The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

(This isn’t a promo post as such because the book’s not out till June. But I’ve had a lot of questions on Twitter/GR/here about this book, so I wanted to put the answers in one place!)

Backstory. Last year I wrote a short story called ‘The Caldwell Ghost’ for a Halloween anthology. It was set in the late Victorian period, with a Holmes/Watson-like relationship between Simon Feximal, ghost-hunter and occult detective, and Robert Caldwell, journalist and sidekick who narrates the stories. The premise of the tale was that Robert and Simon have been publicly colleagues and secretly lovers for twenty years, that in writing Simon’s adventures for a Victorian audience Robert has systematically written himself out of his own life, and that he has at last decided to tell the truth.

This is how the story begins:

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell

September 1914

It was meant to be a one-off but my imagination was caught by foul-tempered, taciturn Simon, and I liked doing Robert’s voice. I wrote another story, Butterflies, which is free on Smashwords, to continue the tale.butterflies

At this point, Jordan L Hawk and I realised we were both doing late nineteenth-century occult detectives on opposite sides of the Atlantic. There was only one thing for it: Jordan’s Whyborne and Griffin had to stop over in London for a quick adventure on their way to Egypt for their book Necropolis. We called the resulting co-written free story Remnant, and it placed second in Best Free Story in the Goodreads MM Readers Choice Awards last year.

Now, Necropolis is set in 1899. That meant I had to jump forward five years in Simon and Robert’s timeline to have them meet Whyborne and Griffin. It turned out as I wrote that a lot had changed. Robert now has a mysterious bit of metal embedded in his hand, a nasty scar under his eye, and a lot of grey hair. The ghost-writing on Simon’s skin is working very differently. They’ve been in the wars.

A lot of people have asked about this–what happened in the intervening years, where is the story between Butterflies and Remnant, what’s the deal? Well, it’s been in my head, and now it’s coming out, and, for starters, get a load of this cover by Kanaxa.

Secret Casebook

FAQs

So is this a novel?

No. It’s a collection of short stories–some closely linked so they form a continuing narrative over days and weeks, others standalone episodes–covering various parts of Simon and Robert’s life.

I’m not sure about short stories…

No, well, me neither. But that’s just how this had to be written.

remnantmockcover4v4

What period does it cover? Are we going to find out about the stuff in Remnant?

It starts with ‘The Caldwell Ghost’ and Butterflies, and plays out the full story of Simon and Robert getting together. Then we cover various other incidents–how Robert got his scar, the cartouche we see in Remnant, a particularly evil enemy–all the way to the end.

Um…that sounds a bit ominous.

/cackles/

No, seriously.

Oh, come on, have I ever let you down?

Well–

Apart from then.

Apart from then, no. Fine. Is this going to be sinister?

Hell yes. High level of spooky magic, brooding evil, ghosts, curses, cults, plots, and the creepiest villain I have ever written.

I object to depictions of devil worship, spirit communication or tampering with the occult. Should I buy this book?

No. Or, yes, because I like royalties, but don’t read it.

Is ‘The Caldwell Ghost’ currently available separately?

No, it’s not. It will be included in the book, which is much better value for money anyway, so hang on. You can still get Butterflies and Remnant for free

So, details?

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is due for publication with Samhain in June 2015. I dare say I will mention it again before then.

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Where Magic meets Science: Victorians and the paranormal

The Victorians loved magic in their books, so much so that Victorian literature has shaped how we read and think about fantasy and the paranormal today. William Hope Hodgson invented the occult detective and cosmic horror, Bram Stoker brought the modern vampire into being with Dracula, and the massively best-selling The Sorrows of Satan pits the Prince of Darkness against the first and worst Mary Sue in literature. (Spoiler: he loses. I’ve written about this book, the Victorian Twilight, elsewhere, so I will just say here that I’m not taking any responsibility for anyone incautious enough to read it.)

But there’s something very special about Victorian fantasy, which is the way magic exists through – in fact, is – science. Dr Frankenstein births his creature as a scientific experiment. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is based round the discovery of a personality-splitting chemical formula. Trilby, one of the few books to inspire a hat, uses hypnotism as a means of forcing someone into international stardom and sexual thraldom (which is way more interesting than making a student think he’s a chicken).

Arthur C Clarke famously said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ In Victorian England, most of the technology must have seemed like that. Trains could go so fast, passengers might suffocate! The air was full of tiny invisible killing machines that caused diseases! You could turn on a switch and make light! Words could fly through empty air, without wires, and come out on paper or even as sound! So why shouldn’t there be other amazing things out there too?

In the Victorian era, ‘animal magnetism’ was widely recognised as a universal principle of something through which everything in the universe is interconnected. The – I’m not sure of the word here, discoverer or inventor or simply ‘guy who made it up’ – was Franz Mesmer (as in mesmerism). He called it a ‘universal fluid’, and a lot of people believed in it. The magnificently named Baron von Reichenbach propounded a similar underlying principle of the universe, a force that a small proportion of individuals could control, with a light side and a dark side. He called it ‘Odic Force’. (If backwards he talked, know I do not.) And Thomas Edison – yes, that Thomas Edison – was sufficiently convinced by his version of a mysterious undetectable force carrying power through the air that he even drafted a patent for an ‘etheric telegraph’.

I went with Edison. In my Victorian England, it’s called etheric force, and it carries magic. I’m sure Baron von Yoda would have approved.

Find out how that works in The Magpie Lord, out now. The sequel A Case of Possession comes out on 28 January and I’ll be running a giveaway in a few days. A free short story, Interlude with Tattoos, set between books 1 and 2, is available now from Smashwords.

Oh,  and incidentally, The Magpie Lord got some votes in the Goodreads Members Choice Awards. Thank you if yours was one!

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Playing with the past: some thoughts on historical settings

Friend: I hate the Victorians. They never had sex.

My first book, The Magpie Lord, is set in Victorian England (with magic). So, obviously, is the sequel. My WIP is a country house adventure set just after Victoria finally popped her clogs. I’m plotting out a long alternate-Victorian fantasy now. What, you may well ask, is my thing about the nineteenth century?

Well, I love it. I’ve guest-blogged about why the Victorians aren’t nearly as boring as they’re cracked up to be (widespread drug abuse, sex toys, eyewatering spiky devices…).  But, as well as being fascinating in itself, the era’s a boon for authors, which in turn makes it fun for readers.

Secrets and sex. Because if there’s one thing that’ll give you a plot, it’s secrets.  And if there’s one thing that people actually did in Victorian times – constantly, in private and public, in the weirdest combinations, and in a world bound around by social and legal restrictions of class and gender and sexuality, repression, secrecy and double standards – it was have sex. Check out My Secret Life, the eleven-volume pornographic diary of a man who could really have used some time in therapy or, preferably, prison. Much more enjoyably, try Sins of the Cities of the Plain, the classic gay erotica work (which includes fan fiction based on the real-life notorious Fanny and Stella sex scandal). Prepare to be surprised.

Grotesque social contrasts. The seething, filthy poverty of the darkest rookeries, the glittering jewels and swishing dresses of the balls. It invites melodrama at its finest.

A world of possibility. Just imagine for a moment what it was like to live in a period of accelerating change that makes ours look comprehensible. From horse and carriage to the London Underground in a handful of years. The invention of electric light, telegrams and telephones. The concept of evolution turning everything you ever knew on its head. Medicine triumphing over disease and pain. Of course this was when science fiction took off: the Victorians were living it. The world seethed with wonderful new ideas, the sufficiently advanced technology that is indistinguishable from magic, and anything seemed possible. This is why steampunk is Victorian: the explosive sense of the period that technology could, quite suddenly, do anything at all.

What I’m getting at is, my friend’s an idiot the Victorian era is not all top hats and the duller sort of corset, and you’re missing a trick if you think it is. It’s a wild blend of restrictions and indulgence, mysteries and possibilities, repressive laws and social change and the death of old certainties. You wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s a hell of a place to visit.

The Magpie Lord is out 3 September. If you’re reading this before 24 August, go here and comment for a chance to win a free electronic copy. If you’re reading this after 24 August then either I forgot to take this paragraph down, or you’re a time traveller and should hop off to 1860 forthwith.