This post originally appeared on Kiss and Thrill. For more historical anecdotes, check out my Pinterest board.
A DANGEROUS INVITATION is set in 1832 near the end of the Georgian era (1714-1837) during the short reign of King William IV (Prinny’s younger brother) Why did you choose this time period for Kate and Daniel’s story?
Originally, I chose it because I knew I wanted to use the case of the Italian Boy’s murder as a backdrop for the suspense plot in A Dangerous Invitation. The Italian Boy was a street peddler murdered by two resurrection men (the 19th century version of a grave robber) who wanted his corpse so that they could sell him to unscrupulous surgeons for dissection. The trade of corpses in the regency period is a big deal in the underworld, for a resurrection man could make far more selling bodies than he could in the honest work that might be available to an unskilled, uneducated laborer (read, not many jobs at all). The London Burkers (called that because their method of murder for dissection profit resembled that of legendary serial killers Burke and Hare in Edinburg, Scotland in 1828) were arrested in 1831. Two were executed, while another turned State’s Evidence and was released. I knew that I wanted to link my resurrection man villain to this case—but that meant I had to deal with a very tight time frame. I wanted my villain to be desperately scared that he’s going to get caught like May, Bishop, and Williamson did, and so I had to set it in January 1832 shortly after the executions. Mid-year 1832, the Anatomy Acts were repealed, and now surgeons had access to more bodies for dissection, so they didn’t have to use grave robbers to advance in their fields of study.
I found the idea of people being stolen from their graves to be sold as medical experiments to be utterly creepy and morbid, and admittedly, being a girl who grew up reading Edgar Allen Poe, I loved it. Resurrection men were considered to be one of the lowest types of thieves, reviled by everyone else in the London underworld. What better villains to use in the first book of my Rookery Rogues series, which centers on denizens of the London slum areas (called rookeries)?
But the more I found out about the 1830’s, the more I fell deeply in love with the period. What started out as a convenient time for a case I wanted to use became far more like an affair of passion for me. I studied Victorian literature heavily in college, and then I began to educate myself in the regency period when I started to write historical romances. But the 1830’s in a sense to me represents the perfect merging of my two interests—it’s this strange period of social reform yet people are still trying to cling to what they used to have.
Your descriptions of daily life in the rookeries of London are vivid and create the dark, gritty atmosphere of this historical romantic suspense novel. You clearly spent a great deal of time researching the history, culture and geography of the East End—Bethnal Green, Jacob’s Island, and the St. Katharine Docks. What unexpected discoveries did you uncover that surprised you and enriched or influenced the development of the characters and the suspense storyline of your debut novel?
Originally, in the very first early conception of A Dangerous Invitation, I had set the book in 1815 because that’s what I knew at the time. When I found the Italian Boy case and moved it back 17 years, that opened up a huge new world of things for me to discover. Particularly, I’m fascinated by the new system of policing—far more like the Scotland Yard we know and love than the original regency policing system. Prior to 1829, London did not have a centralized police force. You had a bunch of little districts and constables and a Night Watch that really bordered on useless. But 1829 and Robert Peel’s act brought forth a new structure, a more vigilant way of policing. This of course meant that some of the attitudes toward crime in the rookeries changed. The Bow Street Runners (think London’s first detectives) allowed flash houses (meeting places of thieves, often functioning as brothels as well) to exist because it was easy to get at informants when they were all congregated in the same police. The Met Police didn’t really believe in that—they focused on preventing crime instead of solving it. I use this distinction in my next novella, Secrets in Scarlet, which features the Met Police officer I introduced in A Dangerous Invitation.
I also used the “Catholic Question,” which comes about throughout the 1800’s but really hit a breakthrough in 1829 when the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed, which removed a lot of the restrictions that were still on Catholics in the UK. This and the Sacramental Test Act were huge in getting rights for Catholics. Prior to this act, Catholics could not hold office. Daniel O’Connell ran for office anyhow in 1828 and 1829, and he won the seat for County Clare in Ireland (though he couldn’t take it in 1828). Fearing a civil war in Ireland and the turning of public opinion toward rights for Catholics, Parliament went ahead and granted more rights to Catholics—but it was still a big, big issue of contention. The relations between the English and the Irish were already strained at best. I use this in A Dangerous Invitation as my hero Daniel O’Reilly is Irish, but he has been raised since childhood in Sussex. He feels like a man of two nations. Daniel has been the victim of racial prejudice, for in 1832 the Irish were considered not much better than dogs in the street by a lot of England’s population. This plays into his interactions with Kate and his feelings toward himself. He has to learn that he is indeed worthy of love.
Peelers, dimber morts, crank…uh, translation please J Was it difficult to learn the street slang of the period?
A Peeler refers to the Metropolitan Police Officers, called Peelers or Bobbies because of Robert Peel, who was the main person behind the bill establishing the new force. A dimber mort refers to a pretty wench, and crank is a cant term for gin (important because of Daniel’s struggle with remaining sober).
I actually really enjoy the slang. I’ve never had an aptitude for foreign languages, but thieving cant to me feels like a secret language based in English so I can understand it. It was important to me that my thieves sound like they grew up in the East End and not posh aristocrats. These are people deprived of formal education, growing up in neighborhoods where they pretty much had to steal to eat. They’re going to have their own set of words for things, jargon that’s been doctored so that the Police can’t fathom what they’re saying.
In writing A Wayward Man, my short story prequel to A Dangerous Invitation, it’s been interesting to write the dialogue for Kate because this is before she ends up in the rookeries. She doesn’t know those slang terms and she hasn’t changed to coarser language. I paid a lot of attention to dialects, trying to properly mimic what people would sound like in different parts. I’ve no idea if I got it all right, but it “feels” more authentic to me, at least.
What is your favorite slang expression?
There are so many good ones, and some really, really vulgar ones. There’s about 57 different terms for prostitutes, most of which end up being quite depressing.
Some of my favorite ones that I find can be used in historical romance are “collar day” for being executed at Newgate prison, “dive” meaning to pick a pocket, and Drury Lane ague meaning venereal disease (given that prostitutes often frequented Drury Lane).
For readers interested in learning more about the East Enders lingua franca, what sources would you recommend?
I read a lot of first-person accounts from the Victorian period, which while it isn’t exactly the same time period helped me get the feel for the speech. I highly recommend The Victorian Underworld: First Person Accounts of Beggars, Prostitutes, and Thieves which is excerpts from Henry Mayhew’s interviews with the poor classes in the 1850’s. I also read Dickens’s Oliver Twist to grasp how he portrays thieves.
As for slang, I used Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, and also this awesome site which catalogued different slang dictionaries – http://www.pascalbonenfant.com/18c/cant/ I’ve checked this against different books and it is accurate.
Tell us about some of the authors who inspired you to become a writer.
I fell for Jane Austen when I was in high school, and went on to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. In college, I majored in writing and ended up with a minor in English because I studied so much British literature. I threw myself into the world of the regency and the Victorians, devouring Dickens, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins (creator of the first suspense novel). I definitely had those books in mind when I started the Rookery Rogues, as well as my deep love for Agatha Christie’s mysteries.
Modern day romance writers I love are Meredith Duran, Isobel Carr, Deb Marlowe, Delilah Marvelle, Sarah Maclean, and Heather Snow. Maire Claremont was very helpful to me in writing A Dangerous Invitation and so were Darcy Burke and Emma Locke. I’m fortunate to know some great writers and they definitely shape my work.
What’s next in The Rookery Rogues series?
Two things. One, I’ve got the short story prequel to A Dangerous Invitation coming out in February, and it is titled A Wayward Man*. This starts before Daniel leaves London, three years prior to the beginning of ADI. It’s about 10,000 words and I will be offering it up for free.
After that, I’ve got Secrets in Scarlet**, which is a novella. I hope to have it out sometime around late March. Here’s the blurb: When a girl is murdered at a factory in one of London’s rookeries, Thaddeus Knight comes in to investigate. But it’s not just the factory owners that Thaddeus wants information on–the devilishly intriguing Poppy O’Reilly is a puzzle he’d like nothing more than to solve. Protecting her young daughter is the most important thing to Poppy, and Thaddeus threatens the false identity she’s carefully constructed. The last thing she should do is allow Thaddeus close to her family, yet she can’t stay away from him. With danger around the corner, will the secrets of a scarlet woman lead to their undoing?
*The short story A Wayward Man is exclusively available to subscribers of my newsletter. Sign up here.
**Secrets in Scarlet became a full-length novel, Book 2 of the Rookery Rogues.