Friday, 18 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Tim Hodkinson

My Friday series continues...

where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm delighted to welcome Tim Hodkinson whom I've met on the Historical Novel Society page on Facebook. Tim's here to share a new novel with us which has the dark undertones of an early Victorian society who did things a bit differently from I'd expect to happen now. In addition to an excellent post, he's also sent along some gruesome illustrations! 

Welcome to my blog, Tim. Please share your setting with us...

Tim Hodkinson
My name is Tim Hodkinson, I am a Northern Irish writer and Nancy has kindly offered me a slot on her excellent blog this week to talk about the historical background to my latest novel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the title, “The Undead of Belfast” is set in what is now the capital of Northern Ireland, but in 1839 during the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. The book is (hopefully) a chilling tale that sprang from my love of classic Gothic fiction.

Belfast has become famous for many things over the years, from building the Titanic to being a battleground for the Irish Troubles, however the elements that form the basis of my novel may come as a surprise to some.

My book is set at a very exciting time for Belfast. The early nineteenth Century saw it grow from a small village to an industrial giant. Alongside that growth came wealth and a surge in learning, the arts and progressive politics that gained the town a nickname it shared with Edinburgh, “The Athens of the North”. A college, a museum, a society for the promotion of learning and a botanical garden all arose at this time.

However it was, as my book puts it, a town that was “blossoming but already beginning to rot”. Population movements had already brought the first sectarian riots to Belfast’s streets. Outbreaks of violence led to famous political cartoons that portrayed “The Irish Frankenstein” - a violent monster created by radical political thought. More recently, The "Frankenstein Chronicles", a TV Series starring Sean Bean, were partly filmed Northern Ireland. However something a lot of folk, even from Belfast, seem unaware of, is that the town has a more fundamental link to Mary Shelley’s original novel “Frankenstein”, first published in 1815. 
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

In Chapter 20 of Shelley’s book, Victor Frankenstein ends up washed up in Ireland - somewhere on the north coast - either Antrim or Donegal. He is wrongly accused of murder and ends up being transported "about one Hundred miles south in the County Town" to stand trial. This could only be Belfast, and this is the central premise for my book: Someone in Belfast begins resurrecting the dead using the secrets discovered by Victor Frankenstein. When the undead turn murderous, Captain Joseph Sheridan, a consulting detective from Dublin who specialises in investigating the supernatural, travels north to probe the mystery. In Belfast, he joins forces with a Belfast policeman, Abraham Harpur, and Emily Brunty, a school mistress hiding her secret desire to be a journalist, to investigate the mystery.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

Joseph Sheridan was named after one of my favourite gothic writers, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. Emily Brunty’s name is a nod to another gothic writer with surprising Northern Irish connections. The father of Emily Brontë, the genius author of “Wuthering Heights”, came from a small village about thirty miles from Belfast called Rathfriland. His name was actually the more Irish sounding Patrick Brunty. When he won a scholarship to Cambridge University, Patrick changed his name to the rather more elegant sounding Brontë, and it was this name he passed down to his illustrious daughters. Anne Brontë came to her father’s home on honeymoon. We can only wonder what she made of Rathfriland. My Emily escapes her limited life as a school mistress in a small country school there to try to break into the male dominated world of Belfast Newspapers.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

Any self-respecting mad doctor bent on resurrecting the dead needs a supply of bodies. Also like in Edinburgh, early Nineteenth Century Belfast also saw a flourishing trade in body snatching. Corpses were stolen from local graveyards and shipped in Whiskey barrels to the Anatomy Schools in Edinburgh and Dublin. When we first meet Constable Harpur in my book he is enduring a freezing night in Belfast’s New Burying Ground cemetery on watch for the “Resurrection Men”, as the body snatchers were known here. 

It was two ex-patriots from Ulster who became perhaps the most notorious merchants involved in this gruesome trade. William Burke from Urney in County Tyrone and William Hare from Poyntzpass, near Rathfriland, settled in Edinburgh and got themselves into the body snatching business.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson
However digging up fresh corpses in dark cold graveyards was hard work, and Burke and Hare realised it would be easier to create their own fresh corpses, moving from body snatching to murder. 

When their scheme was discovered the resulting scandal moved Parliament to action and the Anatomy Bill was passed in 1832. This meant that the bodies of the destitute who died in the Poor House could now be used for dissection and there were always plenty of them. Overnight, the market for illicitly obtained corpses dried up and the body snatchers were driven out of business.

Burke and Hare -Wikimedia Commons

As for Burke and Hare, proving that there is no honour among thieves, Hare was the first person to "turn King's evidence" in a British Court of Law. In return for immunity from persecution, Hare testified against his colleague and Burke was found guilty. Burke was hanged in January 1829. Ironically, his body was then dissected and his preserved skeleton is still on display in the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare was officially last seen heading for the English border. A report in the Belfast Newsletter some years later, however, relates how he turned up in a pub in Poyntzpass. A local recognised him and he was run out of town by a stone throwing mob. A man like Hare had the sort of skills that would be useful to the man who is the villain of my book.

So that is my novel, The Undead of Belfast. It is set in a town you will probably have heard of but at a time when there was a lot going on that might surprise you about the place. I would love to think it’s a scary read, but really it’s a bit of fun. As one reviewer on Amazon describes it, “a classic ripping yarn”.

Ireland, 1839. Belfast is a city that is blossoming but already beginning to rot. Amid its crowded streets, linen mills and factories body snatchers are on the loose and a homicidal maniac is on a killing spree. Witnesses claim that the murderer is an executed criminal who should be dead and buried.

Captain Joseph Sheridan is a consulting detective from Dublin who specialises in investigating the supernatural. Bereaved by the death of his beloved wife, his work has been a ten year forlorn quest for evidence that there is any life beyond death. Sheridan travels north to probe the mystery. In Belfast he joins forces with a Belfast policeman, Abraham Harpur and Emily Brunty, a school mistress hiding her secret desire to be a journalist. Together, they seek the truth behind who is resurrecting the murderous dead. 
Buy in paperback from Amazon 
Buy in ebook format from Amazon 
Read more about the novel on Facebook  

A bit about Tim:
Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After several happy years living in New Castle, New Hampshire, USA, he and his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters have returned to a village in Ireland called Moira.

You can find lots more about Ulster history and my other books on Tim's BLOG  and Tim's  Amazon author page

Thank you for visiting today, Tim. I knew a little of Burke and Hare's exploits in Edinburgh, and knew there was an Irish connection, but I didn't know those interesting 'Frankenstein' details that you've given in the above post. Your novel might be a bit too scary for a 'feartie' like me - but it's sure to have a firm following! My very best wishes with all of your writing projects.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)