Thursday, 12 February 2015

Writing About Ye Olden Days with Oscar De Muriel

Today's guest blog is by  author Oscar De Muriel. Born in Mexico he currently lives in Lancashire. He has a PhD in Chemistry and plays the violin.

A good friend of mine found a ghastly mistake in my first draft for The Strings of Murder. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it could have been the equivalent of showing Queen Victoria snapping a bar of Kit Kats.

After a good laugh my friend asked me if I ever felt research as a chore or an obstacle, and while still embarrassed by my glaring error, I had to say no. In fact, I find it one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.

I have always loved those books that can transport you to an entirely different world, not only with a mental picture, but those that manage to evoke all your senses. I want to smell Dr Watson’s tobacco, try the sweet meats they served at Pemberley, feel the icy wind at Wuthering Heights, listen to the tormented organ concertos of Captain Nemo.

That is the effect I strive to create when I write, and one of the reasons I fell in love with the idea of setting my characters well in the past.

The devil is in the detail, and the atmosphere to me is in the mundane ones – in the aromas, the textures and the flavours. Those same details are all but superfluous in contemporary fiction: You wouldn’t be too impressed with a lengthy description of the cab the girls took to hit the Manchester clubs, but you do want to see Scarlett O’Hara riding an open carriage to the barbeque at Twelve Oaks. I agree with this principle, but I also think it robs contemporary fiction of a certain flavour. Ironically, you can lose some of life’s earthiness.

When you write a period piece, however, you play by different rules. It’s a whole new world; a very real one, but at the same time non-existent. You are not only allowed, but also expected to take your readers there, and the journey can be just as gratifying to the author as it is to the audience.

Something I utterly enjoyed while researching was getting lost down the streets of Edinburgh and spotting beautiful or eerie places I could use. The city’s Old Town, with its ancient tenements and pebbled streets, was like a heavenly gift for a writer. I instantly pictured very snobby Londoner dodging horse manure and the contents of chamber pots spilled from three stories above.  

Edinburgh in the 1880s was indeed a place of stark differences. The sumptuous Georgian mansions were within walking distance from the most terrifying slums, and the emerging Industrial Revolution was squeezing the populace with sweat labour and germ-infested dwellings – a disparity that still echoes the reality of many capitals around the world (take this from a former Mexico City dweller).

More information about Oscar De  Muriel can be found on his website.  You can also find him on Facebook and you can follow him on Twitter @oscardemuriel

The Strings of Murder

Edinburgh, 1888. A violinist is murdered in his home. The dead virtuoso's maid swears she heard three musicians playing in the night. But with only one body in the locked practice room - and no way in or out - the case makes no sense.  Fearing a national panic over another Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey's new boss, Detective 'Nine-Nails' McGray, actually believes in such supernatural nonsense.  McGray's tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next...

The String Murder by Oscar De Muriel is out on 12 February (£7.99 Penguin)

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