Although Matthew Plampin always felt that he wanted to write, for a long time he was “waiting for an idea.” It wasn't until he was working on his PhD that inspiration for his first novel, The Street Philosopher, struck. As he researched Victorian Britain, he recalls, “I found I was having an imaginative response to the material. I was distracted by gossip columns in the old magazines and newspapers I was reading, the stories about people's lives. I wanted to write about that in a way that couldn't be contained in my PhD."
Born in Essex, Plampin was encouraged to immerse himself in literature from an early age. "My mum always put books in my hands, and talked about literature." Besides an obvious debt to Dickens, his literary influences include Hilary Mantel, Sarah Waters, Beryl Bainbridge, Peter Carey and Iain Pears. Plampin went on to study English and History of Art at the University of Birmingham before embarking upon a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He lectured on art history while he wrote The Street Philosopher, which is set around the time of the Crimean War.
All of Plampin's novels are historical: "I can't imagine writing a book where a character picks up a phone." Rather than using the period simply as a backdrop, he integrates his novel into its historical setting, employing real-life characters and engaging those he invents with the key events of their age. His interest in the Victorian era stems from its mix of the familiar and the strange. "Debates were raging about race, gender, and politics – debates we can easily relate to today. You can see what we might now think of as globalisation emerging in the way Colt operates, attempting to homogenise the arms industry. Colt is like a germ – he unthinkingly spreads and spreads."
The Devil's Acre was published in hardback as The Gunmaker's Gift:
The 1850s are of particular interest as they are "on the edge of photography. You can see pictures of Colt, whereas for earlier periods you have to rely on painted portraits. I find early photographs haunting and very inspiring; certain elements of The Devil's Acre were directly inspired by them."
Plampin lives in London with his wife and baby son. He is currently working on his third novel, set during the siege of Paris at the close of the Franco-Prussian War.