Andrea here, musing today about the little ah-ha moments that trigger the ideas for my books. "Trigger" is the key word here, for my upcoming release, MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE, (which hits the shelves on September 27th) revolves around the missing prototype and technical drawings for a revolutionary new pistol that would give the country who possesses it an overwhelming military advantage. Now, I'm often asked where I get the inspirations for my mysteries. The answer is—from real-life history!
I'm a total history nerd and love exploring esoteric museums, exhibits, libraries, etc for those sudden inspirations which ignite a plot concept. The seed of of my new book was planted several years ago when I saw an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum on the leading gunmakers of Regency London. Joseph Manton, Robert Wogdon—and Durs Egg (you have to love that name!) were the leaders and made a number of striking innovations in designing their firearms.
I was particularly fascinated by Egg's design for a double barreled pocket pistol with an advanced technology that could fire two shots in succession by pulling the trigger twice. (I used this pistol in a key scene A TANGLE OF SERPENTS, one of my Lady Arianna mysteries.)
The exhibit captions stressed that the elite London gunmakers created momentous improvements in firearms, focusing on accuracy, speed of firing, and engineering inventions that made their pistols even more lethal. One caption states that there were, " . . .dozens of patents for a dizzying variety of new technologies ranging from improved lock mechanisms to innovative barrel-making techniques." It was really a golden age of pistol-making.
My interest in Egg led me to do some more research on pistols—which led to another of my favorite pastimes: going down the research rabbit hole! I made some fascinating discoveries about Egg and his work for the British military—more on that in a moment—but another link caught my eye and led me to discover Elisha Collier, an American inventor who came up with a truly revolutionary pistol that changed the history of firearms.
Collier, an inventor who also went on to design a new boiler for steam ships and a machine that mass produced nails, began experiments with a multi-shot flintlock pistol that used a rotating cylinder to hold the bullets. The cylinder had to be rotated manually, but still, he also engineered a special mechanism that refilled the pan after each pull of the trigger. So the weapon could fire muti-shots without reloading—a huge advantage. especially in war.
There is not much written about Collier, but we do know he came to Britain in 1818 and patented his new pistol in London, where a number of them were made. It's said that a young Samuel Colt saw a Collier pistol and got his idea for the famous Colt 45, an icon of the American West.
Now, back to me and the rabbit hole! After reading about Collier, I had an ah-ha moment. I had been playing with the idea of setting a mystery in London during the gala Peace Celebration during the Summer, 1814, when the major European heads of state gathered in the city to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon and his exile to the isle of Elba. And in a sudden spark of inspiration, it occurred to me that having the protoptype of a new type of weapon go missing from the research laboratories at the Royal Armory at Woolwich could be a fun plot. (I have based my fictitious weapon on Collier's pistol, on the theory that a brilliant inventor could very well have come up with the same idea several years earlier.) Given that the world leaders were all in one place, I decided to have the villains offer the weapon for auction to the highest bidder . . .
Wrexford is called in by the government and asked to help retrieve the stolen weapon, as his position in Society will allow him and Charlotte to attend all the fancy parties. Having no love lost for government bureaucracy, they are leery about it. But a family connection to the intrigue forces their hand . . .
The plot takes a lot of twists and turns, and I had great fun weaving in many real-life people into the various scenes, including the Tsar of Russia, the Prince Regent and William Congreve, inventor of the Congreve rocket and the man who designed all the fireworks for the gala celebrations. Durs Egg also figures in the story and—no spoiler—but another of his innovations plays a part in helping Wrexford and Charlotte figure out the villain behind the plot.
I'm curious—do you like having real-life characters woven into a fictional plot? And do you find it interesting to have a story woven through a real historical event like the Peace Celebrations?