We’re so pleased to have not one but two special guests joining us today: authors KJ Charles and Jordan L. Hawk, to celebrate the release of Spectred Isle, book one in KJ’s new Green Men series.
Welcome, KJ and Jordan!
JLH: I belong to your KJ Charles Chat group on Facebook, and if I recall correctly, the initial inspiration for the series came from an odd Amazon review of a book on London’s sacred sites. I’d love it if you’d talk a bit about that journey from spark to actual book plot.
KJC: I really do have the strangest paths to inspiration. No lie, The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal came from alphabet fridge magnets.
With Spectred Isle: I was browsing Amazon for London folklore and came across a rather eccentric work on London mystical geography. And one of the reviews was just delightful because it read like it was written basically in character as a 1920s occultist: “This fellow has produced research of astounding proportions. A jaw dropping map of sacred London. This book is becoming a rarity and I was very lucky to procure a copy.”
This tickled my fancy immensely. I shared it in the Chat group because it amused me so much, then started riffing on it—imagining some bluff Dennis Wheatley-type moustachioed hero chasing magic books around London, and telling his unfortunate assistant how lucky he was to procure a copy of this rare tome (by getting it off Amazon). I was just mucking around, but it was a fun concept to muck around with.
And then I realised that a 1920s setting meshed with something I’d been toying with for ages, which was a continuation of the Simon Feximal story post-war. And, in the way these things work, a whole bunch of stuff clicked into place as if someone had planned it, and suddenly I had a paranormal world, a London made up of sacred sites, a bluff military man who doesn’t know what he’s doing, his long-suffering (yet hot) assistant, and a group of ghost-hunters with whom they collide. And that’s pretty much Spectred Isle.
JLH: Much like Griffin, I’ve been a huge fan of Simon Feximal since the original short story came out, and was thrilled to see a return to this world. What made you decide to set the new series in the same universe, rather than starting afresh?
KJC: I think the Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal world lends itself to extension for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I based it very much on real English myth and folklore, so it doesn’t feel quite such a self-contained world as my Magpie series. It felt totally natural to have it overlap with Whyborne and Griffin in our freebie Remnant, for example. And secondly, given it spans more than twenty years and includes a whole lot of different stories, there was so much already established, so many threads ready to pick up and extend, and I am nothing if not lazy.
In one of the last stories of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, I introduced two youngsters who our heroes Robert and Simon take in: Jo, a nonbinary soothsayer, and Sam, an urchin. By the time the book ends it’s 1917, Jo has fled England, and Sam is in the Navy, along with another character from a different Casebook story. I always wanted to know what happened to them. And once I got this idea for 1920s occult shenanigans, it became obvious that this was how I’d find out.
The Green Men series ought to work as self contained, but I hope new readers will be interested in finding out the backstory, and that Casebook readers will want to know what happened a few years on.
JLH: One thing I’ve found is that readers love hearing about the research that went into a book. How did you go about researching Spectred Isle? Were there any books you found particularly helpful?
KJC: The Secret Casebook/Green Men world is very much rooted in English folklore so I did a lot of digging into that. (I say English, not British, because there are meaningful differences between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales: mine is English magic.) I have a lot of books on English folklore and particularly London, but in fact what I ended up needing was really local folklore, of the kind so local it’s too specific even for most books about London, but for which the Internet is a godsend.
I also bought the book from the Amazon review. (I felt I owed someone something, somehow.) I’m really not sure I’d exactly recommend it to anyone as such, but it did give me the last link in the chain with a reference to a place called Camlet Moat. That happens to be near where I live, so I looked it up, and learned it was once the home of the appalling turncoat baron Geoffrey de Mandeville. He was one of the worst villains of the 12th-century English civil war known as the Anarchy, a genuine monster around whom any number of extraordinary legends cluster. So many, in fact, that Geoffrey de Mandeville turned out to be the key to the entire book. Once I had that, everything fell into place in a way that was slightly unnerving.
As it happens, Camlet Moat is not far from where I live. I went to check it out—it’s basically a moated island in the grounds of a stately home—and discovered bright cloths and strings of beads tied to the trees all over the island. That’s a pagan tradition that goes back unimaginably far, millennia not centuries, and there it was, on my magical island, alive in North-West London in 2017.
About the Book
Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.
Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.
Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.
About KJ Charles
KJ Charles spent twenty years working as an editor before switching sides to become a full-time writer. She hasn’t regretted it yet. KJ writes mostly queer historical romance, some of it paranormal or fantasy. She lives in London with her husband, two children, and a cat of absolute night.