Category Archives: Guest Post

Conjuror Girl


Eight years ago I began using a method of visualising my characters whilst preparing for the writing of a novel, a technique I thought I’d never used before. It turned out however that I had. Decades before my Factory Girl trilogy was published, when I was a young man living in the south east of England, I’d met the fantasy artist John Howe at a convention, and he drew me a picture of a woodland goddess I’d created for some fantasy project I was involved with. I was thrilled to see his picture, which somehow made this enigmatic figure a bit more real.

Almost thirty years later…

When sitting down to prepare for Factory Girl, it occurred to me that if I found images online of real Edwardian people it might make thinking about them before writing them easier. The main character Kora having a British father and a Nigerian mother, I had to search for a while, but in due course the perfect photo appeared. I used this in my notebook to help me visualise her. Having realised that this method was helping me imagine Kora, I did the same for other characters.

For my new Conjuror Girl trilogy, I did the same thing. Before I thought about Monique and Lily in detail I browsed photographs of young Victorian women, coming across the perfect Monique and an especially good photo for Lily. I think this latter image in particular gave me a strong sense of who Lily is. Look at those eyes! And that face. Steely and determined, I think it would be agreed. As for Monique, she looks as though she’s half in reverie, her mind’s eye focusing elsewhere. Edward’s photo was of a slight, pale-looking boy, while Mr Goldgate – the villain of the novel – looks to have all the arrogance and domineering spirit I wrote into him. He looks proud of himself in the photo I found. Mr Parryman meanwhile was also a terrific match: old, cantankerous, dismissive. As for Henri Manguin, he being a real French painter it was easy enough to track down a photographic portrait.

This technique of finding photographs to match characters pays big dividends. I think it works because, when authors prepare for the writing of a novel, they usually don’t know much about the details. Certainly, I don’t – that’s where a lot of the enjoyment and satisfaction of creation is. I recently stumbled across a great author quote: “A writer is somebody who, sitting down to their task, does not know how to begin.” So by allowing photographs or other images to bring concrete visual details to a character, the author has a head start. Does the photograph for Lily show determination? This aspect of her character comes out strongly in the book, albeit tempered by her vanity and desire to rise above her station. Does the photograph for Monique suggest a somewhat dreamy young woman? This is very much the Monique of the novels. Yes, both characters developed as I wrote the books, occasionally into unexpected areas, but their central characteristics were founded on my imagination and that photographic detail available in real Victorian portraits.

Of course, this technique can’t work for future times – but authors do have pencils and pens…

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Stephen Palmer’s new ‘Conjuror Girl’ trilogy is being supported and promoted by a blog tour, the author’s first.

Beginning with Jude Matulich-Hall, the tour covers a range of authors and official genre venues, including SFF World, Sarah Ash, Keith Brooke, Tony Ballantyne and Craig Hallam. Most of the tour hosts are British, but there’s American support too from Jude and Juliana Spink-Mills.

Stephen said: “I’m trying different ideas to see what works in terms of promotion and marketing – by far the most difficult part of having a novel published. Because the ‘Conjuror Girl’ trilogy is set in an alternate version of my home town of Shrewsbury, I am trying local publicity as well as the blog tour. When I was putting together the tour I wrote all fourteen host names down then chose a subject suited to them. These include: attitudes to children in Victorian times, photography, colours, women in patriarchy, and naming characters – a nice big range of subjects, some light, some heavy…”

The Conjuror Girl trilogy is available through all online booksellers.