Tag Archives: history

Five Questions for Charlie Raven

Today,  Charlie Raven answers five questions about her new book:

Charlie Raven

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how did you choose the title?

It’s called The Compact. The title just popped into my mind about halfway through the process of writing it. It came about because one of the themes of the story is the fear of old age. That fear is universal, of course, particularly for anyone who depends on their looks in their work, but back in the 1890s there were hardly any viable careers open to women, so the fear of ageing must have been even more acute.

A ‘compact’ refers first to those pretty little tins of pressed face powder that used to be carried in every woman’s handbag. Another older, perhaps more sinister meaning of ‘compact’ becomes apparent as the story progresses: a contract or covenant. There’s an occult covenant which one of the characters is affected by; and there’s also Alexandra’s contract with Minerva, which persuades her to agree to terrible things.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Wow! What a great question. Well, let me think.

Sherlock Holmes does make a couple of brief appearances, but in this story, Dr Watson is the main character from that duo. Somehow, my mind wants him to look like David Burke’s portrayal in the 1984 ‘Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ series.

Holmes is more difficult, as I have my own inner Sherlock and no actor has yet portrayed him perfectly.

Minerva, with her melodramatic manner, should be played by a glamorous, smouldering 1940s actress, such as Hedy Lamarr. Alexandra: h’mm, maybe a middle-aged Katherine Hepburn? Emma Thompson, as she looks now, with her capable personality, would be perfect for Harriet.

Lastly, I have no idea who I can possible cast as the 22 year old Aleister Crowley and his lover, Jerome Pollitt. Crowley was nothing like the later pictures you see of him, where he resembles Uncle Fester from the Addams Family – in 1898, he had a full head of hair, strangely piercing eyes and, being a mountaineer, was very fit. Pollitt was a gorgeous amateur female impersonator. I could see them played by a young Johnny Depp and a young version of the very camp British comedian, Julian Clary. That’s hilarious to think of. Will that do?

3. What five words best describe your story?

Subtle. Sinister. Crepuscular. Labyrinthine. Surprising.

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

In the whole history of literature? That’s difficult, isn’t it? If I said Holmes and Watson, that might be true. But from childhood, I have loved Frodo and Sam, so I think I must loyally name them.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

I love David Bowie. He layers unsettling lyrics with multiple meanings on top of singable tunes. One of my characters, Albert Burroughs, is really rather weird. I don’t want to give any of the plot away but he makes me think of this track from Bowie’s 2013 album, The Next Day: ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’

The walls have got you cornered, you’ve got the blues, my friend …

Shivery stuff.

About The Compact

It is 1898, the London of Sherlock Holmes. Harriet Day is increasingly worried about the strange influence of a powerful, unpredictable woman, Minerva Atwell, over her dearest friend, Alexandra Roberts. By chance, Harriet befriends Alexandra’s lodger, the gentle actor, George Arden; and when he is wrongly accused of murder, Harriet turns to a lonely, ailing Dr Watson to investigate.

To Watson’s chagrin, his enquiries are aided and occasionally hampered by a strange young man by the name of Aleister Crowley and his flamboyant lover, Jerome Pollitt.

The Compact is an LGBTQ mystery with a touch of Magick.

About Charlie Raven

I was born, studied and live in England. I have three children – the youngest is 13 – and two grandchildren. My life has taken some odd twists and turns and occasionally led me down the rabbit hole. Fortunately, even the worst choices turned out for the best (filed under: children). I inherited a fascination with weird history, ghost stories and liminal places from my mother (and I’m so glad my children are the same).

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Review: The Compact by Charlie Raven

Late last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed A Case of Domestic Pilfering by Rohase Piercy and Charlie Raven. That book had originally been written by Raven then reworked by Rohase.

Raven’s style is clear in her solo effort The Compact,  set in London and England of 1898 – a paranormal queer adventure where real people meet fictional ones and detection meets ghosts.

The action revolves around two extremely close friends, widows Harriet Day, who teaches piano, and artist Alexandra Roberts. The lifelong friends share an undercurrent of romantic attachment, but their lives are about to be turned inside out. First, Alex falls under the unhealthy influence of the wealthy Minerva Atwell, whom she has been commissioned to paint. Then one of Alex’s boarders dies in a horrible accident.

Their lives ares entangled with Roberts’ boarders, including the unpleasant Albert Burroughs, and the childlike and ethereal George Arden. George is fey and vague and sees ghosts. He’s also falsely accused of murder by Burroughs.

Real life figures Aleister Crowley, occultist and magician, and his lover, poet and female impersonator Jerome Pollitt, become involved with George’s situation, as does Dr John Watson, who is recovering from illness while Sherlock Holmes pursues a case in Russia.

It’s a large cast which Raven deftly handles with charm, elegance and excellent pacing. The story has plenty of humour as well as creeping dread, while the story slow-builds towards the discovery of grisly crimes, horrible secrets, Atwell’s disturbing schemes and George’s strange history.

Dr Watson’s efforts to be a detective in his friend’s absence are naturally not as brilliant as Holmes’s, though he does his best in partnership with the brilliant, unpredictable, substance-abusing Aleister Crowley. The comparisons he (and the reader) makes between Holmes and Crowley are inevitable and entertaining.

Watson is only a small player in the tale, however, which focuses on Harriet trying to discover Minerva Atwell’s power and clear George Arden’s name. She and Alex are both strong characters, as is Minerva and all her mystery. Crowley and Pollitt are lively, too, as are all the supporting cast.

The action reaches its climax of mystic threats, ancient Sumerian tablets, the unquiet dead and deadly intent at Minerva Atwell’s creepy spa in the country.

Raven’s prose is lively, her period detail light and evocative, and even the most minor of her cast of characters is distinct and fresh. She’s also made me keen to read more of and by Aleister Crowley!

The Compact is engaging good fun. After enjoying A Case of Domestic Pilfering so much too, I’m hoping I won’t have to wait too long for some more from Charlie Raven.

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