Crooked Mile by Ben Beazley
Having taken over the baton from Andrew and left him taking his well earned sundowner, I find myself at something of a loss to know where to make a start today. One of the first things I should point out is that like some of the others who have gone before me or are still awaiting their first effort to actually appear on the shelf, as yet my jacket design is not ready, so the first problem is what to put up as being relevant to myself and this week’s discussion.
First day is pretty obvious – image of one’s self to set the scene and then take it from there, (that particular vision won’t be imposed on you again, I promise). So now that is sorted the next thing is to tell you about my forthcoming novel, Crooked Mile, which is being published in early 2009 – how it came to be, what the story is, and then later on a bit about what makes me tick.
Although I had quite a lot of experience as a non-fiction writer, there is no doubt that the road to achieving publication with a fictional novel is definitely a rocky, uphill, one in three gradient over hot coals, and littered with broken glass. The task of breaking through the firewalls that agents and publishing houses have built around themselves is monumental – so my absolute message is that if at last you discover a publisher who is genuinely interested in first time fiction writers, you have hit gold – I think that I might save my further thoughts on that one until the end of the week.
Crooked Mile is set in the late 19th century – during the years 1887-8 to be precise – and is basically a murder mystery which on one hand tells the story of a group of Irish Fenians, and on the other, that of the mysterious ‘Pipeline’, a Jewish network spreading across Europe, whose purpose is to assist émigrés fleeing the pogroms of Tsarist Russia. The story begins in Kelsford, a medium sized market town in the north Midlands between Sheffield and Derby. On a winter’s night, the bungled robbery of the Shires Canal Company payroll, followed by the murder of one of the gang and the loss of the proceeds of the crime, is the first step in a complex chain of events leading half way around the world. (If you feel like taking a look, the first half dozen pages setting the scene are on my web page).
Thomas Norton, the detective in charge of the investigation soon finds himself involved with Ruth Samuels, the wealthy widow of a local banker who is deeply involved in the activities of the Pipeline. The reader travels first with Ruth and her irascible maid ‘Mirka’, across Hapsburg Europe and into the snowy Carpathian Mountains on the dangerous border with Russia. The story then moves across the Atlantic to New York before taking Norton and Ruth into the slums of Whitechapel in pursuit of Eugene Leschenko, a dangerous psychopath who has utilised the Pipeline to make his way from Russia to England.
What is rarely taken into account by the average reader is the amount of work that goes into the detail required to make a story convincing. A friend of mine, on discovering that I had moved away from writing non-fiction, and had thrown my hat into the ring with a novel, said – with all of the best intentions – ‘well that will be a lot easier, all you have got to do now is sit down and write it out, no more hours in the archives’. He had absolutely no idea how wrong he was, or for that matter appreciated that had I not already spent so much time in Record Offices, I would never have been able to put together any sort of a credible storyline. This premis holds good in my opinion for any fictional genre – murder mystery, espionage, industrial chicanery – it doesn’t matter, it has to be accurate.
It was whilst I was ploughing through a pile of Watch Committee books, (heavy hard backed, leather bound tomes weighing twenty pounds each, that in the absence of a reliable jack could quite safely be shoved under the back axle of a Ford Transit), that I came to realize that I was possibly onto something. If I jotted down the abundance of names spread across the pages, I would by the time I finished have an accurate database of Victorian and Edwardian names, (I was working on the period beginning 1836 until well into the 20th century), and would have a rough idea of when they came into common usage.
Once I had begun to occupy my mind, and I will say it before someone else does – filled the pockets of my anorak – with this process, it dawned on me that aside from the names thing, I actually knew quite a lot about this period. Very soon the plot for Crooked Mile began to form, and I started to get things down on paper. From start to finish I suppose, the book took me about twelve months to write. A large amount of time was taken up, first in checking out historical details and then in reading, re-reading and amending.
So, having explained something about Crooked Mile and how it came into being, I will now go off and wonder what on earth I am going to do for tomorrow’s ‘blog’. Hopefully before too long, some kind soul will e-mail me with a burning question that will show me in which direction to push on.