Here you can begin a journey into contemporary, science themed women’s fiction written by Roy Baldwin. The submenus highlight all Individual book details with a full range of buying options, including direct purchase and download of eBooks for your favourite device from the author’s bookstore.
The background and the inspiration: Mauveine – a contemporary ghost story
Conceived, written and published in the 30 days of November for NaNoWriMo 2013, a winning novel.
Aged sixteen, wayward Victoria McKenzie flees desperate and confused from home in West Lancashire to a commune in Amsterdam and never speaks to her parents again. Now aged thirty five, single and fancy free, she is settled as a senior polymer chemist working in the ailing Ahrendolie refinery in Rotterdam. Following a serious and unsettling plant incident, she is forced into a long recovery break and plans to take off on holiday with Abby, her best friend and designer flatmate, always up for a new challenge. But Victoria is startled to suddenly learn of an unusual inheritance, Orsbrick Hall, taking her mind back to childhood events and places alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal she never hoped to experience again.
Intrigued by her news, she is summoned to a strange meeting with a Liverpool solicitor and bumps into the quaint Julian, an introverted steampunk writer, all grey hair and flying scarves. But what is it about the creepy Orsbrick Hall that nobody wants to talk about? Why does her past now unravel into an unexpected explosion of crazy scientific revelations and discoveries a hundred and fifty years before, which she would never have believed possible or credible? With Abby and Julian she must track down the source of past family secrecies and find out who the terrifying woman in the purple shawl really is. But will this unleash evil and powerful forces hell bent on her eternal destruction and damnation? And is Julian all he makes out to be?
Mauveine is genre fiction but defies genre classification so I would describe the novel best as a science (chemistry) themed mystery, drawing on suspense, historic, fantasy, adventure, fashion, supernatural, art, textiles, heritage and romance – a mashup of Roy Baldwin’s bizarre imagination with a touch of Sarah Waters frivolity and a sprinkle of Susan Hill ghostly dilemmas. The book is light-hearted, humorous and travels about from 1990 back to the 1860s and then onwards to the present, set in 2010. Probably the best summary is two female protagonists, single, mid thirties and fancy free embark on an emotional journey to try and discover their true selves, but unfortunately a third joins them on the trail, but not quite of this time!
The plot mystery soon unfolds but essentially this is very much a novel driven by colourful characters and zany scenarios but within the story and the gradual unravelling of the ghostly mystery there is a genuine host of interesting history. In addition, not having time to either reflect or research extensively except to write continuously on the go, the novel draws on an array of observations and knowledge lurking under the surface, past and present.
Foremost is the setting, based on the Leeds and Liverpool canal in the rural hinterland of West Lancashire from which my family came from originally, going back many generations. I have now done a census trace to my great great-grandfather, back to 1801 and they were all boat people, itinerants, permanently living and working on gaily coloured barges and hauling coal, the barges drawn by horses, from Yorkshire to Liverpool. It was only from 1891, when my grandfather and four young siblings (he was 17, his elder sister, head of household was 19 and the rest at school) were orphaned in mysterious circumstances and then moved from the boats to live in a small terraced house in Burscough that a family home base ensued He continued as a boatman until the 1920s when motorisation and post WW1 recession drove him and many boat people onto the docks in Liverpool for work. But this is fiction so the family background also has landed gentry and entrepreneurial wealth mixed in. So much of the flashback draws on what life for boat people would have been like in that mid Victorian period. The coming and going meanders between the canal and Liverpool, with scenes and colourful descriptions providing an insight into the city, past and present, which I have never shared before.
The science is a fascinating story which weaves true discoveries of dyes from coal tar products in that period around the massive influence the industry had on textiles and fashions. The chemistry of the first artificially made dyes in the early 1850s is fascinating and all the science is correct, although there is of course fictional latitude around the science activities of the main protagonist’s McKenzie family. There are also interesting fictionally integrated references to contemporary art of the time and the crossover between dyeing and textile art as well as a fictionalised intervention with Rossetti the painter and his famous associates, Thomas Wardle, dyer and William Morris, artist and bon viveur. Descriptions of Victorian science laboratories and the role of women chemists in that period are pretty accurate and fascinating.
Finally the three key protagonists are colourful and I think very clearly defined and you may recognise bits and pieces of all kinds of people, woven in and strung into a mashup of characterisations.
Victoria McKenzie (Vikki) highly academic but coming from a very dysfunctional family, rebellious teenager, fought against the reactive values of her parents and eventually runs away from her home in West Lancashire – to Holland. Self made and determined to succeed as a scientist against the odds; she matures into an independent and successful professional, self assured, fashionable, serious and posh, losing her Lancashire accent and ending up living and working in the centre of Rotterdam with a luxury apartment and lifestyle to match – single, mid thirties, no serious relationships but flits from one short term or casual encounter to the next; underneath she hankers to find who she really is … and then the fates intervene to push that along.
Abigail Weston (Abby) Victoria’s flatmate and slightly younger. A past punk rock rebel from Manchester, northern to her roots, with spiky pink hair and tattoos, also clever but a gifted creative and an artist, initially a painter then studies postgraduate fashion and textiles design. She ends up running her own fashion design business, but it goes belly up and she now works in a Turkish kebab shop in between freelancing where she meets Victoria and rents the spare bedroom. They become close friends and share the same carefree outlook. Abby is also single, flirtatious and even worse than Victoria with continual one night stands. Marriage and children are the last things on her mind. She desperately would like to become a creative again, but can’t see a way out of the hole – then Victoria’s fates become her fates as well.
Julian Endersby-Finnis (Julian). Julian is early fifties, did an English degree at Oxford and is very engaging and communicative, tall, thick grey hair, distracted and flying scarves. Once a war zone journalist, also did a spell in the Territorial Army, he is now a dreamy obsessive steampunk writer, moderately successful, independent and a landlord, but has a very bookish and academic, dreamy air about him. Very knowledgeable about history, heritage buildings and the 19th century lives of London and Liverpool people. Single, no time for relationships except casual flings, only lives for writing. He bumps into Victoria in peculiar circumstances and the fates which start to affect Victoria draw him in as well.
There is a fourth character, Lynton Grey, (Lynton) a Liverpool solicitor, ambitious, clever, own inherited family practice, forty, widower with a 19 year old daughter at Oxford doing PPE, and the person who initially unravels the direction along which Victoria has to travel. Very public school, posh, rich, arty and throws his money around to compensate for the sorrow of losing his wife, but essentially quite lonely. He increasingly comes onboard as the story unfolds.
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