Really thin dogs — think greyhounds and whippets — appear a lot on John’s website, greydogtales, which is dedicated to “weird fiction, weird art, and even weirder lurchers.” There’s a lot of information about authors working in the occult detective cross-genre and related areas of supernatural fiction. Like myself, John both writes about the stuff while also writing the stuff. His The Last Edwardian series is rooted in the same era as my Vera Van Slyke chronicles, but his stories are based much more on a cast of characters. He’ll introduce you to them.
#1 – Using three similes — and as many sentences as you like — describe your occult detective character(s).
This could get messy. Just to be awkward, I have three occult detectives running across various stories in the Last Edwardian series. All three are recurring characters.
The easiest one to describe is Captain Redvers Blake, who works for Military Intelligence. Basically, he is dumped with anything odd which worries the other parts of Whitehall — officers talking to their wardrobes, unnatural sightings at a munitions factory and the like. He also operates in conjunction with Special Branch on matters of national security.
He’s world-weary for his age, a sensitive who dislikes his ability to read or listen to the traces we leave behind. He doesn’t believe in God, he doesn’t believe in Empire, but he’ll still send you to the gallows — or burn your bones to be rid of you. As dangerous as a bag of snakes, maybe. Psychic snakes with service revolvers.
The tricky ones are Henry Dodgson and Abigail Jessop, who often work together as the inheritors of Cheyne Walk after the loss of Carnacki the Ghost Finder. Henry is a big man in many ways, powerfully built and fiercely loyal to his comrades. But he’s quietly clever — you’d miss it if you didn’t pay attention. His link to Redvers Blake is through the horrors they both experienced during the Boer War, and the shadow of Africa still haunts them. You might call Henry the friend you always needed, as reliable as bedrock.
Abigail is different. More intellectually questing than either man, strongly psychic, strongly independent. If Blake has the ability to listen, Abigail has the ability to speak and demand. The niece of Jessop, who attended the Cheyne Walk dinners, she has a need to explore the more monstrous side of life. Henry enhances her freedom to do so, and she’s fond of him. Abigail is as deep as an ocean — and a little bit more.
#2 – While reading about a fictional world where a vampire travels to, say, a city that is recognizably Victorian London or small-town Maine, a reader might look up suddenly and wonder what was that noise? However, while reading about a fictional world where a vampire enters a tavern that’s frequented by zombies, werewolves, and ghosts, a reader escapes to far-flung fantasy-land and probably ignores that noise altogether. How close is your fictional world to the world of reader?
You should worry about that noise. Seriously. Apart from being mostly set in Edwardian times, my stories are grounded in mundane events and possibilities. Grounded in, not limited to. What my occult detectives face is the development of horror out of normality, and the intrusion of the supernatural into everyday lives.
#3 – I see occult detective fiction as a cross-genre of mystery and supernatural fiction. Do you agree with this, and if so, do you lean more into one genre than the other? If you don’t agree, what’s your problem?
I agree, which is rather disappointing. I like a good argument. I suppose that I work from the basis that some mysteries have a darker explanation than we would like. Redvers Blake approaches each new case looking for a mundane cause such as Bolshevik agitation, naval incompetence or simply con artists. He wakes up every morning hoping that the next problem he encounters will not be wreathed in the supernatural. The forthcoming novella, A Study in Grey, is partly a mystery thriller about military espionage. Partly.
Henry and Abigail, for all their knowledge of the occult and openness to it, investigate using what you might call Carnacki’s scientific principles. Leg-work, good equipment and research. They are still detectives, and could probably pay their way through taking on missing persons and divorce cases. They wouldn’t, of course, because they know how few people can cope when the supernatural side of existence rears its misty, inexplicable head. That’s why they are there, and why Cheyne Walk is still open for business.
Confusingly enough, by far my most popular character in the series is Mr Dry, a quiet, ordinary looking man who happens to be an Edwardian assassin. He has no interest in occult detection and no psychic ability at all. However, he’s very good at his job. Should he meet a vampire, it would probably be dust before Mr Dry had finished polishing his glasses.
#4 – What are your plans?
I wish someone would tell me. The novella I mentioned is being published by 18th Wall this Spring, and includes all three of the above characters, which isn’t usually the case. As I have a couple of related stories being anthologised this year, I have three ideas I’d certainly like to follow up on. My ambition often outstrips both my ability and the time available — and I have seriously active lurchers who require my attention a lot. I may have a family somewhere, as well.
The first idea would be to find markets for more of the period stories. A number have already been drafted or written, but I only started peddling them last Summer. The second would be to complete the ‘origins’ novel, started some years ago, which explains how Henry and Abigail take on Carnacki’s mantle when the Ghost Finder is no longer around. I cunningly lost the middle section when we moved house years ago, so I’ve never had a full, edited version to put out there.
And the third, that’s the tempting one. Since his first conception as a character, Henry Dodgson has always been alive and active right into the twenty-first century. That’s why the series is called Tales of the Last Edwardian. He is still here, and still on your side (mostly). So I’d love to write that part, where Henry, more troubled and worn than before, stands between the citizens of modern-day London and what lurks in the shadows.
My thanks to John Linwood Grant. Click here to find his The Last Edwardian series at Smashwords.