When A Setting Is Perfect

Today we present a great post written by Chris Karlsen,
author of SILK, a novel that we promote this week
at a discounted price for Kindle version!

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I was in the middle of writing another book, part of my Knights in Time series, when Rudyard Bloodstone came to me. As a character he was that rare protagonist who was crystal clear in my imagination from the start. But I pushed him to the back of my mind until I finished the other story.

When I started my latest release, Silk, a suspense thriller with Rudyard as the protagonist, I had much of killer drawn out as well. I didn’t think twice about the setting either. It had to be Victorian England. I would be hard pressed to name a more atmospheric setting for a murderer. Growing up my parents were big fans of horror films. The films then weren’t the gruesome Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers Halloween-slasher types of the 1980’s. We watched the typical Hammer Film horrors. Those were the ones where a young Englishman in deep debt agrees to spend the night in a haunted house somewhere in the moors or countryside away from London for a large sum of money. All those movies were set in either Victorian or Edwardian times, which were perfect for a scary movie. Having visited England many times, I was familiar with the Victorian influences, especially in London. So, what better setting for my murder suspense than Victorian London?

I knew with Detective Inspector Rudyard (Ruddy) Bloodstone I make him a veteran of the Zulu Wars of 1879. Eleven Victoria Crosses (the equivalent of the Medal of Honor) were awarded after the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (Jan. 1879). Rudyard is a recipient of the VC, but he’s a war hero who doesn’t believe himself one. To Ruddy, he only did what was necessary in battle. A civilian now, he is a down to earth, determined and clever detective, a keen observer with a droll sense of humor.

The killer, William Everhard, is a wealthy nobleman, a member of the House of Lords, and friend to Queen Victoria. I wanted to hold a mirror to the society of the period, the difference in classes and attitudes but without being too Dickensian. I wanted to show both the good and bad. Mostly, I wanted to use the “feel” of the city. To me, this is the perfect setting: the cold fog, the beautiful carriages pulled by handsome teams of horses, the gardens for strolling, the grittiness of Whitechapel, dark allies and the terror Jack the Ripper sent through the population.

As a writer, one of the biggest joys of writing historical settings is living the period, experiencing the culture, if only on the page. I enjoyed walking Victorian London with the characters in Silk: sitting with Ruddy while he visited his friend’s pub, walking around a crime scene taking in every detail with him, or simply strolling through the park with him, and his adopted stray, Winky, on a Sunday afternoon. I even liked sharing the dark and dangerous places I took them when needed.

Setting is more than scenery. I think of it as a living, breathing thing, another character. Like fashioning a character exactly the way you envision him or her, finding the perfect setting is one of the best parts of storytelling.