Exploring history and dance in 2023

With the launch of Monsters in the Mist and the excitement about Napoleon out of the way, I’m looking back at all the things I haven’t written about this year. Let’s start back in January.

The Remarkably Talented Mr Weaver Presents

This was an opportunity to combine my interest in the Georgian era with an interest in dance. The performance by The Weaver Ensemble celebrated the 350th anniversary of the birth of John Weaver of Shrewsbury who came to London in 1700 where he created what is arguably the first ballet, The Loves of Mars & Venus. His genius was to realise that you could use dance to tell a story (complete with “passions and affections”) without any words.

The pieces are short, so we got two: The Loves of Mars & Venus and The Loves of Pygmalion. They were both rather fun with the actual dancing in a baroque style. We know what the dances would have looked like because they were notated at the time using “Feuillet notation”. The style lacks the elaborate athleticism that we associate with ballet these days. Even a pirouette was impossible in the dresses of the period and, of course, pointe shoes were unheard of.

Here are some photos from The Loves of Pygmalion, which give some idea of the look of the thing. This Pygmalion is a painting rather than a sculpture: hence the frame on stage. Apologies for the blurriness of the third one but I wanted to give some idea of Pygmalion’s rather splendid hat.

Christmas is coming. (Sorry about that.)

Christmas is coming. (Sorry about that.)

It’s November and the Christmas selling season has officially begun. I’m sorry: I don’t make the rules.

At around this time of year I always try to persuade people that they should consider my books as Christmas presents. Amazon lets you gift Kindle copies now, which makes e-books an easy and inexpensive gift. There’s still something special about getting an actual paper book as a Christmas present, though.

Paperbacks aren’t that expensive but postage costs are getting silly and I can see that this puts some people off. Here’s a suggestion for a paperback gift that costs less than some Christmas cards.

Tales of Empire is still available in paperback for just £2.99. It is, admittedly, a slim volume with just four short stories by different historical writers. It features offerings from Penny Hampson, who writes Regency fiction; Antoine Vanner, who writes 19th century naval fiction; Jacqueline Reiter, who does terrifyingly well-informed biographical fact and, here, fiction; and, of course, me, with an offering based on the world of The White Rajah, my mid-19th century biographical fiction. If you are on Amazon Prime, you can have copies of Tales of Empire mailed to your friends with no postage to add to the £2.99. With first class post now costing £1.25, this seems a bargain.

‘But how do I know it’s any good?’ I hear you ask.

Why don’t you pick up a Kindle version FREE before you commit to sending it to your friends? Yes, the Kindle edition of Tales of Empire will be free from tomorrow (Saturday 11 November) to 15 November. Get the e-book free and then buy the paperback for your friends for just £2.99.

Livery Halls in London

We always enjoy Open House Days in London, when buildings that you don’t often get an opportunity to visit throw open their doors.

This year we took the opportunity to see inside some of London’s livery halls.

Back in the Middle Ages tradesmen set up Guilds to regulate their business (and to prevent competition from non-guild members). When some guilds introduced their own distinctive clothing and regalia – or livery – to distinguish their members from those in other guilds, they became known as livery companies. The peak period for the formation of guilds was the 14th century when many received charters from the Crown, enshrining their rights to control trade in their areas.

The most powerful English Livery Companies were those based in London, but their rights extended only within the City. As London grew, with many businesses set up outside the City, and trade became more competitive, the Livery Companies had less power and gradually ceased to become a significant element in the control of business. The companies still exist though and are joined by new companies seeking to improve the public profile of their profession. Nowadays, the Livery Companies are mainly concerned with education and charities, often with links to public schools such as the Merchant Taylors schools (so called because ‘tailors’ is  a nasty modern spelling).

The Livery Companies established ‘Halls’ (sometimes originally regular houses) in which to conduct their business. In time, these Livery Halls became very grand, reflecting the importance of the companies. Unfortunately, all were destroyed in the Great Fire of London, with many of their replacements bombed out during the Blitz.

Architects’ Hall

We visited three livery halls during Open House. One was the Architects Hall, which incorporates the Old Temple Bar, which used to mark the boundary between Westminster and the City of London. Designed by Christopher Wren, it was built across Fleet Street between 1669 and 1672. It was always a purely ceremonial barrier (it had no gates, so was always open) and by the end of the 19th century the obstruction to the free flow of traffic was no longer considered acceptable. In 1878 it was removed. It was bought by a successful brewer, Henry Meux, and rebuilt as a garden feature on his estate in Theobolds Park in Hertfordshire.

By 2003 the building was in poor state of repair and it was returned to London, this time to be incorporated into the redevelopment of Paternoster Square by St Paul’s Cathredral. Here it now stands as part of the home of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects. This means that one of the newest of the Livery Companies has one of the oldest halls.

Temple Bar is a well known and much-photographed building, so I didn’t take my own photo. This picture is taken from Wikipedia.

The offices of the Architects Hall are in the modern building to the right of the photo above, but they incorporate the one small room above the arch. It was never designed as usable space and was, for many years used to store ledgers, until the weight of the paper threatened to collapse the floor. It’s now a meeting room with the interior practically rebuilt and of little historical interest. It’s fun, though, to stand inside and look out through the window over the gateway.

Stationers’ Hall

Most livery companies have modern halls. Many of the old halls were destroyed during the Blitz. One of the oldest is the Stationers Hall which dates back to the building put up after the Great Fire.

The Stock Room was originally used to house stock: notably copies of Old Moore’s Almanack which the Company owned the copyright of and which was a big money-spinner for them. It’s been redesigned since the 17th century and it’s been a while since it’s actually been used to store books or magazines.

This is the actual Hall, the heart of any livery company.

And here is the Court Room, which was added in 1748.

Salters’ Hall

The third Hall we visited was the Salters’ Hall. This is a modern building, designed by Sir Basil Spence, who was responsible for Coventry Cathedral. It’s a striking block, one of the only Livery Halls in the City to have been built in a truly contemporary style. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly photogenic.

Stephen Richards / Salters’ Hall, Fore Street / CC BY-SA 2.0

So today is publication day for Monsters in the Mist.

I’m excited. I hope you are too, but I can understand that you’re probably a lot less excited than me.

Why am I excited about Monsters in the Mist?

Galbraith and Pole are leaving London to solve a murder in mid-Wales. The story is set in a beautiful part of the world where, until a couple of years ago, I used to spend several weeks every year. I miss it horribly and in the story I was able to set off walking across hills I know well.

The Galbraith & Pole books are what they call Urban Fantasy, a genre I hadn’t even heard of when I started writing them. A key point about Urban Fantasy is that the fantastical elements are set in a very real world. Many of the places in Monsters in the Mist are easily identified on the map, but some details are wrong, mainly because I don’t want the places where the villains live to be identifiable locations. There aren’t a lot of people living in mid-Wales and it would be embarrassing to suggest that some of my former neighbours have been out on a killing spree on the hillsides. I hope, though, that I catch some of the things that make mid-Wales special and that you might decide to make a visit.

Not all of the story is set in Wales. Pole spends a day in Porton Down, the all-too-real secret government research establishment in Wiltshire and the story climaxes in an RAF base which is not nearly as fictional as most readers will think it is. Look out for the ‘Works Unit’ sign on the M4 and ask yourself if you think it is really a Works Unit.

If you’ve liked the previous Galbraith & Pole stories, you’ll enjoy learning more about the mysterious Section S and meeting more of the people who work in it. If you haven’t already read Something Wicked and Eat the Poor, you’re missing out, but you should still be able to enjoy this one. It’s got mad scientists and agents of the Deep State, special forces soldiers and helicopters, and, of course, tango.

What’s not to love?Monsters in the Mist is available on Kindle at £3.99 or in paperback for £6.99. Buy it now and read it in time for Halloween.

Fun with Urban Fantasy

It’s just a week until the publication of the latest Galbraith & Pole adventure, Monsters in the Mist, with my Undead hero, so please forgive me for another post about vampires.

What do vampires mean to you?

Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The ultimate vampire, of course, is Dracula and the classic book about him is Bram Stoker’s novel. But if you want to write about vampires nowadays, you need to take a long, hard look at the myth. Can vampires really turn themselves into wolves or bats? Do the laws of physics not apply, so they throw no reflections and cannot be photographed? The vampires of the 19th century were truly supernatural beings, but nowadays there is so much that is almost magical about science that it seems better to make our vampires something that can at least partly be explained rationally.

My vampires like to fit in unnoticed around humans. They do, it’s true, avoid daylight – but many people nowadays live much of their lives in the dark With the aid of sunglasses and high factor sunscreen, vampires can get by. Many of them don’t like garlic, but who can blame them? Garlic certainly won’t kill them. Neither will most things, though a stake through the heart really is fatal – but so is a bullet.

My vampires like to hang out round Brompton Cemetery with its baroque sepulchres. Some even live there, but most prefer the comfort of regular houses. With money carefully invested over centuries, many can afford apartments in the nicer parts of Chelsea.

Brompton Cemetery

The whole ‘drinking blood’ thing can be problematic, but as illegal highs go, blood is quite easy to get hold of and it isn’t as if they don’t enjoy a good meal or a fine Scotch. They enjoy a lot of the finer things in life: if you have hundreds of years to develop your taste, you can become quite a connoisseur.

There are murderous vampires, of course, just as there are murderous humans. Given that the first Galbraith & Pole story, Something Wicked, is a twist on the police procedural genre, there has to be a murderous vampire or there wouldn’t be a story. But there are vampire policemen too, tidying up after the renegades like my vampire hero, Chief Inspector Pole.

If vampires were living among us, you’d think that somebody would have noticed something odd. And people do. But the government colludes with the vampires to cover things up. It’s convenient for governments to be owed favours by immortal beings who have been forced to learn how to move silently and undetected through the night and who can, when necessary, kill before vanishing away without trace.

What would happen if one of these vampires met a down-to-earth human policeman who was less than happy to keep their secret? How does a policeman solve a case when the chief suspect is a creature that no-one can know exists?

Meet Chief Inspector Galbraith and join him on a journey through a London nobody knew existed.

Something Wicked did not set the bestseller lists ablaze, but enough people liked it for me to produce a sequel, Eat the Poor, which has a definite satirical edge as Galbraith and Pole hunt down a werewolf with links to the world of Westminster.

With Monsters in the Mist, Galbraith and Pole have been taken out of their comfort zone as they investigate a killing on the mountains of mid-Wales. Could this be another werewolf or are there even darker forces afoot? It’s story that takes us from an isolated farm to the government research centre at Porton Down and an explosive climax at a secret military base just off the M4. Some of the locations are entirely fictitious, but they’re not the ones you’re thinking of.

Galbraith and Pole explore the world outside the M25 and you may never look at it quite the same way again.

Monsters in the Mist is on pre-order for Kindle (£3.99) at mybook.to/MonstersInTheMist. It’s also available in paperback from Thursday at £6.99.

‘Something Wicked’ on offer

‘Something Wicked’ on offer

Monsters in the Mist is the third of my books featuring Galbraith & Pole. It can be read as a stand-alone book, but it builds on the world established in the first two books. It certainly helps to have read the first in the series, Something Wicked.

Something Wicked explains how the vampire, Pole, came to be working with the Metropolitan Police, where he met Chief Inspector Galbraith and they worked together on their first murder investigation. Pole is not your conventional vampire. He lives in an elegant apartment in Chelsea were he enjoys cooking (often with garlic) and fine whisky. But he does avoid daylight and feeds on blood.

For the next five days, Something Wicked will be on offer for just 99p/cents. It’s quite a short book, so it gives you time to read it ahead of the publication of Monsters in the Mist on 27 October.

If you’re not sure about spending 99p, you can get an idea of the story because the opening is available free, read by me here:


Amazon reviews

“If you enjoy light, amusing and elegant humour and would relish the thrills and chills of the supernatural kind, the Something Wicked is definitely for you.”

“It has everything a good book needs: an engaging plot full of surprises, a critical portrayal of contemporary society, complex characters you identify with, and, most importantly: vampires!”

“A really great read! Who knew a story about vampires, detectives and tango could be so entertaining?!”