The Pleasures of Men

The Pleasures of Men

I was inspired by the voices of Catherine Sorgeuil and the Man of Crows, a murderer who holds London to ransom, while spending a rather solitary summer in Paris. It was hot and the streets around my apartment were quiet at night, after the tourists had gone back to their hotels. As I was wandering around late at night past deserted looking houses, I began to imagine myself back in the early nineteenth century – it didn’t seem such a jump.

And then, as I walked, I found myself elsewhere; it was as if I was in 1840s London, not Paris at all. I had researched the period intensively as part of my work as a historian, but it had never arrived in my imagination.

Previously, the history had been a host of sources and voices – but what came to me while I was walking was a whole imagined world. And it came with the personalities of Catherine and the Man of Crows…They took me over and I found myself writing the book in cafes, so hard that my hand hurt.

Kate Williams

Kate Williams

I used black books with close lines so the words were crammed together on the page – like people in Spitalfields and London in general. For the days were not long gone when London was so spacious and near to the country that one could still see deer – but the city had become a seething, often terrifying metropolis. It harboured secrets – and crime.

My character, Catherine Sorgeuil, becomes obsessed with the crime. The Man of Crows is killing women in a brutal fashion. Catherine, haunted by her unhappy past, becomes preoccupied by him – and sure she can find him. She tries to write about him and his victims, and, as she does so, takes herself closer to the danger than she could have imagined. I wanted to write about her closeted life, how she feels like she cannot escape her situation and writing about the murderer was the only way.

Perhaps it is odd that I became preoccupied by the situation of a young woman closeted in nineteenth century London while wandering freely around twenty-first century Paris – but inspiration is a strange thing.

Kate studied her BA at Somerville College, Oxford where she was a College Scholar and received the Violet Vaughan Morgan University Scholarship. She then took her MA at Queen Mary, University of London and her DPhil at Oxford, where she received a graduate prize. She also took an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. She now teaches at Royal Holloway. For more information please visit Kate’s site.

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1 Response » to “The inspiration behind Catherine Sorgeuil by Kate Williams”

  1. This is very interesting Miles, and lovely that Kate did this, as I have read this recently and getting more of the back ground on the book is insightful. It’s made me see new things in it that I hadn’t spotted before too interestingly.

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