The Edinburgh Dead

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Okay, we’ll get to the fun stuff in a minute, but first let’s tidy away a little bit of linkage:

I write about When Genres Collide over at the Orbit blog.  Marvel at my delusional hubris as I demonstrate conclusively that crime and horror fiction are exactly the same!  (Incidentally, should anyone feel tempted to comment on my half-assed theories, I’d appreciate it if you did so over there rather than here …)

The Edinburgh Dead is reviewed at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (“not a dull moment … should satisfy even jaded genre readers”!)

And also at the Wall Street Journal (“compelling mix of horror and sci-fi”!)

I write about the Dark Side of Edinburgh’s history over at the SFX Magazine blog.

And – now the fun bit – alert readers of that last article might notice that there’s a link at the end leading to …

The crazy cool grand EDINBURGH DEAD COMPETITION!

Yes, you, dear reader, have the chance to win a stay in an Edinburgh hotel, along with a creepy tour of the city’s secret history (and a copy of The Edinburgh Dead, too, but that’s kind of secondary in this case, I have to admit).  This is pretty much the jolliest wheeze my esteemed publishers have yet come up with for promoting one of my books, and I think it’s kind of neat.  Go and enter, why don’t you? Closing date is 15th September 2011.

So what’s the best bit about writing a book? Well, it’s rarely the actual writing, I can tell you that much.  In the case of The Edinburgh Dead, it was the research, so you’ll have to forgive me if I digress from the main thread of the Photo-Trailer in order to dispense some heartfelt affection.

In 1710, the Library of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh was granted the right to claim, from its publisher, a copy of every book published in Great Britain.  So for three hundred years it, along with a select few other institutions, has been steadily, remorsely amassing a vast, almost unimaginable compendium of the written word.  It became the National Library of Scotland, and in 1956 took up its present abode behind an admittedly somewhat forbidding facade on George IV Bridge (a bridge that, by convenient coincidence, does get a mention or two in The Edinburgh Dead, since it was being built at the time of the novel).

Behind that unshowy exterior lies a world of wonder and dreams. It is the manual, analogue internet, and a place, I think, in may ways far richer and deeper and more intoxicating than the digital version that rules our lives now. There are no hyperlinks to guide you, no Google to impose its presumptive structures upon your wanderings. You have to do the work yourself. Hold the books in your hands; read not short, snappy summaries but page after page of considered text; follow trails through quotations and references and indexes. Map out your own exploration, and do it slowly, with care and reflection.

That modest doorway is the portal to centuries of human thought upon every conceiveable subect. The NLS currently holds over 14 million printed items in their collections. 14 million. And it is freely available to anyone with the inclination and cause to investigate it. What a thing. What a wondrous, wonderful thing.

Within, beyond the obligatory cafe (which does rather good tea, by the way – the diligent researcher must know where his restorative refreshments are going to come from) and cloakroom and exhibition space, a relatively modest stairway leads us up towards the light, towards the doors of the reading room.

That’s the doors there, and I took my camera no further, because snooping around in there taking photos seemed unlikely to be welcomed. So we’ll have to make do with this little snapshot I pinched from the NLS’ own website.

The Reading Room’s a modest space – demure – unlike the cavernous, crowded reading rooms of the British Library in London. Always busyish, but never overcrowded. Wonderfully quiet, of course, save for the tip-tap of fingers upon laptops and the occasional cough from the assembled readers.

Who are a diverse lot, as befits the clientele of a national library. Students and academics, of course, but amateur researchers too, hobbyists and genealogists, writers and readers of all sorts. Each one of them in his or her own world, immersed in the mental space created by printed words upon a page; words that have been brought forth from the vast, unseen storage spaces that reside in that same building or other sites around the city like some titanic literary iceberg whose merest, random tip is each day brought forth into the light by the specific requests of those visiting the library.

And while you wait for the books you have requested to be produced for your perusal, you can browse the shelves, where an eclectic selection of stuff awaits your curiosity. That’s where I found the old proceedings and records of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which – like George IV Bridge – can be found within the pages of The Edinburgh Dead. The Society was founded way back in 1780, and is still going today, which makes it almost, but not quite, as venerable an institution as the National Library of Scotland.

Above the door of the NLS, obvious to all as they depart, is a map that says as much as any words can about how deeply into the past go the foundations of the building.  It shows Edinburgh as it was three hundred years ago, when the seeds of the National Library were sown.  The city – and the world – may have transformed around it, but the idea that the Library embodies and fulfils is still there, unchanged.  And a jolly good idea it is too.

Previous instalments of The Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer:

Duddingston Loch

The Arthur’s Seat Coffins

Guarding the Dead

Weaponry

So, What’s a Close, Then?

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Following on from last post, about reviews and interviews, it occurred to me I might as well also point the way towards a bit of The Edinburgh Dead that you – yes, you – can read right now, should you be the sort who needs to taste something before ordering it off the menu …

Over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, you can find out what happens when out hero, Adam Quire, meets a man with a shovel on a frozen loch

The Edinburgh Dead gets reviewed at:

RT Book Reviews (4.5 stars! Top Pick!)

My Bookish Ways (“The author is a master at creating dread,and manages to ratchet up the tension with a sure hand” !)

Falacta Times (“will grip the reader in its vice like hands as much from the first page as its last” !)

And I, its author, get interviewed at:

The Qwillery

And, in a development entirely unrelated in any way whatsoever to The Edinburgh Dead, but included here because it’s Friday, and every so often we must have Moving Pictures on a Friday: the late, lugubrious Carl Sagan comes over all eloquent and wise, on the subject of The Earth Seen From Space.

Pale Blue Dot – Animation from Ehdubya on Vimeo.

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One of the most important characters in The Edinburgh Dead, I like to think, isn’t a character at all: it’s the city’s Old Town.

Edinburgh has one of the most spectacular and beautiful geographies – both natural and man-made – of any British city (actually I’m bending over backwards to appear less partisan than I am, there; truth is, it’s head and shoulders above all its competitors in that department).   But the Old Town, the ancient heart of the city, has an intimate, intricate, dark geography that is not exactly spectacular, but no less fascinating for that.

An aside: How can you tell when a city is ancient?  Well, Edinburgh has a New Town as well as an Old.  The New Town dates back almost 250 years.  That’s what counts as New in Edinburgh.

Anyway, back to the Old Town.  Here is what part of it looked like, very roughly around the time of The Edinburgh Dead:

A multitude of narrow streets projecting from one long, central thoroughfare that runs up the rising ridge from the Palace of Holyrood to the famous Castle.  What you can’t tell from that bird’s eye view is that all those narrow streets are not only narrow, but deep.

Centuries ago, the good folk of Edinburgh were modest pioneers of the skyscraper.  Nobody wanted to build outside the city walls, for fear of someone (well, let’s be honest – not someone; the English, that’s who) coming along and trashing everything.  So everyone kept living and building inside that tightly-defined limit, and they built higher and higher.  The result is the dark geography that still characterises the Old Town: narrow, straight alleyways sunk down beneath soaring tenements.  Places where sunlight hardly ever reaches.

Each one of these alleyways has it’s own name, more often than not a piece of deep history.  That one above is Fleshmarket Close, for example, because once – long ago – the Old Town’s meat market was down at the foot of it.  They are almost all called something-or-other Close, or sometimes Such-and such Wynd.

Here is the entrance to Borthwick’s Close:

Inviting?  Let’s venture down it a little way …

Places like this are where, until the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the vast majority of Edinburgh’s inhabitants – rich and poor alike – lived.  Packed in, piled one atop one another.

At least until the rich tired of the intimacy, the filth, the intensity of it all, and decided to build themselves a grand, spacious New Town.  By the time of The Edinburgh Dead, many of the great and the good had moved out of the Old Town, but thousands of people still lived and died there, the patterns of their lives shaped by these architecural canyons.

Borthwick’s Close has an important part to play in The Edinburgh Dead.  At its foot, in a watery dawn, a body is found curled up on the doorstep of a shuttered whisky shop.  So there you are: a character portrait in photos.

Previous instalments of The Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer:

Duddingston Loch

The Arthur’s Seat Coffins

Guarding the Dead

Weaponry

Wobbly’s being polite, in fact. Had several days of unintended isolation from the Web, and despite having apparently fixed the problem through tediously extended fiddling about with settings, cables etc., still have no clue what the cause was.  So, if you are one of the various people expecting me to send you something via the virtual tubes, apologies for the delay: now that I’m connected again, I’ll get to it as soon as I can.  As far as I can tell, I haven’t actually missed any e-mails or anything, so it’s only a matter of time before yours reaches the top of the To Do pile.

In the meantime, some pointers to The Edinburgh Dead‘s step by step spread around the Web, which evidently continued even while I was twiddling my thumbs over the last few days.

The book’s launch is marked in generous style over at the Orbit Books blog, and you can also read an extract there.

Over at Tynga’s Reviews, you can enjoy the spectacle of me trying to recast the fable of Red Riding Hood with characters from The Edinburgh Dead.  (One of the accompanying photos seems to suggest that Tynga thinks Gerard Butler is the man to play my main character, Adam Quire, in the movie version – which is a clever call, although I’ve tended to visualise Daniel Craig in the role, myself).

And last, but by no means least, there’s a review of The Edinburgh Dead for you to peruse over at the Sci-Fi Bulletin website, which includes the smart (and to my mind, jolly complimentary) suggestion that parts of it read like John Buchan writing from a story idea by Sam Raimi.  I didn’t know it at the time, but in hindsight, that’s kind of exactly what I was trying for when I was writing certain sections … ah, the wisdom of reviewers!

With the publication of The Edinburgh Dead now looming, it seems a sensible moment to mention that, as with my previous books, those who want to get their hands on a signed (and optionally dedicated etc.) copy of the tome can do so through Edinburgh’s finest emporium of booky speculative fiction, Transreal Fiction.

At the modest cost of cover price plus shipping, anyone can obtain my elegant signature upon a copy of the UK paperback or, I believe with slightly more limited availability, the US trade paperback.  The details of how it all works are right here for your perusal, so if you’re interested, don’t delay, get your order in today!

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The Edinburgh Dead is set in 1828, a time of relative peace in Britain and Europe.  But it is not itself a particularly peaceful story, and I have to report that on a number of occasions within its pages, various characters resort to violence.  So: the equipment of violence.

This is a Land Pattern musket:

It’s a weapon I didn’t know anything in particular about until I started researching the book, but the more I read about it the more interested I became.  Like a lot of guns, I find a certain appealing, utilitarian grace in its design.  (Even as I find an ugliness in its purpose).  What really got me interested, though, was its nickname.  An enormous number of different versions of the Land Pattern were produced for use by the British armed forces in the 18th and 19th centuries, and many of them were known by those who used them as Brown Bess.  As someone observes in The Edinburgh Dead: ‘a soft, almost companionable, name for something that had spat such storms of smoke and fire and lead and spilled such torrents of blood the world over.’

The Brown Bess was, in some ways, the ferocious midwife to the birth of the British Empire.  More directly relevant to The Edinburgh Dead, as will become clear, she was at the side of thousands of British soldiers fighting in the brutally extended Napoleonic Wars that ravaged Europe in the early years of the 19th century.

This is a briquet, a French sabre:

A blade of the sort carried into battle by the French soldiers striving to fulfil Napoleon’s imperial ambitions.  Guns of one sort or another had been the dominant force on the battlefield for a very long time by the start of the 19th century, yet there was still a place for the devices of horribly intimate slaughter.  I can only guess that people could still find a use for swords of one sort or another mainly because the reload time for many of the firearms then in use was such that not all killing could easily be done at a distance.  But still, even the muzzle-loading flintlock Brown Bess shown above could apparently be reloaded by a skilled operator remarkably quickly: three or four shots a minute was evidently possible.

This is a French flintlock pistol of the time:

Pretty, no?  Strange how such gruesomely-intentioned equipment can appear so elegant.  Why the emphasis on French weapons, you might wonder.  Well, The Edinburgh Dead‘s central character – Adam Quire – is a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars.  At the time the novel is set, he lives still with the physical, psychological and material legacy of that conflict.  It casts a faint shadow over much of what happens in the book, and that includes the weaponry that appears in the story.  Each one of the three weapons pictured here features somehow, so this really is a very literal photo-trailer.

And I’ll add one more image, by way of a less specific hint.  Not strictly a weapon, but an important player in the action of The Edinburgh DeadYou don’t need me to tell you what this is:

Previous instalments of The Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer:

Duddingston Loch

The Arthur’s Seat Coffins

Guarding the Dead

Last weekend provided a nice few days around these parts.  Small pleasures.  Which I will now, of course, insist upon sharing …

An Unexpected Visitor

Putting out food for the little birds in the garden means occasionally being graced by the presence of a bigger bird, come to eat the little ones.  Poor chap missed out this time, but was kind enough to hang around for quite a while – no doubt bemoaning his misfortune – and pose for pictures.

Beach and Barbecue Weather

It was hot, hot, hot at the weekend.  In the photo above we see the unbounded enthusiasm of the Scots for a nice beach in good weather.  If you can see past the seething hordes of beach-goers, you might just be able to make out a lovely view.  Actually it did get more populated later, but it was nice not to have to share it with many folk for a while.  Did have a barbecue, later, but you’ll just have to take my word for that, since I’ve no photographic evidence.

An Expected, but Very Welcome, Delivery

A box of author’s copies of The Edinburgh Dead.  It’ll be in bookstores in just a few weeks now.  Others can make their own minds up about the contents, but looks-wise, I’m a big fan of this.  It’s a sleek and good-looking beast, very nicely put together by the Orbit team.

On the subject of others making up their own minds about the contents, some kind words have been said about the book recently.  They’ve been said in paper-and-ink form rather than on online, so sadly I can’t link to them directly and you’ll just have to believe me when I say that they were along these lines:

Publishers Weekly said: “Ruckley ventures successfully into the gothic with this horrific thriller … atmospheric descriptions help sustain the menacing mood.”

RT Magazine said, amongst other nice things: “this frightening tale of taking scientific enlightenment much too far is enhanced by strong, sharp prose and a lively pace, making it difficult to stop turning the pages.”

Jolly good.  Always a relief when you hear that someone out there in the big wide world likes your book …

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Graveyards as fortresses. Not for fear of the rising dead, but – as a character in The Edinburgh Dead puts it – for the protection of the dead against the avaricious living.  Corpses had value in 18th and 19th century Edinburgh, as educational material for the city’s famous medical schools.   The bodysnatchers (or, as they were more dramatically known, the resurrectionists) emptied graves at night.  Yes, if you died in Edinburgh in 1828, when The Edinburgh Dead is set, and left a reasonably presentable corpse, there was a chance your mortal remains would be surreptitiously dug up, bagged, sold to an anatomist, possibly pickled, and then displayed and dissected for the edification of medical students.  The good folk of the city, not unreasonably, thought that more than a little uncalled for.  They took steps to deter the nocturnal corpse-thiefs.

They built and manned watchtowers in their cemeteries. (The one shown above is at Duddingston – a location that’s featured in this photo-trailer before).

They set cages about the graves of their loved ones.

They even resorted to massive, impenetrable iron coffins.

It could all easily be an array of defences against the undead, inspired by superstitious fear of revenants clawing their way out of the soil.  What’s more unsettling, though?  Those fantastical notions, or the truth: that men thought nothing of digging up their recently deceased fellows and selling them for dissection, and that respected – indeed internationally lauded – teachers of medicine found the imperatives of their calling so pressing that they thought it an acceptable way of obtaining cadavers for their anatomy lessons?

Previous instalments of The Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer:

The Arthur’s Seat Coffins

Duddingston Loch

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