This year I have been working hard on the sequel to Alchemists of Time. I spent so much time on it that I delayed publishing Dressing the Dead for months because I didn’t want to leave Alchemists. I can now report that the first draft of the new book, provisionally titled Nine of Swords, is finished and I am now in the process of rewrites and editing with the intent of getting it out there before the end of the year.
This time around it’s 1869, ten years after Alex Harrison was transported from the future. Alex has learned to love his life as a Victorian and settled down and has lost his desire to return to the future. Meanwhile in 1969 Maxine Silver can barely remember Alex and is living a mundane life until some old friends and foes come back into her life.
Everyone thought that Bella Nightingale was dead and time was safe again but they were wrong on both counts. Bella’s acolytes have been working tirelessly to bring her back and this time Bella’s got a new body, that of a swinging sixties woman and she’s going to enjoy every minute of it.
Nine of Swords introduces several new characters and new locations. Expect to be plunged into the Victorian worlds of trains, sport, prisons and stage performances. Meet Isis, Queen of the Night, as she performs her daring magic act and puts her knowledge of creating illusions in the service of defeating Bella. Meet Ezekiel Lee, leader of a modern coven in thrall to Bella. Meet Lenora Barratt a young girl living in a house haunted by Bella. Find out about the true origins and purpose of the camera obscura.
Things have changed in the ten years since Alchemists of Time but some things have remained the same. Bella is still out there and the stability of time is still in doubt. Can she be stopped before it’s too late for everyone and what price are they willing to pay to stop her?
So two people who have read Alchemists of Time have approached me and asked me a question along the lines of “Character X died in one chapter but in a later chapter Character X is alive. How can this be? Did you make a mistake when you wrote the book?”
I admit I was somewhat taken aback by the questions as I thought everyone was aware of time paradoxes and the possible outcomes. It’s not my place to explain these here, nor do I have the space, but if anyone wants a good summary of the possibilities then take a look at 5 Bizarre Paradoxes of Time Travel for instance. The granddaddy of all time travel paradox stories is A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury which explains how making a small change in the past can radically alter the future. In his story a visitor to the past steps off the special platform he is supposed to stay on and when he comes back to his present everything is different. Only then does he discover the butterfly he squashed under his boot. This is often referred to as The Butterfly Effect and is different to the scientific version of the Butterfly Effect proposed by Edward Lorenz. However, both the literary and scientific versions of the Butterfly Effect share the idea that a very small change in one environment can lead to a massive change elsewhere in the system in the longer term.
As I discussed in the previous post I changed the title of my new novel to Alchemists of Time after I had written it. Time travel features in the book as does alchemy so it made sense and was more descriptive than my working title Heretics. Alchemy can be understood on many different levels. A popular description of alchemy is that it is a quest to turn base metal into gold. At a higher level though, and I’m simplifying, alchemy is also seeking a way to change a person’s spiritual path from one of debasement to one of enlightenment. My protagonists are left with no choice but to meddle with time but they do everything they can to minimise the damage they might cause by creating unintentional paradoxes. They practice real alchemy but also their approach to dealing with time paradoxes are alchemical in nature – they want to achieve the best possible outcomes whilst causing the least possible harm to the fabric of time. Hence they are Alchemists of Time.
So yes, the fact that Character X is dead in one chapter and alive in another is intentional and comes about as a result of a time paradox. And that’s before we’ve even begun to discuss theories of possible worlds…..
Throughout its development my latest novel has been called Heretics. I had the title before I started writing because one of the central ideas was that the Victorian characters were all heretics in one way or another, non-believers in a Christian God in a supposedly pious time. Equally the characters in 1959 were all unconventional, thinking and acting differently to the rest of their contemporaries. In my own mind the book is still called Heretics but when it came to publishing I had to ask if it was a meaningful title. It sounded too much like a historical non-fiction and gave no flavour of genre or content.
After much discussion with my wife we eventually settled on Alchemists of Time, a title which had the virtue of including two major themes of the book – alchemy and time travel. It was my idea to have a strapline “A novel of the occult.” This strapline together with the title covered a lot of the bases and I think will appeal to the audience I am trying to attract. After all it’s difficult when your novel is a historical time-travel fantasy occult social history novel spanning a hundred years. It’s hard to classify and to market with all these aspects but Alchemists of Time and A novel of the Occult are the nearest I can get.
It’s worth saying something about the cover design for which I am also responsible. I wanted it to be eye-catching and give a flavour of the story. The final design is made up of three images licensed from Getty Images and one image from my personal collection of old photographs. I blended the woman’s face on the front of the book with a backdrop of clouds. In the original photo the woman has blue eyes but I changed them to black using Photoshop. On the back cover I blended more clouds with a drawing of esoteric circles and overlaid a photograph of four Victorian people who bear a similarity to some of the characters in the book. In fact their clothing isn’t quite right for the time period but it does the job.
So, Heretics is now Alchemists of Time, a novel of the occult which should not be read late at night or when you are alone!
Here’s my latest thinking on how to describe Heretics:
A novel of the occult set in 1959 and 1859
You know how the Victorians were very upright, very religious and so prudish that they even covered their table legs? Well it might have been true of a few upper middle class families but for most people the reality was different. Costume dramas perpetuate the idea of the proper Victorian but forget to mention the appalling social conditions, the high infant mortality rate, the prostitution, the violence, the squalor, the baby farms.
The Victorian characters in Heretics are different. They pretend to have the virtues expected of their class but they consider themselves to be heretics for a reason. For a start they practice the occult but they still go to church. They conjure demons but cover their tracks by doing good works. And they are involved in a very dangerous game which could have consequences for the fabric of time itself.
And all of this before Alexander Harrison finds a way to travel back in time from 1959 and join their ranks. Now the race is truly on to stop their common enemy, Bella Nightingale, before it’s too late and she destroys all of their lives…….
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- It’s different to previous versions.
- It has the key points I want to promote but distorts the storyline somewhat.
- The photograph is designed to be eye-catching rather than accurate. The clothes the woman is wearing are more likely to be around 1900 than 1859.
- At the Wirksworth book fair the flyer with this photograph and this blurb attracted far more attention than the book I was actually selling.
I admit it. I’m getting distracted. Eventually I will get around to writing about Gardnerian witchcraft and the history of witchcraft but I also have these rather wonderful books on Alex and Maxine Sanders which deserve some comment. Between them they founded a school of Wicca known as Alexandrian Wicca. Alex died in 1988. As far as I know Maxine is still alive though her website doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2004.
You can read about Alex and Maxine via their wikipedia entries.
The reason I mention them here is because there was a definite tendency to link witchcraft with satanism in the 1960s. Indeed Alex Sanders said that he followed the “left-hand path” for some time early in his career. The press also liked to sensationalise stories about witchcraft and satanists and were happiest when they could find salacious photographs to illustrate their exposes. Even these biographies feature several photographs of naked participants in various ceremonies and, as you can see, “Maxine, The Witch Queen” quotes the News of the World on its cover.
Just like “Devil Worship in Britain” these books also feature noteworthy blurbs. For “Maxine”, part of the blurb reads “Maxine Sanders….. has been threatened with death for daring to tell her story. But she will not be silenced!” For “King of the Witches” the blurb tells us “A master of the occult reveals the forbidden secrets of sorcery, witchcraft and black magic.”
It’s only fair to warn you that if you continue to read these posts your own life may be in danger from occult forces beyond your comprehension.
I came across this book, which has been in my collection for many years, whilst thinking through my next blog post on witchcraft in Britain and couldn’t resist posting photos of the cover.
In case we are left in any doubt as to the sensational nature of the book we are told inside that the authors found it “no easy task to write this book. Warnings and threats followed their attempts to uncover the secrets of Britain’s thriving satanist cults – secrets which are guarded as closely as an insane killer.” It goes on to say that “they persevered in their researches and produced this frightening account of the obscene practices which are so widespread in this country today.”
The book was published in 1964, not long after some of the action which takes place in my novel Heretics. It is fairly typical of the 1950s and 1960s in its approach to any aspect of the occult and has no trouble conflating genuine practices with whatever wild stories will sell another popular book.
At the end of the book the authors include a personal statement as to the veracity of their research and call upon “lawyers and statesmen” to give the people “the legislation they demand.” It all sounds very familiar to other moral panics promoted by the mass media over the years.
There are those who sought to prevent me publishing this blog but I have decided it is my obligation to go ahead whatever the risks to my personal safety!
As I began to think about this blog post I realised that I could not do it justice in a single post and it will need to be split up over several posts. I will begin then by talking briefly about the motivations and relevance of the subject to my writing.
Much of my writing contains references to occult lore and practices and Heretics is no different. My approach has always been to be as accurate as possible in portraying these beliefs and practices. That’s not to say that plot and story become subservient or that I do not invent some details where the story demands them. I do however want to distance myself from the Disneyfication of much modern writing, both fiction and alleged non-fiction. A witch is a witch whether male or female. I’ve had people argue with me that there is no such thing as a male witch and that I should use wizard for the male equivalent. Yes, but only if you watch Disney films and read Harry Potter books. I actually like the Harry Potter books but I deplore the fact that magic in them is reduced to waving a wand and speaking cod-Latin.
In Heretics I have endeavoured to present witchcraft as it was practiced in the 1960s and to represent the way it was reported in the popular press at the time. Broadly speaking we can trace the origins of this type of witchcraft to a single person – Gerald Gardner. Indeed it is often referred to as Gardnerian witchcraft. More of this in a later post.
In the meantime I can strongly recommend The Triumph of the Moon, sub-title “A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,” by Ronald Hutton as the best analysis of witchcraft in Britain currently available.