A long, long time ago, when I was a fairly new blogger and considerably less tired and grey – ok, it was October 2013! – I published a review of a wonderful novel I’d discovered called The Room Beyond, together with an interview with the author, Stephanie Elmas. You can read it again here, if you’d like to. When Stephanie said she planned to write another, looking at the early life of the fascinating Walter Balanchine, I was delighted – but I had rather hoped that she’d be returning to the blog a teeny bit sooner. Illusion was published for kindle by Endeavour Press on 21st May, and independently published in paperback in September – and I’m so looking forward to reading it the moment I can find a suitable space.
Returning home from his travels with a stowaway named Kayan, Walter Balanchine is noted for the charms, potions and locket hanging from his neck. Finding his friend Tom Winter’s mother unwell, he gives her a potion he learned to brew in the Far East. Lucid and free from pain, the old woman remembers something about Walter’s mother. Walter is intrigued, for he has never known his family or even his own name – he christened himself upon leaving the workhouse.
Living in a cemetery with his pet panther Sinbad to keep the body snatchers away, word soon spreads of his healing and magical abilities and he becomes a sought after party performer. During one of Walter’s parties, Tom is approached by Tamara Huntington, who reveals she is being forced to marry a man she does not love. Will he and Walter come to her rescue? Try as they might, sometimes all the best intentions in the world can’t put a stop to a bad thing, and she is soon married off to the cruel Cecil Hearst.
Drama and tragedy ensue, and Walter keeps his distance from Tamara. That is until her stricken brother-in-law Daniel requires his magical healing, and he is forced back into her life. With secrets beginning to emerge, Walter finds his mother may be a lot closer to home than he realised…
Filled with mystery, magic and larger than life characters, Illusion will keep you guessing until the very last page.
Doesn’t that look just wonderful? While you’re waiting for my review, I’m delighted to welcome author Stephanie Elmas to Being Anne to tell us more…
It took me seven years … yes, seven years … to write my first novel, The Room Beyond. It was therefore a minor miracle that I managed to complete my second novel, Illusion, in only two years. It is amazing what a bit of experience and improved efficiency can do! Illusion was born out of The Room Beyond, although the two novels can be read entirely separately. It was during my writing of The Room Beyond that I fell in love with the dark antics of one of its lesser characters: the Victorian East End mystic, Walter Balanchine. When I reached the end of my first novel, I knew that I had so much more to say about him.
Illusion follows the early life of Walter: his childhood as an abandoned boy in a workhouse, his return to London after years of exotic travel, his rise to fame as an illusionist and the hot water that his exploits plunge him into. Along the way he is joined by his closest friend Tom Winter, an heiress engaged to his brutal nemesis, a faithful stowaway boy from his travels and a black panther. Together they battle with the harsh realities of life in the East End smoke, but the scene also moves to a grand house in a marshy, West Country setting; so damp and wet that no new building has ever managed to withstand this environment for very long…
The settings I have chosen for Illusion both came very naturally to me. I have always been passionate about Victorian London, particularly as it is represented in the Gothic and sensation genres of fiction. Sherlock Holmes, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon are some of my favourite writers. However, after spending much of my childhood in Bristol, I also have deep admiration for The West Country and grew up reading Thomas Hardy. Both the grime and opulence of Victorian London and the rolling hills of The West play a strong part in creating evocative settings in my writing.
My love of sensation fiction also fuelled the creation of my plot. I adore a story full of unexpected events and surprises. In The Room Beyond, I created a secret library at the centre of a manor house; a place that could only be found by overcoming a fear of the labyrinthine corridors around it and by possessing a natural sense for where it might be hiding. In writing Illusion, I attempted to recreate that motif of the labyrinth in the plot itself, filling it with twists and turns along the way. Hopefully, following the tradition of Collins and Braddon, I have created moments that will make you jump, laugh, cry and read back again in disbelief.
So, the dilemma I now have is this … after two novels, have we seen the end of Walter Balanchine? After finishing Illusion, I thought that I had laid him to rest, but my problem is that new ideas just keep emerging in my head. And, as we enter this gloomy time of year; a time of fog and cold, of dead leaves crunching underfoot and the lights of Halloween, fireworks and Christmas sparkling wildly in the smoke, Walter continues to haunt me. I see him in the twilight, dressed in one of his colourful cloaks as he strides over wet grass, the silhouette of a panther by his side. At the end of Illusion he embarks on a journey to find a lost relative and learn about his origins. Does he achieve this? And what are the consequences of peeling back the layers of his past? Perhaps it is time for me to sit at my desk, pick up my pen one more time and find out.
See you again in 2021 then Stephanie?! My goodness, I do love the look of this book and am so looking forward to reading. If you’d like to try it too, it’s currently on a Kindle countdown deal for just 99p – but only for a couple more days.
About the author
Stephanie Elmas was born in Hong Kong to an English father and Czech mother but spent most of her childhood in Bristol. She studied English at university in London. Having worked as a head hunter, she taught English in Japan before returning to university to complete an MA in Victorian fiction. It was here that she developed her interest in the dark dangerous world of Victorian sensation writing. After the success of her first novel, The Room Beyond, Elmas has returned to write the tale of the early life of East End mystic and illusionist Walter Balanchine. When she is not writing, Elmas teaches secondary school English and juggles a chaotic household in Surrey.