Writing a Victorian Detective Novel

AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN BAINBRIDGE ABOUT HIS NEW DETECTIVE NOVEL A SEASIDE MOURNING.

Why a Victorian Detective Novel?
I like the thought of the detective pitting his wits against the murderer without the intrusion of modern forensics, DNA etc. which has made today’s detective stories so scientific. And there aren’t mobile phones, computers etc. Take away the technology and you are left with the people.
Why else is the Victorian age appealing?
I’ve been interested in history all my life. The Victorians in many ways are still very close to us. I love reading Victorian novels. And the social changes throughout the period are fascinating – in many ways they shaped how we think today. Exploring family history deepened my interest.
Why did you set it particularly in the 1870s?
A period that is overlooked. People talk about the Victorian Age but it encompassed several generations. There is the Dickensian Victorian age of crinolines, Florence Nightingale, the Crimea or the later age of Doyle, Wilde and Stoker, Jack the Ripper and so on. In the 1870s it was just before the telephone in England, bicycles are not in common usage in a way there were in the latter decades. It is farther back from those later inventions of the Victorian age that continued into the 2oth century. Very much a decade of change and I wanted to get in just before all of that.
What gave you the idea of Inspector Abbs?
I wanted to write about an intelligent man who was quite liberal thinking for his time. I think you have to like your own detective. I also wanted a quiet private man, with no flamboyant eccentricities. And also a man who feels like an outsider, looking in at the society he is investigating. And, of course, it follows the idea of the detective as a maverick.
And Sergeant Reeve?
A contrast with Abbs. Someone more lively and confident. And younger. When Abbs first meets Reeve he finds him intelligent and likeable. But Abbs is a stickler for discipline and wary of friendship between the ranks. As the novel develops they bond unconsciously. They develop a mutual liking and respect as events unfold. The novel charts the way they become a team. It wasn’t planned. The relationship between them just developed as the novel went on.
Abbs is an unusual name?
I thought carefully about names. I came upon the name Abbs on a holiday in Norfolk. It’s a county I love and I wanted Abbs to come from there. Abbs is an old Norfolk name. During my time there I was looking at business names, the names in country churchyards and on war memorials etc. Abbs kept coming up. It felt right for the character. Names are very interesting in the way they denote the age and society. The vast majority of characters have Georgian names, because that was when many of them were born. A lot of the names we think of as Victorian came only in the last decades of the period. For instance one family in the novel have given their daughters flower names, which was quite new and fashionable in the 1870s.
Why a seaside resort as the setting for a murder?
I’ve always been interested in the history of seaside resorts. And I wanted to write about small town life, as opposed to city or village life. Many of the characters trying to be big fish in a small pond. In a small town you can observe this going on in the way you can’t in a city. I love the sea and wanted to write about it. Walk around a seaside resort and you can usually see how they came about, from the original fishing villages to the buildings and facilities put there for the benefit of tourists. It is fascinating to explore seaside towns that failed to become major resorts, despite everyone’s best endeavours. Seaborough – the town in my novel – seems destined to fail, never becoming the resort some of the characters hope for.
Who is your favourite character?
It has to be Abbs, but I’m fond of Alfred Halesworth. He almost wrote himself. Not that I agree with much that he believes. He represents the worst of typical Victorian opinion but it was fun to write someone outrageous by modern standards.
And Victorian Society in the novel?
It seems to me that most novels set in Victorian times feature high or low life, Society or the rookeries. It appealed to me to write about the layers of people who make up a small community, businessmen, shopkeepers, servants and so on. Nearly everyone in my novel is climbing up, on the make. I’m interested in the parallels with modern British life. As with today, unless you were rich, most people had a feeling of insecurity. There was no welfare state, no National Health Service. If you failed to make money you were very vulnerable. Even Abbs has no skills to fall back on, if he loses his job. This gives him a great deal of stress. People were walking a tightrope between paying the rent and disaster. The so-called Victorian values which are in danger of returning to British society.

 

 

Thank you

Seaside-Mourning-Ad-Cover.d

A Seaside Mourning is now available in paperback and Kindle eBook.

A Seaside Mourning is written by husband and wife writing team Anne and John Bainbridge.

 

 

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