Thanks to my husband cooking up a super-virus and then giving it me just when I was boasting a year of good health, I haven’t been in the greatest frame of mind for writing this past few weeks. Thankfully that target of 3000 words minimum a week seems pretty easy to achieve within a lazy morning, so despite being ill I managed to hit my weekly targets. ‘The Darkwood Mysteries: The Rise of the Dragon’ has now reached 40,000 words and I’m a little over half way through, so this is already in novella territory.
Making a Villain
I’m enjoying writing the return of my my reocurring villain, the Mandarin–now in his third plot. I’m finding he is a shadowy threat. Being a master of disguise and mesmerism, he is present even if not apparent, as he can be other people or influencing other people from afar. It makes him quite a palpable and formidable threat, but a game player. He’s not one to sweep the board clear, but to play the board to keep himself safe, and his plans moving.
The Mandarin is a chess player through his plots, working his schemes at a distance, and I’ve enjoyed bringing that in. The Mandarin’s enjoyment of the games he plays allows me to keep my main characters credibly alive–always good for a series–and my villain in play. He has several games in play in this tale, and I like how he’s providing a game for Darkwood and the Homeguard to play, whilst also running another game on the side, so he’s almost assured a win. I think I would quite like to have been a super villain had the opportunity arisen. It’s quite fun.
The other nice thing is in the tales that I have done so far he isn’t revealed and actually being the Mandarin until the end of the story, so he can be this OTT flamboyant moustache twirling villain like the original series Master in Doctor Who without it being too much. I’m looking forward to playing with his powers of mesmerism in the future, as he could alter people’s perception, play with their reality, alter their character and set them upon his tasks, causing lots of paranoia for the characters.
One thing I have been mindful of, is that with my series being set in Victorian England my cast is not very diverse, so I didn’t want it that the only character of a different ethnicity is a villain. I think I justified this as he made sure the Mandarin is introduced as a threat created by colonial Imperialism. The view of the ‘foreign devil’ is quite fitting for the Victorian mentality of the time, but I wanted to balance that and provide a Chinese ally this time around. I know some people don’t live diversification of stories as an ‘agenda’, but London was a melting pot of different cultures thanks to its portside nature, and this shaped the city, and so I have been able to introduce a few characters from different countries to support Darkwood in this tale, and I think having different cultures within my story will enrich the existing characters and the stories.
Women Living as Men
The Mandarin takes on the guise of others and in ‘The Wrath of the Dragon’ I wondered at how identity could be lost through the need to be other people, in ‘The Rise of the Dragon’ I have explored that a little more with a female character living as a man to get by in the man’s world–which Victorian England certainly was. In a world where transgender recognition and rights are being fought for in the way gay rights have been fought for over the last fifty odd years, we have a name and hopefully and understanding of what being transgender means.
In the Victorian era the understanding and labeling of sexuality and gender identity was limited and restrained. Even those who lived loving the same sex or as a gender other than their physically apparent gender might not have had a name for how they live or even seen it as an identity. I have had to tread carefully in writing a character living as an alternative gender–and coming to identify as that gender. For her, it arises out of circumstance and necessity, but becomes a preference or choice for him in how he wants to live out the remainder of his life. It’s been interesting to throw myself into wondering at the privilege my penis would have granted me in Victorian England. Being a woman was unquestionably second class to a man. Even if you happened to be Queen. Mansplaining was just explaining in those days.
I had been aware of James Barry for quite a while through my interest in Victorian history. Born Margaret Ann Bulkley she lived as a man to enable her to study to become a doctor. While my fictional Emily Darkwood fights her way into the profession, Bulkley become Barry instead–and so became (indirectly) the first female qualified doctor, and worked his way to becoming Inspector General of hospitals within the military, he was a distinguished one at that. His true gender was only learnt upon his death. It’s great that Barry achieved what he wanted for himself, but such a shame he had to do so through deception and perhaps the sacrifice of identity and anything that may have denied him.
Whilst writing this tale, another case hit the news. This time, the remains of the 18th century Polish general, Casimir Pulaski, who fought in the American revolutionary war, have been identified as female or intersex. Either way, Pulaski would most likely have had to choose his identity and live by it to achieve what he wanted. There are so many others, Jennie Irene Hodgers fought in the American Civil War as Albert Cashier, Melinda Blalock fought beside her husband in the American Civil War as Samual Blalock so she could stay with him, Dorothy Lawrence entered the First World War as Denis Smith to be a journalist, Hannah Snell who lived as James Grey and fought a military career in the 18th century. Crazy stuff.
I do like the rabbit hole writing research can lead me down!