Pieces and Links

How We Fell in Love with Murder

Originally published in The Lady · 15 May 2015

Everybody loves a good inventive Victorian murder. A cobbled alley, top hats, capes and walking sticks, dismembered corpses, body parts bubbling on the stove, the kind of spooky goings-on we have come to expect from TV dramas such as Penny Dreadful or Ripper Street. The combination of gory details and historical distance is the key. As Judith Flanders writes in her book The Invention Of Murder, you don’t personally want to come home and find bits of your sweetheart bobbing in the tea urn, but to read about someone else’s sweetheart bubbling away simultaneously creates a thrill of fear and reinforces a sense of safety. [ Read more ]

We should thank a Devon shoemaker for freedom of the press

Originally published in the Guardian · 2 May 2015

In the fuss surrounding the anniversary of Magna Carta, one might be forgiven for thinking that a bad king’s signature exacted on a document by a bunch of rich barons 800 years ago miraculously secured our rights to fair trial, representation, free speech and a free press. The truth is obviously more complicated. But aside from the suffragettes, there has been little coverage of the slow, painful struggle by which those rights were wrested from governments never keen to give them up, and made reality, generation by generation, bit by bit. [ Read more ]

Homage to Mr Poe

Originally published in Raven Crime Reads · 1 May 2015

My second Blake and Avery thriller, The Infidel Stain, is set in 1841, the same year – not altogether accidentally – that what is arguably the first detective story was published. ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ was written by Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer, poet and genius known best for his brilliant gothic short stories and poems and – quite unfairly as it turned out – for his short, gothicly syphilitic, drug-addled, mad life. But that’s another story. This very blog is named for his great poem, ‘The Raven’. [ Read more ]

From fact to fiction

Posted · 1 February 2015

If you’d asked me ten years ago if I saw myself writing fiction, the answer would have been a resounding no. I was a biographer starting out on my second book: George, Nicholas and Wilhelm, a triple biography of the three cousins, George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the lead up to World War One. That book took me over five years. The previous one, a biography of Anthony Blunt, had taken me seven. But after George, Nicholas and Wilhelm came out in 2010, I wasn’t ready to submerge myself in another big non-fiction tome. I longed to do something breezier, something which would allow me to stretch a little, something for which I wouldn’t have to check every fact before I wrote every half-sentence: a different kind of writing, a new learning curve. [ Read more ]

Thugs and Mad Englishmen

Posted · 9 January 2015

Publishers Weekly talks to M.J. Carter about Thugs and Mad Englishmen. [ Read ]

‘Front Row’

Posted · 27 January 2014

M.J. Carter on BBC Radio 4's Front Row talking about The Strangler Vine. [ Listen ]

British readers and writers need to embrace their colonial past

Originally published in the Guardian · 23 January 2014

Adventure stories set in the British Empire are so unfashionable they don’t even have a name, even though they form a distinct genre. They form a very significant part of our literary history, however, and in their time some of the best ones were both wildly popular and, in more than one sense, trailblazers. Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, has a strong claim to being both the first real novel in English and the first colonial adventure story. R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines – both published in the 1880s when the genre really took off have some claim, as Giles Foden has argued in these pages, to being the first literary blockbusters. The colonial adventure encompassed hundreds of books, from Kipling’s Indian writing, including Kim, the masterpiece of Anglo-Indian literature, to G.A. Henty’s boy’s-own potboilers, to A.E. Mason’s The Four Feathers, Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the River, and Talbot Mundy’s King of the Khyber Rifles. [ Read more ]

Confessions of India’s Real Life Thugs

Originally published in the Daily Telegraph · 17 January 2014

The word “thug” is used universally to mean anyone who perpetrates mindless violence. But it’s often forgotten that it once had a very specific meaning – one so horrible it was the reason the word entered English in the first place. The Thugs were Indian roadside bandits, originally from what is now Madhya Pradesh in central India, who strangled and robbed unwary travellers, having previously befriended them. The word comes from the Sanskrit sthag, meaning to deceive or trick. [ Read more ]

‘Ways With Words’

Posted · 22 May 2010

Speaking at the Ways With Words 2010 Festival, M.J. Carter talks about writing biography and how she works.

MJ Carter on ‘George, Nicholas and Wilhelm’

Posted · 3 September 2009

M.J. Carter talks about her triple biography of the royal cousins, George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and the last Tsar Nicholas II, the dysfunctional rulers of the great powers at the beginning of the 20th Century. [ Watch ]