Research: Mapping the Past

London, 1270

While not always possible, it’s definitely good if a writer gets to tread the ground we write about. Some details, like the ambient sounds, the scents, the ineffable feel of a place, are best captured by experience, even to a small degree.

Some places exist primarily in the past, however, are beyond our reach to capture: at least until I get my own TARDIS.

Until then, the best tool at hand is access to old maps. They are excellent comparisons with the present, to see what still exists, and they are a window into places long past, yet which still lie just below the surface.

When I was writing “Hoorforst”, the Kitty and Cadaver origin story that appears in Scar Tissue and Other Stories, I needed to see what 13th century London looked like. Luckily, when I visited London earlier in 2018, the British Library came to my aid. (My Reading Room card is still my favourite souvenir of all my London visits!)

Medieval historian Christopher Brooke was my particular saviour on this point, providing a fantastic overview of the city’s culture and economy over several centuries. His work included pages of maps, showing change over time. 

I used his map of London in 1270 (above) to chart William and Thomas’s progress through the old walls, across the frozen city to old London Bridge on the Thames. Some of the places on his map still exist today – St Paul’s and churches, mainly.

Melbourne, 1852

I have written various stories set in 19th century Melbourne as well. That city’s landscape changed a lot in a short time, thanks to the 1851 gold rush and the later economic crash of the 1890s. 

The State Library of Victoria has a great map collection that assists with charting modern Melbourne against its history but one of the handiest I found when I was writing “Virgin Soil” for the And Then… anthology was this 1852 map showing the inner city layout and the streets just north of the city grid, along with a few of the major buildings of the time.

Let’s face it, old maps are fantastic in and of themselves, and I’d gaze on them avidly any day of the week. But they’re especially wonderful for helping to give shape to locations that remain only as ghosts under the skin of the present.

Quintette of Questions: Julie Bozza

Julie Bozza asked Fletch and Albert (two of the three main characters in her about to be re-released novel) to help her answer today’s questions.

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

Fingerprints

Fletch: The Definitive Albert J. Sterne, because it’s all about Albert and how he’s determined to be the absolutely best Albert he can. Though, for most of the book, he’s more of a work-in-progress than he realises!

Julie: The title seemed very obvious to me, very early on, and it’s stuck ever since. I thought about “quintessential” as an alternative, but “definitive” seemed more Albert-ish to me. So that was that!

Albert: {glares grumpily at nothing in particular}

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Julie: I almost always cast my main characters, because I write by creating the film of the story in my mind’s eye. I need those visuals in three dimensions in order for it all to come alive. I don’t usually share the actual names, though, as I like to leave readers free to imagine their own film of the story – if you see what I mean. But let’s throw caution to the winds here! Over to you guys.

Fletch: Given my Irish-American background, I think a young Gabriel Byrne would be perfect.

Albert: {crosses his arms and looks mulish}

Fletch: {pointedly} Despite a certain lack of cooperation from others {/pointedly}, Julie and I are determined to answer this in honour of the late, loveable Miguel Ferrer, who she always envisaged as Albert.

Julie: How can it be two years already since he died? … Miguel was no stranger to forensics and law enforcement roles, featuring in Twin Peaks, Crossing Jordan, and NCIS: Los Angeles, among other films and TV series.

As for John Garrett, the third main character, I couldn’t go past Brian Dennehy who was disturbingly good as John Wayne Gacy in the TV film To Catch a Killer. My Garrett isn’t Gacy, I should add, but the fact that Gacy existed helped me feel confident that I wasn’t entirely making it all up to suit myself.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Albert: An unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Fletch: {much laughter} Poor Albert … {sobers up} All right, I think: love, horror, determination, diligence … love.

Albert: You’re repeating yourself.

Fletch: There was a lot of love.

Julie: Love. Identity. Friendship. Anger. Passion. Peace.

Albert: That’s six words, as you’re well aware.

Julie: There’s over 226,000 words in this novel, so five just isn’t enough to cover it!

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

Fletch: Well, us, of course. Me and Albert.

Julie: Same for me, right now! Albert and Fletch.

Albert: Song Ci.

Fletch: … Who?

Albert: A Chinese judge and forensic medical scientist who worked in the thirteenth century. He wrote a book titled Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified.

Fletch: Now who’s not answering the questions exactly? He was real? And what about his team or his partner?

Albert: Some of us prefer to work alone.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

Fletch: The song that always makes me think of Albert is “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s very beautiful, and very passionate – and very very sad.

{silence for long moments}

{Albert briefly reaches a hand, as if he might touch Fletcher’s arm in reassurance}

Albert: Lawrence Durrell wrote, “But that is what islands are for; they are places where different destinies can meet and intersect in the full isolation of time.”

{Fletch reaches to grasp Albert’s hand, and his smile is quietly brimming over with peace}

Fletch: Damn, I love you.

{fade to black}

About The Definitive Albert J Sterne

An obnoxiously immovable object is partnered with an undeniably irresistible force – in pursuit of a cruelly imperturbable serial killer.

Albert Sterne, forensics expert with the FBI, is so obnoxious on the surface that no one bothers digging deeper. When he’s sent to Colorado to investigate the work of a serial killer, he encounters Special Agent Fletcher Ash and they end up reluctantly joining forces to unravel the case. It’s only a matter of duty, though; it can’t be more, because Albert doesn’t do friendship – and he certainly doesn’t do love!

This well-respected novel was Runner Up (equal third) in the Best LGBT Mystery/Thriller category of the Rainbow Awards 2011. It is now being re-released, after first being published in two volumes by Manifold Press. The original novel and companion anthology have been stitched back together into one long tale.

Buy The Definitive Albert J Sterne

About Julie Bozza

Julie Bozza

Julie Bozza is an Aussie-English hybrid empowered by writing, fuelled by espresso, calmed by knitting, overexcited by photography, and madly in love with Amy Adams and John Keats.

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Words are like oxygen