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The Backstreets of Purgatory

By Helen Taylor

Caravaggio in Glasgow: A Tale of Art, Insanity and Irn Bru

Art | Fiction
107% funded
351 supporters

Publication date: Summer 2018

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Backstreets Tour

Tour of the Backstreets of Partick and Glasgow’s West End with a stop for ice cream at the University Cafe and a pint at a salubrious establishment (limited to 2 tours, up to 4 people per tour), plus a signed first edition of the hardback plus the ebook.

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So, if you asked him, Finn Garvie would say his life was one spectacular fuck-up. In a makeshift studio in a church hall in the backstreets of Glasgow, he’s fannying around, failing to paint his degree portfolio, getting majorly stressed out and generally pissed off. His girlfriend Lizzi treats him like one of her psychology patients and his best mate Rob (who owns the tattoo parlour up the road) is under the impression tats count as art. All of which would be aggravating in itself but, to top it, Finn is certain—as in one-hundred-percent-absolutely-fucking-convinced—that some stinking bastard is hanging around, spying on him, laughing at his cock-ups and eating his left-over curry.

Fortunately, Finn has plenty of techniques to distract him from his woes. For a start, he’s tackling the church hall renovations with the dubious assistance of his alcoholic, diabetic next-door-neighbour Maurice, and having the odd entertaining run-in with recovering heroin addict Tuesday McLaughlin (who gets her tattoos from Rob and her methadone from the pharmacy across the road). And besides, when he’s bored, Finn always has his book on Caravaggio, his all-time artistic hero and (according to his wee Italian granny) several-generations-removed ancestor.

A few streets away lives the breathtaking but stroppy au-pair Kassia. One day when Finn is doing his usual (ie mooching round the church garden chain-smoking roll-ups) he spots Kassia on her way to church. For Finn, it is a Vision (with a capital letter). A Revelation. This is what he was born for. He will paint her and it will be his masterpiece.

Trouble is, the way things are going, even Finn doesn’t think he is up to the challenge and he’s not usually one for self-doubt. From then on, whenever he glimpses Kassia (and he does quite a lot of glimpsing), his torment only increases. Things take a turn for the better when he finally encounters the person who has been lurking around bugging him, it is none other than Caravaggio himself. Overcome with fandom, Finn dismisses the improbability of the situation, the bloke’s manky attire, his repellent manners and taste for coconut creams, and revels in an acute dose of hero-worship. Plus, who knows, maybe Caravaggio might help him with his masterpiece.

But however much Finn wants this manky bastard to be Caravaggio, he knows his history. Knows all the question marks over the events surrounding the artist’s death. Knows every one of the conspiracy theories and is acutely aware that it would have to have been some stupendously major conspiracy for the bloke to still be alive after four hundred years.

Not to mention living in Glasgow.

It would, wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t it?


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  • Helen Taylor avatar

    Helen Taylor

    My career to date has been somewhat eclectic, spanning the highs and lows of (among other things): tatty picking on the north east coast of Scotland while still at school (very lucrative but back-breaking); a spell as a cook on the night shift in the canteen of the berry canning factory (I wasn’t asked back after I made the custard with salt); the sleep deprivation of a junior doctor in Glasgow; a stint in Top Shop one Christmas where I was banned from operating the till; and the thrills and spills (quite a few spills) of research science in Oxford, London and Glasgow (I probably know more than is healthy about the malaria parasite). I can’t tell my left from my right and I have the singing voice of a tortured cat which somewhat thwarted my ambitions to be a rock star surgeon. I find myself amusing and think maybe my sisters do too but I suspect that is where it ends.

    Recently I added a collection of creative writing qualifications to my CV to indulge my passion for writing and feed my craving for academia, and which had the very happy consequence of finally making me take my writing seriously.

    The Backstreets of Purgatory is my first novel.

    You can follow me on twitter @Taylorhelen_M or check out my blog at

  • ‘See you after, Finjay,’ Maurice called from the corridor. ‘Salutations to you and your lassie. Merry Crimbo and all that business.’ The greeting provoked a spike of anxiety in Finn, a flicker of extra worry, because he realised he couldn’t quite remember what arrangements he’d made with Lizzi for the day.

    ‘Aye, mate. Have a good one,’ he shouted back, listening to Maurice limp away, the uneven click of his soles across the floorboards, the slam of the corridor door. Finally, the last drops of coffee splashed into the glass jug and Finn’s blood pressure settled in anticipation. He poured himself a mugful and, before he nipped outside for a fag, went to grab his phone from the studio.

    There was no signal in the vaults of the building. Thoughts of Lizzi wafted among the cobwebs as Finn drifted along the darkened corridor, unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, coffee cup in one hand, the other attempting to resuscitate his dying phone. Lizzi was spending Christmas with Jed and Rob, going to Jed’s for dinner once he’d finished his priestly duties. It would be the first for years where she hadn’t had an M&S meal for one in front of a bad film while her dad partied in a Santa hat and combat shorts between drilling shifts in the middle of the South Pacific. And she was ludicrously grateful to Finn for arranging it. To be honest, his entire contribution to the plan had amounted to agreeing when Rob made the suggestion (a suggestion which had caused him a moment or two of disquiet, he had to admit) although he was, of course, more than willing to accept the credit.

    The light from the phone screen made no impact in the dark corridor. Resigned to losing his recently but deceitfully acquired brownie points, Finn slipped the phone into his back pocket, planning to phone Lizzi as soon as he got outside, and reached for the door to the main hall.

    His hand flailed uselessly in the void.

  • Helen Taylor has written 3 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    16th August 2018 Amazing or average? What do you think?

    The Backstreets of Purgatory has been out in the real world for a month or so now, and the reviews are coming in. Here's a selection of comments from book bloggers and readers who have reviewed it. Of course, if you are reading this on a phone, you won't have a hope of seeing the comments properly. But let me tell you, they are pretty darn good. Words like 'outstanding', 'audacious', 'original', …

    5th July 2018 Caravaggio and Tunnocks teacakes

    The last few days have been brilliant. I've had loads of excited messages from people who have received their copies of Backstreets. Some of you have even read it!! (Or at least as far as the end of chapter 4 and felt it necessary to comment. You'll know why when you get that far). And there have been some fab photos posted on Facebook and elsewhere of the book out in the real world. For those of…

    12th June 2018 Signed, sealed and very soon to be delivered

    Last week, almost two years to the day that I first visited Unbound headquarters to make the promo video for The Backstreets of Purgatory, I was back to sign copies of the special editions. It has been a long process but, for me, it has definitely been worth the wait. I hope you guys feel the same when your books finally arrive in the next week or so (if they haven't already).



    24th May 2018 I wrote a book. Did I tell you?

    Two large boxes arrived in the post at my house this week. It may not sound like much but the fact they arrived at all could considered to be a miracle of sorts. Half our post goes missing and I have spent many a frustrated hour at the main branch nearby faced with a blank stare and a 'pas possible' when I've offered to search the parcel room myself for my stuff. Plus, Monday was a holiday here but…

    14th May 2018 Amazoned

    For those of you who thought all this was an elaborate hoax, a mere fantasy borne of my fevered imagination, I am sorry to disappoint you. I have amazoned* The Backstreets of Purgatory AND IT EXISTS.

    *googled on Amazon

    (It is true that to find it, you have to run the gauntlet of The Backstreet Boys but maybe that's your thing. In which case, this is for you.)


    But it isn't only in…

    23rd April 2018 Off to the Printers

    Whoop whoop whoop. Just heard the news. The Backstreets of Purgatory is off to the printers today. We don't know yet when it will be back and in the warehouse ready for distribution but it won't be long now.

    Your wait is almost over. I can't thank you guys enough for how patient you have been. I'm sure most books that appear in bookshops have been in gestation for a long time but because Unbound…

    12th March 2018 Top 5 comedy supermarket fish

    My dear, lovely, patient supporters,

    It is more than a year since Backstreets reached full funding. I sincerely hope none of you have been holding your breath while you wait for the book to appear. The responsibility is hard enough without having asphyxiated subscribers on my conscience. In lieu of any particular news about progress (proofs are done, artwork is done, trade date July 12th as far…

    23rd January 2018 How long?

    Or even, how long?

    How long does it take to write a novel and get it published?

    Daft question, I know. String, piece of, etc but I'm thinking maybe you guys might be asking a similar question. After all, some of you pledged your cash way back in July 2016. So while I can't answer for everyone else who has ever written a novel, I can answer for myself. 

    You: Helen, how long did it take to…

    21st November 2017 5 USES FOR A 500 PAGE HARDBACK

    The first proofs for The Backstreets of Purgatory have arrived. The only parts that are missing for the moment are the acknowledgements and the list of supporters. Which means that new supporters can still get their name listed up until 27th November 2017. After that it will still be possible to order the book but you won’t be listed as a supporter. However, if you are reading this, the chances are…

    6th October 2017 Literary stardust

    Hello you gorgeous people.

    It has been some time since my last update. TBH, I can’t get used to calling them that. For those of you who haven’t been here before (in which case, welcome and thank you so much for your generosity), this spot used to be called ‘The Shed’ and my posts ‘Shed posts’. If you are a newcomer, fortunately for you, you’ve missed some of the worst puns on the word SHED that…

    20th July 2017 Time travel?

    Have I been time travelling? I can’t believe where the months have gone. It is just over a year ago already since we launched The Backstreets of Purgatory on Unbound. For those of you who pledged right at the beginning, it probably feels like an eternity. But for me, it has whizzed by in a blur of crowdfunding, events, setting up my new blog, and most recently, editing.


    Time travel…

    8th June 2017 Plotter or pantster?

    ‘Are you a plotter or a pantster?’, asked the lovely Tabatha Stirling at our recent Unbound event in Edinburgh. We were talking writing styles. A plotter is pretty much self evident. A writer who has the story plotted out before they start. But what, you may ask, is a pantster? It is, as Tabs explained, someone who flies by the seat of their pants.

    Here are some (almost) flying pants.

    4th April 2017 Did It Collapse or Was It DemoliSHED?


    Image: Flickr: Allan Roston, Blue Shed, Leeds

    The Shed is no more. DemoliSHED perhaps. Although I’m sure you guys aren’t complaining. You probably WiSHED its demise had come a bit sooner. But I’m gutted. My plan has been KiboSHED. I had still to use my two best (best as in ‘least contrived’) puns (FiniSHED and PubliSHED), not to mention SkirmiSHED, BrandiSHED and SlaSHED (which given…

    3rd March 2017 RuSHED this one out to say thank you

    You may not have guessed from the quality of my shed posts but I do normally give them a fair bit of thought. The content, the pictures. Even the titles, if you can believe it. 

    And while this one differs because it is rushed out with fewer bad jokes than you are accustomed to (have become inured to, perhaps), it is definitely my most heartfelt. Thanks to all you amazing supporters, I’ve reached…

    20th February 2017 RefreSHED


    Jelly Wobble or Crowdfunding Wobble? Image by Thomas Brueckner

    Go on then, I’ll admit it. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been suffering from a wobble. A crowdfunding wobble. Look it up. It’s an officially recognised condition. You’ll find it in Section F4 (neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders) in Chapter V of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). It…

    15th January 2017 PiSHED?

    Bacchus: the Roman god of wine and all things grape-related, of unrestrained consumption and the ritual madness that accompanies it

    PiSHED? No, not me. At least not since drinking a cocktail of Bacardi, Sprite and green food colouring in a hot tub under the moonlight in a garden somewhere in the west of Scotland while my friend tried to convince me the concoction was a mojito. Don’t say a word…

    16th December 2016 The RelinquiSHED Part 2

    Given how long it took me to make the last ReliquiSHED Backstreets Production in August, I’ll spare you the video chat this time and plunge straight in to introduce you to the second crop of characters who didn’t make the final cut of Backstreets. I’m racked with guilt, by the way, especially as my current hashtag should be #amnotwriting. It is impossible to concentrate on other characters when Finn…

    6th December 2016 BloodSHED

    As I still haven’t thought of an appropriate shed pun for the answers to my Caravaggio multiple choice, this week I’ve decided to include a short extract from chapter 13 of Backstreets, purely as an excuse for using an overly dramatic shed post title. Before we get to that though, I want to say welcome to my new supporters and a massive thank you for your generosity. I'd love to be…

    25th November 2016 She SmaSHED it

    My sister, that is. Fortunately when we’d been stuck on the train earlier in the day I’d had the foresight to show her the evening’s extracts. By that time, I was already croaking. Two reading gigs down, overexcitement and a viral lurgy with an irritating cough that was…how shall I put it…irritating.

    Earlier the previous week, as part of my Backstreets mini-tour of the UK, I’d played to a full…

    8th November 2016 SHED LOADS

    Yep, it’s true. I’ve got shed loads of supporters. Well over 250. Which if I’d written a book with, well, less words in it would mean that I would be funded by now. As it is, I wrote 130000 or so (had to quickly verify there that I hadn’t left my finger on the 0 for too long; 130 thousand is correct not 1 million three hundred thousand which might have been some kind of record but would have been…

    24th October 2016 UnwaSHED and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

    It isn’t true. Honestly. At least, not the unwashed bit. I simply couldn’t resist a David Bowie song title and a shed pun in the same sentence. The Somewhat Slightly Dazed part is a different kettle of poison. More or less my default position.

    (For the heathens among you. Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed; Track 2; Space Oddity. No official video or sound recording but lyrics can be found here…

    11th October 2016 An AccompliSHED performance

    By one or two folk at least. Because, quite frankly, most of you were rubbish. Very few people correctly identified all the Caravaggio paintings in my devilishly hard quiz. The word on the street is that some of you were too chicken even to enter. It wasn’t really that hard, was it? Was it?

    However, I am delighted to announce that not everyone was as easily deterred by a challenge as some of you…

    4th October 2016 SemifiniSHED (or 9 out of 10 people won't get a single answer in this competition correct)*

    *this is a blatant click-bait lie 

    The Backstreets competition has almost reached its deadline. SemifiniSHED you might say. (Is it me, or are the shed puns deteriorating by the blog post?) But not quite. As they say (or maybe they don't): it ain't over til it's over. You have until the end of this week (9th October at midnight, no less) to test your knowledge of Caravaggio masterpieces. And all…

    19th September 2016 TO BE FLESHED OUT

    I gave you the SHEDs UP and now here it is. Tah-dah. COMPETITION TIME!!

    Your chance to win a Backstreets tour and a complimentary packet of Tunnocks Teacakes.



    Very simple. All you have to do is to name the six Caravaggio masterpieces from which each of the sections below were cut and identify the odd one out. 


    Send the answers to my special Backstreets email…

    16th September 2016 A QUICK SHEDS UP

    Whoah, the shed puns are getting worse. Sheds up? Heads up. Geddit? Okay, yeah, right. Could do better.

    But let's not fret about the quality of the puns when the chance to win a Backstreets tour is on offer*. Yes, you could be the lucky person who joins me for a tour of the Backstreets of Partick and Glasgow’s West End with a stop for ice cream at the University Cafe and a pint at a salubrious…

    8th September 2016 I wasn't the only one who bluSHED

    Once the numbness had passed, it started throbbing like a tadger.

    Try saying that in front of your mother-in-law without either burning up or giggling stupidly.

    All of which I did Friday evening past at the Spoon Café in Glasgow. In the name of literature, of course. It was a supposed to be a reading event. Only, by the time I'd made it to the end of that sentence, I could barely read on…

    12th August 2016 The RelinquiSHED fight back


    Have you ever wondered what happens to the characters that don't make the final draft of a novel? Who they were and what they did to deserve the slash of the red pen? Or whether they were simply innocent bystanders caught up in events unfolding, unravelling, unexisting, beyond their control?

    Let me tell you, they are out there somewhere. In the same place as the text messages that get…

    1st August 2016 UndistinguiSHED (and otherwise generally rubbish) working titles

    Quiz time.

    No cheating. Well, you can cheat as much as you like. You are only cheating yourself. See, I missed my calling as a school teacher. No, actually I didn't; I had a short stint subbing and was a disaster due to my inability to keep a straight face. 

    Science class. We’re doing respiration worksheets. We’ve been doing respiration worksheets for days. We’ve done aerobic…

    26th July 2016 MaSHED

    Honest, you've got to listen to this. It's genius (not mine).

    I had this great idea. Get my pals to record lines of dialogue from Backstreets and make a mash-up for my vid. Which they did. And we did. 

    Thing is, I know every word of the 130 thousand words that make up Backstreets. I know who says what to who and why. I know where the characters are, who is in the room with them, what they had…

    19th July 2016 EmbelliSHED


    So who was he, this Caravaggio bloke? Well, there aren’t many traces of his early life but we know he was born in 1571 in the town Caravaggio in Lombardy, his real name was Michelangelo Merisi, and he was apprenticed as a young lad to Simone Peterzano, a mediocre fresco artist from Milan, although the evidence suggests young Mikey didn’t stick it out. By the time he was 21 he had moved to…

    10th July 2016 UnleaSHED

    Dear Purgatorial Personages,

    Sorry to say, this whole Unbound business has unleashed (unlea-shed) a monster. Four whole years it took me to twit my first tweet and now (despite compelling advice against it) I cannot stop myself. There’s a certain freedom when no one is listening. Like talking to yourself. Like singing in the bath.

    (Incidentally despite having recently refurbished my bathroom…

    6th July 2016 AstoniSHED

    Dear Backstreet Boys…no, no, not that…Purgatory Peeps…yeah, that works,

    Welcome to my shed. In my head it is very far removed from the mosquito-infested rot-ridden sad affair somewhere down the bottom of my garden, a place into which I rarely venture (mainly because the door is blocked by a rusting mower and the ghosts of various other small pieces of machinery and an inordinate number of paint…

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  • Eduard Matak
    Eduard Matak asked:


    Helen Taylor
    Helen Taylor replied:

    Hello to you, Eduard.

    Tabatha Stirling
    Tabatha Stirling asked:

    It's worth it for the Six Tunnock's Teacakes, tbh. I do love your writing style, though. Looking forward to reading it :D

    Helen Taylor
    Helen Taylor replied:

    I tell you, I'd pretty much do anything for six Tunnock's Teacakes and I bet I'm not the only one. Thanks for your pledge, Tabatha. Hope it isn't too long before you get to read the whole thing.

    Michele Dropp
    Michele Dropp asked:

    Helen, or should I say Hélène! So lovely to meet you at Hélène's café-rencontre. Hearing the story of the writing/publishing of your first novel was truly inspiring. Je te tire mon chapeau! Bon courage. Je viens de partager Unbound sur mon twitter et mon FB. Et bien sûr on a fait le crowd-funding. J'hâte de lire ton roman. Michele (& Tony)

    Helen Taylor
    Helen Taylor replied:

    Thank you, Michele. It was great to meet you too (and eat your lovely biscuits). I mentioned our rencontre in my latest shed post. Very very kind of you to pledge and thank you so much for sharing the link. It really helps me to spread the word.

    Jenny Mitchell
    Jenny Mitchell asked:

    Hi Helen Please could I ask if you are able to change my name in the back of the book to Finlay Macrae? My aim was to get it for Fin instead of me. Thanks Jenny Mitchell

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Jenny, You can read up on how to change the names in the back here: Best wishes, Caitlin - Community Manager

    Lulu Allison
    Lulu Allison asked:

    Hi Helen, I wondered (with only a synopsis to go on) if you are making a reference to the wonderful Lanark, with the artist working in the church, or if it was coincidence? Can't wait to read it by the way.

    Helen Taylor
    Helen Taylor replied:

    Good question, Lulu. It wasn't a conscious reference although it is quite possible that it seeped into my subconscious while I was writing. I loved Lanark but it is many years since I read it. The church setting was mainly to make a connection with the religious themes in Caravaggio's paintings. Thanks for prompting me to think about Lanark again. I reckon it is definitely time for a reread. And of course, a massive thank you for pledging. H xx