If I were to tell you that my novels feature, among other things, giants, dwarfs and witchcraft, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was either a children’s or a fantasy writer. Or what about the students who invented a diving bell to retrieve a coffin from the Thames? Or the surgeon who successfully grafted a cock's testicle on to a hen's belly?
The truth is all the storylines in my Dr. Thomas Silkstone series are based on real-life incidents in Georgian England. They are so extraordinary that I didn’t have to invent them. One reader complained I’d gone too far when a fourteen-year-old aristocrat contracted syphilis when he lay with a prostitute at Eton College. That’s very tame compared with what else went on behind closed doors in Georgian society.
I’m a journalist and historian and during the course of my research into 18th century medical practices I’ve come across so many weird, wonderful and downright bizarre things that it’s hard to believe they are true or actually happened.
The reason I chose to set my murder mystery series during this time is precisely because it’s a period that is unique in history. It was the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment. Change was in the air, largely thanks to great philosophers such as Rousseau and Montesquieu. Religion was called to question and superstition was giving way to reason. New and exciting advances in science were being made that lead people to challenge the old order of things. Society was shifting away from the ‘Establishment’ and that makes a brilliant backdrop to any novel.
Tessa Harris is the author of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mysteries. The sixth book in the series, Secrets in the Stones, published by Constable, is out now, price £8.99.