I’m really happy to be hosting a ‘Guest Post’ today from Marian Womack, author of the fabulous ‘The Golden Key‘ and published by one of my favourite publishing houses, Titan Books, on 18th February 2020. Marian Womack is writing about the real life inspirations behind the characters in her novel – scroll down to read.
The book blurb:
After the death of Queen Victoria, England heaves with the uncanny. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Helena Walton-Cisneros, known for her ability to find the lost and the displaced, is hired by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.
But the Fens are an age-old land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. The locals speak of devilmen and catatonic children are found on the Broads. Here, Helena finds what she was sent for, as the Fenland always gives up its secrets, in the end…
The Golden Key – Real Life Inspirations
by Marian Womack
My new novel, The Golden Key, is a work of fiction. Its protagonist, the detective Helena Walton-Cisneros, came to me gradually, over the course of many years. I wanted to explore a world in which things are not what they seem, in which women are forced to perform a role in society, at times hiding their real abilities. I soon realized that, in order to make this world more plausible, it would help if I populated it with real-life people and events. Luckily, my research for the novel helped a lot, as it uncovered many interesting people and events that spoke so much of the epoch, of the trials women feared and the tribulations they faced, that it was no problem to pick a few and include them in the book. These real-life inspirations, both people and places, include the following:
George MacDonald: I have always loved fairy-tales. The first short stories that I ever wrote were fairy-tale retellings, as dark and strange and unnerving as I could manage. I have a large collection of fairy-tale books from around the world, covering many cultures and epochs. I am not an expert, though, and my knowledge of the vast Victorian fairy-tale corpus was patchy, composed of what had found its way to my hands via second hand bookshops. I was introduced to George MacDonald’s work as an adult, and it shook my entire conception of what “a story in the fairy-fashion” should be. I became obsessed with MacDonald. He seemed to speak to my deeper concerns as a writer: the unavoidable sense of indeterminacy of his tales, of porous borders surrounding us, between the real and the unreal. I think it is fair to call MacDonald a true weird-fiction fairy-tale writer. His world found its way into my novel, partly because I could not write about worlds that mixed together without recognising a huge debt to him.
Peter Henry Emerson: I thought I had seen Norfolk, I thought that I knew Norfolk. Then I was introduced to the work of the early photographer, Peter Henry Emerson. The eeriness of his Norfolk images helped redefine the “feeling” of the entire novel. Here was a pictorial representation of everything I had felt about the place since I first set foot on it in 2002-2003: a haunting, ghostly feeling about the Fens and the Broads; a sense of more things, hidden, happening beyond the frames of the pictures. Even in his more “normal” rural scenes, one has the sense of looking upon another realm, a sort of parallel world. True, he did not own a camera until 1881, so it is a stretch to think that he might have photographed the hunting weekend for the Matthews family, but a writer has to imagine, after all, and my active imagination placed him firmly in the middle of the events.
Eunice Foote: Foote is perhaps the most important real character mentioned in the novel. An American physicist, she was the first person to establish a connection between the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what we now identify as climate change. However, she has been swallowed by history, and now it is John Tyndall whom everyone associates with this scientific discovery.