Following Horton down the Thames

If you’ve read any of my books, you’ll know I’ve got a thing for the Thames, and for the Estuary in particular. Charles Horton himself sails downstream and out into the Estuary in?The English Monster, and there are various comings-and-goings across this extraordinary stretch of water in all of the books.

I’ve done the journey myself a few times, most memorably on two separate occasions aboard the SS?Waverley, the world’s last oceangoing paddle-steamer. She’s a beautiful thing, maintained by volunteers and run as a charity, and if you can get on board I heartily recommend it.

The second of my Waverley trips was only last week, so I thought I’d put some photos – and a bit of video – up here so people can see, in glorious amateurish technicolour, some of the places I’ve previously only described in words.

The destinations for this particular trip were?the Maunsell Sea Forts, which were sunk into the sands of the Estuary during the Second World War. We visited the forts at Red Sands and the lovingly-titled Shivering?Sands – these were the Army forts designed by Guy Maunsell, built at Gravesend and then towed out into the Estuary and sunk into the sands.

According to Wikipedia, these extraordinary constructions were responsible for downing 22 aircraft and 30 flying bombs during the Second World War. However, the Luftwaffe dropped 163 high-explosive bombs on St Katharine’s and Wapping?alone?from October to June 1941 – and in the process almost certainly destroyed the tenement block in which Charles Horton once lived (perhaps with his wife Abigail, though I confess I made her up).

If?he’d have seen the?Waverley, he’d have seen?a vessel powered by?technology that he would have recognised and understood. I picture him looking down into her engine and thinking to himself,?if we can build this, what else can we build??Then he looks out into the Nore, the ancient mustering point for the English Navy, and sees the future shadow of concrete-and-steel forts, and from the East, the distant deep rumble of bombers.

The SS Waverley at Tower Millennium Pier. Behind it, unfortunately - but check out those funnels!
The SS Waverley at Tower Millennium Pier. Behind it, unfortunately – but check out those funnels!


The sun high over the London Pool, as we prepare to set off on the Waverley
The sun high over the London Pool, as we prepare to set off on the Waverley



The Red Sands Maunsell forts, appearing to starboard on the SS Waverley
The Red Sands Maunsell forts, appearing to starboard on the SS Waverley



Big Sky, Shivering Sands - the Shivering Sands Maunsell forts from the SS Waverley. No filter!
Big Sky, Shivering Sands – the Shivering Sands Maunsell forts from the SS Waverley. No filter!





My First Shortlist (a sequel)

“I enjoyed your post about being longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel award.”

“Thank you. I was very excited, but probably overdid the Uriah Heep?ever so ‘umble stuff.”

“Are you going to post about being shortlisted?”

“Well, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve shouted about this enough.”

“Uriah Heep. Again.”

“Yes. Probably.”

“But it’s a big deal, isn’t it?”

“It’s a?massive deal. I’ve been walking on air for days.”

“But why is it so special?”

“Well, there?s something about being recognised by other authors as having created something special which is quite, quite unique.”

“Hang on, you wrote that in your post about being longlisted.”

“Exactly. You see the problem. I have shot my bolt.”

“Hmm. So what will you do?”

“I have absolutely no idea.”

Not that Uriah Heep
Not that Uriah Heep


Amazing English Monster news

In the two years since I gave up work to write full-time, I’ve made quite a few writerly friends; many more than I’d imagined I would, if I’m honest. I always pictured writers as solitary creatures, shunning daylight and society while drinking themselves into an early grave on cheap whisky, despairing over gnarly metaphors (like this one).

But that isn’t the case. Social media, in particular Twitter, has enabled those of us who sit around on our own making stuff up and pretending to be tortured to have at least a facsimile of a social life. And one of the nicest things about that has been watching fellow authors get that most rare of joys: the feeling of being nominated for an award.

British writers in particular respond to this in a lovely way, an embarrassed delight which shows just how welcome this kind of recognition is. It’s so pure and so concentrated, to be told by people who are paid to have a view on these matters that the thing you’ve made is worthwhile. A great review is one thing. A healthy sales report is another. But there’s something about being recognised by the industry as having created something special which is quite, quite unique.

And I’ll admit to having experienced the odd moment of envy, seeing those friends receive that recognition and spark with pride over it. I didn’t set out to write a book that would attract that kind of critical attention; I just set out to write a book (though I’m not sure anyone really does try to write an award-winning book – they write the book they want to write). And?The English Monster is quite a Marmite undertaking: not quite historical fiction, not quite horror, not quite crime. I once found it in three separate sections in Waterstones Piccadilly.

All of which is preamble to the inevitable ‘me me me’ explosion, because yesterday I had my first and only taste of that delicious tingle. Because, yes,?The English Monster?has been nominated for a prize! It’s the Author’s Club’s Best First Novel Award, and the other eleven books on the list are so impressive that they can only deepen my sense of pride and wonder at being nominated at all.?Absolution. The Marlowe Papers.?Alys, Always.?A Lady Cyclist?s Guide to Kashgar.?Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.?I mean these are – well, they’re?proper books.

Next week, this original list of 12 goes down to six, and given the other titles on the list I have no expectation of making the cut (this isn’t false modesty – as of the day before yesterday I had no expectation of ever being nominated for any prize, ever). Right now I’m basking in a warm glow of pride, and I’m going to sip away at that for the rest of the week and into the weekend. It is, right enough, an absolutely lovely feeling.

englishmonster_UKpaperback_250px copy

Paperback launch day!

Today, September 25 2012, is the “official” paperback launch day for The English Monster. It has been on sale in Waterstones during September as part of their Book Club (which is still going), and Amazon seem to have had it for the past week or at least have been promising it to people. But no matter! Today is launch day! The book should be in Smiths, Tesco, even Asda, which is pretty amazing. I’m still holding out for Lidl and the Brixton Poundland.

I shall celebrate my launch with a yoghurt and a strong cup of tea, but in the meantime a?couple of things I’ve written for people this week to coincide with the launch:

a blog post for Isabel Costello, all about the unique experience of writing that “difficult second novel.” Coincidentally, the page proofs for that novel arrived this morning. More about it later.

a thing for Foyles about the strange nature of “reality” when it comes to historical fiction, particularly speculative historical fiction of the kind I’ve been playing with.

Plus, regular visitors (hi Mum!) will note that the blog has had a bit of an autumn facelift. Hope you like it.

And now, a picture of a man earning a well-deserved cup of tea:

Tea time at the convalescent hospital

Waterstones Book Club, and a new face for The English Monster

The paperback of The English Monster is on general release in the UK on September 27, but you can buy it today at Waterstones for the simple but amazing reason that it’s been selected as a Waterstones Book Club pick for the autumn.

I’m hugely delighted by this. It’s like winning a book prize. To be put into the same pot as authors like John O’Farrell and Anthony Horowitz is amazing. Thanks to all those people at Waterstones who were involved in picking me.

The paperback cover is very different to the hardback. Here it is:

I think it’s magnificent – scary, baroque, intense. All the things I wanted the book to be.

I hope you agree.

Mapping Wapping for The English Monster

There are a lot of places in my book The English Monster: Plymouth, Jamaica, Africa, Portobello, Stanton St. John and more. But the place it always come back to is Wapping in 1811. Quite a few people have said to me they’d like a bit more of a “tour” of Wapping to help them picture the places mentioned, so I’ve put together a page with a Google Map in it showing (roughly) the outlines of the Old London Dock and the key places in the novel, with a modern picture where I have it.

I hope there are no plot spoilers; if there are, tell me! And I hope to add to this resource over time, maybe putting in some photos and video. I’m also contemplating a more interactive map which will include the contemporary map of early 19th century Wapping. It’s hard to do well without an artist and a coder, but I’m putting together a plan for that now. More soon.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the quick-and-dirty start! And here’s a picture of the plaque on the Thames River Police Office. There’s more pics on my Flickr photostream.

Historical Writers at Kelmarsh

I’ve been invited to join a panel at the Historical Writers’ Association Literary Festival 2012, which is taking part at this year’s Festival of Living History on the 14th and 15th of July. Here’s the rather lovely flyer:

There’s some Big Historical Names on there, and I’m feeling like a bit of an imposter, really. My book The English Monster?is set in the past, but it’s got a lot of stuff in it that isn’t as it were historical. I’ve written something that’s sort-of historical fiction, sort-of crime fiction, and sort-of fantasy horror. I’m thus cursed to live a life being the odd-one-out at conventions, and this will be my first.

But it’s a real buzz to get the chance to hang out with some real historical writers and find out how they do their stuff. I’m on a panel called The Georgian Predilection For Murder with?Imogen Robertson, Rose Melikan and Hallie Rubenhold, so I’ll expect to be talking about the Ratcliffe Highway murders and the archaic, disastrous and mixed-up investigation they spawned. Hope to see you there.

First U.S. review is in

With a month to go until the publication of The English Monster in the U.S. of A., the first American review is in – and it’s a flipping cracker, courtesy of Booklist, the magazine of the American Libraries Association. They’ve given it a starred review, and they’ve got this to say:

In a feat of perfectly maintained tone and tension, this sinister, fine-grained novel takes as its starting point?the Ratcliffe Highway murders, a real series of crimes in 1811 in London. Shepherd evokes their seedy, maritime milieu with thorough effectiveness, atmospherically framing the brutal crimes.

Thank you indeed, Booklist!