One of the things I love most about writing is how you can gradually build up rich, complex characters, sometimes from just a sentence or someone you stumbled across on the street.
The entire concept of my series snowballed from Adolphus “Nine-Nails” McGray lacking a finger. A friend of mine told me my stories were too “vanilla” and needed more mutilation. I only chose a missing finger because I needed my hero to chase baddies expediently all across the UK in the late 19th century (practicalities!). Then I had to decide how he lost it. I came up with the lovely anecdote of McGray’s own sister inexplicably losing her mind and, whilst claiming she was possessed by the devil, killing both their parents and then chopping off her brother’s finger (and you thought your relatives were bad…). This tragedy prompted McGray to devote himself to investigating the occult.
Although his sidekick Ian Frey is now more prominent – the series being told through his peculiar, foppish, whining style – he was initially more of an afterthought. I tried several narrative options (third person, McGray’s POV, etc) but it was Frey’s voice I liked best, as it gave me the chance to introduce all the Scots vs English banter. Some people say he sounds exactly like me. No comment.
Ian Percival Frey (if you really want to annoy him, call him Percy), born 29 April 1857, comes from a very posh London family, and I can’t emphasise enough how much he detests to be transferred to Scotland.
Before enrolling the CID, Frey abandoned a degree of Law in Cambridge, a degree chosen by his father, and then the School of Medicine in Oxford (just like his dad in The Hunt I always forget which degree happened first!). By now, everyone knows that Frey was ditched by his fianceé, who left him for his brother; however, long before that Frey left a lost love in Oxford, a story that will be explored in future books (wink wink).
Adolphus “Nine-Nails” McGray, born 1 August 1858 – yes, he is younger than Frey, but his many tribulations have made him age prematurely – could not come from a more different background. His late father was a self-made Scot and they were never truly welcome by Edinburgh’s old money (the alcoholic Lady Anne Ardglass, alias “Lady Glass”, still has a surprising card to play).
I simply love to interweave these guys’ personal lives into the main mysteries they have to solve, and in each book I reveal a little more about them – pretty much the way you gradually get to know people in real life.
The latest book, Loch of the Dead, won’t be the exception.
We’ll get to meet Frey’s even posher uncle, Maurice Plantard, a descendant of French émigrés and a man McGray will absolutely abhor. Frey will also have to deal with a couple of uncomfortable situations we’ve never seen him face before, one involving a lavender bath…
McGray, on the other hand, will investigate another controversial way for curing his sister, whilst struggling to overcome a certain weakness he’s purposely kept secret. Oh, and a crucial clue as to his sister’s madness will be revealed (honest!).
It’s always a joy when people ask me about them as if asking for office gossip (many a reader have asked if there’ll be a romantic liaison between them… Now THAT would be a plot twist!). All and all, Frey and McGray do feel like real people now, like a couple of guys I’d really like to have over for drinks – and not just to me, but also (I’m chuffed to say) to my beloved readers. There is nothing more rewarding than that.
How many of Oscar de Muriel’s Frey and McGray books have you read? Let us know in the comments below – and if you’re new to Oscar’s novels, find out how Arthur Conan Doyle influenced his writing here.