Today I host the blogtour for Coven by Graham Masterton. He has very kindly provided me a guest post.
They say the girls were witches, but Beatrice Scarlet, the apothecary’s daughter, knows they were victims…
Beatrice Scarlet has returned to London and found work at St Mary Magdalene’s Refuge for fallen women. Beatrice enjoys the work and her apothecary skills are much needed. The home cooperates with a network of wealthy factory owners across London, finding their charges steady work and hopes of rehabilitation.
But when twelve girls sent to a factory in Clerkenwell disappear, Beatrice is uneasy. Their would-be benefactor claims they were witches, sacrificed by Satan for his demonic misdeeds. But Beatrice is sure something much darker than witchcraft is at play…
Graham Masterton was a bestselling horror writer who has now turned his talent to crime and thrillers. He is also the author of the bestselling Katie Maguire series, set in Cork, Ireland.
GRIME AND PUNISHMENT
The more outlandish and fanciful a story is, the more important it is to make the setting and the characters totally believable. That is why, when I wrote THE COVEN, the second adventure for Beatrice Scarlet, I undertook very extensive research into life in the City of London in the late 1750s, where most of the novel is set.
I found detailed maps of the period, which show that London was built up only as far as Moorfields, where there was a large lunatic asylum (to be non-PC). Beyond that, there was nothing but fields and farms until you arrived at pretty rural villages such as Hackney. Hard to believe today, but Dr Johnson used to hire a carriage to take him out to Hackney for some fresh country air.
In London Fields, there was an excellent pub which served an extraordinary pie about a foot deep with every kind of game bird in it that you could think of. It was a favourite stopping place for pig farmers herding their swine to Smithfield Market, and after pie and a few pints they would amuse themselves by buttering a pig’s tail and swinging it around their heads to see who could keep hold of the pig the longest. The winner would be awarded free ale for the rest of the day.
But that was in the outskirts. The centre of the city was overcrowded, noisy, and unbelievably filthy. There were no sewers so raw sewage would run down kennels (channels) in the middle of the road, which were also blocked up with dead dogs and the innards of sheep that had been gutted in Smithfield.
Every pavement was crowded with street sellers, offering everything from fish to hot pies to oranges, as well as song-sheets and puppet plays. The noise of them shouting and singing was almost intolerable, and one famous writer despaired that he would ever get any work done because of the racket outside his window.
The streets were dangerous, too. They were badly lit, if at all, and pickpockets would have no hesitation in beating, stabbing or shooting you so that they could steal your handkerchief or your fob watch. There was no gun law, and you were always in danger of being held up at pistol-point and robbed. This was in spite of the fact that you could be hung for stealing a clock or a candlestick.
When the theatres closed, young link boys would be crowding around the entrance, offering to light your way home, and girls as young as 12 and 13 would be offering sex – either in a back alley or in one of the notorious brothels around Covent Garden and Chick Lane.
It was estimated that in 1758 when this novel takes place, there were 65,000 women working as prostitutes in London, about a fifth of the female population. They could make much more money by selling their bodies than they could from millinery or dressmaking or working as a maid, and there was always a chance that some wealthy man might take a fancy to them and take them on as a mistress, or even as a wife.
Venereal disease was rife, and the cures were often more deadly than the disease, as Beatrice Scarlet knows. She was brought up as the daughter of an apothecary, and knows all the latest medicines and potions. That is how she has the knowledge and the skill to become an 18th century crime scene investigator. When other people believe that the Devil has been at work, Beatrice has different ideas, and can prove it scientifically.
But disease of all kinds was rife – cholera and pneumonia and dropsy. A sixth of all children died before they were six years old, and if you lived to the ripe old age of 33 you were blessed. It is hardly surprising when even the most aristocratic people rarely washed or changed their underclothes and never brushed their teeth, and would use their fingers while eating and wipe their hands on their clothes. Farting in company was quite commonplace.
I hope that THE COVEN brings that London to life for you, as well as being an entertaining story. Mind you, writing it was slow work because I had to check if every word was in use in 1758, such as ‘flabbergasted’ – yes, it was. But when Beatrice first arrives in London a hackney carriage driver warns her that during the summer she will need a clothes-peg on her nose. I had to change that because even the most rudimentary clothes-pegs were not invented until 1820, in colonial America, by the Quakers.
I had to check how clothing buttoned and unbuttoned, and how many layers of petticoats a woman would normally wear (although they didn’t wear knickers). I had to check what a woman would put on her feet when it was muddy or snowy (wooden pattens, like clogs.) I went through recipes, and pub menus, and coffee-house prices. In fact I lived in London in 1758, and I invite you to come and join me there. Bring your clothes-peg.