The setting: Most of my stories and novels – or at least a sizeable number of them – are set in a Gas-Lamp Fantasy world. It is a counter-factual world, one in which Prussia lost the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. That defeat led to Prussia adopting both an isolationist and militaristic agenda. For the past twenty years and more Prussia has cut itself off from the rest of the world, while building up its military forces.
One of the reasons for that was that I wanted to shake up the world a bit, make it different to what people expected. But another was that, at first, I need to have a villainous country. If you are writing about heroes then you have to have good villains. Prussia, which had long been a militaristic nation, fit the bill. But I had to have some reason why Prussia had turned sour, and had not united with the other German nations to form a united Germany. The answer was to have Prussia defeated by France at the battle of Sedan.
The genesis of the tales: I began the first Briggs and Prenderghast novel – He Sees His World In Red – a long time ago. Then I put the novel aside for several years while I worked out all of the details in my head.
I have, for a long time, been interested in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century adventure and mystery stories, the sort of tales written by Jules Verne, H G Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H Rider Haggard. I was also a role-player, first Dungeons and Dragons, and then other games, such as Champions, Kult and so on. I had the idea of putting together the mystical feel of some of the better fantasy games with the Victorian setting – this was a long time before I had actually heard the term Gas-Lamp Fantasy.
I had decided, right at the beginning, that one of the characters should be from our world, what I sometimes refer to as the ‘real’ world. I wanted new readers not to have problems understanding the fantasy elements of this world which I was creating. the way to achieve that was to have one of the main characters be alien to that world – as things were explained to him, they would also be explained to the reader, and it would, hopefully, not feel so artificial.
The first novel was about Jack the Ripper. I could not think of a better late Victorian villain than the killer who was never caught. I wrote the novel quite quickly, in short chapters, like it was some old 1940s serial, keeping the action moving as quickly as I could, always keeping things on the go. The idea was that the reader would finish a chapter and think Gee, these are quite short, I can read another one before going to bed. I wanted the reader to be drawn into the world which I was creating. I certainly was, anyway – I enjoyed creating these tales almost as much as if I had just read them, not knowing what was going to come next.
Once I had finished my first novel I had to write more. I had several different ideas; but the most pressing one was having some other great villain, one who wanted to conquer the world: Rex Mundi.
One novel led to the next, and so on. I had fallen in love with Briggs and Prenderghast, and I wanted to tell more tales featuring them. The next few novels came out quite quickly; I had really got into a groove. In the end, it became hard to let the characters go. I tried to retire them at the end of the novel The Rift, but they insisted on coming back, telling me that they still had stories to be told, and it was only when I finally completed Grailquest, years later, that I was finally able to move on to other things.
A created world: Except that although I had moved on from Briggs and Prenderghast, I did not move on from the world which I had created. I wanted to explore other aspects of the world, tell the tales of other heroes and villains.
I have planned a couple of novels featuring the agent Raphael, which I will sit down and write one day, once I have completed all of the stuff which I am working on at the moment.
Rather than set novels all in the 1890s, I have begun a series of stories set in the 1920s, featuring the characters Duffield and Parkinson. This allows me to explore my love of pulp stories. I have completed a few novels featuring those characters.
I have also written four novels set at the end of the 19th century featuring the rogue Jack Blain.
I have done a one-off novel about the American adventurer Makepeace, who Briggs and Prenderghast encountered in the novel The rift.
As well as the above novels set in the same world, just over two years ago a couple of my friends, who I role-play with, came up to me with the suggestion that I set a campaign in the world of my novels. I said yes, and began working on a Gas-Lamp Fantasy Role-Playing Game. I have been working on it for the past two years and more; the various booklets and supplements have passed a million words in length; and the damned thing is still not finished. Ah, well, it will be finished one day, and at least it keeps me out of trouble, I suppose.
Note: there are separate entries on the website for Jack Blain; for Makepeace; and for Duffield and Parkinson.
In chronological order, the Briggs and Prenderghast novels are:
He Sees His World In Red
The Magician at the End of the World
The Sifter of the Sands of Time
On Her Majesty’s Mystic Service
The Return of Rex Mundi
An American Adventure
The Return of the Ogre
The Last Alchemist
City of Gold
In addition to the above novels there are several Briggs and Prenderghast short story collections. In the order that I wrote them they are:
The Wondrous Adventures of John Briggs and William Prenderghast
The Further Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast
The Exploits of Briggs and Prenderghast
The Final Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast
The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast, Volume I
The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast, Volume II
The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast, Volume III
Here follows an extract from the first Briggs and Prenderghast novel:
Extract from He Sees His World In Red
A vision in scarlet, a Jackson Pollock in blood: it was a scene to make grown men scream. A dirty alley tarnished even more: someone had been at play last night – his toys had been scalpels and his canvas, the girl. Now the latter lies broken on the ground, discarded when the batteries ran down.
She had been discovered by an early morning jogger. His vomit now covered part of the drying blood stain, one more paint splash on the unholy canvas.
Someone had to clean up the mess; not the physical detritus, the bones and the blood and the brains, but the whos? and the hows? and the whys? Definitely the whos? DCI Briggs got all the shitty details of old London town; but this was a particularly bad one. He’d not witnessed anything like this since the old gangland killings of the Seventies; but he’d only been a Constable then, young and bright and fresh, not embittered with resignation and despair.
Her shredded clothing told him that she’d been a hooker. A whore, a streetwalker, and not yet out of her teenage years by the looks of it. She’d probably had a row with her parents, moved out (like in that Beatles song) and tried to make it by herself. She hadn’t. Briggs only dealt with those who hadn’t – the crack addicts and the thieves, the prossies and the runaways. The streets were hard, and cold at night, and cruel in their implacability. He’d dealt with kids kicked unconscious in an alleyway for their mobile phones; drunks setting fire to tramps for fun; rapists and heroin addicts who only lived for the next fix. But this was a bad one. His only hope was that it was a one off.
A lot of violent crimes are committed by people who know the victim. A boy’s mate will rape his mate’s girlfriend after spiking her drink with Rohypnol. A husband gets fed up with his wife’s nagging and beats her to death. A druggie sells his best mate’s stereo for another day’s fix. People you know.
A one off could mean that it was somebody who knew her. Maybe one of her customers had taken a dislike to her. Maybe her pimp had thought that she had been cheating him. Check out the people who had known her. Usually, the most likely subject would prove to be the guilty party.
The other option was a serial killer. Then, you only caught them after the bodies mounted up. You learned their modus operandi, let them make little mistakes, so that you could catch them out. But that took time. Usually at least six or seven bodies. It helped if they were the sort who wanted to be caught.
He was getting too old for this shit. He had been planning to retire at the end of the year. He’d squirreled some money away, and planned to go somewhere warm, like the south of France. Buy a little house, grow a few grapes, not worry about looking at corpses at seven in the morning. Twenty years in Provence, if he was lucky and his health held out.
He thought that he’d got used to scenes like this. For years, all that he had felt upon witnessing a crime scene was a dull nothingness. But this … he felt angry … and sad … and determined to catch the bastard who had done this.
All of the Briggs and Prenderghast novels and short story collections are available as e-books on the Amazon Kindle store.