A very warm welcome to an interesting and hugely talented writer, Bill Kirton, who is based in the north of Scotland. It is many years since Bill was featured on the Reading and Writing blog so I am very pleased that his new novel, The Likeness, is now available. I’ve read the prequel, The Figurehead, and look forward to catching up on Helen and John’s story some years later. I love the blending of crime and romance set in Victorian Aberdeen. Here’s a little about the story.
Aberdeen, 1841. Woodcarver John Grant has an unusual new commission - creating a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group. Simultaneously, he’s also trying to unravel the mystery of the death of a young woman, whose body has been found in the filth behind the harbour’s fish sheds.
His loving relationship with Helen Anderson, which began in The Figurehead, has grown stronger but, despite the fact that they both want to be together, she rejects the restrictions of conventional marriage, in which the woman is effectively the property of the husband.
As John works on the figurehead, Helen persuades her father, a rich merchant, to let her get involved in his business, allowing her to challenge yet more conventions of a male-dominated society.
The story weaves parallels between the stage fictions, Helen’s business dealings, a sea voyage, stage rehearsals, and John’s investigations. In the end, the mystery death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways.
The Likeness is available on all Amazon sites - the link will take you to your own country.
Thanks for sharing some of the background to your latest novel, Bill!
I’ve been writing for decades and yet I keep learning new things about how to do it. That was brought home to me by my latest novel, The Likeness, which was published last October, It’s the sequel to The Figurehead and I only wrote it because a few readers said they wanted to know how the central relationship between wood carver John Grant and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a successful ship owner, developed. So, despite the fact that I’m labelled ‘crime writer’, the impulse for starting The Likeness was largely concerned with romance.
To my puzzlement, it took four years to write (which is three years longer than any of my previous novels). Then there was the fact that I only got the ending right after six attempts at it. Why? Probably because of Helen, who wasn’t just the central female character, but the central character, full stop. The crime element is still there because there’s still a mystery death to be explained but, alongside that, the story of Helen’s first steps in becoming part of her father’s business took me to some interesting, and highly enjoyable situations.
The book is set in Aberdeen in 1841, a time, of course, when women of a certain social status took piano lessons, sewed samplers, deferred to their men, ran households and were comprehensively trapped in roles which many, probably most, found oppressive. Despite the fact that Mary Wollstonecraft had written A Vindication of the Rights of Women some 50 years earlier, men were still writing books with titles such as Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind and Conduct of Life. Helen not only operates in such a context, she aspires to equality in her commercial dealings with her father’s associates. All of which I loved writing about, getting much enjoyment from her easy, witty successes over one in particular.
But then, having described how John solved the mystery of the dead woman discovered at the beginning of the book, I was left with the job of resolving how John and Helen’s love could be developed, realised, consummated, or whatever the appropriate verb is. And the repeated attempts at that resolution came about because Helen was as clever and stubborn with me as she had been in her business meetings. I tried various compromises but knew they weren’t acceptable to her. I found myself putting words in her mouth which she just wouldn’t say.
So, gradually, the ending evolved and reached a point at which I, Helen and, fortunately, all the other characters were in agreement. However, I may not yet be free of her charisma and energy because the first Amazon reviewer wrote, ‘the ending is one that intrigues the reader about what will happen next – I do hope this is not the last time we’ll meet these powerful characters’.
Another four year haul ahead?
You can find out more about Bill’s books on his website.
Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He's won two 2011 Forward National Literature Awards: The Sparrow Conundrum was the overall winner of the Humour category and The Darkness was runner up in the Mystery category. His historical mystery, The Figurehead, was long-listed for the 2012 Rubery Book Awards.
Most of his novels are set in the north east of Scotland. Material Evidence, Rough Justice, the award-winning The Darkness, Shadow Selves and Unsafe Acts all feature DCI Jack Carston. The Figurehead is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The Sparrow Conundrum, is a spoof spy/crime novel also set in Scotland. His comic fantasy novella, Alternative Dimension satirises online role-playing games.
His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers' Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006. In 2010, one was also chosen for the 'Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7' anthology edited by Maxim Jacubowski. His non-fiction output includes Brilliant Study Skills, Brilliant Essay, Brilliant Dissertation, Brilliant Workplace Skills and Brilliant Academic Writing. He also co-wrote 'Just Write' with Kathleen McMillan.
Bill also writes books for children. Rory the Dragon and Princess Daisy was published as a tribute to his great niece, Daisy Warn, who lived for just 16 weeks. Proceeds from its sales go to a children's hospice in South-West England. The Loch Ewe Mystery is a stand-alone novel for children aged 7-12 and he's been writing a series about a grumpy male fairy called Stanley who lives under a cold, dripping tap in his bedroom.