You might recognise author Kate Williams. She took part in the TV coverage of the Royal Wedding in 2011, working for the BBC. She’s also appeared with Caroline Quentin on Restoration Home, and worked on the BBC Timewatch documentary the Young Victoria. Her non-fiction books such as Becoming Queen (2008) have found great acclaim. As you might have guessed, she’s a history expert and this extends well beyond her knowledge of queens and royal weddings. Now her first non-fiction book is on its way, and it sounds perfect for anyone who loves good and grisly Victorian murder stories.
The Pleasures of Men is set in 1840 – Victoria’s third year on the throne. A murderer is on the loose and he’s killing young girls, ripping open their chests and stuffing hair into their mouths such that it resembles a beak. For this he is dubbed The Man of Crows. We just had to find out more about the book and its protagonist, a young girl called Catherine Sorgeuil. So we got in touch with Kate…
Tell us a little bit about your first historical crime novel and its main character?
It’s an early Victorian London plagued by economic depression, disease and crime. Catherine Sorgeuil, young and nervous, lives with her overbearing uncle in a rambling house in Spitalfields. A murderer is attacking young women – and Catherine becomes obsessed by his actions.
The villain sounds pretty nasty – in the Jack the Ripper tradition. What inspired the Man of Crows and his modus operandi?
The man is vicious – but then murderers are. Nowadays, we are often shielded from the details of murders, but in late-Victorian times, they were often printed in detail. As a culture, they were much more familiar with violence – which is what I wanted to reflect.
You’re well known for your historical TV shows and non-fiction books. What inspired you to become a crime fiction novelist? Was the transition to creative writing difficult?
I have always written novels, I just didn’t like them. But after I completed Becoming Queen, I spent a summer in Paris. I began wandering around the streets at night and found them surprisingly dark and deserted. Soon Catherine and the Man of Crows came into my head and I could not stop writing.
Crime fiction itself has its genesis in Victorian times. Which authors inspire you? What inspires you about the period?
Crime fiction was truly a Victorian invention. At the turn of the century, many attributed murders to gangs. By the end of the century, thanks to the influence of books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and My Hyde, the notion of the crazed machinations of the individual mind had taken hold… I am indebted to Victorian novelists and their representations of the city – particularly Dickens – and I have always been fond of the sensation novelists Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
What aspects of The Pleasures of Men do you hope our readers will enjoy most?
I particularly wanted to show a city on the brink of collapse, and a protagonist similarly affected. We often think of the Victorian era as confident, but the early days were troubled and dogged by economic contraction. With Catherine, I wanted to explore the dangers of getting too close to murders. Perhaps a lesson for me…
The Pleasures of Men is released on 19 January. You can order it on Kindle, iBook or in paperback. Watch for our review coming soon!