The idea for Goblin Fruit was actually the first idea for the series. Long story short, it came out a fannish project where we were coming up with books and works that might have been read.
I have loved the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books since I first read them (sometime in my early teens), and Lord Geoffrey Carillon is very much meant to be cut from a similar cloth as Wimsey.
They’re both intelligent men who underplay their brains to be more effective investigators in varied social circles, and they’re both younger sons of respected noble families. And they both had a bad war that included some amount of intelligence work in the midst or aftermath. But Carillon has inherited the title (and its obligations), and had to return from his explorations abroad to take over his duties. That, naturally, includes finding someone to marry so there is a next generation.
I’m also fascinated by Christina Gabriel Rosetti’s famous poem, “Goblin Fruit” about two sisters, one of whom tastes the food and drink of the trooping goblins and is enchanted, saved by her sister’s loyalty. That formed the core of the plot for this book, figuring out what kind of magical temptation would be there, and how Lizzie and Laura would deal with it.
I wanted to talk about tuberculosis. I knew from the beginning that part of the reason Lizzie was so protective of her younger sister was because Laura had been in poor health for most of her adult life so far. The more I thought about it, the more tuberculosis – still a very present threat in the 1920s before the discovery of antibiotics – was the thing I needed to talk about. I love how that plays into part of the solution of this book (skills that Laura learned from long years in sanitariums and dealing with medical staff) and how it plays out in Laura’s own book, In The Cards.
Other bits of worldbuilding: This was also an excuse to explore non-human magical beings (there is more of that to come, in various ways), and I loved the idea of exploring a magical costume party. (The women dressed as Upper and Lower Egypt may well make a further appearance down the road…)
This post talks about the ideas behind Outcrossing. (There are no major spoilers here, but I do talk about some general setting and plot inspirations.)
Talking about the idea for Outcrossing is a little odd, because it wasn’t the first book in the series I knew I wanted to write. (That was Goblin Fruit). Instead, I wanted to think of a book that would set the stage for Goblin Fruit (which has a fair amount of explicit magical worldbuilding) and serve as an entry to the world as a whole. What does that mean?
I wanted main characters who were not highly skilled at magic. I didn’t want to risk losing the reader in lots of complex magical theory early on, and one of the easiest ways to avoid that is to not have either of the main characters have much knowledge about it.
In this book, we have two different takes on that lack of skill. We have Rufus, magically quite powerful, but who has had only enough training to stop him being a danger to himself and others. Ferry, on the other hand, went to one of the best magical schools, and yet wasn’t allowed to take the courses that she might have been really good at. She did well in school academically, but it didn’t lead to a life she wanted to live.
I wanted a strong sense of place. Some of the books in this series take place more strongly in the magical community, but I wanted the first one to be in a village that would feel at least somewhat at home to anyone familiar with village life in Britain in the 1920s.
I wanted places I could suggest more complex magic and worldbuilding. There are mentions in this book of things I wanted to develop later on. The mention of a wand as a complex magical item that’s roughly equivalent to somewhere between a high-end computer and a car. The idea of the Silence (and that some places are Silence-warded) without doing extensive explanations that the characters would not go into. The mentions of ritual magic at the end of the book. The fact there’s a Guard who does some kind of law enforcement. I didn’t want to develop any of these things too far, but I wanted to lay the seeds for what kinds of stories might come up further into the series.
From there, the plot was driven by those choices. Smuggling is an age-old activity along the southern coast of England, and there are quite a few stories of harrowing events in the New Forest and the nearby harbours. And of course, if you have magical creatures whose feathers or flowers have special properties, some people will try and steal them.
Welcome to a series of posts about each book (find the others in the ‘ideas to books’ category.) Authors start writing from very different points.
I start my books with characters, usually. I want to get to know my characters, and figure out their stories, their connections. I want them to be in complex interconnected worlds, and I want to get a sense of what that means for them.
The Mysterious Charms books are what is sometimes called a loosely connected series. You can read them in any order, but they have related characters. (And, I should note that the publication order is not the chronological order of the series.) As I write, I think about which secondary characters I’d like to explore in future books. Because the books are tightly focused in terms of point of view and character goals on the main characters, we see only slices of the much larger world they live in. Each new book is a chance for me to explore a different slice of that world.
As I write this blog post, I’m recently finished book 6 in the series, On The Bias. It’s the story of Thomas Benton (Lord Geoffrey Carillon’s valet, seen briefly in earlier books), and Mistress Castalia Jones, a dressmaker. I’ve been describing this one to people as “Valet and dressmaker foil plots.” I’m in the process of learning more about both of them, and to focus on people who aren’t well-off, or from well-off families.
But how does that play out?
I start with a character or two (now that I’m well into the series, I have a list of about eight future possible books, usually starting from a secondary character in a previous book I want to know more about). I’ve got a particular interest in writing characters who are dealing with things that affect how they interact with the world, whether that’s the after-effects of the Great War, surviving tuberculosis, a stigmatised but also useful magical ability, or something else.
(Why? I’ve got my own host of chronic health complexities and I’ve also got friends with a wide range of chronic stuff. I want to write books where we aren’t sappy inspirations, but get to live our lives, do interesting things, and find love. Also, there were a lot of people dealing with these things in the 1920s, and I don’t want to leave it out of the story. That’s lazy worldbuilding and bad history.)
Then I figure out what they’re interested in, what kinds of puzzles they might want to solve or things they’re trying to do with their lives. Sometimes they want to keep advancing professionally (and do something more interesting than traffic duty), like Kate in Wards for the Roses. Sometimes they’re trying to figure out how to get a bit of freedom from their family (Ferry, in Outcrossing). Maybe they’re going along living their lives when an interesting puzzle drops in their lap. (Ibis, in Magician’s Hoard).
And from there it’s a matter of outlining the basics of what’s happening, sitting down to write regularly, and seeing how the story unfolds.