Mark A. Latham is a writer, editor, history nerd, frustrated grunge singer and amateur baker from Staffordshire, UK. A recent immigrant to Nottingham, he lives in a very old house (sadly not haunted), and is still regarded as a foreigner. Formerly the editor of White Dwarf magazine, Mark dabbled in tabletop games design before becoming a full-time author. A writer of strange, fantastical and macabre tales, his short stories have been published by Titan Books and Black Library Publishing. Mark’s début novel, The Lazarus Gate, is available now from all good bookstores.
From an early age, I’ve had an unusual and compulsive love of Victorian literature. Although I’ve read and studied many books from the nineteenth century, it was during the writing of The Lazarus Gate that I shifted my reading habits almost entirely towards period fiction, to really soak up the feel of the Victorian era, to get a grip on the language and phrasing, and the dramatic devices. An avid book collector, I own around 170 physical volumes of Victorian literature, history, politics and topography; my very own ‘Victorian Google’. What follows, however, is a list of five books from that collection, either read as part of my research, or just out of sheer enjoyment of the period. These works, though not necessarily my favourite books of all time (though some of them certainly make the cut) were of pivotal inspiration to me when writing The Lazarus Gate, and I can only hope to have done them justice.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker. Perhaps the most famous and enduring horror novel of all time, Dracula is unsurprisingly one of my favourites. Having read it several times, and studied it meticulously for academic purposes, this book is probably responsible for the particular quirks of the Artist in The Lazarus Gate, and of the themes of Victorian exoticism, represented by the Artist’s servants and the colourful gypsies of the book’s second act.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Homes, and His Last Bow, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This one is a bit of a cheat, as not only am I rolling two short story collections into one entry, but His Last Bow was actually published in 1917. So, why the two books? Well, Adventures… is the collection that started it all, and spawned a thousand imitators. It stands the test of time as a fantastic collection of mystery stories, and was the book that began my lifelong fascination with Holmes and Watson. His Last Bow, however, contains stories chiefly concerned with Holmes’ war record, and contains the best portrayal we have of the mysterious senior secret agent, Mycroft Holmes, the inspiration behind Sir Toby Fitzwilliam in The Lazarus Gate.
- The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I have in the past referred to Wells as the ‘hard SF’ of the Victorian period. If you ever want to understand the difference between Victorian science fiction and Steampunk as genres (and I firmly believe that there is a distinction), then look to Wells as the paragon of the former. Remarkably accessible to the modern reader, with some uncanny predictions about the future, The Time Machine is another great tale of using science to travel to other planes of existence (in this case, one of many possible futures), and of battling the threats that reside there.
- The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling. I almost chose H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain to take this slot, but in the end I settled for Kipling. John’s exploits in India and Burma, as well as his father’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, were inspired and informed by the two aforementioned books. I really wanted to inject a sense of action and derring do in the exotic east, taking place ‘off-camera’, and reminiscent of these books. Of the two, Kipling’s tale is perhaps the more complex; a study of human greed, and even of how society itself can be a fragile thing when misled by megalomania.
- Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincy. Almost another cheat, as this pre-dates the Victorian period, but for the fact that my tatty first edition is the revised version, published in 1856. Okay, and it’s not a novel either. But if there was ever a way to understand how opium addiction really felt to the Victorian gent, then this book is it. A floridly written but starkly honest autobiographical study, which was invaluable not just in understanding John Hardwick’s love/hate relationship with opium, but also in capturing his thoughts about it in an authentic style.
If there was a sixth position, I’d give it to Dickens’ Great Expectations, which is quoted in the book. But there isn’t, so I can’t.
Honourable Mentions: The following five books either aren’t Victorian, or aren’t works of fiction at all, but profoundly inspired me when I was dreaming up the events of the Lazarus Gate.
- The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges
- The Will to Believe and Other Essays by William James Carnacki
- The Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
- Short Stories by Walter de la Mare
- The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.