  I was covered in his blood like a wild woman who has savaged and fed on a beast. This could not be. It could not. I would be blamed. They would call me a murderess. I would swing from the gallows. Few would stand up for me. I was no one.

The Finish is the first in a four part series, Venus Squared, by Angela Elliott. It tells the story of Kitty Ives, who is forced to investigate a murder, or swing from the gallows. Published by Crux Publishing Ltd. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

What does a book mean to you?

Forget kindle. I mean, don't forget it, but for now, put it out of your mind.

Real books happen on paper, with hard covers, preferably leather-bound. They have ragged edges and, often, a musty smell to them. They occupy library shelves, but not just in any old library. Oh no. They live in big old libraries that have tall shelves and windows with slanting light where dust dances in the rarified air. In a library such as this you will be treated to a magical thing. You will come across buried treasure. You will be transported to other worlds. Sometimes, it happens under the covers at night with a torch in one hand and a book in the other. Sometimes you can be on the noisiest of trains and yet, remarkably, you are lost in another time. Do tablet readers do that? Do they really give you that feeling that you've come across something very special? I don't think so, and yet, we are stuck with them now. Woe betide the demise of the real book.

Today I found the London Bookbinding company and I thought, wow, I wish I could do bookbinding. I wish I could leave this internet fiction of a world behind and get real again. I wish traditional publishing wasn't such a closed shop and we were living in earlier times, where books were physical entities that felt solid in our hands and engendered a sense of wonder.

Of course, you can take courses in bookbinding and there are quite a few companies in London, where I live, that will teach you this old art. Trouble is, it all costs a lot of money. How wonderful though, to have a real live leather-bound book that you've written in your hands. Wouldn't that be worth all the hard work? Wouldn't people want to buy a real solid, fantastic book like this? Of course, it would have to have a fabulous story inside it, and impeccable editing. You cannot splurge out on creating something like this and not have a brilliant story to tell.

Crowdfunding anyone?

Angela Elliott's 18th century tale of Kitty Ives, Covent Garden whore and crime fighter is out now. Sadly, from Amazon etc...

Thursday, 13 August 2015

What's in a cover?

 I designed the first cover The Finish ever had. It was just so that I could get it out on Authonomy and You Write On. Once I'd found a publisher I stopped using it because the image of the woman was a stock photo and, although I bought the licence for a paltry sum, it is being used elsewhere.

 The second cover, below, was what the publisher's designer came up with. I deemed it crap. A second design was offered to me, it was so lousy I can't even find a copy of it anywhere.

 After this disaster, I said I would give it another go myself. I started offering up design ideas thus:

 I knew what I wanted it to look like: a little bit ragged round the edges. Covent Garden, silhouettes, a bit Musketeer-like. My publisher said he liked the idea, but it wasn't quite right. I played around some more, going ever so slightly over the top a bit with this one.

It was good, but a bit too classical. There followed several more with women on the front. This was one of them.

I then went totally crazy and tried this out for size.

You have to admit, it's a bit lurid thriller, rather than historical crime.

After my publishers said, yes, I like all of them, but they aren't quite right, I thought I would just put the elements I liked from each of the ideas together. This is what I came up with, and what we used in the end.

Hey ho, I went and did a cover for each of the four books in the series, all along the same lines as this one.

As you can see, it has the idea of the woman on it, plus the map in the background - a bit of the ragged 'fire' remains to frame it, and I put a frieze of 18th century fashionable ladies across the bottom. The image of the women are each by the same artist and are way out of copyright, being from the 18th century as in the public domain. The type was a free to download and free to use font called Aquiline Two. I built the covers in photoshop. The background is the same in each, but with a colour change.

Following the decision to use these covers, I produced them in different sizes to suit the requirements of the different digital stores.

How come I could do this myself? Well, because my first job was as a layout and pasteup artist, way back before we used computers to do it, and because I had done a Fine Art degree and still dabble.

So, what do you do if you've written your opus and need a cover?

If you are self-published, or even indie published, you probably have more control that if you are trade published. That's because with a traditional publisher, they are holding the purse strings, and thus, have control. With Indie and self-publishing you get to say what you want, how you want, and when you want. You might have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks (over here in Blighty we say a couple of hundred quid), or you might get it for free.

One thing though, whether you get it designed by a friend, do it yourself, or employ a designer, you'll want it to look professional.

Yes you will.

Oh boy, and I see so many covers that are just don't come up to the mark. Is yours one of them?

First off, you need to check out covers that you really like. What is it that floats your boat about them? Is it the image, the font, the colourway, or the overall layout?

Secondly, what is the theme of your book and what do you want your cover to convey?

Thirdly, is you idea for a cover in keeping with the genre? Oh yes, go look. Each genre has a specific type of cover - and within, that genre even, there are other styles of cover. It's highly technical.

Once you've got an idea, start to play around with it. Even if you are employing a designer, you should be able to mix up the ideas.

Photoshop and Illustrator are a godsend because they make everything a lot easier. Beware though of making your cover look overly slick - some cgi images are too good and people forget about using gaussian blur to really punch out the type. They rely on an embossed font and that isn't always what you want if you want to look professional.

Add into that, the need for more than just the title and author's name. It's good to have a testimonial on the cover. Maybe a 'from the author of', or some such thing. Perhaps the publisher's imprint. Really go look at covers and decide what you like about them.

Failing all that, I'm here if you need me. For a fee. Lol. It's negotiable.

Read The Finish here

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A woman has three choices

Covent Garden, long a centre for hedonistic pleasure, is a dirty melting pot of whores and harridans, aristocrats and artisans, actors and drunks. It is 1769 and these are violent times. Prostitute, Kitty Ives, takes a man to her bed and wakes to find him dead atop her. Fearing the gallows, so begins Kitty's quest to uncover the identity of the murderer. Will she be successful? Or will she be convicted of a murder she did not commit?

The idea for the series came from a play I'd written called Scratching Fanny of Cock Lane. Scratching Fanny was a 'real' ghost, and Cock Lane a real street near Smithfield. In the early 1760s Dr. Samuel Johnson was called to investigate the ghostly goings on. It was reported in James Boswell's Life of Johnson. 

I've written about the history of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from the 16th century through to the present day. I've also written  about the 5th Marquis of Hastings, which was set in the mid 19th century, called The Pocket Venus, and I have also penned scripts about Alex Smith, who one of the Bounty mutineers. This was set at the beginning of the 19th century  and called The Last Mutineer. All were for TV/film. My book Some Strange Scent of Death was set in 1900, and the Cock Lane play, mentioned above, in 1763.

I chose the 1760s after studying the period carefully, and coming to a conclusion about the state of crime and prostitution in Covent Garden at that time.  It was an exciting period. The Fielding Brothers had established the first detective service in the Bow Street Runners. The Seven-Years War had just ended. There were riots in London over the influx of French silk workers. America was about to become a nation. Secret Gentlemen's Clubs abounded. Ben Franklin and others had made electrical experiments. Grave robbing was common-place. Captain Cook had just sailed for Tahiti to observe the Transit of Venus. King George III had ascended the throne, and more women wrote and published novels than did men.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Marlon and Me

Way back in 2001 Marlon Brando appeared in The Score, his last film before he died.  The producer of this film was Bernie Williams, who passed away in December last year. It just so happened that, at the time of The Score, I was also working with Bernie on a sequel to his 1985 movie, The Bounty, with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins.
I should explain – In 1990 I heard of a proposal to cull a herd of wild bison in Canada because they supposedly carried brucellosis and TB, and it was being spread to cattle destined for the United States meat market.  I wrote a short piece about it, which was bought by the BBC World Service and went out at the time of the Gulf War. It bump-started my writing career, and from that point on I worked on documentaries in the UK. I was fortunate enough to have an actor friend, Stewart Bevan (who had been in Dr Who in the early 70s) and he introduced me to Norrie Maclaren at Tartan Television. Norrie had been Stanley Kubrick’s assistant on the film Barry Lyndon and I learned a lot from him about writing for TV and film. For the next few years we developed many projects together.

Move forward a few years and I meet a man called Stephen Walters. Stephen was a maritime consultant and colleague of film-maker David Lean, and had worked on Bernie Williams’ movie Bounty.  Stephen suggested I talk to Bernie about an idea we had to follow the story of the Bounty mutineers after they arrived on the island of Pitcairn. He gave me Bernie’s phone number in LA, and I called him. On the strength of that one phone call I found myself working with one of the all-time great producers. The Bounty was his passion. He had always intended on making a second movie, but the money ran out and Hollywood’s appetite for ‘ship films’ had shifted. 

Bernie was making a film called The Score, with Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando. Frank Oz was directing. Frank also having a bit of a nervous breakdown because Brando was being extraordinarily difficult and the script was unfinished. I heard stories about a scriptwriter being shipped in to write at a cost of $250,000 per week for six weeks and they still hated it. Eventually, Ed Norton stepped up and completed the writing and Bernie took over direction, though he was never credited for it. Half way through shooting Bernie gave my Bounty sequel to Marlon Brando and asked him to read it. Brando of course had played Fletcher Christian in the 1962 film of Mutiny on the Bounty. Fitting then, that he should pronounce on the newest offering.

Marlon loved it. He told Bernie, he should make it. It was a winner. Bernie talked to Anthony Hopkins, and he agreed to a cameo. The proposal went to studios in Hollywood. I expected to get very rich – well okay, not very rich. It was explained to me that as I was not a Writers Guild of America member, I would at best only be credited with the first draft script. Subsequent drafts would be written by a guild member.  In any case, it never happened. Hollywood still didn’t want a ‘ship film’. Even after Master and Commander came out, it still didn’t want to reprise Mutiny on the Bounty. My sequel entered ‘development hell’, which is where it has been ever since.

Sadly, Bernie Williams died in December 2014. Stephen Walters and I hoping to work on a couple of projects together, in Bernie's memory.

The Finish is Part one in the Venus Squared series, about an 18th century Covent Garden prostitute who is forced to solve a murder or swing from the gallows.

Friday, 7 August 2015

What's a child to do when they are friendless, but read?

At least, that's what I did when I was a child. I have no idea what lonely children do now, probably play computer games.

My family moved home several times, from one end of the country to the other. I was shy and did not enjoy my time at school. I was bullied. I had National Health glasses and sticky out teeth. Later I had braces to correct my bite. I was sad and lonely. I found respite in books. They became my friends. They offered other worlds into which I could disappear. I read voraciously.
 Muffin the Mule was a favoured TV programme of mine. It is not a show that Americans will recognise, but here in the UK, you could also buy a book. This came with a map of the garden where Muffin lived. I practically wore that book out.

Later The Hobbit became a much read favourite. It too, had a map. I like maps. They help a reader understand the geography of the story. They also enable a reader with imagination to create stories of their own, within the land that the characters occupy. I didn't get into Lord of the Rings until I was a teenager. Once I did, I was smitten.

I have to say though, for a young girl, growing up in the sixties, the books that occupied most of my time were the Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer, My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara and Enid Blyton's Famous Five.

Michael Moorcock's books then completely took over my world as a young teenager, as did those by a variety of SciFi authors. At school however, I was forced to read Jane Austen and Shakespeare. By now we were living just outside Stratford on Avon and I was going to school over the road from Anne Hathaway's cottage in Shottery.  My mother gave me Cranford by Mrs Gaskell, in an effort to encourage a love of the classics.

As I grew up SciFi gave way to American authors such as Eudora Welty and Henry James, albeit that he spent most of his life in Britain. I also became partial to Kurt Vonnegut, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and John Steinbeck.

In my fifites now, I have come back to those books I discarded as a teenager - the classics by the Brontes, Austen, Gaskell etc... I am enamoured of the gothic writers, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron.

Yes, for a lonely child, books open up worlds and offer friends by the bucket load. As an adult, they continue to deliver satisfying escapism from the drudgery of everyday life.

I am a reader and now, writer. Friends are, more often than not, books.