MBA&M AND DIVERSION BOOKS PROUDLY PRESENTS….
“A London Murder Mystery based on a true historical crime”
AUTHOR OF “BIRDCAGE WALK”,KATE RIORDAN
So without further ado, welcome and now dear readers sit back and enjoy our guest….
MBA&M: Please send our readers some insight into Kate Riordan?
I am a magazine journalist by trade. These days I write on a freelance basis but previously I worked on staff at Time Out London magazine and the Guardian newspaper. I’ve written about (and done) all sorts of weird and wonderful things in the name of work – clambering about on the roof of Harrods department store, learning to sail, being hypnotised and tobogganing in Switzerland are just a few…
I’ve always wanted to write fiction, though, and the main reasons for going freelance and moving away from London to the Cotswolds were to free up more time to do this. I love writing but will also do anything to avoid it at the same time – it’s an ongoing inner battle and so having strict deadlines makes life much easier for me!
MBA&M: Where did the idea of “Birdcage Walk” come from?
A friend of mine’s aunt had been doing some research into their family tree and discovered George Woolfe (the main character) was an ancestor by marriage. In a sense, I got the skeleton of the story from that initial tip-off and my other research into the criminal case. The fiction part of it was putting flesh on those bones – hopefully in a convincing way!
MBA&M: How hard is it to write a true historical crime title and keep it true to the era and hold readers interest?
I think you have to be mindful that, even if the story is based on fact, it’s still got to be an interesting story for readers. The danger with doing too much detailed research is that you want to cram it all in and the book becomes an exercise in showing off how much you know about the period. I think a flavour of how people spoke, what they wore and what their rooms looked like is what’s important. Similarly, in terms of the facts of the criminal case in my story, I kept in as much as I could but occasionally had to whittle down the cast so readers didn’t get lost. So what was actually three witnesses in real life became one. The nice thing about writing something based on fact is that in the course of the research you get a real feel for the period just by being immersed in the language and concerns of the day.
MBA&M: 20th century London was a time of turmoil, interest, and changes. How hard was it to find research information on this crime? Where did you find the information?
It’s true that the book is set during a fascinating period in English history. It marks the end of Queen Victoria’s long reign and, though they didn’t know it, the First World War is looming on the horizon. I began my research of the case with the Old Bailey Online, which allows you to sift through the proceedings of London’s central criminal court from 1674. It’s an absolute mine of period colour and many of the cases make fascinating – if occasionally gruesome – reading.
Aside from the case itself, I looked up all the main ‘characters’ in the 1901 English Census. This told me where they lived, their ages, occupations and the people they lived with. I discovered that two of the main characters lived just a road away from each other and that helped me to imagine how they might have met. The 1901 census was taken just months before the book’s action begins and it gave me a little shiver to think that when the forms were being filled in, none of them knew what would unfold in the coming months.
I also used the notebooks of philanthropist Charles Booth for my research, directly quoting from them a couple of times. Booth wrote a series of socially important books about London’s poor as well as creating ‘poverty maps’ showing what people earned (or didn’t) by street. These are kept at the London School of Economics but are also available to read online. They have been scanned in so you can read Booth’s footnotes to himself. I also went to Hackney Library in east London and read microfiche records of the local newspapers of the day.
MBA&M: Who was your favorite character in “Birdcage Walk” and why?
It seems like an obvious answer to choose the main character, George, but it has to be him. I wanted him to be someone the reader identified and sympathized with from the beginning and all through the events that follow. To me, he represents so many people who, in those days, were completely restricted by their low birth (as it would have been viewed then). Social mobility was non-existent for the vast majority.
MBA&M: Tell our readers a little about the secondary characters? Why some are and their importance to the storyline?
Without some of the secondary characters, the outcome of the book would have been very different indeed. I think all the secondary characters are important in one way or another. No one in real life exists in a vacuum and so the main characters inevitably do what they do in part because of those around them. George’s dissatisfaction with his lot is directly linked to his mother, for instance, and she’s not even alive when we meet him.
The key secondary character is Charles Booth, the well-known philanthropist mentioned above. As far as I know, he had no connection to George Woolfe – that part of the story is entirely invented by me. However, Booth did accompany a Constable Ryeland down Wiltshire Row around the time George was living there. I took that slender possibility of a meeting and ran with it! Other key characters are George’s father – the reticent birdcage maker – Charlotte’s odious brother-in-law Ted and her worn-out sister Annie. Poor Ted may have been very nice in real life but he’s not in the book!
MBA&M: If you were not writing,what would you be doing? Thanks, for writing…
I would be reading. I’ve always got a book on the go, almost always fiction. I read really quickly because I skim read, which is awful because sometimes I can’t remember a book and end up reading half of it for the second time before I realise. Obviously you remember all the really good ones though! I’m just about to start Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies.
MBA&M: If you could rewrite history, what would you rewrite and why?
Following on from the mention of Hilary Mantel’s books about the Tudor period, I’ll borrow something my mum has said about that time in England (she is obsessed with Elizabeth I!). If Elizabeth had married her sweetheart Robert Dudley and had lots of healthy children then the Stuarts – who were a bit of a waste of space – would never have ascended the throne after she died. Less specifically, and what should go without saying, I would do my best to un-write the two World Wars.
MBA&M: Please tell our readers where to find you and where they can purchase “Birdcage Walk”?
Birdcage Walk is an ebook (and shortly to be an audiobook available from AudioGO). It’s available online for Kindle, Nook and iPad.
Thanks,Kate, for spending a few moments with us and our readers. What a fascinating and wonderful interview! Good Luck in your future endeavors!
Birdcage Walk: A Novel
By Kate Riordan
On Sale 11/6/12
$3.99 U.S., eBooks
A London Murder Mystery Based on a True Historical Crime
British writer and journalist Kate Riordan combines artistic imagination with detailed research into early 20th century London, to bring readers a new work of fiction based on a true historical crime.
A young working class east London printmaker befriends a well-to-do family in the hopes of escaping the constraints of his class and station, but this auspicious relationship takes a turn when, within six months, the printmaker is charged with the murder of a young woman.
Set in the early 1900’s, at the dawning of a new century when the rigid class and gender boundaries of the Victorian age were soon to shift and realign,Birdcage Walk is a historical novel that vividly brings to life a real-life Edwardian murder and the possible miscarriage of justice that followed it. Kate carefully researched records of London’s criminal courts, family trees, the 1901 Census, and archived handwritten notebooks, to bring her characters to life in Birdcage Walk.
READ AN EXCERPT of Birdcage Walk.
Barnes and Nobles
ABOUT KATE RIORDAN:
Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist from England. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at the Guardian Newspaper, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of London bible, Time Out magazine. There she had assignments that saw her racing reindeers in Lapland, going undercover in London’s premier department store and gleaning writing tips (none-too subtly) during interviews with some of her favorite authors. After becoming a freelancer, she left London behind and moved to the beautiful Cotswolds in order to write her first novel. Now at work on her second, a ghost story, she is visiting haunted pubs as part of her research.
“Our Thoughts” on the “Birdcage Walk” by Kate Riordan!