Monsters in the Mist is the third book I’ve written featuring Galbraith and Pole. Galbraith is an old-school London detective who finds himself working together with a vampire to solve some distinctly unusual crimes.
The first book in the series, Something Wicked, found them investigating a murder that had left a peer of the realm dead in his study, drained of all his blood. Obviously vampires were involved by why, after hundreds of years of hiding in plain sight, were they revealing themselves now? The investigation takes in a tango hall (vampires are big on tango) and night classes at Birkbeck College (vampires can hardly be expected to study during the day) before an explosive climax in Brompton Cemetery.
In the second book, Eat the Poor, a werewolf is attacking people on council estates across London. Is this a supernatural beast with a political agenda? Galbraith and Pole team up again to track down the killer, who, it seems is close to the heart of government.
In their latest adventure they are called in when a dismembered body is found on a Welsh moor. The urbane Chief Inspector Pole is well out of his comfort zone in rural mid Wales and Galbraith is almost equally uncomfortable so far away from London. Pole is unhappy, too at suggestions that there might be another werewolf on the loose. He is certain that there must be an alternative explanation for the killing but others are not so sure. This time their investigation takes them to a classified government research facility and a dramatic showdown in a secret military base.
The cover is another wonderful effort from Dave Slaney.
The Galbraith & Pole stories are not your conventional vampire tales. For a start Pole is hardly your conventional vampire. An enthusiastic cook (not that he needs to eat solid food), he loves garlic as well as tango. His Chelsea flat is an oasis of calm, where Galbraith finds himself Increasingly at home. It’s fair to say that these books do not take the genre too seriously.
Monsters in the Mist will be available in time for Halloween and can be pre-ordered now. Watch out for it: a police procedural with added bite.
I imagine that everybody who reads this blog has realised by now that I write historical fiction. What I think some people still don’t know is that I have a sideline in Urban Fantasy.
I enjoy writing Urban Fantasy. It takes more research than I had expected. Sometimes I need to consult 16th century French volumes about werewolves. Other times I’m checking maps of the Palace of Westminster or the type of weaponry favoured by Special Forces. It’s still massively easier than all the historical research that underlies the Burke series. The field trips, too, are much simpler. A visit to Brompton cemetery is much less demanding than a trip to Portugal, although Portugal was a more romantic place to have a holiday.
What exactly is Urban Fantasy? Basically, it’s fantasy stories, featuring such old-time favourites as vampires and werewolves, but set in realistic contemporary settings.
A vampire hero
I’m just finishing the third of my Galbraith & Pole books. These all feature a Metropolitan Police detective, Chief Inspector Galbraith, who has ended up partnering Chief Inspector Pole from the mysterious Section S. While Galbraith is very human, Pole is a vampire. To start with, Galbraith is uncomfortable working with the Undead, but gradually they become good friends. I like to think of the books as police procedurals with added bite.
Why a vampire? The idea came to me on a visit to Buenos Aires, a city distinguished by amazing cemeteries in which the dead rest in little houses that form busy streets. Buenos Aires is, of course, also famous for tango. Tango in South America is mainly a nocturnal activity and I found it easy to imagine the dead leaving their mausolea to dance. Tango songs often feature death and lost love, so I thought they would appeal to vampires.
My beloved explained gently to me that English readers might struggle with a story set in a country and culture they didn’t know. Could I move my vampires to London, for example? So I came up with a vampire sub-culture based around Brompton Cemetery.
The idea of Urban Fantasy is to have your fantastical creatures firmly based in the real world. Could I make a credible 21st century vampire?
Creating vampires that could live among us involved I certain amount of tweaking of the vampire legend. Obviously my vampires can’t go out in daylight, although high factor sunscreen can extend their operating hours a little. They wouldn’t be vampires if they didn’t drink blood, but they really don’t need that much blood and the vampire subculture does have humans who get a kick out of making donations – or, at a pinch, there is animal blood. Like traditional vampire, it takes piercing the heart to kill them, although a stake is not necessary: a bullet will do the job just as well.
Chief Inspector Pole explains that many of the other attributes people ascribe to vampires are just myths. He enjoys garlic and it’s perfectly possible to take his photo.
Pole dislikes the term ‘vampire’, which he thinks has negative connotations. Instead, he prefers to speak of ‘the Others’, as opposed to the Mortals they live amongst. They are able to hide in plain sight because of a long-standing arrangement whereby they make their services available to the Crown in exchange for a blind eye being turned to their existence.
Pole used to be called Paole. Perhaps he is related to the historical vampire Arnold Paole, who lived in Serbia in the early 18th century and whose vampiric activities were the subject of an official report by the Austrian authorities. Who knows?
Do I believe in vampires? Let’s put it this way: in the tango clubs of London I meet people who seem to have been dancing for decades but who never show signs of aging. And I’ve never seen them out by daylight.
Monsters in the Mist
I’m just finishing the third Galbraith & Pole story, which finds them out of London, hunting a mysterious killer in rural mid-Wales. Both Galbraith and Pole are creatures of the city and entirely out of their comfort zone on open moorland with nothing to disturb the silence but sheep. There is something out on the hills, though: something that has killed once and may well kill again.
Our heroes’ search for the secret behind the monsters takes them to Porton Down, where scientists are pushing genetic research into dangerous areas. It ends in a bloody climax at a secret military base hidden at the end of a service road on the M4.
Porton Down is a real place as is the secret military base. In this crazy 21st century world, is it really the vampires that are the hardest thing to believe?
The Galbraith & Pole series
The first Galbraith & Pole book, Something Wicked, sees Pole working with Galbraith to track down rogue vampires who have killed a member of the House of Lords. There’s a lot of tango. (I told you that vampires like tango.)
The second book, Eat the Poor, asks, if your MP was a werewolf, would anybody notice.
Both books are available on Amazon as paperbacks or on Kindle.
Monsters in the Mist will be looking for beta readers in the next week or two. I’m hoping it will be ready in time for Halloween. That seems appropriate.
When I read that The Illusions is a historical novel (it’s set at the end of the 19th century) that combines a story about stage magicians with supernatural elements about people playing with actual magic, I couldn’t resist it. That’s the central idea in my own novella Dark Magic although that’s one of my contemporary books. I wanted to know how another author had tackled the same issues. In fact, Hyder’s story is more similar to mine than I had expected. It pits some regular stage magicians against an evil dark magician, in the same way that mine pits a company of stage magicians against a company dabbling with Black Magic. There’s an additional twist in The Illusions, as some of the stage magicians have real magical powers as well, although they do not reveal these to their friends.
All that said, The Illusions has very little in common with Dark Magic. For a start, Dark Magic is a novella while The Illusions is very long. I had an e-book, so I can’t say how many pages there were but it seemed to take a while to read. It also has quite a large cast of characters. As the story goes on you learn which of these characters are important and which are secondary and the relationships between the important characters become clear. At the start of the book, though, the characters are introduced one by one and it is not at all obvious what they have to do with each other.
The first person we meet is Arter Evans but he dies quite early on. The character who matters is his assistant, Cecily Marsden, always known as Cec. Cec appears soon after Arter, but the opening paragraphs are entirely from Arter’s viewpoint and this makes it difficult to immediately relate to Cec – a difficulty increased by introducing her in terms of what she has learned of magic, rather than how she feels about it.
No matter. A few pages later, Arter is dead and Cec flees to “the one person in all of Bristol that might be able to help”. So we meet Skarratt. There’s a hint that Cec does not like Skarratt. She’s right not to – he’s a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work – but we do not know why she dislikes him so much or, indeed, why he is the one person who might be able to help.
No matter (again), for we leave Cec and are introduced to Eadie. She is picking at a loose thread on her dress. She is, we are told, nervous.
I am not one to insist that it is always a crime to ‘tell’ rather than to show, but it would be nice to occasionally see things internalised. If we were in Eadie’s head we would see that she was nervous. We would not have to be told that she picked up a loose thread “nervously”, nor that she is “reassuring herself” that she does not need to be frightened.
Perhaps there simply isn’t time to get into Eadie’s head, for we are about meet another character, George Perris. They are both there for a séance. Eadie intends to expose such seances for the frauds they are. (I never quite worked out how but I may just not have been paying attention.) Perris’s approach is more direct. He breaks up the séance, causing real distress to the sitters. Eadie is angered by this and berates Perris but, already, she can’t miss that he is “one of the most handsome men she’s ever seen”.
Somewhere in the roomful of characters at the séance there is another significant person in the story, but don’t try to work it out because now we are in Paris at a performance by Valentin, who is seeing visions of a woman called Olivia who…
You see why I was frustrated at this point.
Once the characters have come together and we know the relationships between them, everything makes a great deal more sense. The plot is quite complicated but revolves around a feud between Skarratt on the one hand and Valentin and George on the other. Valentin and George are putting on a magic show intended to cement George’s reputation as the greatest magician in England, while Skarratt is set to wreck it largely out of spite and jealousy. Fortunately for George both Valentin and Cec possess real magical powers with which they are able to foil at least some of Skarratt’s evil plans.
The story draws in the early days of moving pictures (Eadie is developing new techniques, though we learn little of the technology), and a complicated series of relationships as the characters (except the loathsome Skarratt, of course) sort themselves into romantic couples.
The descriptions of tricks from the Golden Age of magic are fascinating, though I fear the author is often as misdirected as the audience. The thing about magicians is that they often seem to do things that appear impossible. This doesn’t mean that they actually do impossible things, but some of the descriptions of the tricks here clearly are impossible. This means that the distinction between the tricks that are being done by expert magicians are difficult to distinguish from those which are being done by expert magicians who are also possessed of genuine magical powers. That, I think, weakens a central element of the idea behind the book. By the end (no spoilers) stuff is happening that is clearly absolutely impossible. In fact, so impossible that you would think even the audience would notice. But perhaps they, like us, are lulled into a false sense that it’s all just a magic show by the number of impossible tricks they have witnessed from regular magicians. It’s still odd that Valentin is prepared to do some of these tricks given that he is supposed not to be letting his friends know about his magic powers. Never mind: it’s a dramatic ending to the book.
The failure to show us how the characters feel, rather than just to tell us what they are feeling, meant that they never really came alive for me. As a result, I found my interest slipping. On the other hand, I was drawn back in by the plot, which zips along. I had the impression that it was written more for younger readers who may be less worried by the rather two dimensional characters and more interested in the plotting, which is fair enough. If that’s you (or a young friend) you may well enjoy this book.
If you like the idea of seeing real magic and stage magic mixed together, but in a more contemporary context, you might consider reading Dark Magic. All the stage magic in the book is true to life (I’ve spent far too long hanging round with magicians) and the ‘real’ magic is gloriously over-the-top. Reading The Illusions, I did feel that there was an absence of real jeopardy. With all this magic and evil flying about, nobody seems to get really hurt. (There’s one broken limb but it heals rapidly and with remarkably little pain.) For me, a book with ‘real’ magic and a villain like Skarratt really wants to have some seriously unpleasant things happening. Be warned: Dark Magic does do horrible things to its equivalent of Skarratt. On the other hand, it is often laugh-out-loud funny (or so reviewers tell me). I’m not sure that The Illusions wouldn’t benefit from more humour, come to think of it.
Anyway, if stage magic and dark forces are your thing, why not read them both?
Dark Magic is available on Kindle and in paperback. The Kindle edition costs just £1.99.
Usually these days, I write my Friday blogs on Thursdays or, at very least, have a good idea by then of what I’m going to talk about. This week, though, I’m sitting here in the middle of the morning with very little idea of what I’m going to say.
Part of the reason for this is that I am in the throes of tidying up the latest Burke book, Burke and the Lines of Torres Vedras, ahead of sending it out to beta readers. (If you are interested in beta reading the book, do let me know.) The book sees Burke back in the Peninsula. I wrote it because, having visited the Lines of Torres Vedras, I was so fascinated by them that I wanted to base a novel there. It’s likely to do me no harm commercially, because I’ve been looking at sales and it’s clear that books that are most obviously related to Napoleonic campaigns that people know are the ones that they want to read. That’s Burke in the Peninsula and Burke at Waterloo.
The lines of Torres Vedras are interesting in terms of military historical fiction, because any stories set there are unlikely to feature any serious fighting. The lines were such a strong defensive position that, after one initial probing attack, the French hunkered down to wait Wellington out. A mistake, as it turns out, as Wellington had prepared for this and was in a much better position to wait than they were. So what am I writing about? Well, we know that there was a spy ring broken in Portugal in 1810 and spying is Burke’s job, so expect evil plots amidst the fortifications.
Anyway, while I’ve been removing redundant paragraphs and hacking away at cliches, I haven’t been preparing my blog. What I have found time to do was to read Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare. Love him or loathe him, it’s a fascinating book and I would have quite liked to review it, but it seems to rouse such strong feelings that I fear my blog might just turn into a battlefield of Napoleonic proportions. If people would like to see a review, do let me know. Just be aware that I approve comments before they show on my site and, though I have never blocked one so far, I’m very happy to block anybody who posts with some of the more virulent views I’ve seen expressed for and against Harry and Meghan.
I’ve also been giving a bit of thought to a possible third book in the Galbraith and Pole series. The first two seem quite popular, but while I can reasonably expect that fans of James Burke will look at Burke and the Lines of Torres Vedras, people who read my historical fiction do not necessarily have any interest in my Urban Fantasy. What about you? Are you reading this because you are interested in historical fiction or because you have read my urban fantasy books? Or maybe you just like reading my more random stuff here.
I mainly post history related stuff on my blog, but occasionally I’ll write something about fantasy. Which would you rather see? Or do you enjoy both?
One of the reasons that it can sometimes be difficult to work out what to write about it is that I do post largely into a void. I get the odd comment and sometimes people take up some of the things I’ve talked about on Twitter (I’m @TomCW99), but mostly I just put stuff out there and hope that somebody enjoys it. WordPress assures me that quite a lot of people read my stuff and they can’t all be bots. Why not let me know who you are and what you want in Comments (below) or get in touch through my ‘Contact’ page? And if you do want to read a book review of Spare, let me know that too.
I really enjoyed Karen King’s piece last week. She is a consummate professional writer and I wish I had half her energy to write across so many genres. That said, I am not entirely a stranger to writing in different styles myself. In a long career of writing and researching across a range of markets, I have had to learn to write everything from what was essentially boiler-plate text round hundreds of tables of (frankly boring) data to bold selling documents designed to convince advertisers that more pages of tables was the most exciting thing they’d seen in years. Some of them believed it and apparently efforts like my discussion of the readers of children’s comics (even probably including some of the ones Karen wrote for) encouraged a lot of advertisers to take more interest in kiddie print media. I even wrote a ‘proper book’ on complaint handling.
Eventually, though, I produced one too many analyses of the market for paper products in the UK (yes, really) and I gave it all up and started writing fiction.
I had dabbled in fiction before – writing some of those ‘choose your own adventure’ stories that were popular in the 1980s.
My first serious attempt at writing a novel was The White Rajah, first published in 2010. Like many first novels, it desperately wanted to be the Great British Novel and like most first novels it wasn’t. It’s been revised a couple of times since and, though it is still hardly the Great British Novel, I am finally happy with it. It has battles and pirates and lots of traditional adventure, but it is at heart an attempt to look at big moral issues. When James Brooke (a real person) died one commentator wrote:
When his Biography comes to be written, there must be in it, dark chapters as well as bright ones.
The Monthly Packet, 14 September 1874
The book looks at how somebody who wanted to do good (and often did) was responsible for some horrific acts. Brooke seems to me to symbolise much about the British Empire: it didn’t set out to be evil, but it did a lot of evil things.
The White Rajah was followed by Cawnpore which will be republished later this summer. Cawnpore is also full of moral complexity. On the one hand you have English colonialists: some trying to do their best for India, some who are deeply contemptuous of the native people. On the other hand you have Nana Sahib, hailed nowadays as a hero of the Indian independence movement, but a man who was responsible for a particularly outrageous massacre in 1857.
The John Williamson trilogy finishes with Back Home (also to be republished in 2021). One reviewer complained that John Williamson is revealed as morally weak. Well, of course he is! The whole series is about the moral choices people make and they sometimes get things right and sometimes not so much. Poor John Williamson tries so hard. He really deserves to find some sort of salvation, but you’ll have to read to the very end to discover if he does.
The White Rajah had an agent and was pitched to leading publishers who turned it down. “Too difficult from an unknown author” more or less summed up the feedback. Sales subsequently proved them right – hence the move to a much more traditional style of historical fiction with the Burke books. There are some moral issues there, but they are generally hidden away behind conventional tales of derring-do with a handsome hero, beautiful women and lots of Frenchmen to beat. (We’re in the Napoleonic Wars, so beating the French comes with the territory.)
Clicking on the covers will take you to Amazon. All my books are available in paperback or on Kindle.
Technically both the John Williamson stories and the James Burke adventures are ‘historical fiction’ but they are distinct sub-genres and are written in dramatically different styles.
Eventually the sheer quantity of research that historical fiction requires made me want to take a bit of a break. I had a couple of ideas for fantasy stories – one about black magic and the other featuring vampires. The result was Dark Magic and Something Wicked. Apparently the genre is called Urban Fantasy. (I had to look it up.) It’s not just a different subject matter, but a tighter writing style – and an opportunity to give my dark sense of humour full rein.
Every sort of writing brings different challenges and different rewards, but I’ve enjoyed them all. I can only agree with Karen that challenging yourself to write in unfamiliar genres is always worthwhile.