TG Campbell began writing Crime Fiction at the age of 16. Her first novel, The Case of the Curious Client, followed whilst she attended the University of Winchester. Her series is set in Victorian London, in 1896. Her Bow Street Society is a group of amateur sleuths who pick their way through a series of cases. Tahnee researches her work in great detail and draws on her experience of working within the criminal justice system to weave intriguing crime stories.
What makes the Victorian period and the history of crime interesting to you?
To me, the histories of crime and detection are interchangeable. The Victorian period interests me in particular as it saw the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, an institution I’ve been fascinated by ever since I was young. The evolution and growth of the Metropolitan Police included the formation of the Detective Department in 1842 and the Convict Office. Methods of surveillance, such as the use of plainclothes officers to infiltrate certain groups, also came into being. Scientific techniques for investigating crimes, particularly murder, were also being extensively researched, debated, and tested. For example, though not used as evidence in a British court until the twentieth century, the science of identifying fingerprints was developed in the 1800s. The Victorian period, for me, is endlessly interesting because of the sheer scope of advances being made in all aspects of crime detection and investigation. Advances which were made against a backdrop of the public’s intense mistrust of the police, accusations/criminal proceedings around police corruption, and widespread poverty amidst social unrest.
Victorian London is a period for which many readers will have preconceived ideas. Are you conscious of this when planning your novels?
Absolutely. I’m conscious there are numerous clichés associated with the period, such as London being constantly covered by thick fog and everyone in London possessing a cockney accent. There are also the preconceptions that all Victorians were prudes who repressed their sexual desires, were in perfect touch with their feelings, and who insisted on impeccable manners. I think it’s important to have an awareness of these preconceptions when planning my novels as they are, to a degree, correct assumptions about the Victorian period. I try to go one step beyond this, though, by remaining conscious of the fact there was as much complexity and variety in Victorian London as there is in the capital today. As a result, I try not to repeat the vague clichés mentioned above but instead introduce the reader to aspects of life in Victorian London they may not have been aware of before.
Many readers are familiar with the Ripper case and will have read contemporary crime novels such as the Sherlock Holmes series. As such they have quite a lot of knowledge of the era. With that in mind, what lengths do you have to go to to make sure that the historical aspects of your work are accurate?
I conduct meticulous research into the period. I use sources written in the Victorian period to gain an insight into the perspective of someone living at the time. At present, my books are set in 1896 so I focus my research on sources written in that year or those immediately around it. Beyond this, I utilise the following modern sources for my research:
1) Publications, e.g. the Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard by Martin Fido and Keith Skinner, the Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann, Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible by Jim Steinmeyer.
2) Websites, e.g. Lee Jackson’s Victorian Dictionary, the Virtual Typewriter Museum.
3) Museum visits, e.g. the Metropolitan Police’s Heritage Centre, the Magic Circle’s collection & library, the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret.
4) Attending relevant events, e.g. the National Archives’ Victorian Crime evening, the Jack the Ripper Crime Conference
5) Corresponding with curators of respected institutions and museums, e.g. the College of Optometrists.
6) Location visits, e.g. Kew Gardens and the Tower of London with a view of featuring them in a future book.
7) Ghost Walks, e.g. The Alleyways and Shadows Old City Ghost Walk by author and blue badge tour guide, Richard Jones.
As I’m writing historical fiction featuring well-established professions in the form of the Bow Street Society members’ everyday jobs I feel it’s my duty to give my reader a portrayal of Victorian London that’s as accurate as possible. I also think a high level of accuracy helps me to transport my reader back to the period thereby giving them a strong sense of time and place whilst reading the Bow Street Society mysteries.
How do you balance the fiction and the fact?
I don’t include famous historical figures in my work. I don’t think any amount of research I could conduct would allow me to make an accurate representation of what that person was like in life. Whenever possible I like to base fictional scenes of my books in real London locations, e.g. the Lily House at Kew Gardens. I’ll also use Booth’s Poverty Maps to pinpoint real London streets for the homes of witnesses and Bow Street Society members. Once I have a street in mind, I’ll then research photographs and sketches from the nineteenth century (or of known nineteenth-century buildings on that street from the early 20th century) to give a description of the house and street that is as factually correct as possible in my books.
The Bow Street Society, its members, and its headquarters are fictional but I strive to present a factual representation of the real-life Bow Street and its surroundings. Likewise, the police officers I write about in the books are fictional but the divisions they belong to and the rules they abide by are factual. For me, the factual leads the fictional in my writing in that I’ll quite often have to rework an initial idea or plot thread due to the outcome of some research I’ve conducted into the period. When I do have completely fictional elements, though, I try to ground them in a degree of historical accuracy (and therefore realism) based upon the research I’ve done. I’ll also point out if that aspect is fictional in the ‘notes from the author’ section I include at the end of all Bow Street Society books.
What is your planning process?
First, I decide upon the method of murder, the identity of the murder victim, the identity of their murderer, the murder’s location, and the identities of the other murder suspects. When planning the identities of the victim, murderer, and suspects I’ll usually create a character profile for each. I’ll then develop the basic plot following the classic “clue puzzle” blueprint for crime fiction utilised by authors such as Agatha Christie. At this stage I’ll plan the plot using cards pinned to a virtual noticeboard in the “storylines” tool of my Writers’ Café computer software. Each “line” on the noticeboard represents a plot and each card represents an event.
Once I’ve completed the first draft of the master plot plan I’ll print out the report created for me by the software. I’ll then write a list of which aspects I need to conduct further research on in order to ensure historical accuracy. I’ll also plan to research the murder method to ensure it would’ve been practical and/or plausible in the Victorian period.
Next, I’ll conduct the necessary research and revise/rewrite/add to the master plot plan based upon whatever I’ve discovered. Once I’m satisfied with the accuracy and legitimacy of what I have planned I then start writing the book. I’ll inevitably have to conduct further research as I make my way through the book and, as a result, further tweak the master plot plan. I think a good plan should be fluid enough so changes can be made without incurring the need to rewrite the entire thing.
Lots of schools do make use of historical fiction in lessons, do you consider young adults when writing? Do you think that historical fiction can help them to understand the period that your novel is set in?
I do consider young adults when I’m planning and writing my Bow Street Society books. I think that young adults have an incredible ability to absorb themselves in the worlds of whatever they’re reading or watching. As a result, they can be intensely passionate about the characters, the plots, and the settings they’ve formed connections with and it’s from this standpoint that I think about young adults while writing. I want them—and all my readers, in fact—to become immersed in the Bow Street Society universe and a large part of this is immersing them in the world of Victorian London. I therefore think that historical fiction can definitely help young adults—or anyone, for that matter—to understand the Victorian period as it takes it from being something that happened in the distant past and gives it a human face and story people can relate to.
Who are your favourite authors (or historians)? How have they influenced your own work?
Martin Fido was a co-author of the Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard. This has proven to be an invaluable reference source when planning the Metropolitan Police aspects of my books. I was also lucky enough to meet Mr Fido at last year’s Jack the Ripper Crime Conference in London and chat with him. He was a gentleman and fun to talk to.
Agatha Christie has had a major influence on my work. She’s the Queen of the classic “clue puzzle” mystery and I aspire to be as successful as she was. Connected to this is H.R.F Keating. His book Writing Crime Fiction is key to my planning a “clue puzzle” mystery. His sound advice about this classic blueprint inspired me to write my first “clue-puzzle” mystery at the age of sixteen and it’s the advice I’ve stuck to ever since.
What plans have you for your writing? Will it continue to be set in this period or do you see yourself writing in different genres, or historical periods?
At present I’m writing the last few chapters of the fourth Bow Street Society Mystery book. Once this is done it will go to my beta readers, then to my editor, and be prepared for release sometime in August. Following this I’ll plan the fifth Bow Street Society mystery and write the next Bow Street Society Casebook short story (subscribers of my monthly newsletter, the Gaslight Gazette, get first-read of these stories as I release them in parts there first). I have the total number of Bow Street Society Mysteries I want to reach in mind but I’d like to keep this to myself for the moment.
I don’t think I’ll ever write in any genre other than crime fiction as I find it too fascinating and enjoyable to abandon. I have written mysteries in the past which were set in the period between the two world wars. I may return to those with a view to publishing them once the Bow Street Society series is done, or I may write some one-off mysteries featuring different Bow Street Society members. For the time being though my writing is consumed by all things Victorian and I’m happy with that.
What tips do you have for any aspiring writers, of any age?
Hone your craft; attend workshops and writers’ groups, engage with writing communities on social media, invite feedback on your work and consider carefully any that’s given (both positive and negative).
Don’t be afraid to be different; while there are benefits to following the “in crowd” history has shown us that the pioneers are those who did something that was considered “radical” or “mad” by their contemporaries.
Don’t be afraid to put you and your work out there; it’s impossible for everyone to love your work. You will get criticism as well as applause but don’t let that stop you from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and pursuing your dream.
T.G. (Tahnee Georgina) Campbell wrote her first crime fiction story at the age of sixteen as a gift for her best friend. At 40 pages long it fell short of a “novel” but it marked the beginning of a creative journey that would eventually spawn the first of her Bow Street Society mystery novels; The Case of the Curious Client. During that time she attended the University of Winchester where she acquired her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Studies and wrote a dissertation on the social and cultural importance of the works of Agatha Christie.
She also worked in the not-for-profit sector. Her first role was for a project assisting offenders into training or employment. Following this she worked for a charity supporting victims and witnesses through the often difficult process of giving evidence at criminal court. Both of these roles helped her to understand the impact crime has upon both offender and victim. They also provided her with invaluable knowledge and second-hand experience of the criminal justice system in England.
T.G. Campbell is currently working on the fourth book in her Bow Street Society Mystery series. The Bow Street Society is a group of amateur detectives operating in Victorian 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. This ensures the Society may work on the behalf of their clients regardless of their client’s social class or wealth; cases that the police either can’t or won’t investigate. From an artist to an illusionist, from an architect to a veterinarian, the Bow Street Society’s aim is to provide justice by all and for all.
The first of the Bow Street Society Mysteries is The Case of The Curious Client. In April 2017 is won Fresh Lifestyle Magazine’s reader nominated book award.
Blurb: In The Case of the Curious Client, the Bow Street Society is hired by Mr Thaddeus Dorsey to locate a missing friend he knows only as ‘Palmer’ after he fails to keep a late night appointment with him. With their client’s own credibility cast into doubt mere minutes after they meet him though, the Society are forced to consider whether they’ve been sent on a wild goose chase. That is, until events take a dark turn, and the Society have to race against time to not only solve the case, but to save the very life of their client…
All Bow Street Society titles are available worldwide as eBooks and paperbacks via Amazon, just search ‘Bow Street Society’.
Full details about all Bow Street Society titles (including links to where they can be purchased), how to subscribe to the Gaslight Gazette newsletter, and upcoming live streams, radio appearances, and book signing events to feature T.G. Campbell and the Bow Street Society can be found on the official website: www.bowstreetsociety.com.
David Pilling – the Longsword Series, set in the reign of Edward I
Alex Marchant – stories suitable for Primary school children and KS3, set against the backdrop of Richard III’s life
Zenta Brice – a story based in Latvia as the Soviet Regimes grip on the Baltic loosened
Jeri Westerson – an author in 3 genres, most relevant here are the Crispin Guest novels, described by Jeri as Medieval Noir
Simon Schama – an excerpt of a conversation about the way in which Historical Documentaries are produced