A Scottish Seafaring Mystery- Bill Kirton

I’ve always loved sea-faring stories, which is odd since I can get “mal-de-mer” in a hot tub. Still, the idea of being on a schooner is romantic and thrilling. Bill Kirton has captured that spirit, plus what historical fiction does best, he focuses on a little-known art: the carving of the elaborate figureheads ships bore. His two-part series The Figurehead, and his latest, The Likeness.

So, Bill. You’re an interesting cat. What’s your story?

I’ve been lucky. My main job was as a university lecturer teaching French, which involved sitting around with intelligent, dedicated young people talking about books. I also presented TV programmes during which I went hang-gliding, drove a racing car, flew a glider and a plane, interviewed people and failed miserably at water-skiing. I was a voice-over artist for radio and TV and wrote and performed songs and sketches at the Edinburgh Festival. I’ve also written, directed and acted in stage plays in Scotland and the USA.

What’s the plot of The Likeness?

The book’s set in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1841. It’s the sequel to my first historical novel, The Figurehead, and it features a figurehead carver, a visiting troupe of actors performing maritime melodramas, and the strong-willed daughter of a ship-owning merchant in the city. There’s a suspicious death (which the carver investigates), a romance, which started in the first book and comes to its maturity in the second, and the first steps of the heroine in the (man’s) world of early Victorian commerce.

It was written to satisfy the demands of some readers who said nice things about The Figurehead, and pressured me to write a sequel.

That’s how Acre’s Orphans came about, readers wouldn’t let me give Lucca any rest. What is it about the story that     had you so fascinated?

The book had a strange genesis. I’d written five modern crime novels and a non-writing friend said to me ‘You should write about a figurehead carver.’ ‘Why?’ I said, and he just shrugged his shoulders. But I love anything connected with the old, square-rigged sailing ships and Aberdeen has such a great ship-building past that I was hooked on the idea. It also gave me an excuse to learn wood carving (so that I could convey how it feels to create figureheads) and fulfil a fantasy by being part of the crew on the beautiful Danish sailing ship, Christian Radich, on a trip from Oslo to Aberdeen.

I know this is an unfair question, but do you have a favorite scene?

Helen Anderson, the female lead, is often a scene-stealer, so any time she appears, things happen, but the activities of the actors during play rehearsals and performances, as well as the workings of stage machinery and effects in Victorian theatre are fascinating. From that, I even learned where the expression ‘You’ve stolen my thunder’ came from.

There’s also Helen’s voyage on board one of her father’s ships. And the final two scenes – the ‘reveal’ of whodunit, then the decision the carver and Helen eventually make about their future. Writing all of them presented different challenges so it’s hard to pick a favourite.

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

My website and blog are at www.billkirton.com and both books are on Amazon, where my author page is https://www.amazon.com/Bill-Kirton/e/B001KDNSLY, and Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/1100307.Bill_Kirton

And on Twitter, I’m @carver22

Not to barge in on Bill’s interview, but Acre’s Orphans is now  available for pre-order on Amazon,  Barnes and Noble, and Chapters. Please help us launch it successfully by buying now. And any time you read a book  like The Likeness (or one of mine,) please leave an Amazon or Goodreads review. It’s like applause for  the author.

Jack the Ripper Meets Conan Doyle- Bradley Harper

The best part of writing (or reading) historical fiction is the “what if” game. So here’s one for you. What if Arthur Conan Doyle was caught up in the Jack the Ripper investigation and THAT’S what gave birth to Sherlock Holmes? You gotta admit, that’s a good one, and it’s the premise of Bradley Harper’s novel, A Knife in the Fog.

I stumbled across the book while listening to Ilana Masad’s podcast, The Other Stories (check it out.)

So, Brad, what’s your deal?

I’m a retired US Army pathologist with over 200 autopsies to my credit, about twenty of which were forensic in nature. Prior to attending med school I was an Airborne Infantry officer who had a bad encounter with an army physician, and I decided I could do better. I’ve had four commands, served in the Pentagon on the personal staff of the US Army Surgeon General, and while supporting US Special Forces in Colombia had a $1.5 million bounty on my head for anyone who could deliver me alive to the FARC (offer no longer valid, by the way). In Nov-Dec timeframe my wife of forty-five years and I portray a happily married couple from the North Pole at a local theme park. I’m a soft touch however, and only threaten those on the Naughty List with Spiderman Underoos or burnt cookies.

You are a doctor, double as Santa Claus AND write  your butt off. That’s a good life you got going. What’s the premise behind Knife  in the Fog?

My book is a work of historical fiction, in which I put a relatively unknown young Arthur Conan Doyle on the trail of Jack the Ripper, until the Ripper begins stalking him. I did extensive historical research into the Ripper murders, the Whitechapel area, and Victorian society. I relied heavily upon the expertise of Ripper historian Richard Jones, who besides having two books to his credit on the Ripper, runs a walking tour company that goes in Whitechapel at night. I bought out an evening tour so for some three hours the two of us ambled through the Ripper’s old hunting grounds, and stopped for a drink at the Ten Bells, a pub that served two of the Ripper’s victims, and is still in business today. 

That’s a killer premise. How’d it come to you?

My idea for the book came to me one day while reading about Doyle on Wikipedia. I was surprised to learn that there was a four-year gap between the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet (written 1886, released 1887), and the Sign of Four (written and released in 1890). Doyle had a terrible time getting anyone interested in the first story, and in the end settled for twenty-five pounds and loss of copyright just to get it published. Doyle was so embittered that he swore to never write another “crime story.” The Ripper murders happened in late summer and early fall of 1888, and I conceived of a tale involving Doyle that would explain why he eventually agreed to return to Holmes and why the Ripper suddenly stopped without ever knowingly being caught. The idea just grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. 

Tell us about one particular scene in your book

During my walk with Mr Jones he mentioned that the discovery of the body of the Ripper’s fifth victim, Mary Kelly, coincided with the installation of the new Lord Mayor of London, scarcely a mile away, and that thousands of people left the ceremony to witness her body’s removal. The report at the time mentioned that the crowd was utterly silent as her body was carted away in a simple wooden box. I interspersed the sights and sounds of the formal ceremony with this scene of pathos, and had the sounds of celebration just discernible to the silent witnesses to the Ripper’s foul handiwork. 

It was a similar one-on-one with a tour guide that inspired Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans. What else should we know?

My book is available at all major bookstores and most independents that deal with mystery, as well as Amazon, and an audio book (Tantor Media)  and ebook format are also available. I was flattered to be allowed to choose the narrator, and Mathew Lloyd Davies, who won an Audie in 2018, just blew me away. A former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, his narration is really a performance. Hearing my words voiced by a professional actor was a thrill I really can’t describe.

Not to barge in on Brad’s interview, but Acre’s Orphans is now available for pre-order on Amazon,  Barnes and Noble, and Chapters. Please help us launch it successfully by buying now. And any time you read a book  like Knife in the Fog (or one of mine,) please leave an Amazon or Goodreads review. It’s like applause for  the author.

Where did Lucca the Louse Come From?

No doubt by now you are aware that Acre’s Orphans will be published on January 28th. Many of you are familiar with its hero, Lucca le Pou (or Lucca the Louse for those of you who don’t speak French.) He’s a popular little guy, and a number of people ask me how I came up with him.

Put simply, Lucca started as a fun idea, and was finally created out of horrible tragedy. It’s probably a story worth sharing, and very few of you will have heard this one. So it started here:

Me in Jerusalem, about 2007

This is me standing in the old city of Jerusalem in November of 2008 on the site of the Hospital of St John… the Hospitallers for those of you who follow such things. As I stood there, thinking all kinds of Crusadery thoughts, I kept asking myself, “what the hell were they thinking?”

The Crusades have always held a fascination for me. I’m a sucker for knights and jousting and swords are always cooler than guns. So I tried to imagine what would make someone travel halfway around the world to fight in a war that, to my modern mind, makes no sense at all. Especially the battle of Hattin. What the hell makes someone do that? And what must it have been like for people who weren’t nobility or churchmen– the average folks? I figured there was a story there, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Acre’s Bastard originally started as the tale of a Hospitaller knight, and it wasn’t particularly inspiring, given that most of them would be slaughtered at the end.

Then this picture flashed around the world.

This picture of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was from 2016 when Russian bombs fell on the Syrian city of Aleppo. Aleppo is about 300 miles from Acre, and was a constant scene of battle even back in the 1100s.

Omran Daqneesh is the original Lucca

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that children had been dying in wars in the region since the beginning of our history, and it just gets uglier and more vicious. That led me to think about other stories of children caught up in war. I was much more interested in the civilians than the knights and nobility. What would it be like for a child back then. If Lucca was a bit older, you know who he reminded me of???

One of my favorite stories is Kim by Rudyard Kipling. An orphan caught up in wartime, befriending soldiers and living on his wits. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out.

So, I made him more like one of my favorite characters

And so, I imagined Lucca as old enough to not be traumatized like young Omran, and not old enough to actually have to fight, and there you have it.

Now he’s on his second adventure, Acre’s Orphans. There are still lepers, knights, spies, and swordplay. There will be tears and, yes, a lot of laughs.

Check out the new book when it’s published on January 28th. It is available to pre-order on Kindle and the paperback will be available by January 20th.

Of course, if you haven’t read Acre’s Bastard yet, get on it!