Guest Blogger ~ Heather Redmond

The Story Behind A Twist of Murder

A Twist of Murder is the fifth in my historical mystery series, A Dickens of a Crime. It started in January 1835, when (yes, that) Charles Dickens was a parliamentary reporter, not yet a novelist, and tracks the start of his literary career and his courtship with Catherine Hogarth, his future real-life wife. The first four books were set in London, but I moved most of the action to Harrow on the Hill for book five, set in March 1836, to follow my former mudlark characters who are going to school there.

And what a school it is! Strange goings on indeed. The owner of Aga Academy seems to have sold off part interest to Fagin Sikes, a harsh taskmaster who treats the students like poor orphans, not paying customers. A servant girl is flashing around a treasure map. When a circus comes to town, some of the students vanish and no one looks for them. Soon after, the servant girl goes missing, and people finally start to care. When a coroner’s job includes researching rumors of treasure, that might get the highest priority of all. Charles Dickens and friends are called to the school to find the missing students, the missing servant, and the treasure.

When you are writing an ongoing series, the next story idea appears quite naturally as an offshoot of the characters from previous books. I prefer to hold onto characters instead of dropping them from book to book. I think it makes series richer. Therefore, the missing students and victims in this book have largely been featured in previous books or are related to important ongoing characters. This gives relationships between all my story people room to grow and change. Aga Academy had been mentioned and briefly visited in earlier books, so it was time to feature it as a main location.

Charles Dickens did a little treasure hunting in A Tale of Two Murders, book one, but that was nothing compared to his new adventure. As an ardent follower of the History Channel TV show The Curse of Oak Island, I love to have treasure hunts in my books. This was my first opportunity to create an actual treasure map, though. I confused myself a few times while creating it. I guess I wasn’t a pirate in a previous life, LOL.

This series is loosely based on the novels of Charles Dickens. A Twist of Murder includes elements of his novels Oliver Twist and Hard Times, such as the life of orphans and students, as well as his hatred of the Utilitarian philosophy of education. My conceit for the series is that Charles is having experiences and hearing names that will ultimately appear in his fiction. We know that his novels are far from being fanciful. Modern readers are so far removed from the Victorian era that we often don’t recognize what is in his novels was normal life at the time.

I had a lot of fun writing a book set in 1836 Harrow on the Hill, and I hope you enjoy this adventure hunting for treasure, missing students, and the murderer of a young servant girl.


In Victorian England, aspiring author Charles Dickens is on the case again—in pursuit of missing orphans, legendary treasure, and a cold-blooded killer in the latest installment of Heather Redmond’s charming series that reimagines the famous writer as an amateur sleuth.

Harrow-on-the-Hill, March 1836: In a sense, orphans Ollie, John, and Arthur have always been treasure hunters. The mudlarks have gone from a hardscrabble life scavenging the banks of the Thames for bits and bobs to becoming students at a boarding school outside of London, thanks to the kind and generous intercession of Charles Dickens. But now they’re missing—as is, apparently, a treasure map.

When Charles arrives at the school, he’s hit with another twist—the servant girl who was allegedly in possession of the map has been strangled in the icehouse. Unbeknownst to them on their spirited adventure, his young friends may be in mortal danger. Now Charles and his fiancée Kate Hogarth, who has come to join him in the search for the runaways, must artfully dodge false leads and red herrings to find the boys and the map—before X marks the spot of their graves . . .

A Twist of Murder by Heather Redmond

Heather Redmond writes two mystery series, A Dickens of a Crime, featuring young Charles Dickens in the 1830s, and a Seattle-set cozy mystery series, the Journaling mysteries. Her latest Dickens title is A Twist of Murder, book 5 in the series, and the paperback edition of Tattooed to Death, book 2 of her cozy series, will be available in January. She also writes as Heather Hiestand and lives in Washington state.

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A Dickens of a tale by Sally Carpenter

Charles DickensAlthough we’re past the Christmas season, every writer should watch the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” It’s the perfect examination of a writer’s life.

The title is a misnomer. Charles Dickens didn’t invent Christmas. He only revitalized interest in it. During the industrial revolution, employers saw no reason to close their factories and cease production on Christmas day. And many of the old customs of the British countryside, holiday feasts and dancing, did not fare well among the crowded housing and low wages of urban life.

Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” reminded people of past celebrations and hit an emotional nerve that had them yearning for a holiday of goodwill. He also wrote other Christmas stories, but his first is best remembered.

But writing “Carol” was no easy feat, according to the movie, which is grounded in fact.

The film begins with Dickens on a lecture tour of America. Before the days of mass media, writers were treated like rocks stars. Dickens in greeted with standing ovations before he even speaks. How many contemporary writers have encountered a reception like that? Amid the clamor of the appearances, though Dickens would rather be at home, writing.

After the tour, Dickens’s publisher informs him that his last three books were “flops,” and an advance may not be forthcoming. The author is spending too much money on home improvements and he needs to borrow money. His wife is pregnant—again. Dickens needs to write another hit immediately.

But he’s out of ideas. As Dickens says, “Shakespeare—now there’s a man who could write. I doubt that he ever had a blockage.”

The author hates that his income depends on producing an endless stream of prose. “I’m sick to my teeth of writing for bread. I should have become a journalist.” Today, few authors can fully support themselves on fiction writing alone. They write in other fields, work a day job or have a second income from a spouse.

Dickens carries a small notebook with him and jots down unusual names of people he encounters. At a club he meets a man named Marley. “If you get the name right, the character should appear,” says Dickens. Many writers also keep lists of story ideas, names or trivia to use in their work.

Dickens hits on the idea of writing a Christmas story, but his publisher says no. Like many modern authors, he turned self publishing.

A small press quotes him the cost for the books, which will have color illustrations and fancy binding.

“You’ll have to sell every copy to make your money back,” says the printer.

Dickens replies, “That is my intention.”

How many authors sell every printed copy of their work or earn out their advance?

Dickens then hires the illustrator, Mr. Leech, who is taken back by the author’s demands and deadlines. “What you’re asking is impossible for an ordinary man,” says the illustrator.

“But you are no ordinary man,” says Dickens. “You are a genius.”

Later, when Leech receives copies of the text, he is again dismayed. “I am not a hired hand. I am an artist,” he says. “A jolly ghost (Ghost of Christmas Past). I can’t draw what I don’t understand.”

Can we have a show of hands from authors who have disliked the cover art for their books? I hate one of my book covers. My publisher hired the designer, a new person she wanted to try out. The first cover the designer gave me was appalling. I gave a concept to the designer, but she failed carry it out the way I wanted. Rather than making changes, the designer insisted she be paid. My publisher never used her again.

Now the pressure is on Dickens to write, as Christmas is only a few weeks away. “The characters won’t do what I want!” he moans. “I’m afraid if I can’t finish it I’ll never write again.”

His wife tells the servants to avoid him. “We must not disturb the poet when the divine frenzy is upon him.” Yes, we writers often say no to other obligations or friendly chitchat whenever we’re facing deadlines or feeling inspired.

When Charles neglects his family, his wife says, “I fear your characters mean more to you than your own flesh and blood.”

Authors often feel their creations are so real they can touch them. For Dickens, his characters actually come alive. He even takes Scrooge with him on a walk around London.

Scrooge is not an easy person to get along with. “I fear your representation of me is rather one-sided,” Scrooge says to his creator, “I have written a speech . . .”

“No!” Dickens shouts. “I’m the author!”

Scrooge: “Allegedly.”

I’ve hear authors say how their characters will take over the story or move the plot in a different direction or say things that the writer didn’t plan. The clay tells the potter how to build the pot.

The other characters of “Carol” begin to crowd Charles’ small office. After he yells at them, one says, “Was he the author? No wonder he looked so depressed.”

The writer shouts to his characters, “Go on, back to work!”

In the end, of course, “A Christmas carol” was a smash hit and Dickens did sell every copy of the first run. People began to celebrate Christmas in high spirits, and Charles went on more tours just to read “Carol” aloud to eager listeners.

Would anyone pay me to read my writing aloud to them? Maybe not, but as long as they read and enjoy them, then my work is well done. And if I get “blockage,” I can watch the movie again and see how Charles Dickens overcame his obstacles.

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