Murder, conspiracy, radicalism, poverty, riot, violence, capitalism, technology: everything is up for grabs in the early part of Victoria’s reign.
Radical politicians, constitutional activists and trade unionists are being professionally assassinated. When Josiah Ainscough of the Stockport Police thwarts an attempt on the life of the Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor, he receives public praise, but earns the enmity of the assassin, who vows to kill him.
- Did or do you like to read comic books/graphic novels? Which ones?
I wasn’t allowed classic US comic books to read at home, but my far trendier cousins had a good collection of Marvel and DC comics so when I went round to their house, if I got a chance, I read theirs. That introduced me to Superman, who was too goody-goody for me, Batman and Spiderman who I liked much more, both having tension between light and darkness.
I don’t read many comics now. When I do it’s the more serious ones especially those by Neil Gaiman, but my favourite is the Maus series drawn by Art Spiegelman. At one level it’s a grim tale of Spiegelman’s grandfather’s experiences at the end of WWII in surviving Nazi oppression. The main part of the story is told using animals: mice are the Jews, the dogs the Nazis, and so on, which makes the horror of its all less and yet at the same time more. But there is a second more personal story as Spiegelman sorts out his relationship with his scared and irascible grandfather. No one should ever underestimate the serious impact of graphic novels.
- Whom did you inherit your love for books/reading from?
I went to primary school in the late 1950’s where there were many teachers who encouraged me to read. But I inherited my love for books from my Dad who read to me from all sorts of books, just to get me to sleep. He was an autodidact and a prolific reader. It was like having a personal Audible channel.
- When you need a murder victim or someone you can diagnose with a serious disease or someone who is involved in a fatal accident do you sometimes picture someone nasty you have met in real life and think ‘got you’ LOL?
Well, I can’t say I haven’t tried it, but I rapidly found out that the pay off of killing them or inflicting pain is not very useful because it doesn’t make for a rounded character. Of course, if I see an interesting way of walking then that might creep into a character.
There is a character in Circles of Deceit that is in this category. He works with Constable Josiah Ainscough when he’s undercover. The man mixes whistles and clicks into his speech, which makes him likeable and hides the fact that he’s tougher than he first appears. Rather Dickensian? Well yes but it is a Victorian thriller after all.
- How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Since I’m looking for characters in the Victorian period, my first call is likely to be the Bible, given that biblical names were common then. The writers of 19th Century hymns, especially non-conformist ones, are also a good source. So, we have Martha Cooksley, Rosemary Hopgood, Phillip Burrell. Irish characters play an important part and have specific Irish name constructions such as in Michael O’Carroll.
I don’t follow Dickens in making name indicate character, but there is an Inspector Fidel in Circles of Deceit with an appropriate surname that suggests fidelity. But sometimes it is more random. Josiah was a King of Judah and reformed the law in his reign, appropriate for a policeman’s given name, but his surname comes from a well-known north western crane firm called Ainscough Crane Hire.
- Do write other things beside books?
Before I retired and took up fiction writing seriously, I wrote scientific papers and book chapters in medical texts.
In creative writing terms I still write some poetry, though they are more in a ballad style than anything else, as well as songs and hymns. I flirt with short stories, but my main output is at present the Ainscough series.
- If a movie or TV series was to be made from your books, would you be happy with the ‘based on’ version or would you rather like they showed it exactly the way you created it?
Funny you should ask that. There is in hand the production of a trailer to pitch a film version of Circles of Deceit in the US. Exciting isn’t it. Well yes and no. Film studios buy up far more rights to make a film from books they ever make. The extra cash is good but it’s not necessarily good to hold your breath.
The control authors have on how a story is presented is dependent on the Director and Producer. It is after all a hugely different medium for telling stories and very much more expensive per project.
Michael Morpurgo, when asked at the Buxton Festival what it was like to deal with Steven Spielberg when making War Horse, said that he was asked by Spielberg to change part of the ending of the film compared to the book. ‘And did you do it?’ asked the questioner. Morpurgo replied ‘You don’t argue with Mr. Spielberg’.
- Who would you like/have liked to interview?
I run a rather intermittent podcast called Viaduct. So, asking people to be interviewed or record a point of view on something for Viaduct is an important question. So perhaps I should answer this about who I would most like to interview on Viaduct. I think that would be Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling, and if the name Harry Potter came up well so be it.
- Do you have certain people you contact while doing research to pick their brains? What are they specialized in?
I have a different approach to this than most people since I was an academic at Manchester University and was used on occasions to answer questions for the Medical Faculty that had come in from the public. So, I will and do phone up universities or museums or libraries and ask if they have someone who knows about making things like making gun powder without saltpetre. If you want to try this for yourself, do not make such questions closed. The best answer may well be a reference to a book or even a technical paper.
Sometimes research alone is not satisfying. There is a mechanical cryptograph used in part of Circles of Deceit. There were several references in how the Wheatstone Cryptograph, the model I was using for the book, worked but they were vague in certain details. To resolve the matter, I found someone who had 3D-printed a working Wheatstone Cryptograph so I could be sure I knew how it would be used for encoding from words to apparently random sequences of letters and decoding the random sequences of letters of into words. What is in the text reflects what I found out.
- Is there someone you sometimes discuss a dilemma with?
The short answer is my wife Sue but this question brings up a wider issue, how do you get proper critical feedback?
I did the MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. On that course we had a lot of peer feedback sessions between the students. When the course finished, I missed that feedback. I joined a local weekly group of writers called Writers’ Inc. run by the YA writer Phil Caveney in Stockport. When he moved to Scotland, I formed my own group called The Storyteller’s Place but leading a group is not as helpful as being a member.
Now I rely on a few friends outside the family and for Circles of Deceit I used a panel of beta-readers with the last draft of the manuscript.
- What is more important to you: a rating in stars with no comments or a reviewer who explains what the comments they give are based on (without spoilers of course)
It has to be the second. Although a five-star review without comment is a help and not to be sniffed at, a review which explains why the result has been given is of longer-term value. Even if its annoying at first it’s well worth having.
When I’m asked to give reviews myself then I always say that I do not give bad reviews and would prefer to remain silent than write a dismissive review. I have had a review which was a single star because the person who had bought the book thought I was the Paul Beatty who won the Booker. He went on at great length about how cheated he felt even though he read the book and quite liked it. That’s why I now use Paul CW Beatty as my nom de plume.
Thank you, Paul CW Beatty and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Paul CW Beatty is an unusual combination of a novelist and a research scientist. Having worked for many years in medical research in the UK NHS and Universities, a few years ago he took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University emerging with a distinction.
Paul lives near Manchester in the northwest of England. Children of Fire is set against the hills of the Peak District as well as the canals and other industrial infrastructure of the Cottonopolis know as the City of Manchester.