Category Archives: Victorian Detective.

Victorian Lady Detectives – Loveday Brooke.

The murderof old Sandy.

Loveday Brooke was sent to work undercover to investigate the murder of old Sandy.

Loveday Brooke is a genuine Victorian lady detective.  By that, I mean that she was created in the Victorian period by Catherine Louisa Pirkis.  Many of the different adventures (The Black Bag Left On a Doorstep; The Murder at Troyte’s Hill; The Redhill Sisterhood; A Princess’s Vengeance; Drawn Daggers and The Ghost of Fountain Lane) were first published in the Ludgate Monthly in 1893.  In 1894, these stories and Missing were put together to produce the book, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective which was Pirkis’s fourteenth and last book.

The stories have been criticized because there is no character development with Loveday but it is important to take into consideration that atmosphere and plot or solving the puzzle are what make these stories work and, for me, the fact that that we know little about Loveday makes the stories all the more intriguing.

So what do we know about Loveday?  She dresses in black and is “almost Quaker like”in her attire.  She is of average height, medium colouring and nondescript looking.  We know that when she is concentrating she droops her eyelids over her eyes until she seems to be peering out through slits.  In essence, Loveday is perfect for going undercover and not being noticed.  We also know that poverty was beckoning to her like the grim reaper but she did not meekly follow it, no, she laughed in the face of Victorian society and re-invented herself by finding work in a Fleet Street agency.  There have been criticisms that we do not know why Loveday suddenly faced poverty.  Again, I feel that as I read the stories, this makes her more mysterious, like the later Albert Campion by Margery Allingham.  In effect, Loveday Brooke is somewhat an enigma and that is one of the reasons why the stories the stories work.

Another winning factor for me with Loveday is that she uses logic to solve the crimes instead of relying on feminine wiles as women often have to do in fiction for some strange reason.  In The Murder at Troyte’s Hill, Griffiths of the Newcastle Constabulary is asking Loveday to explain one or two things about the case to him.

“Put your questions to me in categorical order,” said Loveday.

For women and men the world over who wince at the stereotypical dotty female portrayed in fiction; this has to be a triumph and it was actually written in the Victorian era which makes it all the more delicious.

For anyone who loves the atmosphere of the Victorian era and the female detective, I would suggest that you lose yourselves in the atmosphere of The Murder at Troyte’s Hill ( by following this link) in which Loveday goes to work undercover in the country house.

What do you think – does Loveday Brooke work for you as a Victorian lady detective?

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Writing – Embracing Characterisation in a haunted, Victorian Prison.

Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle.

Handcuffs on display at Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle.

 

I am working on a novel called Mulgrave Castle in which my main character Harriet Twine is a psychic, Victorian detective.  In order to really embrace my character as I re-write, I wanted to visit a place I had been to before which I knew had both a mixture of atmosphere and spiritual energy.  It is the Victorian prison in Lincoln castle.

Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle

A faithful dog on display at the prison. His master was a poacher who shot a head keeper in the knee. Unfortunately, the man died and William Clark alias Slenderman was hanged for it at Lincoln Prison in 1877.

I decided to do most of my journey by train as this was a popular Victorian mode of transport.  I would have liked to do the whole day in Victorian costume but after doing other experiments in costume, I decided it really was not practical and I would have to use my imagination as far as clothing went.

I have written about the prison elsewhere on the site under Exciting Excursions.  The place which impressed me most on my last visit is the prison chapel.  In 1849 the Separate System came into force.  It was believed that if prisoners were kept in isolation they would become rehabilitated.  They were only let out of their cells to go to the Chapel and for exercise.  It is said to be the only one of its kind left in the world.  The Separate System meant that the inmates would sit in closed in seats, in The Chapel, so that they could not see or speak to anyone else.  The seats are tilted, therefore if any prisoners dared to fall asleep during a sermon they would fall forward and be punished.  There was an open bench at the back which was especially for condemned criminals; obviously it was thought that they were beyond redemption.  Debtors also were not included in the separate system and they would be seated in the gallery with the men above and the female debtors below.  There were sloping seats at the front for the women.  Each criminal in the Separate System was locked into his seat before another could be let in.  In addition to not being allowed to see others, the prisoners also had to wear masks to cover their faces.  In 1851, it was realized that this system did not work and it was abandoned.

Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle.

This is the only chapel of this kind left in the world.

The remarkable aspect of all this is that visitors to the chapel today can stand in the pulpit and have the view which the prison chaplain would have.  Some seats are fitted with a dummy criminal wearing a mask.  The vision is intimidating and the atmosphere is awful and on my first visit it gave me shivers down my back.

Lincoln Victorian Prison, Lincoln Castle

This is the view from the pulpit.

For this visit, I had strongly psyched myself up not to be so intimidated by the chapel, after all, Harriet is Victorian and has never witnessed the liberal world which I am used to.  As I stood in the pulpit looking down on the chapel to take the photographs, I felt a very strong sensation which made me lean backwards so that I could not be pushed.  I put that down to my own imagination and went down into the seats and sat on the front row.

I had not planned to do this but I found that I was sitting observing the other visitors.  People seemed reluctant to stay in the chapel, I found that most were scuttling straight through and not visiting the pulpit.  They seemed as if they should not be in there and were frightened of getting caught.  I decided to stop the next visitors and explain about the pulpit and directed them up to it.  They didn’t look happy and didn’t actually climb into the box.  So as the next people I directed up there were sneaking off, I pointed the pulpit out.  They declined going in.  I eventually witnessed one couple going in and their faces suggested they had eaten something which had gone off.

I felt at this point that my experiment had worked in that I had become like my intrepid Victorian heroine compared to the other visitors, I had lost my modern day queasiness for harder times than ours.

Lincoln Victorian Prison, Lincoln Castle.

A display portraying the gallows just in case we forget what took place in Lincoln Prison.

However, all of that fell by the wayside when I entered Cobb Hall which was built in the 13th century and has been used as a prison and for executions.  The stench of urine as I entered was overwhelming which puzzled me, later it actually made sense as when people are extremely frightened it is not unknown for them to wet themselves.  There is a ladder which leads down to the dungeon and there was very strong negative energy emanating from that area so I declined to go down.  I felt rather ashamed at that point as Harriet would definitely have gone down to try to find out what had happened down there.  For me however, the feeling of evil was too strong.  I did climb up to the top where the hangings took place.  In the mode of Victorian psychic detective, I did not sense anything there.

Cobb Hall, Lincoln Castle.

For many, when they went through those doors – they never came out again alive.

Whilst I was up at the top, unbeknown to me, my son had entered Cobb Hall seen the ladder area leading down to the dungeon and had left immediately, he too got a really negative feeling from that area and rushed to tell me about it as I left Cobb Hall.

Cobb Hall, Lincoln Prison

Down into the dungeon. There is a malevolent energy around this spot.

Did my experiment work?  I feel it did as I think that I have discovered that Harriet is rather more adventurous than I am.  I have discovered that leading a life as a sheltered Victorian lady has made her more likely to throw herself into situations because her life is dull and it is not enough for her.

Do you ever do experiments like this?  If so, please tell so that I know that I am not the only one hanging around Victorian prisons.

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Writing – Point of View Problems – What a Palaver!

English: Mulgrave Castle Well worth a visit

English: Mulgrave Castle Well worth a visit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

At the moment, I am working on a supernatural Victorian novel called Mulgrave Castle.  My main character, Harriet Twine is a young woman who gets dragged mentally and physically into a suspicious murder because she has physic powers which she will not acknowledge.  She is also desperate to find love with the suspicious Dante DeGuise but we will leave bedroom matters for another day.

 

I am on a major re-write as I initially tried to write it entirely from Harriet’s point of view and then decided that I wanted much more insight into the mysterious DeGuise family of Mulgrave Castle and also wanted more of Jane, Harriet’s paid companion, personal thoughts to come through.  I spent goodness knows how long changing the point of view and then I posted the first few chapters on the loonyliterature website.  The posts have been removed since re-writing started again.

 

The extracts were extremely well received, the main criticism being that the point of view moved about too much.  As I had already  changed the point of view about once, I decided to completely put the work aside and leave it for a few months and then go back to it.  I find this really helps when I am not sure whether I agree with criticism or not.  It means that the manuscript I am working on has gone cold in my mind and I can look at it with the eyes of others, more than if it is deeply entrenched in my brain through constant working on it.

 

A strange thing happened before I went back to rereading my last draft of Mulgrave Castle, I was reading Phil Rickman’s book “The Man in The Moss” and found the constant change of point of view really annoying.  I found that I had to stop and think every few pages about whom we were dealing with.  I was further irritated that my two favourite characters, who the back of the book suggested were the main characters, did not feature nearly enough as the point of view seemed so stretched out.  I normally love Phil Rickman’s work, his Merrily Watkin’s books totally transport me but although, I still enjoyed “The Man in The Moss”, I know that if that was the first novel of his that I read, I might not have looked for his other books and been the big fan that I am today.

 

I reread Mulgrave Castle and decided that the lovely ladies who had given me this critique, Maria Thermann and Ross Mountney were spot on.  It means that I have a huge job of rewriting as over half the novel takes place when Harriet isn’t there.  There are times, at the moment, when I could smack myself around the face with a cold fish for changing the point of view in the first place.  However, maybe if I hadn’t tried it another way, I would never have been truly happy not knowing that I had found the best possible solution to Mulgrave Castle’s point of view.

 

Has this ever happened to you?  I would really like to know about your experiences of point of view so that when I am banging my head against the laptop at 6a.m. I know that I am not alone.

 

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What sort of writer are you – explorer or planner?

English: Mulgrave Castle. Castle ruins situate...

English: Mulgrave Castle. Castle ruins situated in Mulgrave Woods, near Sandsend on the east coast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the moment, I am on a major re-write of my supernatural, Victorian novel, “Mulgrave Castle”.  I am having days where I am conjuring up the atmosphere I need to re-create the book in my head and I feel truly satisfied.  However, I am also having days when I will do anything before getting started and then find that I have wasted my writing time.  I am beginning to wonder if this is to do with the type of writer I am.

As I see it, there are basically two types of writers. (Of course, many will be a mixture of the two.)  There is the explorer who has maybe a very basic plot and outline ideas for characters and then lets the whole work evolve as she/he writes.  There is also the planner who has virtually everything worked out either on paper or in their head before they start to write.

I would love to be a planner but my writing muse hates it and I have to accept that I am an explorer.  Being an explorer can be tremendous fun as I sit and type and imagine and all sorts of scenes taking place which help me get to know my characters.  However, it means that I have to do about seven drafts of a book and by drafts I don’t mean spellcheck.  I mean doing a draft purely to re-write the plot, exploring the best point of view, then the same with character development and another one to put signposts in etc…

As I work, I have another file open which is called “Mulgrave Castle Leftovers”, this is basically the cutting room floor.  Being an explorer means that I have scene after scene which is cut because there might only be one relevant sentence in it – however writing these scenes are not a waste of time as they give me an intimate insight into characters and setting.  When we first begin to write, we find it difficult to cut, it is almost as if someone is threatening to cut parts of our person off.  The longer we work at our craft, the more we can see what doesn’t work or what simply is clogging the arteries of the story up.  I call it “boning the text” – basically, I am cutting it down to the bone.  To demonstrate the severity of it, I am on page 63 of my most recent re-write and the “Mulgrave Castle Leftovers” file has 10,000 words in it already.  Goodness knows how many words will be in it by the time I get to the end.

So, I’ve shared with you – now do tell, how do you write?

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