Alex Reeve is the author of The House on Half Moon Street. His latest novel, The Anarachists’ Club, was published by Bloomsbury Raven on 2 May 2019.
Alex kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The House on Half Moon Street and The Anarchists’ Club.
The series is set in London in the early 1880s, and features Leo Stanhope, a man with a secret: he was born Lottie Pritchard. In The House on Half Moon Street Leo is an assistant to a ‘surgeon of the dead’ and is in love with Maria. When she is murdered, he sets out to find her killer, while desperately trying to avoid revealing his secret. In The Anarchists’ Club, a woman is found dead with Leo’s name and address in her bag, and he finds himself trying to solve the murder and also care for her orphaned children.
2. What inspired the books?
Many things! I wanted to write about gender identity, and I love historical crime novels. One day I was travelling with a transgender colleague and was shocked to see how she was treated – not overtly aggressed but noticed and commented on. It struck me that she had to deal with that every single day of her life. But if we can’t choose our identity, what can we choose? And whose business but hers is it anyway? From that experience, Leo was born, and he stuck in my head until I just had to write about him.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
Some of each. I always have a theme in mind and create a plan with the major beats and scenes. But then the story takes over and unfolds in ways I didn’t expect, or Leo reacts in a way I didn’t foresee, and I have to adapt. Sometimes, that changes the story completely, but if it feels right for the characters, I’ll usually go with it.
4. Why did you pick the 1880s for your novels? What appealed about that era?
It was a time of great change. You can see the modern age coming, but it’s not there yet. London sort-of looked like London now, but Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue hadn’t been finished and Tower Bridge wasn’t built. And from the point of view of culture and gender, universal suffrage hadn’t arrived, the age of consent was only thirteen, divorce was still very difficult (especially for women) and being gay was extremely dangerous. In particular, there’s plenty of evidence of trans people living in that era, and yet they don’t feature at all in the literature of the time. I wanted to fix that.
5. What research did you have to do and how important is it to stay true to the time period?
I’m an absolute stickler for historical research and go to huge trouble to get details accurate. I’ve spent hours and even days on things that affect a single sentence; the paint colour of Westminster Bridge, the particular entrance staff used at a hospital, the exact spot a bandstand was located, even people’s names. In The Anarchists’ Club Leo takes a bus ride, and not only is the route the exact one he would have taken, including stops, but the timings are right too.
Where I do make changes, they’re very conscious. For example, also in The Anarchists’ Club, the steward of the club really was named Raster and he had a wife named Gasa. I decided to swap them round so she was the steward. It felt more interesting that way.
I’m sure there are mistakes though! No research is ever perfect.
6. Having been through the publishing process a couple of times is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
The biggest surprise was how much of a team effort it is. I imagined the writer as a kind of lone artists scribbling away – and there is a fair bit of that – but there are also lots of brilliant people who transform my scruffy drafts into publishable books. I have an amazing agent, who sees everything first and suggests changes, a genius publisher, who hones the mess I’ve written with passion and precision … the list goes on. Copy editors and proof readers are amazing. The marketing and PR teams are relentless. The designers are soooooo talented. The final book is the product of a great many people’s work, not just mine.
7. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love to sail, walk the dog and spend time with family and friends. Normal stuff, I suppose. You have to recharge your batteries. But I’m also a part-time lecturer and doing a PhD at the University of Surrey, just in case life wasn’t full enough!
8. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
What an awful thought! I suppose I’d have to pick the Encyclopaedia Britannica, just so I can keep learning new things. And it’s wonderfully long. If I were to pick a work of fiction, then The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon or Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders. Both are powerful feats of storytelling and filled with delicious sentences.
9. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Gosh, I’ve done so many interviews and been asked so many questions! The one I don’t think I’ve ever been asked is: what are these books really about? I adore a good crime novel, but the ones I love most are about something bigger than just murder and detection.
My books are really about identity and our right to choose. The House on Half Moon Street is about individual identity, The Anarchists’ Club is about identity within the family, and the next one – which I’m writing now – is about the difference between our internal identity and our external one.
About the books
Everyone has a secret… Only some lead to murder. Introducing Leo Stanhope: a Victorian transgender coroner’s assistant who must uncover a killer without risking his own future
When the body of a young woman is wheeled into the hospital where Leo Stanhope works, his life is thrown into chaos. Maria, the woman he loves, has been murdered and it is not long before the finger of suspicion is turned on him, threatening to expose his lifelong secret.
For Leo Stanhope was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable reverend. Knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – and unable to cope with living a lie any longer, he fled his family home at just fifteen and has been living as Leo ever since: his secret known to only a few trusted people.
Desperate to find Maria’s killer and thrown into gaol, he stands to lose not just his freedom, but ultimately his life.
It’s been a year since Leo Stanhope lost the woman he loved, and came closing to losing his own life. Now, more than ever, he is determined to keep his head down and stay safe, without risking those he holds dear. But Leo’s hopes for peace and security are shattered when the police unexpectedly arrive at his lodgings: a woman has been found murdered at a club for anarchists, and Leo’s address is in her purse. When Leo is taken to the club by the police, he is shocked to discover there a man from his past, a man who knows Leo’s birth identity. And if Leo does not provide him with an alibi for the night of the woman’s killing, he is going to share this information with the authorities.
If Leo’s true identity is unmasked, he will be thrown into an asylum, but if he lies… will he be protecting a murderer?
About the author
Alex Reeve lives in Buckinghamshire and is a university lecturer. Richard & Judy Book Club pick The House on Half Moon Street was his debut, and the first in a series of books featuring Leo Stanhope. The second, The Anarchists’ Club, will be out in May 2019.