Is Albion really England? And Gallia really France? And Holmland Germany?

Well, a fantasy version of them. Call it a Parallel Universe that shares much with ours – but with substantial differences. The part magic plays, of course, is one of them. There are hints throughout the books that our world and the world of Laws of Magic have a similar past, but somewhere their histories have diverged.

Can anyone do magic?

In The Laws of Magic I compare the ability to do magic to the ability to do higher mathematics. Just about everyone can try a bit of maths, but only a few can grapple with the complexities of weighty mathematics. On top of that, natural ability isn’t enough. Hard work, study, dedication, application all play a part in being a competent magician.

Are Aubrey and Prince Albert really cousins?

Yes – distantly. One of Prince Albert’s great-grandfather’s younger sisters was Aubrey’s great-grandmother. Technically that puts Aubrey in line to the throne, but nearly a hundred others are in line ahead of him.

What’s wrong with the King? Is he really mad?

Like much of The Laws of Magic, I was inspired by history here. I was intrigued by the real life King George III of England. He suffered periodic bouts of madness, most likely due to a hereditary disease called porphyria. At times, his son had to rule in his place as Regent. I wondered how a young man would cope with this burden, and thought it worth exploring.

What’s the difference between a suffragette and a suffragist?

Broadly, a suffragist wanted to change things peacefully, through constitutional means. The suffragettes were more militant and were prepared to take direct, sometimes violent, action.

Who is the Scholar Tan that Aubrey and his father keep mentioning?

The Scholar Tan is an ancient writer from the Orient. He wrote a classic text on warfare, Deliberations on War, that is much admired – not just for advice on battles, but for insights into tactics and strategy that can apply to everyday life. Historical parallel? Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War in around 500 BC. A free e-text version is available at Project Gutenberg.

Aubrey’s hero, Baron Verulam. Is he based on anyone?

Baron Verulam, the first ‘modern’ magician, is roughly based on Francis Bacon (1561–1626), who was created Baron Verulam in 1618. He is one of the most important figures in the scientific revolution, as he was a major contributor to what is now known as the Scientific Method, emphasising the roles of experimentation and observation.

In Heart of Gold, Aubrey mentions steganography. Is that real or made up?

Steganography is definitely real, and is a classic way of sending secret messages. It’s different from codes and ciphers, which hide the meaning of a message but don’t hide the fact that there is a message. Steganography hides the message – in a picture, underneath wax, or perhaps by using invisible inks.