Some years ago I went on a tour of Highgate Cemetery not far from my flat in London. It was founded in the 1830s and is a classic example of Victorian funerary architecture and landscaping; middle-class families were dying to be buried there! After World War I, however, it went into a state of decline and is now overgrown with trees and ivy, many of its monuments lopsided if not already toppled.

I fell in love with the decay, the gothic excess, the neglect. More than that: as the guide pointed out yet another symbol of death adorning a grave (it was an hourglass with wings – time flies, all is temporary), I thought, I have got to set a book here. What kind of society was this that celebrated death so explicitly?

I began doing volunteer work at the cemetery to get to know it better, and read about the history of Victorian cemeteries, mourning etiquette, graveyard monuments, symbolism.

What interested me most is the transitional period between the Victorian era, with its strict social codes and elaborate commemoration of the dead, and the modern world where religion has lost its value and death is no longer celebrated. This change began in Britain during the reign of King Edward VII – the Edwardian period. Falling Angels thus begins on the day after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and ends on the night before King Edward’s funeral in 1910.

I wanted to explore this change through the social customs surrounding death and mourning. What if two families have adjacent graves in the cemetery, I thought, and one holds onto Victorian values while the other looks forward to the modern era? How would they get on, especially if the daughters become best friends? And what if the girls meet a boy who doesn’t look back or forward – who lives entirely in the present?

From those "what if"s, two families and a trio of children, Falling Angels emerged.

Photo of the author in Abney Park Cemetery, London by Kim Chevalier