The idea for this story germinated when I read Richard Cohen’s By the Sword, a superbly readable history of swords and swordsmanship from mediaeval trial by combat to the modern sport of fencing. The book is filled with characters who are so improbable that they would never work in fiction, but the one who stood out was Joseph Boulogne, Le Chevalier de St George. Boulogne was the illegitimate but acknowledged son of a French plantation owner and one of his slaves who became celebrated across Europe for his prowess as an athlete, fencer, horseman and musician. I was particularly fascinated by the way he was trapped between classes. His father allowed him to become an intimate of the upper classes while his mother prevented him being one of them. When the revolution came, he embraced its promise to sweep away the concept of class altogether, but his paternity caught up with him and saw him imprisoned and impoverished.
At about the same time, I became interested in how best to write fast-moving action. Swordplay lent itself as it involves technical movements that take less time than it takes to read a description of them. I wanted a story that would revolve around descriptions of swordplay, so then I needed a reason for the steel to be bared in the first place.
Perhaps bizarrely, the answer came out of a conversation about Pride and Prejudice. What’s stuck in my mind was not the much celebrated romance between Darcy and Elizabeth, but the Bennett family’s treatment of Lydia. Rather than forgiving her youthful indiscretion with the ‘worthless’ Wickham, Darcy and the Bennett family force her to marry him and then shun the pair of them. The Regency middle classes could be a brutal lot, which gave my Boulogne-inspired character something to draw his sword over.
I moved my Boulogne-inspired character to London by making him a bit younger at the time of the Revolution and his father enough of an aristocrat to put him on the wrong side of the Terror. Le Méridian was born.
Steel in the Morning was published in Lacuna #2, April 2010, where the full text is still available.
It is also part of the Steel in the Morning collection.