Kaite Welsh is the author of The Wages of Sin (2017, Tinder Press), a historical crime novel following the exploits of Sarah Gilchrist, a medical student with a murky past. When Sarah believes one of her patients, a prostitute, has been murdered, she knows she is the only one willing to discover the killer. She must navigate the highest echelons of Edinburgh society and the depths of its slums, facing mockery, violence and misogyny along the way, before she can solve the crime.
Kaite spoke with The Fountain about setting her novel in Edinburgh, incorporating LGBT themes and The Unquiet Heart.
TF: We’re all used to Victorian crime novels set in London, why set Wages in Edinburgh?
It was always going to be in Edinburgh. I had the idea for the book when I was studying here. I’d always been obsessed with nineteenth-century medicine, which is a normal and cool thing for a teenage girl to be into. And then when I was studying up here there was a plaque on the medical school buildings to Sophia Jex-Blake, who was the first woman medical student, and then right underneath it Arthur Conan Doyle. I was like, “Ooh, a medical student who solves crimes, interesting.”
But it wasn’t until I graduated and moved down to London that I really started writing it. It’s kind of my love letter to Edinburgh, in a way, because at that point I didn’t think I was going to move back. So it was nice to kind of revisit the city in a different way.
TF: I bet it was nice coming full circle, and moving back here.
It was, and weirdly, when I had come up to look at flats and we’d just put down a deposit on a place, my now-agent emailed me to say that she’d seen the first few chapters (of Wages) on my website, really liked it, and could we meet? And I was like, okay, that’s freakishly perfect timing.
It’s actually been much easier to write the second one whilst being in Edinburgh because if I feel like procrastinating I can just kind of walk around, hang around the medical school until I feel guilty and start writing.
TF: You make no secret of the fact that you’re a member of the LGBT community. Did you make a conscious decision for LGBT themes to take a backseat in Wages, despite what readers may have expected?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I came up with Sarah as a character before anything else really, and whilst I knew that there would be LGBT themes in the book (because I don’t think I could NOT write about them) because the story ‘s just so different, Sarah’s perspective and her background and interests, that was the driving force really. But I think through the series it’s going to come out more and more. One of the things I want to do is write about the histories that we don’t normally get to read.
TF: On the other hand, The Wages of Sin is a politically charged book. Did you set out to tackle themes like shame, misogyny and otherness?
That’s just what I write about. I’m generally in a simmering state of feminist rage. I’m interested in women’s stories, and at this point you can’t write about women’s stories without writing about misogyny. As soon as men back the f*ck down, I’ll stop trashing them
TF: Tell us about our next book.
The next book is the second in the Sarah Gilchrist series, it’s called The Unquiet Heart, and I don’t want to give too many plot spoilers away but somebody gets punched, somebody gets engaged, and somebody gets syphilis. Not quite in that order. So that’s in its editing stage at the moment.
I’m going to start working on book three in September, and I think at the moment what that’s going to be about is, in the late nineteenth century a lot of female medical students came from India to complete their medical training at British universities, so I really want to write about that, and again to tell those stories that get written out of mainstream white/male/cis/het history.
TF: What are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished a book called Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek (Anthony O’Neill – Black & White publishing). I got asked to write my first cover blurb for it, so that was exciting. And that was brilliant, it’s really good. It’s a continuation or exploration of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
And I’ve just got a ton of research reading I want to do as well, Because I’ve got a backlog of books I want to write. At the start of next year I want to write a standalone, non-Sarah Gilchrist historical novel, that I’ve just started researching, and I’ve got my Big Book of Queer Feminisms that I promised myself I would do an outline of this year. Basically cool research stuff.
The Wages of Sin was published by Tinder Press on 1st June 2017.