A guest post today, from William Meikle, whose new book “The Ghost Club” promises to be a rip-roaring attempt to recreate the voices of classic Victorian writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde!
Finding the voice
By William Meikle
In my new collection THE GHOST CLUB I’ve undertaken the task of writing a collection of supernatural stories as told in the voices of famous Victorian writers like Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde and many others. It’s probably the most ambitious piece of work I’ve ever attempted.
The Victorian bit was the easiest. I grew up on Wells and Verne, Doyle and Stevenson, and that slightly formal, slightly clipped tone is one that I’ve practised many times in my own Holmes stories over the past few years, and it’s a voice I fall into quite naturally given all my reading from the period. Because of that, I found the Doyle and Wells stories to be the ones where I felt most at home when it came to the writing. The Doyle one went fastest, not surprisingly, even although I chose Lestrade rather than the dynamic duo, and it was helped in that I had a location I was familiar with, along the London Embankment around Cleopatra’s Needle. The Wells came as soon as I chose the subject; an early scientific experiment in color theory and vibrational mechanics gone wrong. Once again I had found my way in quite easily.
The Stevenson was more problematic, but as a fellow Scot I got into his particular more relaxed voice by finding the right character, a sick Scots boy in need of a story, and as soon as I had that, RLS took over the reins and led the way.
Those were the first three stories I wrote, and I thought I was into the flow of it and knew how the rest would proceed. Then the trouble started.
I had a little list of all the writers I wanted to be part of the club, and didn’t want to do all the ones I thought might be easier first, so I decided, being in the zone, to go for Tolstoy. I warmed up by reading War and Peace and realized I’d forgotten about the endless descriptive passages of balls and parties, officers and gentlemen and the doings of trade and traders. As for my story, all I knew at the start was that it would be a ghost story, and take place during one of the Empress’ balls. So I started, describing the Empress, the ballroom, the kitchens, the courtiers and I got so bogged down that fifteen pages in I hadn’t even started to tell the story. I had found Tolstoy’s style, but not a voice I could use to get in and out of it quickly enough to avoid an epic. I was starting to think I had bitten off more than I could chew, but then I was helped out by a compatriot from the past, and a voice I knew well. A Scotsman, several Scotsmen, turned up and began to tell their story of the ball, seen from a different viewpoint, and suddenly, all the description and finery were put in their proper context, and a story wove its way through all the Russian magnificence. Not many of the original fifteen pages survived, but enough did that I think I caught the mood I wanted to. But by then, I’d spent enough time with Tolstoy’s way with a sentence and needed something lighter.
My next stop was Twain, a different fellow entirely, far more abrupt, far more sarcastic and with nary a hint of sentimentality. But I found he was just the right chap to rescue me from the labyrinthine Russian court, and I was swept along in a tale of gambling, treachery and revenge on a riverboat that flowed so smoothly I was almost sorry to see it go.
Haggard and Kipling came quite easily, more of the semi-formal, clipped tones I mentioned earlier but with each chap’s peculiar flourishes and tics.
Then came Helena Blavatsky. I’ve long been fascinated by her writings on Theosophy, but when it came to writing a story in her style, I found her rather intimidating, but the story came almost the way I imagined her speaking, slightly hectoring, eager to be believed and a peculiar amalgam of history and occult fiction.
After the seriousness of the Theosophist meanderings, I cleansed the palate with something altogether lighter and frothier. Getting into Wilde’s style was the most fun I had in the writing of these stories — not the style of Dorian Gray, but more in the style of his shorter, more comic works. The voice, a playful, lilting thing in this case, came almost immediately and the story was written in a single sitting that left me with a big smile.
Margaret Oliphant’s tale became personal when I found that it was less of a voice I needed, more of a song. it’s built around the Scottish folk tune Fine Flowers in the Valley. Finding the voice for the story came as much from Downtown Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs than from fiction, but it turned out to be the right one for the tale.
Henry James was one I’d been putting off till near the end, for he’s a writer I’ve always had trouble reading due to his convoluted way with a sentence. But coincidence stepped up and helped me in this case, for I won a copy of Dan Simmons’ THE FIFTH HEART in an online competition, and in it, Henry James is so well described that I lifted the voice from his character in that book, and found that it led me straight into a tale of a haunted chess set that once again almost wrote itself.
I was nearly done. Checkov was easy for me; I understand drinkers, and railwaymen, and drinking railwaymen. I also, living as I do in Newfoundland, understand cold winters. Once I had those aspects, and paired them with some Russian fatalism, that tale too flew by in a single sitting.
I’d left two till last. Stoker because I knew what I wanted to write right from the start, and Verne, because I had no idea how to approach it. I went with Stoker first, and a wee ghost story. Here the voice was simple, for I wanted it to read like a trial run for Dracula, i.e. a story told in epistolary fashion. It’s a tale of old friends, of loss and sorrow, and it’s the saddest thing I think I’ve ever written, but it’s also full of Irish sentimentality, and Stoker’s rather brusque voice led me through to the end.
And so, I was left with Verne, and little idea how to proceed. In the end, I went with Harryhausen-style effects, and thought of it as a ’50s movie rather than a Victorian story, and that allowed me to indulge my passion for improbable rocketry, derring do, and a very French approach to scientific enquiry. In the end, I might not quite have got Verne’s dispassionate scientific voice into the tale, but it feels right to me, and it’s the closest I was going to get.
And there it was, all done.
It’s a simple premise.
In Victorian London, a select group of writers, led by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Henry James held an informal dining club, the price of entry to which was the telling of a story by each invited guest.
These are their stories, containing tales of revenant loved ones, lost cities, weird science, spectral appearances and mysteries in the fog of the old city, all told by some of the foremost writers of the day. In here you’ll find Verne and Wells, Tolstoy and Checkov, Stevenson and Oliphant, Kipling, Twain, Haggard, Wilde and Blavatsky alongside their hosts.
Come, join us for dinner and a story.
Read a sample and buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077SWFLZM
THE GHOST CLUB MEMBERS AND THEIR STORIES
Robert Louis Stevenson Wee Davie Makes a Friend
Rudyard Kipling The High Bungalow
Leo Tolstoy The Immortal Memory
Bram Stoker The House of the Dead
Mark Twain Once a Jackass
Herbert George Wells Farside
Margaret Oliphant To the Manor Born
Oscar Wilde The Angry Ghost
Henry Rider Haggard The Black Ziggurat
Helena P Blavatsky Born of Ether
Henry James The Scrimshaw Set
Anton Checkov At the Molenzki Junction
Jules Verne To the Moon and Beyond
Arthur Conan Doyle The Curious Affair on the Embankment
Available on 8th December 2017 in paperback and ebook from Crystal Lake Publishing.
‘In the past, we’ve had the Diogenes Club, the ‘Club of the Damned’, and even Peter Straub’s ‘Chowder Society.’ Now we have THE GHOST CLUB by William Meikle. And it is, quite simply, a delight. Not only has the author displayed his knowledge of and love for the writers of yesteryear, but in creating ‘The Ghost Club’ our host has produced his own collection of unknown and previously unpublished short stories ‘by’ Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, H. G.Wells, Margaret Oliphant, Oscar Wilde, H. Rider Haggard, Helena P Blavatsky, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. I say ‘unknown’, when I mean – of course – that all the stories are written by Mr Meikle in the style of the aforementioned authors; and the entire experience of reading this collection is like sitting with him in an old fashioned study, with a roaring fire, guttering shadows and a snifter or two of brandy as he unfolds his ‘Ghost Club’ tales. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.’ – Stephen Laws, author of GHOST TRAIN, SPECTRE and DARKFALL
Available from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077SWFLZM