Friday, 3 August 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this... with William Sutton

series image- Dunkeld Cathedral 
My Friday blog series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing.

Today, I welcome William Sutton who transports us to Victorian London and from the sound of what comes below, to its exceedingly seedy underbelly!

Victorian Britain was a favourite subject of mine when I did my BA Arts course with the Open University many years ago, and it was also a favourite era to teach to my Primary Seven classes. There were always so many things to find out about, and to explore. A slightly anodised version, of course, was given to those primary school 11-12 year-olds, and it's likely that I covered little of what occurs in William's very enticing series, but it's an era I'm itching to get on and write about when my Celtic Fervour Series is finished .(Some WIPs set in Victorian Scotland are languishing in the 'still to be done' files)
William Sutton

However, I'll let William introduce us to the particular aspects of Victorian London that he loves to write about. Welcome to my blog, William. Please give us the background to your Campbell Lawless Series. (That really is a fabulous author photo!)

The Campbell Lawless mysteries are set in the 1860s, based in London, with excursions to the provinces. Lawless is a Scot, escaping his watchmaker’s apprenticeship in Edinburgh. His role as outside is crucial. He casts fresh eyes on this city we think we know, allowing us glimpses behind the smog and slag heaps, inside the hansom cabs and night houses.

The whole series digs beneath the surface of what we know of London. The first novel Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square explores the amazing developments of the 1860s: the Metropolitan underground, the London sewers preventing cholera, new power and communications from the telegraph to pneumatic trains to hydraulic lifts. Intertwined with this high-power technology are stories of love and loyalty, betrayal and loss.

Initially Lawless is na├»ve, and perhaps too trusting. This makes him appealing and wins him friends, high and low; but he’s vulnerable to manipulation, from above and below until he learns to puzzle behind these darker cogs and machinations. He encounters a series of real-life characters in his investigations: engineer Joseph Bazalgette and Prince Albert, with cameos for Dickens, Marx. And London’s progress is real, with the building of the Metropolitan Line (world’s first underground train), the sewers, and an extraordinary hydraulic power network.


He’s assisted in his investigations by a gang of urchins, the Worms of Euston Square. When Alan Massie reviewed the book in The Scotsman, he liked this “gang of waifs and strays who owe something to Conan Doyle's ‘Baker Street Irregulars’ and perhaps even more to the ‘Gorbals DieHards’ of John Buchan.”

Lawless is also assisted by Miss Ruth Villiers, a feisty librarian at the British Museum. With her self-sufficient lifestyle, outshining the detective in research acumen, her initials are a nod to Wilkie Collins’ Rachel Verinder in The Moonstone.

In Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, they investigate a different kind of underworld. I enjoyed making use of Jon Camden Hotten’s Slang Dictionary. “One of the joys of the novel is the language employed by Worm and his friends, part authentic Victorian slang, part thieves' cant, and part – I rather think – invented.”


I also drew on the mysterious Walter’s erotic memoir My Secret Life, exploring a side of Victorian life not usually written about. We whitewash the underbelly of London with cheery images of dancing chimney sweeps and cheerful tarts. But what really happened in the dark outings of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? I steal that classic’s extraordinary structure to explore crimes straight out of Operation Yew Tree. The Morning Star said “It’s a marvellous read but be warned — the subject matter is harrowing and the author shows his readers little mercy.”

The latest book, Lawless and the House of Electricity, published in the UK last year (and US paperback imminent), is the most unabashedly historical.

It’s a country house novel, exploring tensions between upstairs and downstairs, between industry and leisure, between public and private lives. We follow the urchin Molly down the rabbit hole of a governess’s job into this new world, hobnobbing with lords and ladies. She falls in love with the children and staff, the house and grounds of Roxbury House (based on Cragside in Northumberland). Yet amidst the pastoral idyll, the Earl conducts mysterious electrical experiments, with consequences both for his international arms company and his grief-stricken family.

Meanwhile, Lawless it at work hunting down the perpetrators of terrorism in industrial heartlands across the country. Who could orchestrate fires, bombs, and crashes so widely, striking at the heart of Britain’s defensive network, while the French are plotting invasion?

To play Lawless on screen? James McAvoy.

You can find more about William Sutton at:

Thank you for visiting today, William. My very best wishes with the Campbell Lawless series. I'm sure it'll give the reader an entertaining, and perhaps also challenging, perspective on Victorian London!

(BTW- James McAvoy would be brilliant, I think, and that's even before I read your series. I could be a little biased, of course, because I'm also a Glaswegian from similar roots!)

Slainthe! 

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