Engineering and Architecture – or how to create a secret compartment

Diorama of Portia's Apt
Diorama of Portia's Apt

I’ve never been good with spatial reasoning, I really have to see something to understand it, let alone to describe it in prose in a book!

I wanted to include a secret hiding spot where Holmes would have kept his really top-secret stuff, and that Portia could discover and use to her own advantage as well. My idea was that the spot be somewhere behind the fireplace, but in trying to articulate both its discovery and usage, I struggled to explain it clearly.

So I kind of built it, with cardboard, to be able to describe it things that are happening in a scene. Its kind of a little diorama. Hopefully it will be useful in the future when I do other descriptive writing, but at the very least, it will help me be consistent (like when I describe Portia coming out of her bedroom and bumping into her dresser on her right – let’s establish the dresser is on the right!!).

This first pic is of the whole apartment (the bathroom is in the lower right quadrant, the fireplace on the left and Portia’s bed is hidden in the top right quadrant.

This second picture is of the a close up of the fireplace itself.

Diorama image 2: The Fireplace
Diorama image 2: The Fireplace

Note the two white columns on either side and the mantlepiece.

The chairs are the wingbacks Portia usually sits in and in the very left of the image you can barely see the stove. Yes, I know, try not to get distracted by the horrible details, this is NOT my forte.

Now if you look at the third image below of the diorama in close-up you see my clumsy fingers demonstrating how the white columns rotate forward, allowing for limited storage behind them and beside the actual fireplace. I figure with the brick all-round the fireplace area, and the white columns being made out of wood, the hidden contents should be reasonably protected from a fire in the fireplace.

Close up of the fireplace demonstrating the hiding spot...
Close up of the fireplace demonstrating the hiding spot...

What think you?

Adding some locations from Book 6 to the Google Map

Screen cap modification of a Google Map
Portia’s London

I added two more locations to Portia’s London – that of WhiteChapel, where Portia’s newest clients are from and ply their trade, and of Mecklenburgh Park where they meet.
There is a lot of history to the area, and after Portia’s time, quite a few famous authors and literary types called Mecklenburgh home. Read more about it at Wikipedia:

UPDATE: The WordPress Daily Challenge for Jan 7, 2013 was called ‘Map it Out‘ so I totally nailed that one friends!

Looking for a London newspaper in 1930

The Daily Mirror
The Daily Mirror front page as taken from

Spending a bit of time this morning researching newspapers that were publishing in London in the 1930s.

I’m thinking of using The Daily Mirror as the oppositional newspaper to Annie Coleson’s work at The Sunday Times.

From the Wikipedia article on The Daily Mirror

Leigh Brownlee went into newspapers and he is picked out as one of the senior figures representing the Daily Mirror at the funeral of the newspaper’s then editor, Alexander Kenealy in 1915.[10] Brownlee was himself editor of the Daily Mirror from 1931 to 1934, though this was a difficult period for the newspaper, which had fallen significantly from its achievement of the first one million circulation in 1918 because of price cutting by rival newspapers. The Mirror was sold by Lord Northcliffe in the mid-1930s and Brownlee appears to have left then: the newspaper relaunched as an American-style tabloid after he left. He went into partnership in a news agency, but the partnership was dissolved in 1936.

Starting Book 6

Whitechapel prostitutes
White chapel prostitutes

Finally finished transcribing Book5/ Box 850 which means I can start in on Book 6. Actually, I started writing Book 6 before I was finished transcribing, but now I can do it without guilt!

Anyway, right off the bat, I need a clearer picture of the status of prostitutes in Britain in 1931. I think I want to incorporate them into the Baker Street Irregulars. I think they could be a nice evolution. Sherlock Holmes was able to use the street kids of England to get him information he didn’t have access to. I don’t think he ever had prostitutes as his sources of information, but I feel Portia Adams could … but I need to figure out if her upbringing and social status might make her prejudiced towards the profession.

Since Whitechapel is so well-known for housing brothels at this time, it may be a likely spot to place this book’s main events.

As part of that research I came across “Life and Labour of the people in London” by Charles Booth. I would like very much to get a ahold of the whole series, does anyone know if it has been PDFed?


Box 850 done – time to transcribe!


It’s still a tentative title, but Book 5: Box 850 is done.

Box 850 is the colloquial term for the British Intelligence Service, specifically MI6, which wasn’t actually acknowledged as existing until 1994.

At the time of the book, the Chief of MI6 would have been Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair (1923–1939) and operated at the time out of  54 – Broadway, off Victoria StreetLondon.

It seems that MI5 concentrated more on internal threats, and MI6 more on external, but in the case of Mr. Howard, it is not made clear what his connection is to the Secret Service, it is only intimated that he comes from those offices. MI5 has its own colloquial name: Box 500 (after its official wartime address of PO Box 500).


So I suppose I could scoop that as a name instead. What do you think? I don’t know why but Box 850 sounds cooler and more mysterious than Box 500. But maybe that’s just me.

Another little bit of Latin

a little bit of latin
a little bit of latin

I am going to need this note from my would-be art thief in Book 5 (tentatively titled Box 850), so I started exploring it:

How about this for an evil note from our would-be art thief?
I wait for you to be in your most joyous celebration
and that is when I will strike
and take back what is mine
the archer of my village
and you will never see me
or know I was there
– Zeus

So in Latin (Lord send me someone who can make this accurate please) could be:
Exspectabo te laetus in celebratione
et quod suus cum percutiam
et retro quid nostra
in pandus mei castellum
et numquam videre me
vel scio erat

– Zeus

More research on the Baronet

Coat of arms for the Acland Baronet
Coat of arms for the Acland Baronet

As taken from the Wikipedia article here:,_8th_Baronet

Motto Inébranlable (Unshakable)

Sir John Acland, 1st Baronet (d. 1647)
Sir Francis Acland, 2nd Baronet (d. 1649)
Sir John Acland, 3rd Baronet (d. 1655)
Sir Arthur Acland, 4th Baronet (d. 1672)
Sir Hugh Acland, 5th Baronet (d. 1714)
Sir Hugh Acland, 6th Baronet (1696–1728)
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 7th Baronet (1722–1785) (who was featured in the painting)
Sir John Dyke Acland, 8th Baronet (1778–1785)
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 9th Baronet (1752–1794)
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 10th Baronet (1787–1871)
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 11th Baronet (1809–1898)
Sir (Charles) Thomas Dyke Acland, 12th Baronet (1842–1912)
Sir Arthur Herbert Dyke Acland, 13th Baronet (1847–1926)
Sir Francis Dyke Acland, 14th Baronet (1874–1939)
Sir Richard Dyke Acland, 15th Baronet (1906–1990)

Sir John Dyke Acland, 16th Baronet (1939–2009)
Sir Dominic Dyke Acland, 17th Baronet (b. 1962)

The heir apparent is the present holder’s oldest son Patrick Acland (b. 1993)
The ancestral family seat is Killerton Hall, near Broadclyst, Devon, which is now owned by the National Trust.

In my head


I find it useful just before I fall asleep to conjure up scenes that I have just written (at this moment, for Book 5). When I do that, it helps to have a mental picture of my characters, so I thought I’d share who I use:

Emma Stone
Emma Stone

For Portia, I am currently imagining someone like Emma Stone with darker hair.

She seems to be highly intelligent, which comes across in her eyes and the way she speaks and I don’t know how to explain it, but while she is pretty, she doesn’t seem over-the-top Photoshopped… if you know what I mean.

Anyway, she is who I imagine when I think about Portia.

Michael Vartan
Michael Vartan

For Constable Brian Dawes, I think of a young Michael Vartan, probably even before his Alias days.

He has the right combination of trusted boy-next-door looks and intelligence, while holding so much emotion in his eyes that he can compensate for Portia’s social ineptitude.

His girlfriend is even harder, because I DO want Annie Coleson to be ridiculously blonde and gorgeous. You might think that gives me even more to select from but it seems harder to me. I’m somewhere between

Rosamund Pike
Rosamund Pike
Katheryn Winnick
Katheryn Winnick

Rosamund Pike (I mean the girl has played both Helen of Troy and Jane Bennett on the big screen, she’s obviously the perfect woman) and Booth’s girlfriend from Season 6 of Bones, an actress by the name of Katheryn Winnick.

Katheryn is another one of those actresses who can pull off super-smart, but she’s more approachable than Rosamund, which Annie would have to be, so somewhere between these two women is where I imagine Annie.

Adam Baldwin
Adam Baldwin

I don’t know how bright Adam Baldwin is in real life, but he seems to play characters with more testosterone than neurons (no offense, Sir! they are also some of my favorite characters).

He is who I have in my head when I write Sergeant Michaels though with about 20lbs more fat on his body – specifically his portrayal of Jayne in the Firefly series.

My last two characters I need to imagine (specifically for the Reception scene at the beginning of Book 5 which I struggled with) are Dr. Beanstine and Dr. Benjamin Charles.

Joshua Malina
Joshua Malina

Dr. Beanstine is super-easy – I always imagined Joshua Malina from his days on The West Wing – he was crazy smart, good-looking in that dorky way, and he somehow managed to steal scenes from actors with twice his experience.

Put Malina in a sweater-vest and I swear, he’s totally Beans.

Probably Beanstine is even more socially awkward than Will Bailey in the West Wing, but its the right direction for sure. You always underestimate Will and then you see him run 10 miles, flex his muscles and date the gorgeous blonde National Security Advisor. He’s kind of awesome, and you don’t even know it.

James Marsters
James Marsters as Spike

Dr. Benjamin Charles is an interesting conundrum because he’s darkly dangerous and appealing to Portia, so he can’t be too good looking, nor can he be anything like his foil, Constable Dawes. I initially had in my head Spike from Buffy, but he was too extreme.

Marsters exhibits the correct mix of dark evil and sympathetic persona that I see in Dr. Charles. Problem is he’s a little TOO on the nose… its almost like it would be hard for Marsters NOT to seem evil – with those glass-cutting cheekbones and vicious wit..

Nicholas Lea
Nicholas Lea

So that leads me to someone a little less obviously evil, someone more like Alex Krycek from the X-files – as played by Nicholas Lea.

When you in your mind place Nicholas Lea next to Michael Vartan, it is interesting how much they have in common and how much it is clear to me that Vartan plays the good guy and Lea plays the bad guy. Maybe I haven’t seen enough footage of them playing the opposite, but when you put Portia between those two guys, I can see her being attracted to both for different reasons.

Characters I don’t have clear pictures of in my head: Sherlock Holmes (age 75), Irene Adler (age 74), Mrs. Dawes, Elaine Barclay and Ruby.

Historical accuracy

Philippa Gregory
Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction seems to be about a careful weaving of facts that can be verified and the stories you tell around them. This is most evident in Philippa Gregory‘s books about the royals in Britain, a series of books I think I own entirely in hardcover (demonstrating my respect for them).

In an interview posted on AbeBooks, she says ” In historical fiction, you have to imagine conversations that may have happened, based on the historical facts.”

I wonder if that also extends to deaths of historical figures where the cause of death goes undocumented (as far as I can tell through my research)?

Possible artwork

From Wikipedia: Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney: The Archers

One possibility for part of the collection at Lancaster House in 1931 is this piece by Sir Joshua Reynolds entitled: Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney: The Archers.

It was created in the late 1700s and was sold in 2005 for £2.5 million.

Dimensions: 238.7 cm × 184.2 cm (94.0 in × 72.5 in)

Watson and the Shark

Another option is for Watson and the Shark, which has the added link to Portia that I like, but less of an ability to easily play with the title (more cryptic than I mean it to be, but I don’t want to give away the premise of the first chapter of the book – sorry!).

This oil painting came from the same era exactly, but was painted by John Singleton Copley. The vertical copy of this piece is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. It was sold off in 1963.

Dimensions 182.1 cm × 229.7 cm (71¾ in × 90½ in)

Problematic for a few reasons: it never seemed to make it into the London Museum (and therefore never made it to Lancaster House), there are three copies, making it less valuable and like I stated earlier, the title is harder to work with.

Apollo from Pompeii (statue, from
Apollo from Pompeii (statue, from

An additional piece that I could relate to the first painting above is the bronze statue of Apollo from the ruins of Pompeii. The following text and image is from “In June 1817 the majority of the Apollo, broken into three pieces, was found just north of the forum in Pompeii, not far from the Temple of Jupiter … its reconstruction was complete by 1825.

So if this could have been in the collection at Lancaster House (which I suppose it could have been, on loan from some museum in Italy I have been unable to find so far) then this could mesh nicely with the kernel of a story I have in my head.

Dimensions: 147 (h) x 55 (w) x 114 (d) cm

I’d like to know the weight of this statue, but have been so far unable to find that.