Today I am very happy to welcome A K Benedict to the blog – her latest novel Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts is available now from Orion and a bit further down you can read my review – party of the story within involves the River Thames, almost a character in its own right, so I asked a few related questions and there are some fascinating answers….
The River Thames features in the novel and is very much a character – how did you go about getting such a great sense of it into the story?
I thought London itself would be a character when I started writing but then the river kept twisting into view. It insinuated itself into the heart of the novel and the city retreated. I’ve got a preoccupation with water. I live by the sea and feel landlocked if I spend too much time away from it, or can’t get to a river. When I’m in London, I love walking by the Thames, watching its personality change according to the weather. It takes on so many colours, wearing as many different coats as the commuters that rush over it.
Peter Ackroyd’s excellent books on London and the river were a great start for research and then I dived into more. The most effective and fun part of my research came when interviewing the brilliant London Mudlark. Lara is a well-known mudlark with many followers of her foreshore exploits. I went to her house and she kindly answered my qestions then showed me her collection of foreshore finds. She also showed me how she cleans coins and other metal items, the process that Maria uses in the book, and gave me some of the precious artifacts to take away, some of which made their way into the book.
I then went mudlarking myself, well, not properly, just sitting and feeling out the top layer of shingle, sand and history. I found lots of pipes, pins and Victorian pottery and got a feel for the tides. It is so quiet on the foreshore, as if the city falls silent in case you discover its secrets.
The river, for me, acts as a narrator, hiding some things, revealing them at another point. All secrets will be washed up in time. Lara told me was that there is a strata of the foreshore that was burned during the Great Fire of London. Every now and again, it rises to the surface and everything is blackened and charred. And then it is folded back into the Thames. Like the ghosts that sit by its banks, the river takes everything in, watching the skyline change and generations live and die. As a character it has an awful lot to say.
Do you know the areas talked about in the book well?
I’ve spent a lot of time in London in the last five years, particularly Spitalfields and the foreshore. Much of my pre-writing thinking time was spent walking from the Southbank to Rotherhithe and back again, weaving around the streets. I learned Maria’s route down to the river without use of my eyes, bumbled around markets, sat on the beaches and wrote on the gorgeous balcony of The Angel pub.
Spitalfields has intrigued me since reading another excellent Peter Ackroyd book, Hawksmoor. I loved it on first visit, of course, has dark undertones with its association with the Whitechapel Murders but it is also full of life and joy. The market may be gentrified now but you can still feel the bustle, calls and centuries of stories. The street that Frank and Jonathan live on is a close facsimile of the real Folgate Street. I fell in love with it on a visit to the brilliant Dennis Severs’ house and spent a lot of time wandering up and down at all times of day and night. The residents probably think that a pale writer woman, dressed in black, haunts their street.
Maria uses her sense of touch to discover the secrets held by the River when she is out on the mud, she has friends who use sight. Can you tell us a little about utilising those two very different senses with the heart of the novel?
Maria arrived very early on in the planning stage when I heard about a woman who had an operation to give her sight, and found she didn’t want it. I then did research into others who saw for the first time late in life then and rejected that reality. I could really understand how Maria could feel like that. We all construct a reality through sense impressions. Sight is given supremacy in society but ten people seeing the same thing would probably remember it differently. I wanted to show Maria’s world through smell, touch, taste and sound, as well as a suggestion of a sixth sense.
It made me slip into a different mode of writing. I couldn’t rely on visual images when narrating from her point-of-view so I spent a lot of time typing with my eyes shut, listening to what was going on all around. I also stuck out my tongue like a snake to taste the air and acted scenes out to hear how actions sounded. I spent at least ten minutes shaking my partner’s hand over an dover till I found an appropriate description for the sound. Smells, however, weren’t an issue. I have an obsession with fragrance. I never stop sniffing at things. It’s not my sexiest trait.
On the other side of the narrative, I had the stalker, who is all about watching. It felt very creepy to be looking at Maria through his eyes. I tried to stay in his brain for as short a time as possible and loved switching back to the way Maria sees the world.
Thank you so much!
About the book:
Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery has restored her sight – only for her to find she doesn’t want it. Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker. Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways.
I’m a little in love with this book. It is something different, and not so much about the surface of it but oh so much about the many layers underneath, thought provoking, haunting (sometimes literally) and full of descriptive authenticity that shines from every page.
Jonathan Dark is a police detective with a difference who is determined to save Maria from a stalker who has killed before. Maria has regained her sight but finds she does not wish to use it – meanwhile another London is hidden just beneath the bright lights and both of them come to know it..
Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts is a remarkable read in a lot of ways, a definite page turner but also often gently lulling you along – like the river running through it, the narrative bends first one way then another, taking you on a dark yet often humerous journey, focused on the senses and the writing is really quite beautiful.
Add to that a bit of a rip roarer of a plot that is highly engaging and works its way up to a frantic chase to the finish, some really strangely wonderful and eclectic characters and a genuinely intriguing and atmospheric styling and you have a really marvellous read.
I was a fan of The Beauty of Murder, this authors first novel – with Jonathan Dark she has continued that gorgeous speculative storytelling and created a wonderful new mythology – hopefully one that we will learn more about in future novels.
Yep I’m definitely a little in love with this book.
You can find out more HERE
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To Purchase Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts clickety click HERE
Happy Reading Folks!