I was born in Weston, Ontario, Canada to British parents, but I grew up in Northern England where the Entwistle tribe hails from.
Later, I lived in Seattle, Washington for close to twenty years (and loved it), but when I landed the book deal my wife and I seized the chance to move back to England. As a writer who specializes in historical fiction (much of which takes place in England) it is much easier to carry out research and actually walk the ground of the places I write about.
Currently, my and wife and I live in the ancient city of Wells in the county of Somerset. Most days I take a break from the keyboard to walk the dog on a route that takes us past the 11th century cathedral, through the market place, and along the moat that surrounds the Bishop’s palace, returning home through Vicar’s Close, the oldest street in Europe with all its medieval houses intact. Wells is a wonderful place for a writer to live. Beyond the obvious history, I find something very calming and deeply spiritual about the place.
Your new novel, The Dead Assassin will be published by Titan Books this month. It’s the second book in the series, The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What can fans of the first book expect for this new book, and how would you introduce it to new readers?
Fans of the first novel, The Revenant of Thraxton Hall, will find themselves on familiar territory. But as many reviewers have noted, it’s not necessary to have read the first book. I constructed the opening of second novel in such a way that new readers are brought up to speed in just a few paragraphs. That said, anyone expecting a straightforward mystery might be knocked a bit off balance. Both novels feature elements of the paranormal and are written to be funny and scary and slightly over the top. (Reviewers often describe them as “a romp.”) Wilde is there to provide wit and a bon vivant’s skewed outlook on the proceedings, while Conan Doyle’s Holmesian mind keeps the plot anchored in reality.
Those who have read the first novel will find that The Dead Assassin is quite a bit darker. The action is cast in a time of political turmoil and the stakes are higher both for Conan Doyle and Wilde, and for the nation as a whole. Anarchists are detonating bombs around the capital and senior members of the government are being assassinated. There have even been attempts on the life of the queen and beneath the veneer of Victorian respectability seethes an undercurrent of revolution. The Minister of War has been murdered in the most brutal fashion and Conan Doyle is called to a scene by a Yard Detective to help unravel a conundrum: the body of his assassin lies just few streets away, but the assassin proves an impossible suspect for he is a petty criminal hanged two weeks previously at Newgate prison.
What inspired you to write the series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
After I just finished my first book, a Victorian suspense novel entitled, The Angel of Highgate, I decided I wanted to write a mystery. After all the research for Angel I was fluent in Victorian England and knew that the foggy, gas-lit streets would make a terrifically atmospheric setting. I have been a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a personal hero of mine, so I struck upon the idea of using him as my investigator. Every detective needs a “Watson,” mainly in order to explain the plot to the reader. Originally I was going to team Conan Doyle with C.J. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan (something about teaming the pixyish Barrie with the walrus-in-tweeds figure of Doyle struck me as humorous); and I wrote a test scene where the two authors met at the Savoy. But as I was riffing on the idea I thought it would be fun to have Oscar Wilde enter the restaurant. However, I was surprised to find that Wilde’s overwhelming personality didn’t just steal the scene, he hi-jacked the entire novel. The joyously reckless chemistry that resulted from mixing the brash and flamboyant Wilde with the staid and sober Conan Doyle set the page on fire, and I knew that I had found my sleuthing duo.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love being a writer and I especially love spending the day living in my imagination. The only thing I don’t like about the life of a novelist is waiting. The publishing industry moves at a glacial pace. After I signed a contract for two books with St. Martin’s Press, I had to wait eighteen months before the book was actually published! It took another fourteen months for the second novel to be published.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I generally like to be at my writing desk by six or six-thirty. I then write non-stop (apart from a break for lunch) until three or four in the afternoon when I usually just run out of steam and slump across the keyboard in exhaustion. The rest of my day is then spent tweeting, updating my Facebook page or Blog, and all the general social media stuff that a writer is required to do these days.
Like most historical novels, the books require a massive amount of research. In addition to non-fiction books on Victorian society, I have an exhaustive collection of biographies on Conan Doyle and Wilde and I regularly re-read the diaries and collected letters of both Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde to gain an insight into the way they actually spoke and thought — outside of their creative writing. I have also visited most of the relevant London locations, including Wilde’s Tite Street house in Chelsea and Conan Doyle’s residences in the London suburb of Norwood and Undershaw in Surrey.
The British Library collection houses many hand written manuscripts by Wilde and Doyle, complete with scribbled edits, notes and marginalia. I actually placed my hands on the glass of the display case and tried to suck their vibrations off the page.
Of course, there was also the obligatory visit to the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221 Baker Street. (Very touristy, but fun.) I also took the Wilde Tour of London, which visits the building that was formerly The Albemarle Club (where Wilde received the infamous defamatory calling card from the Marquess of Queensbury) and the James J. Fox Cigar Merchant where he purchased his piquant Turkish cigarettes. (Wilde smoked 100 cigarettes a day!) I even made a pilgrimage to Undershaw in Surrey, the home Conan Doyle had specially built for his family.
While writing, I keep a small book of Wilde’s witticisms next to my keyboard and read a few pages before commencing work each morning. The enormous amount of research has greatly facilitated the writing process. Once I had the two author’s personalities fixed in my mind, it was simply a matter of dropping them into a scene and watching how they reacted. By the time I came to write the novel I was so immersed in the characters I was having dreams in which they talked to me.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I have always lived in my imagination, and realized when I was eight that I wanted to be a novelist. However I grew up in a family that was spectacularly unencouraging with such outlandish ambitions. I went to university and graduated with a Master’s Degree in English. But then I found that I needed to support myself so over the years I have worked as a writer/editor in a variety of industries. But although I also wrote for myself (poetry, short stories, screenplays, etc.) I never had the time to write a novel). Finally, with my wife’s blessing, I did what everyone advises you not to do: I quit my day job and lived on our savings as I wrote novels full time.
What’s your opinion of the genre today and where do you see yourself fitting into it?
Mystery fiction is resurgent at the moment thanks to the brilliant Scandinavian writers and the spillovers from popular media television programs such as Sherlock. My novels do not fit into mainstream mystery or crime. Rather they are mixed genre: part mystery, part horror, and part fantasy. This category of novel didn’t exist until relatively recently, but now they are increasingly popular. I am part of movement of writers who refuse to be tied down to a specific set of rules and want to go wheresoever our creative Muse leads us.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline and what are you working on at the moment?
I am currently writing the third book in the Paranormal Casebooks series, The Faerie Vortex. This one will involve Conan Doyle and Wilde leaving the environs of London to travel to Southwest of England to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two young girls whose mother claims they have been abducted by faeries!
I am also working on promoting The Angel of Highgate, which will be published by Titan Books in December 2015. As if that wasn’t enough, I am working on a collection of ghost stories.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
Sadly, all my research reading means I don’t have as much time to read fiction as I would like. That said, recently I’ve been on a short story kick and read Trigger Point by Neil Gaiman, Errantry by Elizabeth Hand, and We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Writing is a pretty sedate activity, so people are surprised to find out that I am a hang glider pilot. I started hang gliding when I was fifteen. Since then I’ve had thousands of flights and have flown higher than 9,000 feet. Hang gliding has given me some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as a human being. Strangely, I’ve never incorporated hang gliding into any of the stories I’ve written.
What are you most looking forward to in the next six months?
First the release of my Victorian suspense novel, The Angel of Highgate, which will be published by Titan Books in December, 2015. The next thing would be finishing the third novel in the Paranormal Casebooks series, The Faerie Vortex.
Vaughn Entwistle’s The Revenant of Thraxton Hall and The Dead Assassin are out now, published in the UK by Titan Books, and in the US by Minotaur Books. The Angel of Highgate is due to be published in December 2015 by Titan Books. For more, be sure to check out the author’s website, and follow him on Goodreads and Twitter. Here are the North America covers for the Paranormal Casebooks: