Good morning and welcome to my stop on the Lawless and the House of Electricity blog tour!
This new novel, which is actually the third in the Lawless series, by William Sutton follows the discovery of a corpse in London’s East End.
From there, the synopsis of the book explains “The shadows of European machinations loom over the capital. For Sergeant Campbell Lawless, fears become reality as a series of explosions tear across the country. Home Office anxieties lead Lawless to Roxbury House, where the Earl of Roxbury, the country’s foremost weapons manufacturer, resides with a cavalcade of innovative scientists and researchers. Lawless places his best agent, ex-street urchin Molly, in the Earl’s home as he races to find those behind the attacks before the tinderbox of Europe is ignited.”
I am excited to be bringing you a guest post from the author today discussing his inspiration for the book, his sources and the importance of originality as part of my stop!
The Country House Novel: the Cross-Genre Genre
Before creating my own house of electricity, I had no idea that there was a country house genre.
I wanted to recall the warmth I remembered from visits to cousins in Barraderry House, Co Wicklow, and my friend’s schloss in Achstetten, Germany.
I’ve never forgotten the glow that pervades novels such as JB Priestley’s Bright Day and countless Wodehouse novels. But it was Blake Morrison’s article in The Guardian on country house novels that sent me in search of literary treasures.
Roxbury House, my early sketches
Every book has a family tree. I used to worry about this.
Then I discovered that the word “original” used to mean “having a good origin”. The Lion King was based on Hamlet (itself grounded in historical origins). One could once have called it original. Today’s constant complaint of unoriginality misses the whole point:
stories need fertile origins.
Besides the anecdotes, personalities and wild imaginings filched from everyday life, we authors draw on the broader canvas of our reading. Of course we do. Knowing of lives far outwith our daily experience is essential for broadening our fiction.
I wanted to write about loss and terror, about love and loyalty. The story wove my beloved Lawless and friends into happenstance disasters of 1864, alongside a more personal tale of the Roxbury family’s hidden sadness.
To fill out this instinctive tale, I drew inspiration from books I have long loved, unconsciously at first, and then on purpose. Some were historical, some romantic, comic, tragic, horror, fantastical and even non-fiction. In common, they had country houses: the place where rich live above poor, where work mingles with leisure, family with business, inheritance with disenfranchisement, loss with gain.
Multiplicity of Voices
I will never forget reading the scene with Cathy at the window in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. More than this, I found her multiple narratives entrancing, as we read Cathy’s diary marginalia, get inside the head of Heathcliff, and finally understand how Nellie Dean let down those she loved. Gut-wrenching cataclysmic writing.
Nancy Mitford, in The Pursuit of Love, did something that astonished me: she caught the wild grandeur of childhood. I was persuaded to read this by Grace Dent speaking on Radio 4’s A Good Read. The children’s wit, their games, their despairs, their lassitude, and their desire for love: oh, how the Hons filled me with nostalgia for my childhood and my school days.
Only then did I realise how many country house novels I loved.
Lawless & the House of Electricity pays homage to this love.
Country House Further Reading List
- Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone
- William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gaunt
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
- JB Priestley’s Bright Day
- Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret
- Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
- Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
- Edith Wharton’s story “Afterward”
- Rudyard Kipling’s story “An Habitation Enforced”
- Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited
- Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day
Bonus House Research
- Blake Morrison’s article in The Guardian on country house novels
- Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life
- Judith Flanders’ The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childhood to Deathbed