For no particular reason and in no particular order I'd like to tell you five things about the writing and research for this book:
1. About three weeks ago I spent an entire Friday night researching the history of Linoleum. The amount of time I've spent reading and thinking about linoleum goes beyond that one magical Friday and is considerable. I've done all this for the sake of the book. You're welcome. And don't be alarmed, it is not as dull as it sounds.
2. Whilst looking through the business correspondence of Le Prince's in-laws I came across a letter from John Robinson Whitley to a Mr. Wise expressing astonishment that Wise's bankers had 'lost' Whitley's cheque. Knowing what I know about the larger-than-life Whitley, I suspect his 'astonishment' to be somewhat disingenuous. In fact, I would go so far to say that I have found an early variation on the old 'cheque's-in-the-post' routine - if anyone has an earlier example, I'd love to hear it.
3. Whilst reading through newspapers of the period, I would often collect the odd article which was not connected to the Le Prince story but which I set aside anyway because it either amused or intrigued me. My favourite was a report on the re-capture of an escaped convict who, when apprehended for the second time, was wearing a dress. The report went on to detail the convict's explanation for this. What struck me was that the explanation became ever more convoluted and less believable, to the point of hilarity. I seem to have misplaced this article for now, and it's driving me a little crazy.
4. Whilst reading through newspapers of the period I also started coming across reports on the 'Whitechapel Murders' (in other words the disgusting crimes of Jack the Ripper). It was interesting to read them in so far as I knew what was going to happen next and yet the writers, readers and subjects of the reports didn't. It's a strange headspace to inhabit, seeing something familiar from a different point in time like that. To re-create something similar in The Shadow Traps would be an interesting thing to do - when films were first made, people genuinely didn't know whether motion picture cameras were scientific instruments, things with which you could create art, or machines that challenged the very notion of death (with their subjects living again and again on the screen.) These were all things which were discussed at the time and to be able to capture that moment of sublime bewilderment in a book, that moment when people knew so little about something they didn't think to impose any limits on it, that would surely make for a worthwhile reading experience.
But to return to Whitechapel - the first article I found prompted me to start reading Bruce Robinson's mad, messy and often ridiculed 'They All Love Jack' which I have to admit, I am enjoying immensely.
The specific newspaper article I found tells a story which doesn't appear to have been noticed by other books on the Ripper. I am now wondering if I have inadvertently stumbled across new material and in so doing, entered the dubious world of Ripperology.
5. This is my favourite bit of research and I shall doubtless become immensely and justifiably famous for this one thing: Whilst researching Buffalo Bill (yes, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and even the Deadwood stagecoach make an appearance in The Shadow Traps) I came across a glorious news items from the Leeds papers covering the visit to the town of Buffallo Bill's travelling Wild West show (which set up in Cardigan Fields in June 1891) Everything for the show was going to plan except for an unfortunate incident where one of the Native American performers was accidentally shot in the knee during rehearsals and had to be taken to Leeds General Infirmary. The name of the Indian performer, reported the papers with straight faces, was 'Hard-to-Hit'.
Five interesting facts about the writing and researching of The Shadow Traps. I thank you.
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