Saturday, April 29, 2023

Q&A with Bridget Walsh




Bridget Walsh is the author of the new novel The Tumbling Girl, the first in her Variety Palace Mystery series. She lives in Norwich, England.


Q: What inspired you to write The Tumbling Girl, and how did you create your characters Minnie Ward and Albert Easterbrook?


A: The Tumbling Girl is a marriage between my academic background and my love of crime fiction. Armed with a Ph.D. in Victorian murder, in 2017 I enrolled on a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. I started off thinking I should create something deadly serious and writerly, but soon realised I wasn’t that kind of writer. I wrote something that I thought was reasonably funny and it struck a chord.


In terms of characters, I knew I wanted a working-class woman at the heart of the book. Growing up, I rarely saw people like me as the heroines of stories. In Victorian novels, particularly with a good Irish name like Bridget, working-class girls were servants or, if they were really unlucky, ladies of the night.


I wanted to take someone who hadn’t had the best start in life and give her independence and agency. Theatres, music halls, spaces for the arts and entertainment have long allowed those outside the mainstream to flourish. Women in Victorian London who enjoyed success in the halls could make a decent living without the need for marriage.


But I had to work within the realms of reality. There were female detectives in the 19th century, but they were rather limited in what work they could undertake. Minnie needed a partner - ideally a man.


Albert has turned his back on a privileged upbringing to commit himself to helping others - first as a police officer, now as a private detective. Between them, Minnie and Albert can gain access to pretty much anywhere.


I also wanted an emotional connection between Minnie and Albert. Minnie appears to move with confidence and ease through the world, but she has a secret from her past that is stopping her fully embracing the future.


Albert, despite the wealth and privilege of his upbringing, had a cold and unloving childhood. He feels like he never fits in anywhere, until he meets Minnie and discovers that the chaotic world of the Variety Palace is somewhere he can finally be at home.


I hope it’s obvious in the book, but I love Minnie and Albert dearly and often find myself baulking at the trials I put them through!

Q: As you mentioned, the novel is set in Victorian London--how important is setting to you in your work, and how did you conduct your research for the book?


A: As most writers would agree, setting is crucial. I’m a Londoner by birth and the city was pretty well-documented during the 19th century, so there was lots of research to draw on. I already knew a thing or two about the Victorian era from my Ph.D. The opportunity to use that knowledge while creating a fictional world has been a joy.


In terms of conducting research, that’s one of my favourite parts of writing. I read anything and everything about the Victorian era, and I also visit sites that I think might be useful. For example, Hoxton Hall is one of two surviving music halls in London that still operate as theatrical venues, and I was fortunate enough to be shown backstage, which helped form the inspiration for the Variety Palace.


Q: The writer Trevor Wood said of the book, “Delightful, dark and depraved all at the same time. What's not to like?” What do you think of that description?


A: I love it! The book does undoubtedly venture into the darker side of life, but my novels are also character-driven and to really care about a character I think you need warmth in their portrayal and an element of humour. The more you care about Minnie and Albert, the more invested you’ll be when I put them in perilous situations.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I thought I knew how the novel would end and I also had a deadline to meet, as The Tumbling Girl was the dissertation for my Masters. So I was moving forward fairly confidently, until the day my husband, Micky, and I were walking our dogs and discussing plot as we often did.


Very casually Micky said, ‘What if X is the Hairpin Killer?’ and I just stopped in the middle of the pavement. I wanted to hug him and punch him in equal measure, because I immediately knew it was the right way to go, but it meant an enormous amount of work, going back through the whole book and laying new strands of hints and clues. It was worth it, though.


I also killed off a character in the original ending, which I regretted as they were someone I really enjoyed writing. Thankfully, I had the chance to go back and undo that and the character will resurface in book four of the series.


Q: This is the first in a series--can you tell us what's next?


A: The second Variety Palace Mystery, The Innocents, will be published by Gallic Books in March 2024. Bernard Reynolds, ex-Shakespearean actor and Variety Palace stalwart, enlists Minnies help in finding his missing brother. Before long, Minnie and Albert start to uncover the links between a series of seemingly random and disconnected deaths, all of them connected by a 14-year-old tragedy.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve completed the draft for Summerland, the third novel in the series, and that’s currently with my agent. That book centres on the Victorian fascination with spiritualism.


I have a chapter outline for book four, and I’ve just started writing it. I like to keep busy!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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