Researching the Mail


One of my favourite parts of any new Read by Candlelight book is the research. No matter what  the subject, I know I’m going to learn something new and unexpected. Case in point, the other day I was researching Victorian sleeping aids and ended up discovering that Queen Victoria used medicinal cannabis to treat her menstrual cramps. How cool is that?

Writing The Dead Letter Office was a particular challenge, because while there are a ton of resources online focused on the Victorian period, for some reason, the Post Office got passed by. There is a museum dedicated to the Post in the UK, but alas, at the time I was doing my research, they were closed due to Covid. Google let me down, but that was okay, because on Project Gutenberg I hit the jackpot.

Two envelopes poke out of a polished brass post box on a red door.

If you haven’t heard of Project Gutenberg, you’re missing out. This is an online collection of ebooks of older books that are out of copyright. While they’ve got plenty of Classics—Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Wilkie Collins, etc.—what I find most valuable about Project Gutenberg is that they have a great collection of all the other stuff too. You can find dozens of didactic Victorian literature for young girls, for example, or browse Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household management (my favourite is the recipe for a sponge cake that includes sending your kitchenmaid into a cool part of the garden with a whisk to beat your sponge for half an hour). The best part is that these books are freely available for use,

Project Gutenberg is where I first stumbled across the ghost stories of M. R. James, and was a life saver for me when I was in Japan and starved of English reading material. And, if you happen to be writing Victorian or Edwardian period fiction, the database is an amazing source of period source material.

I have never in my life been on top of literary trends or current events. It is pure chance that the Dead Letter Office is coming out at a time when the postal service—particularly in the US—is in the media and receiving some long over due attention. Researching the postal service, I was astonished by the long history of the post, and its importance to daily life for so many people for so many centuries.

There are quite a few books about the Post Office and mail services on Project Gutenberg, including General Instructions for the Guidance of Post Office Inspectors in the Dominion of Canada, and many looking at the history of the Post Office in various countries. My recommendation is Ten Years Among the Mail Bags. This is an account of a special agent, working for the US Postal Service, of the methods he used to detect and to thwart mail fraud. There is a lot of moralising (a LOT of moralising), but some interesting stories that really bring home just how important the mail was pre-internet. It is a good reminder of why the post is so important—and why, even in the age of email and text messages, we need to support our post offices and mail carriers, and fight to preserve them.


The Dead Letter Office resting atop an open book, in turn resting on a background of autumn leaves.

Look what the mailman dragged in…

Jasper Carruthers has turned deciphering smudged addresses and avoiding conflict into a fine art. A crate from Egypt contains a problem he cannot return to sender: a mummified cat sought by a desperate thief. Failure to deliver the cat will give the Postmaster General—Jasper’s vengeful son—the excuse he needs to oust Jasper from the postal service.

Jasper’s attempts to deliver the package attract the interest of Captain Candy, an insufferable bore under the mistaken impression that Jasper tolerates him. Even worse: the cat does not seem to realise she’s dead. Jasper’s not sure if he needs an Egyptologist or an exorcist. There’s only one thing he’s certain of: he needs help.

Forced to trust Candy with his secret, Jasper may at last have found something worth fighting for—but can he deliver the package before the cat lets herself out of the bag?

The Dead Letter Office is book twelve in the Read by Candlelight series of standalone Gothic novellas featuring an expanding cast of LGBTQIA+ characters. Pairs well with a hot pot of tea and a biscuit.

The Dead Letter Office is currently available in epub format from my store here, and to my Patreon supporters in mobi and epub format here. It will be available for sale until October 2nd, at which time, in order to comply with Amazon’s KU terms of service, I will take it down. Amazon readers, you can preorder The Dead Letter Office here.