Researching Circle of Shadows

Guest Author: Imogen Robertson

Robertson Imogen BWCircle of Shadows sees Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther travelling from England to a small court in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation where their friend is under arrest and accused of murder. The year is 1784. They find a killer stalking the palace and old enemies waiting for them, while old stories of power, secret societies and revenge play out amongst the luxury and excess.

Researching Circle of Shadows was a great pleasure because it gave me a chance to spend time in Southwest Germany looking for the palaces and castles, the towns and villages that would be the models for the locations in the book. It is a beautiful part of the world with a rich and complex history one can still see reflected in ruins, half timbered buildings and gorgeous palaces. I had a chance to see the crowns of ancient kings and drink the local heavy white wine in the shade of the cathedral. Inevitably, I spend a lot of my time working in libraries reading the diaries, letters and newspapers of the period, so when I do get a chance to get into the open air it is a particular delight. However much you learn from the books it is not until you actually visit a place that the world of the novel begins to come alive. I also find there is normally some chance encounter with a place that can end up having an enormous influence on my finished novel. In a small town on the edge of the Black Forest called Gengenbach, I saw a booklet Circle of Shadowsabout their Shrove Tuesday celebrations, including the traditional masks and parades. Those celebrations became the opening scene of the novel. In the midst of the carnival a man is found, confused and without memory, locked in a room with the body of a beautiful young woman who is a favourite at the local court. I wonder what the novel would be like if I hadn’t seen that booklet?

I was doubly lucky when researching Circle. When I realised I would need to find out about the amazingly complex and beautiful automata that were being built at the time, I found the website of Michael and Maria Start, who make and restore these marvels in Scotland. They very kindly invited my husband and me to stay and we spent an evening and a day marvelling at their singing birds, acrobats, stalking tigers and monkey orchestras, all powered by clockwork and gears, and their home became that of my automata makers in the novel. The delight and wonder my characters feel on seeing these delicate miracles is a reflection of my own.

Author Bio:

Imogen Robertson grew up in Darlington, studied Russian and German at Cambridge and now lives in London. She directed for film, TV and radio before becoming a full-time author and won the Telegraph’s ‘First thousand words of a novel’ competition in 2007 with the opening of Instruments of Darkness, her first novel. Her other novels also featuring the detective duo of Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther are Anatomy of Murder, Island of Bones and Circle of Shadows. She has been short-listed for the CWA Historical Dagger twice.

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