‘ALL CHARACTERS IN THIS NOVEL ARE ENTIRELY FICTITIOUS...’
Q: What’s in a name? North Carter Moor Farmhouse
I had a fun conversation with my Mum yesterday. She had done some family history research into her own ancestors and was bemused to discover that she had a seventeenth century relative called BARNABUS GOULDSMITH. For some reason this tickled her pink. She loved the sound of his name and spent twenty minutes persuading me to put Barnabus into my next novel. To keep the peace and to avoid being disinherited, I finally agreed. However, I may draw the line at her suggestion that I make him into a smuggler.
This made me wonder how many other authors find themselves under similar pressure to adjust their plots and characters for the amusement of their loved ones? And more intriguingly, how do authors choose the names for their characters in the first place?
When I wrote Catching the Eagle the naming process should have been simple. This novel was based on the true story of our criminal ancestor, Jamie Charlton. Genealogical research had already revealed the real names of his family, the witnesses at his trial in 1812, the court officials and half the population of rural Ponteland.
But it quickly became obvious that I would have to make some adjustment to those names. For a start, nearly everyone back in 1812 was called ‘John.’ This included Jamie’s father, son, brother, best friend, the man he robbed and the magistrate who charged him. Obviously some of them had to go or be known as ‘Jack.’ (Or even Nathanial.) This tradition of calling children after other family members had helped us trace our relatives back through the centuries and uncover Jamie’s sorry tale of injustice. But to write a novel about three generations of the same family, all in the same farmhouse and all called either ‘John’ or ‘Ann’ would have confused the hell out of my readers.
Then there was the problem of the sheer number of people our research had uncovered. They had big families back in the nineteenth century and ours was no exception. A cast of thousands may have worked well in the bible but it rarely works in modern fiction.
Fortunately, novelists can use artistic license. In Catching the Eagle, I changed names, liberally handed out nicknames and killed off one character a couple of decades early. However, this process can still be dangerous in a novel based on a true story because someone somewhere is going to be unhappy that you have altered history. I think I may have inadvertently offended a distant cousin in Australia when I changed the name of his 4 x great-grandmother from ‘Ann’ to ‘Mary.’
From the naming point of view, it was quite refreshing to sit down and write my second novel, The Missing Heiress. Apart from Detective Stephen Lavender and a brief appearance by Magistrate Clennell, the rest of the characters were fictitious and I could call them what I wanted. I took a pragmatic approach. I picked a different letter from the alphabet for each character, chose names indigenous to Northumberland, appropriate for the Regency era and tried to make sure that there was no repetition. I often find it confusing if characters in novels have similar sounding names or if they begin with the same letter.
However, when I called the younger brother of the missing heiress, ‘Matthew’, I never imagined the embarrassment this would later cause me. Matthew was a very popular name in late 18th century England. It is also the name of my own younger brother. (Yes, I think you can see where this is going.) When I plotted the book I instinctively named Matthew Carnaby after my own brother and thought nothing more about it. In my head, this was a convenient – possibly temporary - arrangement which would help me remember who he was while I sorted out the rest of the details about him and the other characters.
At the start of a novel, everything is fluid and full of potential. Minor characters like Matthew Carnaby are particularly sketchy; his personality and circumstances were vague. He eventually became a sad and tragic figure, the victim of horrific abuse in his infancy which had left him mute and physically scarred. He developed into one of my favourite characters and will probably appear in a later novel in the series, but somehow while I was writing the novel I completely forgot about the significance of his name.
Post-publication, my slip up came back to haunt me. Mum was the first to contact me with feedback after Heiress was released. Of course she loved the book (bless her) and was full of praise. But at the end of the conversation she quietly asked me:
'Why did you name the ‘idiot’ younger brother after our Matthew?'
Ooops. I didn’t see this one coming. Cue a blustering and red-faced author. I can honestly say that until that moment, I hadn’t realised the implications when I gave the Bellingham village idiot the same name as my sibling.
‘Our Matthew’ also read The Missing Heiress and he sent me a text:
Reading Heiress and loving it. Just got to the bit were the idiot younger brother has the shit kicked out of him…
Ouch. He noticed. In fact, he’s mentioned it several times recently. Matthew has made it clear that I’m not going to get away with this one lightly - innocent mistake or not. I sense a lifetime of ribbing ahead. Happier times: My siblings and I
It is amazing what else those close to you read into your work. In the same conversation, Mum also wanted to know why I had called the unsavoury Baxter Carnaby after my gentle, God-fearing uncle: Howard Baxter. I hadn’t. In my mind, Baxter was just a strong, memorable name. Memorable is vitally important in fiction.
I will be more cautious in future when naming my characters but I’m not sure that it will help. In my experience, authors face an uphill struggle against the boundless imaginations of their close family and friends. Our nearest and dearest fly off on a tangent when they read our books. They hear our voices as they read and automatically look out for connections – obscure or real - to the life we lead and the people we know. Their spiralling tangents have no limits.
The last I heard, I am still in my parent’s Last Will and Testament (just) but I may have to avoid being alone with my brother in the same room for a while. In the meantime, for penance, I am doing a little research about Kentish smugglers and sketching out the character of one Master Barnabus Gouldsmith...
Q: What’s in a name?
Bow Street Runners and Early British Detectives
Kirkley Hall, Ponteland
In 2005, we made two surprising discoveries while researching my husband’s ancestors. We first learnt that he had a convicted felon, a Regency jail-bird, roosting in the branches of his family tree, called Jamie Charlton. Then we found out that a Bow Street detective, Stephen Lavender, had been involved in the investigation which sent our Jamie to trial.
Naturally, our first priority was to find out more about our skeleton in the closet but we were also intrigued by Detective Lavender. He was referred to as ‘a principal officer’ with the Bow Street magistrates’ court in London. I had heard the phrase ‘Bow Street runner’ many times before but I had no idea that there were British detectives as early as 1809. I had always assumed that detectives were created along with the rest of the police force by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.
Years of research at The National Archives in London and the Northumberland Records Office gradually disclosed that our Jamie had been convicted of stealing the rent money from the Northumbrian manor house, Kirkley Hall. It was an audacious crime; over £1,157 had been taken from the estate office at the hall. Our research also revealed that Nathanial Ogle, the wealthy owner of Kirkley Hall, had paid for Detective Lavender to come up from London to solve the case.
To Ogle’s delight, Lavender recovered the bulk of the missing money. It had been thrown back over the wall of the kitchen garden in a sack, and lay half-hidden by a currant bush for several days until the detective instigated a thorough search of the grounds. Only £162 of coins remained outstanding. This is not as surprising as it may seem. Most of the recovered money was paper banknotes which had only been in circulation for a few years; in 1809 most British commoners did not understand or trust paper money.
Lavender also discovered that Jamie Charlton, a disgruntled ex-employee of Kirkley Hall, had been on a generous spending spree in the weeks after the robbery and his investigation focussed on him. In May 1809, he had Jamie arrested and sent for trial at the August Assizes in Newcastle. However, they released him after an initial hearing because there was no evidence to actually connect him to the crime. At this point, Stephen Lavender went back to London, famous for retrieving most of the stolen rent money but unable to secure the conviction of his main suspect.
Jamie Charlton also went home but he was rearrested a year later. This time the evidence came from Jamie’s former cell mate, William Taylerson, and the local magistrate instigated the arrest. Taylerson claimed that when they shared a cell together in prison, Jamie Charlton had confessed to him that he had, indeed, committed the crime. Taylerson was a horse thief, already sentenced to death. After a trial which lasted fourteen hours, a jury of local landowners and nobility found Jamie guilty in just five minutes. They sentenced him to transportation, and granted Taylerson a full pardon. The whole thing smacked of a miscarriage of justice - even by the dodgy legal standards of the Regency.
The ideal plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap and Catching the Eagle was born. It took two years to write this book, which was eventually published by Knox Robinson Publishers of Historical Fiction in December 2011.
Bow Street Magistrate's Court, London
According to my research, when the principal officers like Lavender went out to work on cases in other counties of Britain, they usually worked alone. As a novelist, this presented me with an interesting dilemma. Literary convention in any crime fiction usually requires that the detective has an assistant. In the end, I decided to veer away from historical fact with Catching the Eagle and bow down to the literary convention; I gave Lavender an assistant, Constable Edward Woods. Although they were only minor characters in this first novel, I thoroughly enjoyed creating Woods and Lavender and developing the rapport and humorous dialogue which erupted spontaneously between them. I felt that I had created a winning duo of crime fighters and I didn’t want to let them go.
Natural curiosity drew me towards their world. I began to invest time, money and effort on investigating those early British detectives. ‘A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A history of the Bow Street Runners 1792 – 1839’ written by David J. Cox became the main source of my research. I discovered that back in 1809, Bow Street Magistrates’ court, was the thriving centre of policing in the crime-ridden capital of England. Bow Street and the Old Bailey Criminal Court were the vibrant partners in London’s justice system.
http://www. oldbaileyonline.org/ is ripe source of information and inspiration for any author interested in crime, criminals and early British detectives. This website documents the proceedings of the Old Bailey, between the years of 1674-1913 and contains details of 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. Stephen Lavender frequently appears on the stand as a police witness in these documents.
Number 4 Bow Street was where Sir Henry Fielding, novelist and magistrate, first persuaded the British government to establish a police force in 1747. This was in response to the growing call to find an effective means to tackle the increasing crime and disorder in the capital, where every fourth shop was a ‘gin house,’ a vast sex trade sprawled across hundreds of brothels and gangs of highwaymen and cut-throats terrorized the roads on the outskirts of London. Fielding brought together eight reliable constables, who soon gained a reputation for honesty and efficiency in their pursuit of criminals and later came to be known as ‘the Bow Street Runners.’ But Fielding faced an uphill struggle against both organised crime in the capital, and the mistrust of the politicians who paid for his policemen.
George IV, The Prince Regent
In the late eighteenth century, the wealthy elite of Britain preferred to spend their money on personal security, rather than funding a communal police force. If you needed to track down a criminal there were plenty of ‘thief takers’ – an early form of bounty hunter – whom the rich could employ to drag a suspect into the dock. There was huge resistance to the notion of a centralised police force because of the brutal excesses of the French police system across the Channel, under the revolutionary fanatic, Joseph Fouché. Nevertheless, the crime fighting force started by Sir Henry Fielding expanded and gained national recognition.
By 1809, the year of my novels, the number of police personnel had dramatically increased and a horse patrol had been established to bring some law and order to the crime-infested outlying areas. Principal officers were restyled ‘detectives’ and had various roles. Apart from supporting their colleagues in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. They took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands.
The principal officers were a policing elite, famous throughout London, and the aristocracy loved them. They did security work for the Bank of England and acted as bodyguards for Royalty, especially the Prince Regent. They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House, the forerunner of the palace. On occasions they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out over our borders onto the continent.
According to the records I have unearthed, Stephen Lavender spent a lot of his time working on difficult cases out in the provinces. Wealthy landowning citizens, like Nathanial Ogle of Kirkley Hall, could request the help of a principal officer. Bow Street would charge them a hefty fee and the detectives could claim lucrative expenses on top of their salary. Many principal officers became very rich.
The arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst
However, the Bow Street officers were still regarded with mistrust by the general population and there were many allegations of police corruption – some of them genuine. In 1829, the government charged Sir Robert Peel with the task of creating a new national police force; a force which was properly funded and more accountable. Following this transition, Stephen Lavender became the highly-respected Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester.
Bow Street itself remained a magistrates’ court until 2004. During its two hundred and fifty year reign as Britain’s most famous police station, it has had both the famous, and the infamous, pass across its threshold. From the legendary lover, Giacomo Casanova, to the murderer, Dr. Crippen, and the notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins; from the famous mother and daughter suffragettes, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst to the brilliant, homosexual playwright, Oscar Wilde and more recently, the Chilean dictator , General Pinochet.
In that tense and frustrating period between the completion of my debut novel, Catching the Eagle, and securing a publisher for the book, the first seeds of a Regency whodunit began to germinate in my head. As far as I was concerned, there were only two policemen in England who could crack this mysterious case. I sat down at the computer and The Missing Heiress was born, with Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods as the main characters. Ultimately, Stephen Lavender was the man who charged our ancestor with stealing the Kirkley Hall rent money and placed him in the dock but I’ve never held that against him. He was the natural choice for the detective in my new novel. In my mind, he had grown from an interesting minor character to a fully-fledged and fascinating protagonist. The Missing Heiress flew off my keyboard like silk and I completed it in ten months.
In this first novel in a new series, the two policemen are called back to Northumberland, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful young heiress from a locked bedchamber. Convinced that this is a simple case of a young woman who has eloped with her lover, Lavender and Woods are later alarmed to discover a sinister world of madness, violence and secrets lurking behind the heavy oak door of the ancient pele tower at Linn Hagh.
The Missing Heiress was published by Knox Robinson Publishing on 6th December 2012.
(Article first published on Shots: Crime and Thriller eZine, December 2012)
FREE for two days only!
From the morning of Friday, 17th August until the evening of
Catching the Eagle will be available for a FREE kindle download from amazon.
Simply click on the links below:amazon.co.ukamazon.com
But hurry, this offer ends on Saturday, 18th August!
Spread the word!
New Book Published!
I am delighted to announce that my latest book, Seeking Our Eagle, is now available to buy in paperback and eBook format.
Seeking Our Eagle is the second book I have written about Jamie Charlton and the Kirkley Hall robbery. This time it is the story behind the story. In Seeking Our Eagle, I explain how we uncovered a Regency convict in our family tree, and then turned his sorry tale of injustice into a historical novel.
After the book launch of Catching the Eagle in 2011, the interest in the background to the novel took me by surprise. Newspapers, radio, magazines and even a TV station all wanted to know how Chris and I had discovered our unusual skeleton in the closet. Genealogy groups, libraries and local historical societies invited me to appear as a guest speaker at their events. I soon realised that there might also be a wider audience for this extraordinary story and decided to write a complimentary factual book, called Seeking Our Eagle, which mapped our genealogical experience, the social history of our Charlton ancestors and my creative journey into fiction.
I like to think of Seeking the Eagle as a semi-autobiographical romp through the centuries. It explains how we chased Bad Granddad Jamie (four times removed) through the dusty records and the even dustier Northumberland lanes. It also shows how we learned about the devastating impact of World War One on our ancestors; the role they played in the Railway Boom of the Victorian era and how our family was torn apart by dissension in the late eighteenth century. The Charltons were ordinary people but many of them were caught up in extraordinary events.
I warmly invite you to join myself and Chris, as I take you back to the beginning and show you how we embarked on our remarkable journey of discovery.
'Seeking Our Eagle' is available from amazon as a kindle eBook Price: : £3.06. Please use the link below.'Seeking Our Eagle' on Kindle
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Paperback: £8.99 20% savings! Ends Friday, 10 August 2012.
Buy a paperback copy of 'Seeking Our Eagle' from lulu.com @ a 20% discount.
Simply click on the link below and use the code: ASTOUND20 to claim your discount. (Code is case sensitive.)
But hurry, offer ends Friday, 10th August!
'Seeking Our Eagle' in paperback
Charity fund-raiser and Book Signing
I have two fabulous local events coming up in the next fortnight and would like to invite folks to join me.
Firstly, I will be the guest speaker at a fund-raising event at the Holistics Cancer Care Centre at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough on Friday 13th July 6.30 -8pm.
The Holistics Cancer Care Centre is a wonderful resource and treatment centre for the people of Teesside and deserves our support. Cancer sufferers and partners can access a range of treatments, ranging from acupuncture to aromatherapy massage to help relieve their stress and help them sleep.
At the event I will be explaining how genealogical research helped us uncover the story of our skeleton in the closet and then turn his sorry tale of Regency injustice into a novel, Catching the Eagle.
Please telephone 01642 854839 for tickets for what I hope will be an enjoyable evening. The cost is £10 and includes refreshments. All proceeds will go directly to the Holistics Cancer Care Centre.
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The following day, I have been invited back to the lovely Guisborough Bookshop to do a book signing of the paperback edition of my novel, Catching the Eagle.
I am really looking forward to this event and hope that you can join me.
Book Signing @
The Guisborough Bookshop
4, Chaloner Street,
11am - 1 pm
'Paperback writer, paperback writer.
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look? '
Guess which Beatles song keeps running around my head this morning?
Yes, it's happened. The paperback edition of Catching the Eagle is now available to buy on amazon and from The Book Depository, The Guisborough Bookshop and selected branches of Waterstones. Price £12.99.
The Daily Mail gave it the thumbs up back in January....why not take a look yourself?
YouTube video of 'Catching the Eagle'
- Fantastic News!
Earlier this year, genes reunited encouraged me to make a promotional video about my novel, Catching the Eagle which is, of course, based on the true story of our criminal ancestor. I have been a member of genesreuinted since 2003. Their organisation helped me to research our family history and uncover valuable information about the main characters, Jamie, William and Cilla Charlton.
Thanks to lot of help from the wonderful (and very patient) Dave Cocks of Redcar RNLI, I made a video and now genes reunited have linked it to their website for their eleven million members.
On top of this, they are posting the news on their face book page on Saturday. I would be really grateful if anyone with a face book account could leave a comment beneath the post when it appears in order to keep it near the top of the page. Thanks a lot.
Face book page for Saturday: http://www.facebook.com/genesreunited
You can view the video on YouTube by following the link below.
"Catching the Eagle - How one family's true crime past became a novel"
Book signing @
Saturday 14th January, 1-3pm
I am looking forward to returning to Northumberland this weekend for my book signing in the county's largest branch of Waterstones - I just hope that the weather remains mild. I have heard rumours that at this time of year when we drive through the Tyne Tunnel, we come out the other side into a different weather system. ;)
Waterstones organised a great press release about the event last week.
http://www.journallive.co.uk/culture-newcastle/book-reviews/2012/01/07/chance-to-meet-karen-charlton-and-barry-stone-61634-30075059/I'm looking forward to meeting Barry Stone as well. :) The more tips I can pick up from other authors, the better.
Talk about Catching the Eagle at Skelton Library on Wednesday
There may still be chance to grab yourself a ticket for my appearance at Skelton Library on Wednesday 11th January. They cost £2 and all proceeds are going to to the library. It starts at 10am and is scheduled to finish at mid day.
Apart from reading from Catching the Eagle, I will also be talking about how we uncovered our family black sheep, Jamie Charlton, and how I turned his dramatic story into a novel and secured a publishing deal.
Looking forward to meeting you there.
Catching the Eagle reviewed in The Daily Mail
Wow! And Wow again!
I've just got word from my publisher that Catching the Eagle has been favourably reviewed in The Daily Mail! The review has just leapt up on their website and we think that it will appear in tomorrow's newspaper.
It is fabulous, fabulous news. The link is below and I've copied and pasted the review into this post:
CATCHING THE EAGLE BY KAREN CHARLTON
(Knox Robinson Publishing £19.99)
A break-in at the steward’s office at Kirkley Hall in Northumberland on April 3, 1809, became a cause célèbre when local man James Charlton was accused of stealing over £1,100.
Acquitted at his trial following a huge public outcry, his family thought it the end of the matter. But he was later re-arrested and transported on the evidence of a convicted burglar, whose death sentence was subsequently commuted.
Charlton’s novel, based on true events surrounding her husband’s ancestor, is the first in a projected trilogy.
Told with gritty realism, Catching The Eagle is a suspense-filled page-turner, which spares nothing in its descriptions of the hardships and injustices suffered by the poor at the turn of the 19th century.
Its ending leaves the reader poised perfectly for the next volume - for which I can hardly wait
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-2082654/HISTORICAL-FICTION.html#ixzz1icd9Funx