A Research Journey from Ancient Egypt to the Great Fire of London
By Clive Mantle
This has been quite unlike the gestation period for either of my other two books in the Freddie Malone series. My research for ‘In the City of Fortune and Flames’ started well over two years ago, amassing detailed notes on the terrible blight of the 17th Century slave trade, the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. An exciting and important story line emerged by the spring of 2018. My publishers liked it but said they first wanted Freddie to travel to Ancient Egypt for book 2, so like a cartoon character I skidded to a halt in a cloud of research notes and took a deep breath.
I found it impossible for a week or so to divorce myself from 17th Century London and immerse myself in the great Dynasties, but Ancient Egypt is such an amazing subject that with every book I read about the period I soon fell headlong in love.
‘A Jewel in the Sands of Time’ [book 2] flowed very easily once I had pinned down the actual dates, historical events and people I wanted Freddie and friends to meet.
So back to London in the Autumn of 2019. To a certain extent a lot of my groundwork was done by the time I returned to ‘Flames’. But it took time to re-absorb all the information I wanted to include. It is always a battle as to what not to include. I could bore for England on these subjects, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from my agent Penny Luithlen is, “Don’t research dump.” It is an important note for anyone who has immersed themselves so totally in a subject. Selection is paramount, and the detail doesn’t have to be in great wodges which alienate your readership, or make them feel lectured to. The right fact will organically slip in seamlessly if you are clever enough with your situation, story and characters. At least, that’s the plan.
As is always the case with me, the events I think will be the most important or moving, get supplanted in the pecking order by unexpected people or scenarios that pop out of my head as I’m underway. I have a pretty rigid structure before I start, with detailed notes about each chapter which are okayed by my publisher, but by the time they get to look at the book I deliver some months later, chapters will have swapped places, a fleet of extra characters will have been invented, things I’ve said that will be included aren’t, and I hold my breath waiting to be told to revert to the original plan. ‘Phew!’ - So far, so good.
The changes are always for a reason and lead to a much better flow.
The main events in the historical part of Freddie’s adventure have a ghostly and pertinent resonance with our current situation. From reading about them three years ago, I was fascinated with two black slaves Mingoe and Jack. In a bizarre act of symmetry they were ‘owned’ by Sir William Penn and Sir William Batten, Pepys’ direct neighbours in Seething Lane. I already knew Freddie would work for Pepys, and the obvious allies in the piece had to be Mingoe and Jack.
The more I read about them and their treatment, the more my stomach churned.
I had always been aware of slavery, but that I hadn’t been taught at school any great detail about how it has shaped our countries history appalled me. Researching in the enlightening ‘Black Lives in the English Archives’ pages, Mingoe and Jack’s story suddenly sprang to life with the entry concerning their being made to dance for their masters in the Dolphin Tavern. I sat back stunned and closed my eyes, seeing these young men dressed in their gaudy finery with engraved brass and silver collars which declared their ownership to the two Sir Williams. I could see them in my mind’s eye dance for the amusement of these drunken Lords in a squalid pub on Thames Street. What must that have felt like? It was immediately my duty to bring them to a wider audience.
In the City of Fortune and Flames
(A Freddie Malone Adventure)
By Clive Mantle
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Series: A Freddie Malone Adventure, Book 3
Author: Clive Mantle
Publication Date: 14th October 2020
Publisher: Award Publications Ltd
Page Length: 288 Pages
Genre: Young Adult / Time Travel