In an interview earlier this year, I was asked about ‘Easter eggs’ hidden in my books – those little nods to pop culture, historical figures and wry in-jokes that many writers like to seed into their work. And as I’m no exception to those writers, it got me to thinking just how many times I insert some vague references, or make myself smile with a line that calls to mind some classic Victorian novel. Now, a lot of these references get edited out. Some are unconscious, and I end up removing them when I realise what I’ve done. Some, however, are obscure enough and personal enough to me to make the final cut.

For this blog, I’ve gone right back to book one, the Lazarus Gate, and picked out my top five Easter eggs. There are lots of others – if you spot them, drop me a line here. There’s literally a No-Prize for guessing…

Charles Dickens References

There are many Dickens riffs in the Lazarus Gate, because more than one character has a passion for his work – notably Rosanna. Ever the one for an oblique reference, I adapted two lines from the short story ‘The Queer Chair’ as simple descriptors in the text. The originals are: ‘If any Bagman of that day could have caught sight of the little neck-or-nothing sort of gig…’ and ‘The wind blew… sending the rain slanting down like the lines they used to rule in the copy-books at school, to make the boys slope well.’

John’s Boarding House

It won’t come as much of a shock to learn that Hardwick is inspired by several Victorian characters, notably Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson (he has a little of both in him). I wanted a Sherlockian nod in the book, and decided to have him staying at a boarding house, run by a Mrs Hudson-esque housekeeper. The address, however, is the fun bit. Because the real-world 11 George Street is situated next door to the building used as 221B Baker Street in the BBC Sherlock TV series, better known today as ‘Speedy’s’ sandwich shop.

You Can Take the Boy out of Stoke…

When I was a youngster growing up in Stoke-on-Trent, I was a big fan of Stoke City Football Club, and even though I live in a different city now, I still follow their fortunes (and, mostly, misfortunes). But I’ll never forget my first match, which was at the old Victoria ground in Stoke during the ’92/’93 championship-winning season, which saw us promoted to the first division (later ‘the Championship’, for reasons). The point of this story? Well, the winning team comprised players such as Regis, Gleghorn, and Cranson – and a whole bunch of other names that have cropped up throughout the Apollonian Casefiles trilogy as hard-pressed policemen.

Big Dave Regis, right; one of my boyhood heroes.

Tsun Pen

The Artist’s true name is Tsun Pen, and his namesake is Ts’ui Pên, the ancestor of Doctor Yu Tsun from The Garden of Forking Paths. This story had a profound influence on The Lazarus Gate far beyond the character of the Artist; the uncanny string of coincidences that leads John to the Artist, the circle of circumstance that makes the Artist able to interpret all fates but for his own, and the strange environs of the House of Zhengming, are all inspired by Ts’ui Pên’s great work—a hypertextual novel that represents his unnavigable, infinite labyrinth. It’s a strange and wondrous short story, as trippy as a trip to Tsun Pen’s opium den…

The USS Helen B. Jackson

The ship name comes from the four-masted schooner in the F. Marion Crawford novella, ‘Man Overboard!’, a supernatural tale that centres on the story of identical twins putting out to sea. This is a really great story, and some of the themes were just too perfect, so I knew I had to give a wink to it in the Apollonian Casefiles.