A big welcome to Gillian St. Kevern as she releases the latest in her Read by Candlelight series.
The Worst Behaved Series: What Happens when a Confirmed Over-plotter Loses the Plot.
Until starting my Read by Candlelight series, I was a confirmed plotter. I have notebooks and folders filled with pages and pages of notes (somehow computers never worked for plotting the same way pen and paper did). Read by Candlelight wasn’t planned at all. 2019 was going to be the year I devoted to urban fantasy. I had the first draft done of the first book in my five part series, and was three quarters of the way through book two.
And then I woke up one night from a dream about a gothic house, a secretary, a Lord and a ghostly doppelganger. I don’t normally dream and when I do, it’s about real life. This dream was not only unusual, but so vivid that it stuck with me after waking. There was only one thing I could do. I sat down and wrote about 6000 words.
The next day I looked at what I’d written and came up with a plot. I worked out where the story was going and what needed to happen. I sat down to write and…nothing happened.
Day three, I sat down to write again. After an hour or so of wrestling with the story, I threw out my plot and decided to wing it. Instantly words flowed. I wrote The Secretary and the Ghost in a week. It was like nothing I’ve written before or since. I had no idea that I was going to spend the rest of the year writing Gothic romance, that Pip and Cross were going to make themselves part of my life to the extent that a year and a half later, I am publishing book eight of the Read by Candlelight series.
Part of the reason I’m still writing this series is because the unplanned nature of it has given me the freesom to go where the characters or the stories dictate. The second book in the series, The Mystery of Brackenwell Hall was a bit more complicated, and needed a bit of light plotting to make sure I paced the reveal of certain information appropriately. The third book in the series, The Welldressed Werewolf, being more murder mystery than romance required meticulous plotting, especially for the second half (and even then, I didn’t get it quite right). Each story has the potential to involve an entirely new set of characters. I didn’t know what Hester, the protagonist of The Vampire’s Relic was fighting for until I reached the final chapter of her story, whereas Wiremu, in the Haunted Bedchamber came to me instantly.
The most remarkable character evolution in this series is Julian Westaway, the protagonist and title character of The Worst Behaved Werewolf.
We met Julian first as Westaway, title character of The Well-dressed Werewolf. Felix, the narrator, has no time for his foppish airs, inflated opinion of himself or his insistance that Felix is the valet he needs. Felix is reluctantly conscious that despite his extravagant manner, Westaway has a sharp brain, a gift for observation and a very curious effect on him. When murder occurs, and Westaway and Felix team up to save the werewolves from the killer in their midst, grudging admiration becomes mutual respect.
I love the Sherlock Holmes and Watson dynamic. There are many, many iterations of their friendship, and the ones I love the most are where Watson is not merely a foil to Holmes’ brillance, but a counterbalance—where Watson grounds Holmes, humanises him. I wanted to create that dynamic with Westaway and Felix, with an added dash of Jeeves and Wooster, Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter.
During the course of The Well-dressed Werewolf, Felix realises there’s a reason that Westaway isn’t liked by his fellow lycanthropes. Raised by humans, Westaway’s relationship with the wolf part of him raises hackles among the wolf community. While writing this story, it occurred to me that Pip, with his love of the supernatural, was the perfect person to care for an orphan werewolf… It fit. It fit scary well. That’s one of the things about writing this series. When you leave it open to develop organically, it grows in ways so much richer and interesting than it would have if I’d tried to write this series in order.
A reader on Goodreads complained about the non-linear order of the books in this series, complaining that they didn’t get to see Cross and Pip adopt Westaway. At the time, I didn’t have any interest in writing that story. We knew what happened. It was right there in The Well-dressed Werewolf. But the idea of introducing people to a young Westaway… That appealed.
You see, I knew that there was a long hard road between the orphaned werewolf and the dapper, eccentric Westaway. The Art of Drowning featured an artist fascinating by a selkie—and pestered by a schoolmaster and a pupil entirely lacking in social awareness. Julian.
Westaway and Julian are really different from each other, but they both feed into each other. Of course they should—we never outgrow our childhoods. But to have a character grow like this… It’s incredbly exciting to get to play with this dynamic, exploring in Julian the elements that will become Westaway and the places where he has most to learn. I finished The Art of Drowning, knowing that I had to write from Julian’s voice.
Which brings us to The Worst Behaved Werewolf. I really wanted to show how Julian’s mind works—enquiring, observing, intent on figuring out this strange complex society he is living in and how the wolf-part of his brain intersects with it. I also wanted to show why someone with such a hunger for affection should so vehemently avoid serious romantic relationships—Julian’s first love does not go well.
Three books where Julian plays an integral part. That would be enough for any character right?
Wrong. Julian’s story doesn’t end here. I’ve just started editing book nine, which sees the return of Westaway, still adrift in his pre-Felix days, through the eyes of Gideon, a very practical university acquaintance. Book ten, well, I went all the way back to write how Julian was found. He’s got a walk-on role in book eleven, which I have just started writing.
Where will this end? I’m not ruling out a geriatric werewolf (in fact, now that I think about it, that would be amazing). For the most part, I’m trying not to overthink it. That’s what makes this series so fun to write—the fact that I never know what’s coming next.
There’s no etiquette guide to lycanthropy.
Passing oneself off as an ordinary member of polite society is harder than simply walking on two legs. Properly brought up gentlemen do not chase cats. They do not smell their peers. They certainly do not consort with mysterious young men who change their shape. So far, Julian is out on all counts. Unless he masters humanity to his father’s satisfaction, he’s looking at a fate worse than death: boarding school.
A trip to Paris offers more than the chance for Julian to improve his cultural knowledge. An old friend, Dawson, is troubled by figures that appear in his paintings and follow him out of them. His tutor, Scott, is acting even more oddly than usual. Worst of all, Julian’s father, Pip, is sent away for his health, leaving stern Lord Cross as the arbitrator of Julian’s fate. As Dawson’s paintings take on a life of their own, Julian’s ability to control his other self is put to the test. But when his family goes missing, he’s going to need more than a knowledge of etiquette to save them.
I realised I wanted to be an author when, as a teenager, I found myself getting annoyed that the characters in the books I read weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. Now that I’m a writer, they still don’t.
I write a variety of genres, ranging from short and silly contemporary romances to urban fantasy and mystery. My current project is the Read by Candlelight series of gothic romances inspired by the works of M R James, J S Le Fanu and the Brontë sisters.
In my non-writing life, I live in my native New Zealand, where I enjoy flat whites, playing pretend with my niece and nephew and trying to keep up with my ever increasing to be read pile. I’m the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers.