Edward Carey: Writing The Iremonger Trilogy


HEAP HOUSE is being released this week and in honour of this Edward Carey has written a blog post about what inspired him to write THE IREMONGER TRILOGY.

THE IREMONGER TRILOGY really started because of my family. On my mother’s side there are some relations with the name Iremonger, it seemed to me as a child (still does), one of the most wonderful and unlikely names. Iremonger. Anger monger. I’ve never met any of the Iremongers I’m related to, and I’m sure they’re all lovely people, but as a child (and as an adult) I couldn’t help wondering what such people might look like. I’ve never seen any photographs or paintings of them, but over time in my mind I separated them from real breathing distant relatives, into something that resembled a large domineering and somewhat terrifying Victorian family. I imagined them as having high starched collars, tall stovepipe hats, and being quite liberally cruel to people. I think I may have made a couple of sketches and then forgotten about them. Though they were always there, this cruel industrious family, being unpleasant somewhere in the background of my mind.

Some time a long the way I read the great work by Henry Mayhew London Labour and the London Poor, an encyclopedia of London characters. Mayhew did many interviews with workers and vagrants around London and published them in several volumes, they’re often enormously moving. You feel you’re standing right by someone from Victorian London, as if you can almost hear them breathing, you feel their pains and woes. One of the things that’s so extraordinary about these interviews is how extremely bizarre the lives seem, among them people of shifting London we hear from The Dolls Eye Maker, The Long Song Seller (literally a man who sells songs that are rather long, on oversized pieces of paper), the Street seller of nutmeg graters, the blind Lucifer Match girl. Suddenly a whole bizarre, fascinating, hurt, ingenious, downtrodden world was there. Reading Mayhew can make Dickens seem like an entirely realistic writer.

Heap House mayhew-20Heap House opp_p222_Mayhew

Shortly after discovering Mayhew (and I keep going back to it) I read Jack London’s account of going underground and mixing with the poor in London. The People of the Abyss is, as it sounds, a very troubling journey into the appalling and distressing lives of down and out Londoners. It is astoundingly well written, frequently shocking and once read impossible ever to forget.

I started to think about these two books and of people lost in history, of all the Victorian children in slums across Britain crushed by poverty and the might and heartlessness of a vast industrial empire. And I think it must have been around this time that I saw Gustav Doré’s extraordinary illustrations to Blanchard Jerrold’s book London: A Pilgrimage.

Heap House Gustav Dore London
Looking at Doré’s amazing etchings, I just wanted to sink my teeth into Victorian London, to get lost in its dirt and horrors and sheer strangeness. Then those Iremongers came back to me, and I wondered if I could make them into a book and perhaps even illustrate it, and then I quickly made this pencil sketch

Heap House clod pencil

and I knew that this fellow would be my hero, and that his name would be Iremonger, he’d live with his huge and malevolent family but he’d be different to them, he wouldn’t quite fit in. And then, at last, I thought I’d try to write.

You can find Edward Carey on Twitter @edwardcarey70 and his author website.