It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but it’s actually been no longer than the first three books. It’s just one of the illusions created by all the months in lockdown, plus other personal things that have happened in my life and the additional experience of having the book vetted by a sensitivity consultant.
There are now four Arrowood books in the series, a fact that seems utterly fantastical to me. I wish my parents were alive to see it, but they both died before I’d first imagined Arrowood and his world. I know they were always worried about me, and this would have reassured them.
Arrowood was published in 2017, four years ago. Each book is set about six months after the one before, and in each there are significant developments in the lives of the main characters, William, Norman and Ettie. Although I’m now writing a stand-alone book, I’ve already written the first line of Arrowood 5 and am foolishly proud of it. It’s only three words.
I hope the Meeting Hours Murders goes down well. It deals with aspects of British colonial history, and features four Zulu characters recently arrived in London. The book is inspired by the true story of five Zulu men who appeared in the London Police Courts in 1879, and who had been imprisoned by a showman wanting to exhibit them in an ‘ethnic exhibition’.
I’m anxious about its reception as there is a whole world of sensitivities and complications that arise when a white writer represents black characters. In one way it’s the same as representing any other person whose experience is far from my own. Those readers familiar with the earlier Arrowood books will know that they contain many characters from minority and marginalised groups, all living 120 years ago, and all with lives very different to mine. You can’t write about London without recognising the multiple identities of its inhabitants. Representing people with different lives to yourself is also a necessary part of writing fiction, one which all writers need to approach with respect, care, and a willingness to seek out information and learn. Although the social and political upheavals that are happening now, and the extra scrutiny that books are under, make it seem especially important these days, it has always been important, and the experience of having this book evaluated by a sensitivity consultant has been a good reminder of my duty as an author.
And so, after two years of holding onto this story and its characters, I have to let it go. I hope you enjoy reading it, find it interesting, smile occasionally, feel sad and angry sometimes, and feel it was time well spent. That’s asking a lot, I know. But whatever you feel, I thank you for reading it.
You can buy Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders here:
sensitivity consultant / arrowood and the meeting house murders / race and writing fiction / crime / historical / victorian / quakers / ethnic exhibitions / freak shows / london