Coincidence or higher guidance?
When I had just begun to write Gideon’s Angel I was living in a perfectly positioned but somewhat tatty flat in London just opposite the Law Courts where the Strand turns into Fleet Street. And as I stood up there on the top floor looking down at the double-deckers and pedestrians coming and going, I tried puzzling out various plot angles for the 17th century historical novel that was forming in my head. I quickly realized that if the main character was bent on assassination of a major leader, he would at some point have to run into some of the famous of the time and not just his intended target. And if there was going to be a supernatural element to all this in the form of a parallel plot run by some deluded extremists, then that might require some other heavy-hitters known during Cromwell’s era.
I knew that Oliver Cromwell’s chief of intelligence and master spy was a man named John Thurloe, a London-trained lawyer. If my protagonist was also going to be a spy and rogue assassin, I would have to have him cross paths—or swords—with Mr. Thurloe. And it was just about this time that a rather sublime thing happened to me in London. I was walking up Chancery Lane, about two minutes away from my flat, when I looked up at a blue plaque on one of the buildings leading to Lincoln’s Inn. It was to honour John Thurloe, secretary of state, who had lived on the site.
That was enough of a coincidence to make me stop in my tracks and smile. But not long after, I was walking up the Strand, again no more than two minutes from home, when another plaque caught my eye. This was a green one very high up the wall outside the old disused Aldwych tube station near King’s College. It was in honour of William Lilly, “master astrologer” 1602-1681 who had lived at a house on the site of the tube station. The proverbial light bulb blinked on and I remembered that King Charles had an astrologer who also ended up working for Cromwell. It was him. Once back at the flat, a bit of googling brought the information I needed and another character for Gideon’s Angel had been found. That’s the interesting thing about living in London. You just never know who your neighbours are going to be.