09/03/20 • 36 min
If you look below the surface of an ancient city, you can travel through time and find its deeper layers. In this episode, David Morrell talks about how he researched Victorian London for his historical mysteries about Thomas De Quincey, and how he brought to light the “chasms and sunless abysses” of the first British serial killer.
David Morrell is the multi-award-winning and many times bestselling author of over 30 books, as well as short stories, essays, comics, and collaborations that have sold millions of copies and are available in many different languages. He has a Ph.D. in American literature and was a professor of literature at the University of Iowa. His novel First Blood became the Rambo franchise, but today we’re talking about the Thomas De Quincey historical mysteries set in Victorian London. The first in the series is Murder as a Fine Art.
- Time travel through book research as a way of dealing with grief
- Thomas De Quincy, addiction and the unconscious
- How De Quincy invented the true crime genre
- Finding inspiration in mid-Victorian London
- Famous locations that inspire David’s work
You can find David Morrell at DavidMorrell.net
Header photo: St Pancras Station, finished in 1868 and abandoned by the 1960s. After much lobbying, it was restored to its glorious Victorian self and re-opened in 2007. It is one of my favorite stations in London!
Transcript of the interview
Jo: David Morrell is the multi-award-winning and many times bestselling author of over 30 books, as well as short stories, essays, comics, and collaborations that have sold millions of copies and are available in many different languages. He has a Ph.D. in American literature and was a professor of literature at the University of Iowa. His novel First Blood became the Rambo franchise, but today we’re talking about the Thomas De Quincey historical mysteries set in Victorian London. The first in the series is Murder as a Fine Art.
David: It’s nice to chat with you. We’ve known each other quite a few years now, and it’s always fun despite the distance. It’s fun to have the opportunity to get together and chat.J.F. Penn with David Morrell at Thrillerfest NYC, 2017
What first drew you to historical London?
Because you don’t live anywhere near here. What was the idea behind the De Quincey books?
David: If people are curious, I live in the United States in a state called New Mexico. And since we’re talking about travel you’d be surprised how many people in the United States do not know that New Mexico is a state in the United States. I remember sending away to The Museum of Modern Art in New York for something, I think it was a Christmas card. And they said, ‘Well, we don’t ship to a foreign country.’ And we said, ‘Well, what you mean?’ And she said, ‘Well, you know, New Mexico is a foreign country.’ ‘Well, no, it is not a foreign country and this is our zip code for mailing.’ And they had to go to a supervisor who finally said, ‘You know what? I think New Mexico is in the Union.’
Jo: That’s brilliant!
David: So, there you are. And New Mexico gets featured a lot in movies and westerns particularly. A classic movie like Silverado was filmed near here, for example.
I’ve always been interested in the Victorians and I’m from Canada, so I share an interest in the UK and because we’re all in the Commonwealth. And the short version is that my granddaughter Natalie died in 2009 from a rare bone cancer. And our son had died years earlier from the same rare bone cancer and my wife and I, and of course, our daughter, whose child it was, we were devastated.
I happened to see a film called Creation about Charles Darwin’s breakdown when he was writing On the Origin of Species. And the breakdown was because his favorite daughter had died. In the midst of the movie, somebody shows up to explain his breakdown by saying, ‘You know, Charles, there are people like Thomas De Quincey who maintain that we can be controlled by thoughts and emotions we don’t know we have.’
This sounded so much like Freud that I wondered if the movie was making it up because it was set in the 1850s, and Freud’s at the turn of the century. It turned out that De Quince...
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