We’re thrilled to have just published new editions of Twelve Minutes to Midnight, Shadows of the Silver Screen and The Black Crow Conspiracy from award-winning author Christopher Edge, with stunning new covers by Olga Baumert. To mark the occasion we asked Christopher to share some insight into the inspirations behind this series.
I think I was ten years old when I first met Sherlock Holmes.
It was a rainy day and I’d sneaked into my brother’s bedroom in search of something to read. As my brother was four years older than me his bookcase often turned up trumps in providing me with a secret supply of books that I was maybe a little too young to read. In fact, I can probably trace the source of most of my nightmares to the ghoulish tales of horror and strange stories of the supernatural that I found there. So it was with an eager sense of anticipation that I spotted a new leather-bound book on the bookcase, its title picked out in letters of gold against a blood-red background: The Celebrated Cases of Sherlock Holmes.
Lifting the book down from the shelf, I began to read the first story and found myself transported through space and time to a fog-bound London at the tail-end of the nineteenth century. And beneath the dim glow of a gas lamp as a hansom cab clattered by, I caught my first glimpse of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes. With his razor-sharp intelligence, martial arts skills and mastery of disguise, Holmes was Batman without the costume and I was immediately hooked on his adventures.
I must have read this book from cover to cover countless times, puzzling over the mysteries of ‘The Speckled Band’, ‘The Red-headed League’ and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ to name but a few. I especially enjoyed the strange and curious cases in which Holmes would say when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
When I wrote the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy, I wanted to create mysteries that would have tested the wits of Sherlock Holmes himself. Sinister tales concerning the mesmeric schemes of the Spider Lady of South Kensington, ghostly apparitions returning from the grave and a criminal mastermind whose deadly plot could bring the world to the verge of war. In short, I wanted to write stories that my ten-year-old self would have sneaked into his brother’s bedroom to read.
However, instead of a detective like Sherlock Holmes, I wanted a different kind of hero or should I say heroine. As authors from this time such as H.G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle himself all seemed to sport bristling moustaches, I wanted to give them some female competition. Penelope Tredwell is the orphan heiress of The Penny Dreadful magazine whose macabre tales grip Victorian Britain, even though nobody knows that she’s the real author. As Penelope is only a teenager, she hides her real identity behind the pen name Montgomery Flinch and hires an out-of-work actor, Monty Maples, to play the part of Flinch in public appearances. It’s difficult for Penny at times to keep her secret as Monty swans around soaking up the fame that should rightfully be hers, but through the course of her adventures, Penny proves herself to be just as courageous, quick-witted and resourceful as the famous resident of 221B Baker Street himself.
The style of the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy also pays homage to magazines of the late-Victorian era, such as The Strand Magazine where Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance. It was a revelation to go back to the original magazines and see the stories as they first appeared, with illustrations woven into the text and each instalment of the tale coming to a cliff-hanger ending. This definitely inspired the way I approached the writing of the series as I strove to create that same page-turning sense of excitement for the reader.
The Victorian era was also a time when science and the supernatural seem to weave together more readily. During my research, I stumbled upon a book entitled Beyond the Gaslight: Science in Popular Fiction 1895–1905 which explored how writers were inspired by the scientific discoveries of this era, but also how these rapid scientific advances blurred the lines between the natural and the supernatural. In the popular imagination, science seemed to offer boundless possibilities, with breakthroughs in physics and chemistry reported alongside newspaper stories of ghost sightings, spiritualist meetings and astrological predictions. This is the stage upon which Penelope Tredwell’s mysteries are set and I hope readers of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, The Jamie Drake Equation, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day and The Longest Night of Charlie Noon will find plenty to enjoy in the pages of these stories.
You can take a look inside the first book in the series, Twelve Minutes to Midnight, below: