Last week I had William Sutton over on the blog for an Author Query about his latest novel Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, among other things, and today I get to share an excerpt from the book with you. I received a review copy earlier in the week, so look out for a review in the near future!
Molly, chief of the Oddbody Theatrical urchins, investigates the erotic publishers of Holywell Street.
RENDEZVOUS WITH THE URCHIN LEXICOGRAPHER
She took two pamphlets from her pocket. “Exhibit the first: Dugdale-Hotten’s catalogue for 1864, for the discerning erotobibliophile.” Darlington sniggered at the list of authors: Terence O’Tooleywag, Paddy Strongcock, and Timothy Touchit. “Where do they find this filth?”
“Erotic memoir, ain’t it?” Molly sniffed. “Everyone’s writing ’em, pseudonymously mind. Ain’t you? Can’t say I see the harm in it. Still, if I were you, I wouldn’t reel him in just yet. Viz, exhibit the second.”
This is when I first heard rumour of the vast erotic manuscript later known as My Secret Life by “Walter”. Molly’s exhibit was minimal: a few scribbled notes and chapter titles. But she explained that these represented snippets of memoir delivered to Dugdale-Hotten over recent weeks. The details they carefully hid from her, but they couldn’t conceal their excitement. It seemed a memoir of extraordinary extent, describing every sort of salacious situation from the sensuous to the obscene, from youth to old age, the profound to the perverse. They were receiving the manuscript piecemeal from a secret source—which made Molly think it might be stolen, or some of it, at least. Dugdale had never read such a catalogue of sexual escapades. He was dying to serialise, for it would be a smash; but he had been warned to hold off for the moment. She promised to bring proofs as soon as they were typeset; I would leave Darlington to bring it to Sir Payne’s attention.
I was already pleased with our ruse, but there was one more document Molly had shrewdly copied for me.
“Exhibit the third: the subscription list.” With a glance about her, Molly pushed it along the bar. “The erotobibliophiles.”
On the list, names I knew. Names everyone knew.
“It’s a new publishing model,” Molly said. “Gents sign up, and pay monthly, thus receiving each new Dugdale-Hotten edition.”
I screwed up my eyes. Far too many names: bankers, businessmen, journalists, politicians, peers and policemen.
“Blimey.” Darlington snatched up the list. “The head of the British Museum.”
“Not to mention a prominent newspaper editor, and your very own Scotland Yard commissioner.” Molly examined her beer in the murky light; it was cloudier than the January skies outside. God damn it: Dugdale-Hotten worked out how to keep us off their backs. “I imagine, Watchman old cove, it may aid your investigations, this list, eh? I ain’t saying that reading is the same as doing. Nor imputing low morals to nobody.
Only that your literary aficionados take a profound interest in a subject, and if this lot are interested in your investigations, you’d do well to watch out.”
Bio: William Sutton comes from Dunblane, Scotland. He has written for The Times and the Fortean Times, acted in the longest play in the world, and played cricket for Brazil. His first novel is a Victorian mystery of a gleaming metropolis mired in corruption.
He writes for international magazines about language, music and futurology. His plays have been produced on radio and in London fringe theatres. He has performed at events from the Edinburgh Festival to High Down Prison, often with a ukulele. He teaches Latin and plays accordion with chansonnier Philip Jeays.