Good morning! Today, I’m talking to T. G. Campbell, author of the Bow Street Society novels about Victorian London, multiple narrators, and commemorative mugs.
Tell us a little bit about the Bow Street Society. Where did the idea originally come from?
The Bow Street Society is a fictional group of amateur detectives operating in Victorian Era London. Each of its civilian members has been enlisted for their unique skill or exceptional knowledge in a particular field derived from their usual occupation. Members are assigned to cases, by the Society’s clerk, Miss Trent, based upon these skills and fields of knowledge. Therefore different members are assigned to each case depending on the nature and circumstances of that case.
The idea came from my desire to try and push the boundaries of the crime fiction genre by challenging the traditional troupe of a single, seemingly omniscient, detective by replacing it with a group. I didn’t want a static set of detectives, though, as this had also been done many times before. I therefore pondered how detectives could be switched in and out and eventually came up with the idea of ordinary people taking time out of their ordinary lives to investigate crime. The fact each member has an ordinary job that they draw upon to solve the mysteries also means readers can picture themselves as Society members, too.
What are the benefits and challenges of not having a fixed protagonist for each novel?
The main benefit to not having a fixed protagonist in each novel is the opportunity to explore the personal lives, and secrets, of a wide variety of detectives with differing occupations, personalities, backgrounds, physical capabilities, genders, etc. I also think it adds an extra dimension to the books as the reader can guess who they think Miss Trent is going to assign to the cases in addition to trying to guess who the murderers are.
The main challenges are having too many characters for the reader to keep track of and trying not to take too much emphasis away from the mystery at the centre of each book. Whilst most readers enjoy exploring the personal lives of the detectives, I believe the central focus of each crime fiction book must be the mystery. If too much time is spent on discussing who the detective is in love with rather than what the detective is doing to solve the crime then it can become frustrating for those attempting to solve the mystery themselves. I’m also aware that having several detectives in each book can become confusing so I keep this at the forefront of my mind when writing scenes in which all the assigned Bow Street Society members are discussing their progress in the case. As Miss Trent chairs these meetings she often keeps them organised and concise. This allows the reader to get the full picture of the investigation thus far (in the form of the meeting) without getting confused.
You wrote about Christie in your dissertation – which writers have inspired your style of writing?
Agatha Christie inspired me to write “clue-puzzle” mysteries as she was the master of this form of crime fiction. It’s the basic blueprint I use each time I plan my books as I want my readers to have the opportunity to, and the satisfaction of, solving the mystery themselves using the same clues and information my detectives see and hear. Aside from Christie, Kate Summerscale inspired me to include snippets of historical facts in my books alongside my fictional narrative. Summerscale did this a great deal in her nonfiction true crime book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I feel including these facts allows me to further transport my readers into Victorian Era London.
What have been the most intriguing discoveries you’ve come across during your research for the series?
The creation, development, and paternalistic culture of the Metropolitan Police Service between 1829 and 1896, when my books are set, are never ending sources of fascination and intrigue to me. Given the fact the Bow Street Society inevitably encounters Metropolitan Police officers during the course of its investigations, it’s fascinating to explore what the Metropolitan Police Service’s reaction to such a group would have been if the Society had existed in reality at the time. In this sense I’ve tried to present a more realistic attitude toward the Bow Street Society by the police in that they don’t welcome them to crime scenes with open arms and actually resent their presence.
Other intriguing discoveries I’ve come across are: steam-powered trams were once operational in Victorian Era London, along with taxis powered by electricity for a short time.
Why the Victorian period?
The Victorian period was a time of great innovation and reformation. It’s also a period in time most readers are familiar with due to infamous true crime cases like Jack the Ripper. There are also many images associated with the period, e.g. slums, foggy streets, etc. Rather than concentrate on Jack the Ripper or slums, etc., though, I wanted to explore the reality for people living in the middle ground, such as architects, veterinary surgeons, journalists, etc. Furthermore, I wanted to explore technological and scientific innovations through the prisms of my characters’ occupations, and explain the intricacies and evolution of legislation through the mouths of characters like solicitor, Mr Gregory Elliott. For me, the personal experiences of people living in a particular historical period are what bring that period alive. I therefore work to achieve this same aim in my writing through the experiences, knowledge, and expertise of my fictional characters.
You started writing at the age of 16 – what have been the key lessons you’ve learned about writing, and what advice would you give to someone just starting out?
As a writer you’ll inevitably form an emotional attachment to your work during the course of the many days, weeks, or even months you spend bringing it into existence. It can therefore be very frightening when you first send it out into the world, and feel like a personal attack when someone doesn’t like it and writes a negative review. My advice would be to try and take a step back from your work and embrace the fact no one can possibly know everything. There’ll always be room for improvement and constructive reviews which highlight aspects of your work which should be revisited are invaluable—especially if several readers mention the same aspects in their reviews. Criticism of your work isn’t (and shouldn’t be) criticism of you as an individual. Acknowledge it with good grace and dignity, analyse it for the salient points, and concentrate on the aspects of your writing which need improvement. Last but certainly not least is: enlist a team of impartial beta readers who aren’t afraid to pick your book apart to help you improve your second draft, and hire a reputable and skilled proof reader/editor to go through your book before you publish it.
I love the idea of a commemorative mug collection – do you have a favourite?
I have so many it’s hard to choose just one! I think my favourites are the china mugs from Agatha Christie’s holiday home Greenway and Chatsworth House. I adore china mugs anyway and they’re just the right size for a nice brew. They’re also decorated with lovely designs.
Perfect! What are the best (and worst) parts of being a writer?
The best part of being a writer is the immense satisfaction you get when readers tell you how much they enjoyed your hard work. Ultimately, the fundamental aim of any writer is to make a connection with their reader. I therefore think any writer should consider themselves a successful one whenever a reader tells them they loved their work. The best part of being an indie writer is the freedom to design and develop your own brand and the control you have over the entire process.
The worst part of being a writer is receiving negative reviews. It’s an inevitable part of the whole experience as you’ll never please all of the people all of the time. Nevertheless, it’s hard to hear someone tell you they didn’t like your work. Yet, each review is an opportunity to further connect with your reader and understand what works and what doesn’t so it’s important to realise that all reviews—good and bad—have value. The worst part of being an indie writer is the necessity for you to have a grasp of all aspects of running a business in addition to being a writer, e.g. taxes, marketing, insurance etc.
Excellent advice. I hadn’t considered the business elements of it all – sounds potentially very stressful! So – with that in mind (a smooth segue here…) where do you stand on wine gums? A fan, or not?
I’m definitely a fan of wine gums. I love the flavours and whenever I see the packet I always sing the jingle from the wine gums television advert in which the Scotsman is dancing and singing “there’s juice, loose, aboot dis hoose”. Hilarious!
Ha – I’d forgotten about that advert! Thanks for that reminder – that jingle will now be trapped in my head all day – and for taking the time to chat. Good luck with the series!
Find out more about the Bow Street Society here:
Facebook Group, Fans of the Bow Street Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1469362763235086/