The Angel of Highgate

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This review is posted on Goodreads and was posted on a blog I used to co blog on. However I remember enjoying to book so much I want to give you guts on my own blog the chance to experience it for yourself. (Read 27th- 28th November 2015)

The Angel of Highgate by Vaughn Entwistle.
5 out of 5 stars

So when I first started reading “The Angel of Highgate” I was instatly taken by it. I can’t put my finger on it but I was hooked to this story from chapter one. There was just something special that sucked me into the world of Lord Geoffrey Thraxton. The book is set in 1859 and whilst I was reading I felt like I was transported back in time and was walking side by side with Lord Thraxton. I don’t want to spoil it for people who intend to read it so I won’t say alot about the plot except that it is so well thought out and I actually found there was a meaning behind the story. It became so real for me and it just encouraged me even more to continue reading and I ended up finishing it within a day. I loved how the story developed and how we say Lord Thraxton change into a decent person who you cant help but end up liking, because when I first started reading I wasnt sure wether or not I was going to end up liking and by the end of the story he was my favourite character. I liked most of the main characters including Lord Thraxton and Algermon. Algermon was such a great character and friend to Thraxton, no matter what Thraxton did good or bad, Algermon was there to help out when needed. I also fell in love with thr heroine of the story who happens to be one of the main characters love interest. I think she is such a brave woman to cope with the struggles she faces. What added even more to the story was Vaughn Entwistle’s writing. It was just pure brilliance that draws you in from page one. I am now a huge fan of Vaughn Entwistle and want to read more of his work.

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Interview with Vaughn Entwistle

1. What inspired the book?

The original idea for the novel came many, many years ago when I was browsing in the library of my university. I happened to pick up a book entitled Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla, by Felix Barker. There wasn’t much text: just a brief introduction to the history of Highgate Cemetery and a few simple maps of the grounds. But what made the book so compelling were the atmospheric black and white photographs taken by John Gay, a professional photographer. The book was published in 1988 and many of the photographs were taken around that time. They show a Highgate in full surrender to nature with its tombs and statuary (many since lost to erosion or attacks by vandals) wreathed in vines and slowly submerging beneath foliage. Highgate had long gone out of business as a cemetery and had become derelict and overgrown.  A volunteer society: The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, have since taken it over and are working to restore the cemetery, which now also serves as a wildlife sanctuary and is home to many species of birds, as well as foxes, badgers, and the occasional wallaby. (Yes, really!)  As I studied the book in my university library, I was immediately struck by the sheer gravitas of the place:  gothic, mysterious, and suffused in entropic decay. Highgate is home to many beautiful tombs that evoke the architecture of classical times and ancient Egypt.  The book affected me deeply and I immediately recognized that it would be a magnificent setting for a novel. I was an undergraduate back then and was taking creative writing classes as well as being a member of a writing group. After university I went on to have a career as a writer/editor, working in various industries, but part of my mind was still back in Highgate cemetery, spawning a cast of characters to inhabit this moody necropolis. Many decades later, I finally sat down to write The Angel of Highgate, a novel in which the cemetery functions as a major character in the dramatic action. 

2. Who is your favourite character in the book? 

Writers always love their good guys and their bad guys, so it’s got to be either the protagonist or the antagonist, as they are polar opposites of the human condition. Lord Geoffrey Thraxton is a Byronesque, louche Lord who whores and duels and recklessly flings his money about with no thought for the consequences. The flip side of the coin, the antagonist, is an engagingly aberrant figure. Silas Garette began life as Dr. John Hooke, an army surgeon who served in the bloodbath that was the Crimean War. Attached to a medical regiment, Dr. Hook endured a hellish existence as battlefield surgeon where he functioned more like a butcher than a physician. When an incendiary shell exploded immediately above the hospital tent, he experienced a true moment in hell, as he watched patients and fellow doctors burn alive. He, too, was grievously burned but somehow survived the conflagration and was later discovered, miles away, staring blankly into a forest in a catatonic state brought about by deep shock.  Like other victims of “shell shock” he was invalided back to England to recover at a military convalescent home. Here he sat in a twisted heap, his mind locked in the horrors he had witnessed, until one day when he was approached by a negative projection of his own psyche: the figure the world would come to know as Dr. Silas Garette. As he followed his mental projection into the nearby woods, Dr. John Hooke ceased to exist and was replaced by Dr. Silas Garette, a deranged chloroform addict with some very twisted ideas. Or perhaps I’ve said too much already . . . 

4. What characters do you think readers will like the most in the book?

I think readers will immediately like Algernon, Lord Thraxton’s life-long and long-suffering friend who does his best to reign in Thraxton’s impetuous and self-destructive urges. I hope they will also fall in love with Alyssa, the heroine of the novel, a mysterious young woman who only goes abroad at night because she suffers from Porphyria, a congenital disease that makes her extremely susceptible to sunlight. Although she is a slight waif of a woman, Alyssa is deeply spiritual and absolutely fearless as she wanders about some of the most dangerous parts of London after dark, performing acts of charity for those less fortunate. It may take readers (especially female readers) a while to warm up to Lord Thraxton. He begins the story as something of an anti-hero. He is a womanising, brawling, opium-smoking cad, but thanks to Alyssa, the rogue is tamed and she brings out all that is valorous and decent in Thraxton. 

3. Who would you be if you could be any one of your characters?

If I could be any one of my characters it would be fun to pull on Thraxton’s skin and walk about the fog-bound streets of old London for a while, top hat raked at a jaunty angle, white silk scarf fluttering in the smoky air, a sword cane gripped in one hand, ready for an illicit encounter or a confrontation with local thugs while out “slumming” in the more nefarious parts of London. As a Lord, Thraxton indulges in all the vices and delights, (forbidden and otherwise) the Victorian capital had to offer: opium houses, high-class brothels, gaming dens. But his social rank also allows him to rub shoulders with royalty and the cream of Victorian society, as seen when he hosts a champagne soiree in the mummy room of the British Museum. Thraxton is part Byron, part Flashman, only a little more psychologically damaged and haunted than either. 

4. Who influenced you to be a writer?

I would have to say that my love of books influenced me to be a writer. As a very young child I constantly pestered my older sisters to read to me. I learned to read at an early age (four) and spent hours immersed in books of all kinds. The habit has never changed, and during the times in my life when I have moved house, one of the biggest expenses has been moving my ever-expanding library of books.  I hate to part with a single tome, although I was forced to whittle things down when I recently moved back to England after living in the United States. 

5. What was the first book you can remember reading?

I remember reading the Lady Bird books while attending Primary school in Blackpool, England, although I couldn’t tell you which ones. I mainly remember the colourful illustrations inside. This has become a funny memory since of the advent the “Adult” series of Ladybird books, such as The Ladybird book of The Hipster, The Ladybird book of The Hangover, The Ladybird book of the Midlife Crisis, etc. I do remember having a Supercar book that I loved.  Supercar was one of the early Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet shows about a futuristic flying car. I remember the book very clearly, as it pushed me to learn how to read, and then I read it over and over and over again. I think I was five at the time. It evidently had a long lasting effect, as I’ve been a fan of sci-fi and fantasy ever since. 

6. What is your favourite thing about being a writer? 

The ability to loose the reigns and let my imagination fly in any direction it wants. This allows me to incorporate themes and ideas I care about into my fictions. I am deeply interested in Victorian England and out of that came The Angel of Highgate. I am a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. I decided that I wanted to write a mystery novel featuring my two favourite writers as the sleuths. But then I thought it would be fascinating to make them mysteries that featured some kind of supernatural twist. Out of that came the Paranormal Casebooks. 

7. Do you have a favourite thing you do when you are writing? 

I try to get to my writing desk as early as possible: 6:30 am, or thereabouts. This is when I’m at my freshest and most creative.  l start by rereading the last stuff I wrote and then dive straight in. I try to keep distractions to a minimum, so I don’t check my email and try to stay off the Internet. I also usually put on some music to help me write: creativity CDs or classical music—nothing that has singing or a human voice in it.  I try to avoid distractions. I have to lock our two cats out of my writing room, as they invariably want to lounge in my lap or parade back and forth on my desk, blocking my view of the monitor. I will usually write without taking a break until around noon, and then I get up, feed the cats, and then take the dog for an hour-long walk. After lunch, I’m back at the keyboard banging away until three or four pm, at which time I usually run out of steam. I then spend an hour or two doing Social Media chores such as tweeting and updating the blog on my website:www.vaughnentwistle.com or my Facebook page: Vaughn Entwistle, Novelist. 

8. What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?

Experts say that it requires 10,000 hours of practice to perfect your craft. While I believe that’s also true for writing, you still need to possess innate talent and hours of typing aren’t going to supply that.  It will take a lot of writing before you find your “voice.” I’m very proud of my prose style and that only came about through years of writing poetry and fiction. My other advice would be to read voraciously and not just in one genre. Read widely. Read both male and female writers as they have different voices and viewpoints.  Lastly, become an expert in your chosen genre. And, of course, only do it if you absolutely love writing.

There you go guys. I hope you enjoyed this review. Feel free to comment your thoughts 🙂

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