Opioids in the 1930s

Opium smokers in the East End of London, London Illustrated News, 1874

As part of my research for book 4, I’ve been reading up on morphine addiction in the early part of the 20th century. I found out, for example, that Sigmund Freud died of a morphine overdose that was administered by his own doctor in an assisted suicide (Freud had mouth cancer and decided he was done at the age of 83 in 1939).

Addiction to morphine was called the ‘soldiers disease’ as many fighting men came back from the first world war (and second) addicted to the pain killer.

Laudanum (a pill or tincture made from opium and sometimes the addition of saffron, castor, ambergris, musk and nutmeg) was widely used in the 16th century, and well into the 20th.

Although many drugs containing opium were required to be labelled at the beginning of the 20th century, they were also commonly available without a prescription.

My first exposure to an opium den was in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” one of my less favourite Holmes tales. Watson goes to find Holmes in the opium den down a “vile alley” on Upper Swandam Lane. In London in the 1930s, opium dens could be found in and around Pennyfields and the Limehouse Causeway.

map-limehouse.png

From what I’ve read, the description of the seediness and danger around these drug dens were both racially charged and more negative than real. But, any drug den, whether it’s in the 1930s or today, will attract a certain kind of customer, so the danger was probably accurately described. For example:

In a talk at the Docklands Museum on 28th January 2007, Dr. John Seed from Roehampton University explored some of the realities of Chinese life in Limehouse from 1900 – 1940. He showed how public responses to several drug scandals, to interracial marriage, to housing shortages and unemployment, contributed to an enduring myth: the idea of a Chinatown in Limehouse that never really existed. Read more here.

An anti-opium movement sprang up in response, mostly as a method of controlling the populace from “deviant” behaviours, but doctors were still prescribing various opioids as a method of pain control.

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Writing my keynote for the Bootmakers of Toronto

Prezi in process!
Prezi in process!

I’m all kinds of excited (and nervous) that I’m the keynote speaker at the Bootmakers of Toronto annual dinner this year and I’m working on my presentation this morning.

My focus is going to be about writing pastiche within the Sherlockian universe and I’m having some fun visually describing my path from reading detective fiction to writing it to publishing it.

If you’re in Toronto on the 31st, you should come!

Changing relationships: How did Lestrade really feel about Holmes?

Holmes and Lestrad (from the BBC series)
Lestrade and Holmes (from the BBC series)

Interesting how writing about relationships between characters can feel so personal, and yet at the same time make me feel insecure. I think by Book 5 of course the relationship between Sergeant Michaels and Portia will have had to change. I mean, the girl has solved 3 cases that he has been involved in, and she has to have at least gained his grudging respect if not a tiny amount of admiration, but when can it move into reliance?

That might not even be the right word. What would you call the relationship between Holmes and Lestrade? Inspector Lestrade came to Holmes on cases that he found impossible to solve right? So that is a dependence of some kind. And Holmes relied on Lestrade for some of his more interesting cases, and access to mysteries that he might not otherwise have been allowed access to.

Up till now, the relationship between Portia and Michaels has been one of requirement for Portia and one of annoyance for Michaels. I think for her to truly become a consulting detective, she now has to become sought after by the Yard.

I think the best way to unite these two so Portia can get past her arrogance and Michaels can get past his disdain for someone pursuing a Holmesian-career is to give them a common enemy. Someone like Mycroft perhaps?