Character Profile: Elaine Barclay

On to Miss Elaine Barclay in my list of Character Profiles (the full list here):

The Barclays
James and Elaine Barclay

FULL NAME: Elaine Caroline Barclay (eventually Elaine Caroline Ridley after she gets married)

AGE: in 1929 she is 22-years-old, therefore born in 1908.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Green eyes, very slim (almost emaciated when Portia first meets her) and tall, long brown hair, high cheekbones, an aristocratic bearing.

LOCATION: London, lives with her father and brother. Moves in with her husband after their wedding.

EDUCATION:  Farlington School for Girls, and then Somerville College for Law.

PREFERENCES: Being brought up as the daughter of an influential and rich Judge, Elaine Barclay enjoys the finer things in life, and upon her father’s death becomes the sole heir to his considerable fortune. She’s a clothes horse and leads the fashionistas in London, travels to the rest of Europe a lot, and has many connections with the Royal family in the UK, Italy and Germany.

SOCIALLY: Mother has died, father is alive at the beginning of ‘A Case of Darkness’, has a younger brother named James Barclay who has aspirations to the theatre. Marries Dr. Ridley  at the beginning of ‘Truth be Told.”

Character Profile: Chief Inspector Archer

Onward down my list of characters (the full list of Character Profiles can be found here), we come next to one of Portia’s first fans Chief Inspector Archer:

ArcherFULL NAME: Dillon Breen Archer, Chief Inspector with the Metropolitan Police of London, more colloquially known as Scotland Yard. Archer also teaches at King’s College and Queens College on criminology, and criminal law.

AGE: in 1929 he is 64-years-old, born in January 1865.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Pale blue eyes, thick glasses, 5’7″ tall, average build with a small pot belly, grey thinning hair + a handlebar moustache.


EDUCATION: Basic schooling in London, joined the force as a Constable in 1884 at the age of 19, went to war at the age of 49 as a Sergeant, and resumed his work at the Yard after, working his way up to Chief Inspector. He started teaching at the Colleges in 1925.

PREFERENCES: Doesn’t smoke, drinks casually, is a moderate man in many ways.

SOCIALLY:   Married with a wife who worked as a nurse during the first World War, when he was a Sergeant in the Royal Army. Three daughters are all married and living in London, with whom he is still very close. Archer worked with Holmes and Watson in the first few years of his employment with Scotland Yard and is pre-disposed to be supportive of Portia Adams both for her intelligence and connection to Dr. Watson (the only connection he knows about).

PS: You’ll notice the actor whom I hold in my head when writing about Professor Archer is Giles (which I really wanted to give Archer as a first name, but just couldn’t do it) from Buffy. It is no coincidence that the relationship between the Slayer and her Watcher is one that springs to mind when I think of Portia and Archer, so it makes sense in my head that Anthony Stewart Head represents Archer on the page.

Character Profile: Sergeant Michaels

The next character I thought I would flesh out a bit (the full list of Character Profiles can be found here), is the complex character of Sergeant Michaels:

FULL NAME: Jeryl Hudson Michaels, Sergeant with the Metropolitan Police of London, more colloquially known as Scotland Yard.

AGE: in 1929 he is 41-years-old, born in May 1888.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Deep -set brown eyes, 5’9″ tall, thick through the torso (250lbs), greying hair but still mostly black .


EDUCATION: Basic schooling in London, joined the force as a Constable in 1907 at the age of 19 and has worked his way up to Sergeant.

PREFERENCES: Prefers beer, smokes copiously, works continuously, seems to have no social life beyond the cases he pursues and the men around him.

SOCIALLY:  Parents both dead, no spouse or children, fiercely loyal to his country and the Constabulary, especially to the men who serve under him. Though he was too young to work alongside Holmes and Watson, has very strong views on both men, negative towards Holmes and positive towards Watson. He starts off the series disapproving of Portia Adams, but by the end of their third case together, has come to respect her. By the end of the sixth case he is now seeking out her aid.

Character Profile: Dr. Gavin Whitaker

…and onto the mysterious but beguiling Dr. Whitaker next (for all the Character Profiles I’ve created so far, head here).

gregory3FULL NAME: Dr. Gavin Whitaker, former King’s College student, assistant Professor at Kings, County Coroner often used by Scotland Yard.

AGE: in 1929 he is 24-years-old, born in March 1905.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Brown eyes, 6’3″ tall, strongly built, lean, with sharp cheekbones and a naturally haughty expression.


EDUCATION: Scholarship student to King’s College where he excelled, and graduated at the top of his year.

PREFERENCES: Classic style, darker clothing, prefers champagne to wine, doesn’t drink beer, enjoys tea shops, drinks black coffee. Has personal interest in crimes involving poisons.

SOCIALLY: Orphaned since birth, Charles grew up never knowing his parents, and had to fight his way up the good chain, to the point that not only is he a highly respected professor in his field, but he has also made forays into the stock market that despite the depression going on around him and around the world, he has made a considerable amount of money for himself in 1930. In 1931 he is invited on a speaking tour of Austrian universities.

Scotland Yard

New Scotland Yard
New Scotland Yard

For my next scene, I needed to have a better understanding of the layout of Scotland Yard, so chased down the architect – Richard Norman Shaw, and found some very interesting documents about him.

I also found some data here at and compared it to Wikipedia and a few others:

The original New Scotland Yard was at Whitehall. In 1890, the Metropolitan Police moved into Norman Shaw’s celebrated purpose-built headquarters overlooking the Thames on the newly built Victoria Embankment. Described by one commentator as, ‘a very constabulary kind of castle,’[1] it was an eclectic building typical of the emerging Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century with numerous busy motifs. It was finished in striped red brick with Portland stone and characterised by a skyline of turrets and a steep roof patterned by dormers and lofty chimneys. The original building provided 140 offices and they were assigned according to rank. High-ranking officers were given rooms within the turrets overlooking the river or larger rooms close to ground floor, while lower ranking officers were consigned to smaller rooms higher up. The original single building was joined by two extensions both overseen by the Met surveyor and closely mimicking Shaw’s design. Despite the much-enlarged complex, as early as the 1930’s there were complaints of overcrowding and the force eventually left the site for the present building on Victoria Street in 1967.

That image above comes from the Metropolitan Police Service’s page on the history of Scotland Yard.

I also found this detailed PDF of the history of the Norman Shaw buildings here.

Interestingly, the New Scotland Yard was supposedly “the first public building in its entirety to be lit by electricity. [3] This electricity was provided by its own generator, thus freeing it from any interruption to its telegraph and later its 999 emergency system.” – which is important to this casebook (see my post on Vaults for a hint as to why 😉

Character Profile: Annie Colson

Further to my new category on character profiles (the full list here), I thought I would take on the winsome Annie Colson next:

annie2FULL NAME: Annie Helen Colson, reporter for The Sunday Times.

AGE: in 1929 she is 20-years-old, therefore born in May 1910.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Light blue eyes, 5’5″ tall, hourglass figure, bright blonde thick hair cut short in a pixie style, inquisitive face.

LOCATION: East end of London on Spital St. where she lives with her younger twin brothers whom she cares for in her father’s absence (he lives and works in the States and sends money back to support them).

EDUCATION: Basic schooling in London, freelanced for The Sunday Times in 1929, was fired that same year and re-hired in 1930.

PREFERENCES: Prefers white wine, enjoys shopping and clothing, favours rosewater, wears makeup and enjoys looking feminine. Out of all the characters, she suffers most from the reality of the Great Depression, trying to feed three mouths on her salary and being out of work for part of the casebook ‘Thrice Burned.’

SOCIALLY: Mother has died, father is abroad, cares for twin 12 year old brothers (in 1930) and is dating Constable Brian Dawes since 1930.

Vault technology and Banks

A 1931 ad for a vent that can save Bank Vault prisoners’ lives!

Time to do some thinking about the technology of bank vaults… specifically in the time period I am setting this case in – August 1931.

By the way, the image on the left is from a blog called ModernMechanix that you really should check out for some really cool images from old magazines.

BANKS in 1931
Banking in 1931 as a result of now being a couple years into the Great Depression was a scary place. According to many sources, banks were going under left-right-and-center, and according to the Bank of England site:

In 1931 the United Kingdom left the gold standard; its gold and foreign exchange reserves were transferred to the Treasury. But their management was still handled by the Bank and this remains the case today.

Different banks reacted to this economic downturn in different ways, but out of the so-called ‘big-five’ in the UK, Westminister Bank seems to have fared amongst the best. Westminister Bank no longer exists, having been merged with National Provincial Bank in 1970. According to the RBS history page, “…by 1939 there were 1,100 branches,” so that works for my story well.

Time locks became common in the late 1800s, and by the early 1900s, banks had figured out how to stop robbers from using nitroglycerin to burn through their locks. Interestingly, as a result of the economic crisis, banks in the 1920s began building very thick vaults as much as to deter robbers as to stop the angry mobs of unemployed and indigent.

Despite the new security measures, these vaults were still vulnerable to yet another new invention, the cutting torch. Burning oxygen and acetylene gas at about 6,000 °F (3,300 °C), the torch could easily cut through steel. It was in use as early as 1907, but became widespread with World War I. Robbers used cutting torches in over 200 bank robberies in 1924 alone. Manufacturers learned to sandwich a copper alloy into vault doors. If heated, the high thermal conductivity of copper dissipates the heat to prevent melting or burning. After this design improvement, bank burglaries fell off and were far less common at the end of the 1920s than at the beginning of the decade. – Wikipedia

Surprisingly, there are several Vault and Lock Manufacturers that have been around for a hundred years (much of this is taken from this website called The Definitive List of Safe Manufacturers):

Allied Safe and Vault: This Company’s origins go back to 1902 in Spokane and in 1948 they became Allied Safe and Vault. They were very successful in the postwar banking boom as suppliers of secure technology. Their watchwords are “Peace of mind” and they work hard to keep their customers on the technological edge. For general home-use safes, they have products like; composite safes and their insulated vault doors. For commercial use they offer products like: the TL-15 & 1L-30 burglary & fire resistant safes and the composite TR-30X6/TRTL-30X6. For the hospitality sector they offer hotel safes and related products. Allied Safe and Vault also offers gun safes and products for banks such as deal drawers.

Phoenix Safe: One of the oldest safe manufacturers in the United Kingdom, they can trace their origins back to 1799 in Liverpool where they built strongboxes for merchant fleets. Today they are recognized around the world for their secure products. In their burglary protection line, they have such products as the Phoenix Imperial 980 series and the Saracen 920 series. For fire protection they have such safes as the Fire Fighter 500 series and the Olympian 1200/1230 series. It you’re interested in data protection, they have the DATACARE 2000 series and the DATA COMMANDER 4620 series.

Browning: A household name for American firearms, this company has been in business since 1927. It was founded to market the non-military firearm designs of the world’s most prolific arms inventor, John Browning. It is currently a subsidiary of Fabrique Nationale De Herstal. They also manufacture gun safes. Their Premium line offers the Gold,Platinum Plus, Medallion and Silver series. They also have less expensive Value Safes and Specialty Safes. Browning also offers safe accessories for upkeep and care

Schwab Corp: Founded in 1872 in Lafayette, Indiana; Schwab is a globally respected manufacturer of security products. For over 136 years they’ve been setting the standard for customer service and they have the most respected dealership network in the United States. In 2004 they introduced their patented Insulite insulation process which increased overall protection of fire files by 300%. In 2008 they were acquired by SentrySafe. Their product lines include; record safes, vault & safe room doors, media & data safes and their Schwab fire file cabinets.

I’m leaning towards using the Phoenix safe manufacturers for obvious reasons as they were based in the UK. At the time they were called the “Milners Safe Company of Liverpool” and according to the company website, were “among the best known British safe manufacturers from the 1850’s through to the 1970’s, when rationalisation of the safe industry led to the loss of many of the traditional manufacturers.”

This, my friends, is going to be a fun scene to write. Allons-y!

Friends and Ego

An open book with a page bent in a heart-shape
My heart: my book

I’ve been away from writing and from all of you for some time now, but I swear it’s been a productive month.

In real life, I’ve been launching a new HTML5 website for CBC called The Massey Experience, which is pretty awesome if I do say so myself, AND we’ve been renovating our kitchen – resulting in this fabulous new space to cook and entertain.

Also in real life, my good friend, and prolific writer Mr. Joe Mahoney (@ilanderz) read my first book and did an intensive line-by-line edit of it that I am now applying to my manuscript.

When I gave it to him to read, I confess I did so with more trepidation than usual because he is a perfectionist when it comes to the craft. What’s funny is that I think he approached his resulting edits of my book with equal amounts of uneasiness. His unease came from worrying about hurting my feelings (sweet man!) and the amount my poor ego could take in terms of real criticism.

I have to say (and maybe it’s because I trust Joe and his skills having read and heard his work many times) that I was not in the least bit worried about his suggested edits – I was worried he wouldn’t like it, and that would have stabbed me right through my writer’s heart. It’s not true of everyone who has read my work, but I <think> my ego is tied to the concept of the book series with Portia and her journey through her cases and less tied to the actual words on the page.

What about you guys? Does it stab you straight through your writer’s heart when someone tells you that a sentence is ‘awkward’ or that your writing is needlessly formal in a scene? Or are you separate enough from your words to take the criticism with a grain of salt?

Finally onto transcribing!

Cat jumping for joy
This is me transcribing!

I can honestly say that for the first time in this series, I am looking forward to the transcription and resulting edits in the process.

Why you ask?

Because writing Principessa has been really hard! I’m not whining, I swear, but I really struggled with this case book, and I think I know why:

  • I came up with a premise for the location and client without a clear idea about the crime.
  • The politics in Italy in the 1930s make the crime I finally DID choose really complicated to engineer.
  • The language barrier for Portia is another complication that I kept stepping around unsuccessfully.

That is why I was determined to give myself a deadline for finishing this story (as so many of you bloggers out there recommend) while I was on vacation. My thinking is that even if this doesn’t end up being a story I want to keep, at least if it is fully out of my head and on the computer, I can move on to the NEXT story.

Mission accomplished in terms of finishing up the hand-written story, now onto transcribing where hopefully I will be able to tie off some of the raggedy edges.

Do you guys have the same experience with needing to finish the first story before you start the next?

Or do you allow yourselves the sweet sneaky nip into that next fun storyline?

Benito Mussolini and the politics of Italy in 1932

Benito Mussolini from Wikipedia
Benito Mussolini from his Wikipedia

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about Italian history in the 1930s to give credence to Portia’s latest case: Principessa.

In addition to exploring the landscape and picking a location (read more in my post on Racconigi castle here) the politics of the time are of key interest. Anyone who knows anything about post-World-War-1 Italy knows that by 1932, politics in the country were all about Benito Mussolini.

The man ruled from 1922 till he was ousted in 1943. “Following the March on Rome in October 1922 he became the 27th Prime Minister of Italy and began using the title Il Duce by 1925, about which time he had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means, aspiring to create a totalitarian state.” – Wikipedia

So Il Duce would have been an intrusive part of the Royal family’s life, especially to the King, Victor Emmanuel, who chose to share power with the facist ruler despite having the support of his military.

Mussolini solved something called the ‘Roman Question’ which was a dispute between the Popes and the government of Italy and I’m wondering if the blackmailer in this case could be somehow tied up in this. I need to find out if Victor Emmanuel was involved in trying to solve the Roman Question, and who would benefit from messing with that.

Back into the interwebs I go!