Good Reading : September 2018
A Necessary Murder investigates two gruesome murders in Stoke Newington in 1863. How did you go about your research? I read through news articles of the day to do with Asia, and that’s how I came across news of the Sarawak massacres. The original death in my novel is based upon the murder of little Francis ‘Saville’ Kent in 1860, which is quite a well-known murder. Elements of the case can be found in numerous works of fiction. Kate Summerscale’s book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher was of particular interest to me, as it investigates the murder but also outlines how the police force of the time worked. Could you introduce us to your heroine and sleuth, Heloise Chancey? Heloise Chancey is a Eurasian courtesan in London in the 1860s. For her character, I borrowed material from the life of the famous courtesan of the time, Catherine Walters (or Skittles, as she was called). Heloise lives on South Street in Mayfair just as Walters did (her house has an English Heritage blue plaque on the front wall commemorating that ‘The last Victorian courtesan lived here’), and her afternoon ride in Hyde Park is immortalised in the The Times, just as Walters’ was. Heloise is well read and spends time with explorers and forward thinkers. She knows that her beauty and wits have gotten her what wealth she has. Due to being a working-class woman, but one with a level of wealth and independence, she likes to sleuth in her spare time for Sir Thomas Avery’s detective agency, or privately, for friends. While researching for the first novel, I found evidence of women who did work for professional detective agencies in the 1860s and 1870s. The Heloise Chancey mysteries subvert and twist crime fiction conventions along lines of race and culture – why did you challenge the genre in this way? As a Eurasian writer I like to explore the missing dimensions of historical works. I like to write of the missing stories and people from mainstream narratives. As part of my original research I looked into the Asian population of London in the 1800s. By writing these excluded characters back into Victorian London, I hope to not just give them voice and acknowledge their experiences and existence, but I also wanted to challenge the usual depiction in crime fiction of the ‘sinister Oriental’. I wanted to write of ordinary, Asian lives in order to shift that common representation of Fu Manchu-type characters. Where do you go to write? I have a tiny office at the front of my house with timber louvres, so I can peep out on people walking their dogs as they pass. A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia is published by Pantera Press, rrp $29.99. GOOD READING SEPTEMBER 2018 39 UP CLOSE 2 M J TJIA’s latest book in the ‘Heloise Chancey’ series, A Necessary Murder, is set in 1863 Stoke Newington where Little Margaret Lovejoy is found brutally murdered in the outhouse of her family’s estate. M J tells gr what inspired the story.