did not mean to write this novel!  

I was writing a novel about something else set in 1870 and although all my historical novels at least begin in London I always make myself look at whatever else was going on at the time: in England  - and in the rest of the world since I come from the other side of it!  This means I’m eternally coming across all sorts of interesting by-ways and avenues that I can’t always keep myself from exploring (even when the information is totally useless!)

Reading, for my own novel, the newspapers of 1870 I kept coming across something headlined ‘THE SCANDAL OF THE CENTURY’. So I thought I’d better be sure what the scandal of the century was about, in case I could use it as background.  It was the trial of two minor gentlemen accused of sodomy: Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park who used to go about London dressed as women known as ‘Fanny’ and ‘Stella’. I read various books and articles and theses about them – but it all seemed too vague, no-one quite knew why something so famous, seemed to fizzle out. So I chucked it out as an idea of background for my novel. 

Then, not long afterwards, I was sitting in the British Library reading something entirely different about Mr Gladstone the Prime Minister in 1870 when I suddenly came across a piece of information that so surprised me that I automatically stood up and said very loudly “WHAT?” and many readers stared.  I turned red and went outside to compose myself.  I then nearly had an even more embarrassing moment a few days later when I came across something about the Prince of Wales that was so utterly a connection to the court case that I felt a bit dizzy. 

That was it: I was away: libraries, castles, cemeteries, Houses of Parliament, more libraries. Dorset. Nottingham. Wales. Westminster.

And then I had to force myself to leave the seduction of research and write the novel.  I knew I was writing about – or even re-writing – gay history, but I also knew it would be impossible for me to write it from a ‘gay’ point of view. So, the story is told by a narrator but a couple of voices of real people (who I found in the trial records) keep popping in – I realised that their lives too must obviously have been deeply affected by this case.  And so I decided they would slowly find out extraordinary things - just as I had. For months and months and months I was locked away writing, flying, piecing everything together.   So many times had I been astounded by what I had found out, that I wasn’t really surprised to find that the book had been long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Thriller Award – except it was me, surrounded by old books, who had been reading a thriller! And finally, although this is a work of fiction, I wanted to prove that I really had found this new evidence.  I wanted to get permission to publish unpublished material.

Thereby hangs a tale. And if you want to know whether I was successful in getting to publish real letters written 144 years ago, you must read the Acknowledgments in The Petticoat Men

The Petticoat Men is out now in ebook and paperback