Hello, and welcome to my second ever blog tour, celebrating Riptide Publishing’s release of my second ever novel, IRON & VELVET. Yay! Thank you so much to Under the Covers for hosting me. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. If you’d like to come with me and keep me company on my virtual wanderings, you can find a full listing of when and where I am here.
There’s also some kind of contest type thing happening. I had a bit of trouble choosing a prize for this one because most of the things Kate likes (booze, cigarettes, knives, women) are illegal to ship internationally. I thought about a fedora, but then I remembered people had differently shaped heads and there was no point sending somebody an item of clothing they wouldn’t be able to wear. So, basically, that leaves coffee and Bovril and nobody likes Bovril except people from the North East of England. I’m therefore going offer 250g of Jamaican Blue Mountain, the nicest coffee in the known universe, purchased from a wonderful speciality shop, ground or beaned to your specification. If you don’t like coffee, I’ll replace it with an equivalently lovely tea. And if you really want to try the Bovril, I could probably be persuaded to throw that in as well.
If you’d like win this distressingly perishable souvenir please answer the three questions below (clues in the book) and drop me an email. I’ll announce the winner a handful of days after the end of the tour.
- What is hanging in the study of Aeglica Thrice-Risen?
- What’s Rule Twelve?
The Place is the Thing
The thing about urban fantasy is that the “urban” element needs as much attention as the “fantasy” element, or else you wind up with something that could be taking place anywhere. London is, of course, not just anywhere. It’s an extremely distinctive (but also extremely heterogeneous) city, and one of the things I wanted to do in the Kate Kane series was to capture some sense of place, some idea of the vast and bewildering reality of the city.
The locations that appear in Iron & Velvet are a roughly equal mix of real places, completely made up places, and made up places based on real places. Obviously there’s an extent to which the question of which bits are real and which bits aren’t is a meaningless one – they are, after all, all real within the context of the book. But we live in the twenty-first century, and part of the fun of living in the twenty-first century is easy access to all kinds of pieces of information which are not remotely necessary but can still be rather fun to know.
So this post is basically going to be a rundown of the some of the locations Kate visits in the book, and where they came from.
Pubs and Clubs
The Velvet, Julian’s centre of power, is probably the most important location in the book. It’s where the whole mystery starts, and it’s also where we first encounter Julian in her role as Prince of Cups. The club isn’t real per se, but it is fairly heavily inspired by Madame Jojo’s. Madama Jojo’s has been a feature of Brewer Street since the early 1950s and has changed remarkably little in the intervening decades – like the Velvet it has a self-consciously kitsch decadence, and straddles the line between conventional nightclub and cabaret venue. As far as I know, no exsanguinated corpses have ever been found in alleyways behind Madam Jojo’s.
The Candy Bar, where Kate meets Tash the Teetotal Lesbian, is one of London’s most prominent lesbian nightclubs although, not being a lesbian myself, I’ve had to rely on friends to get me in. They really do have karaoke in the basement, but I’m not completely certain they’d actually have Little Drop of Poison.
The Forty-Four, where Julian takes Kate on their first possibly-date-maybe does not exist at all. When I was at university, I had a friend whose long-term dream (after going to the City and making a pile of money) was to retire young and open an all-night jazz-and-pudding bar. He was convinced that there was a market for it. I was less convinced, but I liked the idea so much that I felt it deserved to exist somewhere, if only in fiction. I spent quite a long time trying to decide a good name for an all-night jazz and pudding club and in the end decided to name it after the 44 Blues (which yes, is technically a blues number rather than a jazz number). It is this song that Kate is referring to when she talks about “one of those songs about a guy who shoots his wife and then feels bad about it.”
Kate first meets Tara at the Dorchester, which is of course a real hotel. The suite she is being photographed in is a real suite, which I looked up on the internet because there’s no way I’m rich enough to rent out penthouses in posh hotels just for research (or for any reason really). Nor do I have the guts to bluff my way in pretending to be a reporter. From what I could see, however, the penthouse suite in the Dorchester really does have a balcony bigger than Kate’s flat which really does have an honest-to-God fountain on it.
The Vane-Tempests’ ancestral seat of Safernoc Hall is entirely made up (although it’s sort of cobbled together from bits and pieces of every stately home I’ve ever visited). The title itself is a spin on a real English Viscounty. Safernoc is the old Anglo-Saxon name for the forest of Savernake (which is actually in Wiltshire). This all came about because I wanted the werewolf families to specifically be marquesses (or rather marchionesses, the title like the lycanthropy passing down the female line) because their lands bordered onto areas of otherworldly incursion, making their lands technically Marches and their proper title therefore Marchioness. Unfortunately there aren’t that many Marquessages in the UK, and the one I found fit best was the Marquessage of Ailesbury. One of the subsidiary titles of the Marquess of Ailesbury (currently the Earl of Cardigan in real life) is Viscount of the Forest of Savernake, and it struck me that being viscount of an actual forest was a completely perfect title for a werewolf. So I rolled the name back to its Anglo-Saxon root, giving Safernoc Forest and the adjoining Safernoc Hall.
Streets and Walks
I haven’t actually lived in London for a while, and so a lot of my research for the street scenes was done on Google Streetview. I know London quite well in the abstract sense that I know what the city feels like, but I’ve been away for long enough that I couldn’t tell you where all the KFCs are, and Streetview helped with those kinds of details.
There are a couple of (mostly mage-related) scenes where Kate goes on quite long walks through the streets of London. The first, starting at the graffiti-festooned pillars under the National Theatre and then proceeding along rows of commercial streets and ending outside a Pret a Manger is perfectly traceable on Streetview and quite walkable in real life. So is the path she walks through Tottenham when she goes to try and stop the showdown between Julian and Nimue. The community centre where Nimue holds court in the book is also a real place, although it’s actually a Christian Centre in the real world – I secularised it for the book because I didn’t really think a bunch of occultists would be hanging out in a specifically religious building.
One of the nice things about using Streetview to map out your outdoor scenes is that it gives immediate detail. I tend to like to have a good idea of what things look like when I write about them, and having an image in front of me creates a better sense of what is actually going on, and what could potentially go on in the future. I find it far easier to write a fight scene taking place in this street right here than in some generic street that I have to invent from whole cloth.
Houses and Homes
As well as Streetview I also made considerable use of the websites of high-end estate agents. Neither I nor anybody I know lives in the kind of place that Julian, Aeglica or Tara live in, and so for visual references I searched estate agents’ websites for properties that I could never even begin to afford.
Aeglica’s mansion is a real, and perfectly desirable property on Holland Park – a big old spacious mansion of a place nestled behind high walls. Exactly the sort of place that a reclusive vampire might lurk in. The real house is, of course, far less dusty and cobwebbed, and does not as far as I know contain a gigantic picture of a naked courtesan. Or a dragon skull.
The vampire shag pad that Julian takes Kate back to at the end of their date is likewise a real property and it really does have a bath in the bedroom. I do not know why it has a bath in the bedroom, but I just couldn’t let a little detail like that go unrecorded. Also, strangely, I think it’s the sort of thing Julian would probably have.
It isn’t too much of a spoiler, I hope, to say that Iron & Velvet includes a fairly extensive sewer sequence. I was almost embarrassingly meticulous about researching this (although I should add that going down there is technically illegal and there’s a non-zero chance of being drowned in sewer water).
The trip to the sewers starts when Kate speaks to the Multitude in St Botolphs-Without-Aldgate, which is a real church and which I chose primarily because it boasts some lovely historical plague pits. From there she descends into the sewers leading to the river Fleet.
One of the really awesome things about London’s sewers, apart from the fact that they’re these crazy Victorian things built on a scale so ludicrous and immense it’s kind of mind-blowing, is that a lot of them are actually just rivers. Rivers that the city effectively swallowed whole and flooded with … umm … poo.
You’re not allowed to go poking around the sewers in London, but people do and they are pretty excellent, and nowhere near as smelly as you might imagine (although that’s probably a pretty high bar, smelliness-wise). A lot of the details of Kate’s sewer kit are cribbed from how-to guides on urban exploration – including little details like the need for tungsten studs so you don’t blow yourself up and the importance of avoiding the clumps of stuff that will spray flammable toxic gases in your face.
There also really is a mysterious mist that sometimes appears halfway up the River Fleet at around midnight At least according to urban explorers. Spooky, huh?
First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.
My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.
It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.
I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It’s going to be an interesting day.