Tag Archives: books

A Writer’s Library

Every writer has a reference library of some kind. I’d like to introduce you to mine!

The physical part of it at least. I also have a collection of ebooks and PDFs, including the 1894 Baedeker’s guide to London and its Environs and copies of The Strand Magazine from 1891.  I also have newspaper clippings and saved web pages relating to crimes, science and all manner of strangeness which I think I’ll need for upcoming projects.

My reference library is stuffed full – I will soon have to start balancing new books on top!

My two shelves of reference books are packed to bursting with books about forensics, London, music, queer history, 19th century medicine and medieval society. Not all of the related books have been written yet, but some research on Victorian-era underwear and sailing ships was used in writing The Adventure of the Colonial Boy. and the medieval books were used to write the origin story for Kitty and Cadaver – Hoorfrost – which is in my upcoming short story collection Scar Tissue and Other Stories.

The top shelf is home to much history and science of forensics (mainly for use in my Sherlock Holmes stories so I get the science correct for the era) and books about Victorian London. I have several on the history of queer London of the era and trans history, in part for canon-era Holmes♥Watson stories and partly for something I’m planning set in 1890s Melbourne.

The music books are used for the Duo Ex Machina series and for Kitty and Cadaver. The British folklore will be used in the as yet unwritten sequel to Kitty and Cadaver, which I’ll get to eventually.

In the centre of the bottom shelf are the notebooks full of research I’ve conducted in the British Library: they contain notes about medieval London, pages and pages on Frost Fairs, Victorian-era clothing and culture; many pages about ravens, and the history of the London Underground.

For my Melbourne-based stories, the Melway is invaluable. (I use Google Maps for London locales when I’m not actually in London – I used both methods for Ravenfall. I really should get a London A-Z.) I’ll use The Australian Hostess Cookbook in the third Gary and Lissa book (also on the cards in due course, after The Opposite of Life is reissued by Clan Destine Press). I’ve also been learning more about 1890s Melbourne, but I don’t expect to get to that project until at least next year.

These are two very tiny books that my mum had in her shelves of Indigenous place names and words. I’m not sure yet when or how I’ll use them, but they’re there when I need them.

I’m often finding new books to add – I’ve picked up several new ones on bees and British wildlife for a project I’m looking at later this year. Among the books I’ve collected over the last year are The Butchering Art , about the work of Joseph Lister (yes, Listerine is named for him) who pioneered antiseptics in 19th century surgery. The fictional Dr Watson would have graduated from medical school at about the time Lister’s ideas were actually being accepted and taught.

You can also see jammed among the titles three wonderful secondhand bookstore finds: The Scientist would definitely be a book in my vampire Gary Hooper’s library. A Girl at Government House states it’s the diaries of a young girl in service in Australia in the 1880s and 90s, and Two Years Before the Mast is an account of a man’s life at sea in the mid 19th century, so it’ll be another layer of primary-document information to help make my Victorian era fiction if not accurate then at least less inaccurate.

Why yes, I do have rather a lot of potential projects in my future. And this doesn’t count the several I haven’t actually mentioned yet!

Feel free to ask me about any of the books you can see in those shelves. I aim to write about a few more of them as I use them (and discover if they will serve their purpose well enough!)

Review: The Madness of Grief by Panayotis Cacoyannis

It’s London, 1969 and 16 year old Jane doesn’t know it yet, but her life is at a crisis point. Between the moon landing, her widowed magician father, the great Mr Magikoo’s girlfriend Mia Mia, Jane’s Auntie Ada and her best friend Karl, Jane’s about to grow up in a rush.

Panayotis Cacoyannis’s The Madness of Grief is more than a coming of age story – it’s an exploration of notions of truth, perception, forgiveness and the complexity of relationships. The backdrop of the moon landing, with one minor character questioning whether it’s a hoax, is just one aspect of the story’s preoccupation with the idea of what is real versus what is not.

The Madness of Grief

While the moon exerts a pull on the underlying idea of what’s real, an older event holds the key to the peculiar relationships of Jane’s life.

Jane’s mother was killed in a stage accident ten years ago during a Mr Magikoo stunt. Val’s death is entwined with her father George’s stage persona, forming the foundation of the themes of The Madness of Grief. Almost nothing is what it appears to be and how the characters understand their lives is a huge interleaving of guilt, lies of omission, blame, pain and misunderstanding. Throughout the narrative, what seems to be true is regularly stood on its head, and then upturned again as layers and layers of secrets and unspoken histories are revealed.

The story takes time to hit its stride, but the moment Jane walks in on Mia-Mia in the bathroom to discover her father’s girlfriend is a man, everything you thought you knew is thrown into the air.

In one particularly eventful night, Jane’s life is thrown into disarray, visited with violence, loss and even more revelation. Much is made of the disruption and pain that evolved from her mother’s tragic death and how grief has twisted blame, guilt and love as a result.

Some events which seem unforgivable are leavened with kindness and viewed through a prism of life having more than one truth to be told. So many of the protagonists are influenced for good or bad by others in their life – Karl’s sense of entitlement fostered by his controlling mother; Mia-Mia’s choices in the face of discovery, George’s guilt bringing him to hide his love for his daughter behind a crass facade; Ada’s cruel pleasure in blaming George for Val’s death, in part a response to how their mother favoured George’s needs.

Feelings can turn on a pin when sudden realisations and revelations fundamentally alter what we think we know. Some truths are brutal and best left unsaid; some lies are kindnesses; some acts are less cruel than ill-informed and sometimes, we’re willing to forgive that cruelty when it’s part of something larger.

Some of the abrupt narrative switches back in forth in time are difficult to follow to begin with, but the result is an intriguing and layered study of the vagaries of human nature. Those layers are densely packed and it can take a while to unpack, but what’s clear is that nobody is just one thing – not even the worst thing they’ve done. And even when the reader is less willing to forgive than Jane is, you can at least agree that foolishness and grief can make you do mad things.

Buy The Madness of Grief

The Madness of Grief (Amazon US)
The Madness of Grief (Amazon Australia)
The Madness of Grief (Kobo Audiobook)