Votes for women!

I have so much to say on this subject, not least because I just voted for the first time (aged 50!) in the recent US Presidential election. Of course I voted in the UK for years, but having filled out our citizenship paperwork while watching the Trump inauguration, it has given me a great deal of satisfaction to know my husband and our oldest kid have participated in the democratic process this time around.

It’s easy to take this right for granted and not having it during the 2016 campaign (as we had not been in the country long enough by then) was salutary. It put the fact that 2020 marks one hundred years since (most) women got the vote in America into context for me. One hundred years is not so a long of a time period as one gets older (did I mention I turned 50 this year??) and I know how it feels to want to vote but not be able to. Happily, we are all legal now, and I’ve enjoyed learning a lot about the American Suffrage Movement due to my Nellie Bly research and a wonderful exhibition I was able to attend locally at the Brandywine Art Museum.

Last week I was busy again with all things suffrage, working on a blog article about Nellie Bly and the Suffrage Parade of 1913. I’ll come back and post a link to that here when it is published. But for now, I thought I’d share a link to a new page I’ve set up with Nellie Bly’s report for the New York Evening Post on the day of the parade, March 3rd 1913. Just click HERE and you can read my transcription of the whole thing. It’s typical Nellie! Here’s her opening line…

“I have stunning riding togs. Everyone said so and I believe them. “

Nellie Bly, New York Post, March 3rd 1913

In a time of protests and counter-protests it’s fascinating to read about the Suffrage Parade. Things did not go smoothly. For a quick read that covers all the main points, I’d recommend this Library of Congress Essay “Marching for the Vote” as well as this Atlantic piece which has some great photographs. Here are some highlights from the exhibition I saw in September:

Of course I have my own Women’s March experience, having taken part in the one in Washington D.C. in January 2017. I can’t imagine that it bore much resemblance to the 1913 event. There was no trouble that I saw and the crush was unbelievable. In fact, I didn’t see very much at all! Here’s a glimpse of what it looked like.

For those interested in suffrage and women’s history in general, please consider giving me a follow on Instragram – @katembraithwaite. I’m working on a series of posts about #interestingwomen I come across in my reading and research. There are so many! If only I had time to write books about them all!!

Monday Bookishness – a new Nellie Bly novel!

It’s a pleasure to share news of another author who has brought the amazing Nellie Bly to life in historical fiction. Tonya Mitchell’s A Feigned Madness was released earlier this month and I couldn’t wait to compare notes with her and see what what made of the incomparable Ms Bly. Here’s our Q&A:

When did you first hear of Nellie Bly and when did you know you wanted to write a novel about her?

Waaaay back in 2014, I stumbled on Nellie’s asylum story online. It was a blog I think, and it caught my attention right away because the title was about ‘badass historical women.’ Nellie was one of the women featured. The piece had only a paragraph or two describing the harrowing ordeal at the asylum she underwent for the New York World, but I was immediately intrigued. Who was this remarkable woman? Why hadn’t I ever heard of her?I then read her own account of what she experienced, Ten Days in a Mad-House. It was great reading, but as it was a reproduction of her newspaper story, it didn’t reveal anything about her background. How did she get to do this story? What kind of woman would take such a risk? Who really was Nellie Bly? I then looked for the fictionalized novel about her stay at Blackwell’s. To my astonishment, it didn’t exist (again, this was back in 2014). I decided to write the story myself. I’ve always been a fan of dark, twisty, Gothic literature, and so it seemed the right story just fell into my lap. I spent many months reading up on everything I could get my hands on about her, and took two trips, one to Pittsburgh and another to New York City, to visit her old stomping grounds. I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. Nellie Bly is one of the most fascinating women I’ve ever read about, and it was a thrill to bring her to life, once again, in A Feigned Madness.

Describe her character in 10 words.

What’s your favorite scene in A Feigned Madness?

There’s a chapter where her first installment of the asylum exposé has hit the streets to great effect. It’s the story everyone on Newspaper Row is talking about. Her second and last installment is due to run in just days—and it’s the meaty one where the story picks up when she lands by ferry on the island and goes into the asylum. So she’s in this very happy place waiting for the rest of her story to drop, but then a fellow reporter arrives and tells her Something Very Bad has happened and she heads for the World office at once. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of tension, and she’s wondering if her dreams will be dashed. I can’t really say anything more, except once you’re there, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Tell me something you learned about Nellie Bly that didn’t make it into the novel.

There is so much to tell about this woman and what she accomplished in her lifetime. Her asylum exposé was really just the tip of the iceberg. Nellie was just getting started! What I kept out are the many things she would go on to do that are out of the frame of the story because they happened later.

Nellie Bly 1890

If you could meet Nellie Bly and ask her 3 questions, what would they be?

Great question!

  1. What about your life do you regret the most?

2. What really happened between you and __________ (he’ll be revealed in the novel, I promise!)

3. Did I do you justice?

What are you writing next?

I’m just beginning the research on a story that also takes place in the 19th century, this time in England. It’s got a lot of dark, Gothic elements including England’s body snatchers, the so-called Resurrection Men who dug up recently buried corpses and sold them to anatomy schools (I told you I liked dark and twisty!)


Tonya has a great quiz all about Nellie Bly on her website. You can find it here. Full disclosure – I did not get 20/20…. much to my chagrin!! LOL. Please do check it out, and more importantly, take a look at A Feigned Madness which you can find on Amazon in States here, in the UK here and in Canada here. Oh, and signed copies can be ordered here.

Colonial medicine – today’s research rabbit hole!

I AM writing, right now. Really I am. Words have appeared where they weren’t before. But I’ve also just taken a little side research trip that I wanted to share (and remember!)

Without giving the game away, in my next book I have a character who is very ill one night and rumors of what went on cause a scandal that haunts her for the next twenty years or more. Naturally I need to get the medical facts right about what she says was happening, as well as what perhaps was actually happening on that night in Virginia, in October 1791. It was only a short internet jump from there for me to spend a good hour or so learning about the famous physician, Benjamin Rush. Here’s some highlights.

Benjamin Rush (portrait at Winterthur)

Benjamin Rush was born in Philadelphia in 1746 about an hour away from where I live now. I’d consider going to see the site, but apparently is was ‘accidentally bulldozed’ in the 1960’s. He studied law at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) and medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland (my home city!) He was active in the American Revolution and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. A friend of Ben Franklin’s, he was an anti-slavery advocate, active in reforming the treatment of the mentally ill, and had a huge impact on the field of medicine in the US as a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. He was married, had thirteen children, and died of typhus in 1813.

My two favorite things I’ve found to do with Benjamin Rush this morning, though are these:

  1. His medicine bag – photo and contents:
Benjamin Rush’s medicine chest
Contents of Medicine Chest

2. The Mutter Museum’s Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden

Mutter Museum Medicinal Plant Garden

This screenshot is just to give you an idea. A pdf leaflet is available here. The herb garden listing is the perfect resource and if that’s not enough, they also are currently asking people to help them name a new ‘corpse flower’ in the garden. Check it out here. Who will you vote for? I chose… well that would be telling now wouldn’t it!!

If you are not familiar with it, do check out the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia online or in person. It’s one of my favourite museums with highlights that include slices of Albert Einstein’s brain (yes really, I’ve seen them) and a cast of the liver of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, two men I’ve an interest in because of their connection to P.T. Barnum.

Now. Back to writing.

When Nellie Bly met Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony has been in the news lately. This year is the centenary of women (well, white women) getting the vote in America and then there has been a little bit of extra controversy about a presidential pardon. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony set out to cast a ballot in a presidential election. Firm in her belief that the Fourteenth Amendment gave her – as a US Citizen – the right to vote, she entered a barbershop in Rochester, New York, and persuaded the men working there as registrars, to register her and three of her sisters and allow them to vote in the election.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1.

As a citizen, she declared, she had the privilege of voting, and she cast her vote for the Republican incumbent, President Ulysses S. Grant. (He won.) But Susan B. Anthony’s action, as she probably expected, did not go unnoticed. She ended up being arrested some days after the election and was charged with knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully voting. She was tried, found guilty and fined $100 – a fine, it should be noted, that she never paid. Her actions brought national attention to the question of equality.

Twenty four years later, Susan B. Anthony was interviewed by the journalist Nellie Bly. In early February, 1896, Anthony was just days away from her seventy-sixth birthday and Bly was thirty-one. Anthony had spent her life devoted to women’s rights. Here’s Bly’s first impression:

She sat in a low rocking-chair, an image of repose and restfulness. Her well-shaped head, with its silken snowy hair combed smoothly over her ears, rested against the back of the chair. Her shawl had half-fallen from her shoulders and her soft black silk gown lay in gentle folds about her. Her slender hands lay folded idly in her lap, and her feet, crossed, just peeped from beneath the edge of her skirt. If she had been posed for a picture, it could not have been done more artistically or perfectly.

Nellie Bly, The World, February 2nd, 1896

In typical Nellie Bly style, the interview is wide-ranging and moves seamlessly from the serious to the personal and back again. Read it and you will learn how Anthony came by her middle name (Brownell), what she liked to eat for breakfast (fruit, grain and coffee), and how many times she had fallen in love. You’ll discover a sharp intellect – she begins by asking her interviewer her own question about current events in Cuba – and a keen memory, as she describes with great good humor her years as a teacher. She lays out how she came to see that voting rights was the battle that had to be won before all others. In her own words:

I had barked up the temperance tree, and I had barked up the teachers’ tree and I couldn’t do anything. I had learned where our only hope rested.

Susan B. Anthony, The World, February 2nd, 1896
Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony looks very serious in this portrait, but Bly brings her to smiling life in her seven column interview. Anthony comes across as approachable, humorous, and intelligent, but also very human, rooted in her family, relentlessly committed to her cause, and full of optimism for the future. From her views on flowers, bicycles and bloomers, to her committed temperance (she never tasted alcohol in her life), Susan B. Anthony fully comes to life in this interview. As such, it is also a tribute to Nellie Bly’s skills as a journalist, her readiness to ask questions big and small, and her ability to bring her subject’s voice and character to her readers’ attention. In Nellie’s own words, “Miss Anthony enjoys a good joke and can tell one. She never fails to see the funny side of things though it be at her own expense.”

Anyone curious to quickly know Susan B. Anthony, beyond the standard biographical record, could do a lot worse than read this whole interview. It’s available on line as a pdf here, and photographed for slightly easier reading here. But as internet resources come and go, and as has been my habit during my research for The Girl Puzzle, I’ve also transcribed the whole thing and you can read it here. I hope you will!

Monday Bookishness – Whose story?

For me, one of the biggest (and toughest) decisions when setting out to write a new book is figuring out whose story I’m writing, and who is best placed to tell it. I’ve made false starts on more than one occasion. In The Road to Newgate I started out with only one first person narrator and ended up with three. I’ve read books on the topic (for example The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani) and I’m always interested as a reader to see what other writers do and consider how those choices impact on the way characters and plot develop.

dear edwardWhich brings me to Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Here’s a little bit of the blurb:

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them are a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured veteran returning from Afghanistan, a business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. Halfway across the country, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

The novel tells two stories really. At the forefront is what happens to Edward afterwards. He leaves hospital, moves in with his aunt and uncle, and tries to cope with life and school now that he is ‘the boy who lived’, albeit without the joys of Hogwarts, Butterbeer and Chocolate Frogs. He does have his own Hermione though, a new best friend called Shay.

The other story line keeps the reader on the plane – from boarding to the crash – and its hard to read at points because here we are getting to know the hopes and dreams of individuals who we know from the very outset are going to die. And yet it’s not a gloomy book. Sad, poignant, funny and even hopeful – definitely not gloomy.

I didn’t actually do a head-count of how many different character points of view, Napolitano uses in the book, but its certainly a crowd. There’s those mentioned in the blurb above and others too. She sets up it from the get-go. By page five we have been introduced to – and been in the heads of – six characters: Edward, his brother, and his parents Jane and Bruce, a grumpy disabled man called Crispin Cox objecting to having his wheelchair tested for explosives, and a young woman, Linda Stollen, who has an as yet unused pregnancy test kit in her pocket. Another three pages in and now there’s a Filipino woman with bells on her skirt, Benjamin Stillman, a black soldier on his way to see his grandmother, an attractive air stewardess and Wall Street ‘type’ called Mark Lassio.

So what’s the key to carrying this feat off? As a reader it works for me because the narrative form is established right from the start. This isn’t a case of a writer having a primary main character and then ‘head-hopping’ into a different character without warning, just because it suits them to do so. That can be a real weakness in a story, breaking the bond of confidence that the reader has with the author. Not so here. With Ann Napolitano there’s no question that the reader can trust her. By page eight the reader/writer contract has been established. Shortly thereafter, her wider structure is clear as she alternates chapters between Edward’s post-crash life and the hours of the flight, but in both cases the narrative time-line moves forward with each point of view (even with internal back stories) firmly bolting on, one to the other, in a linear fashion. It’s really very well done!

Writing like this is not easy. Many of the interviews I’ve read with Napolitano focus, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the inspiration for the story, Edward’s character and life after trauma, but I did find some interesting questions on her process. For anyone who reads the book (and really it is super gripping, beautifully written, and moving) it’s worth hearing this from its author:

“Dear Edward took eight years to finish. I spent the first year taking notes and doing research (I don’t let myself write scenes or even pretty sentences during that period) and then I spend years writing and re-writing the first half of the book. In this novel, the plane sections came fairly easily, but I re-wrote Edward’s storyline countless times.”


Read more about Ann Napolitano and Dear Edward here:

https://bookpage.com/interviews/24705-ann-napolitano-fiction

https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=a-conversation-with-ann-napolitano-author-of-dear-edward

https://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/2020/01/14/story-as-metaphor-talking-to-ann-napolitano-author-of-dear-edward/

Check out Dear Edward on Amazon here

And follow my reading and reviews on Goodreads and Bookbub.

 

Monday bookishness – Book pairing

As a reader and writer of historical fiction, I always love the real history behind the stories and often read ‘around’ the novels I’ve enjoyed. No surprise then, that this post from Bookbub was right up my street:

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 9.18.32 AM

If you click on the photo, you can read the article and see 9 well-known historical novels paired with a non-fiction counterpart. You’ll see The Paris Wife on there, a book I really enjoyed a few years ago. It’s paired with Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I did read that after finishing The Paris Wife, as well as The Sun Also Rises and as I’d never read Hemingway before, I’m happy to say I got an extra benefit from picking up Paula McLain’s novel.

Of course this got me thinking about my own book pairings. I have a shelf of research books for each novel so choosing just one is not easy, but if I had to do it, here’s how I’d pair each of my 3 books to date:

Find out more about Charlatan here, and The Affair of the Poisons here.

And about The Road to Newgate here and The Strange Death of Edmund Godfrey here.

And finally take a look at The Girl Puzzle here and Nellie Bly, Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist here.

I’m SO tempted now to post a photo of the main non-fiction source for my current work in progress…. but I’m holding that back, at least for now 😉

Monday Bookishness – Book juggling!

Sometimes in book-related Facebook groups I’ve seen posts with many comments about whether people read one book at a time or multiple books. I’ve always thought I was in the former category – always having a book on the go, but only one book at a time.  Not right now though. It’s partly COVID-19, but also partly format/content related. Here’s the books I’m juggling this week:

the cry of the lakeI have to tell you, I am loving this book! The story is told by different characters – a teenager, Lily, who doesn’t speak because of a past trauma; Flo, her best friend; and Grace who is (so far anyway) the villain of the piece.

A teenage girl is murdered. The question is why?

This is a real page-turner, slickly written and fast-moving. I love books where you get thrown in with the characters and their back-stories and motivations get slowly revealed as you follow the action.

Read the blurb and find out all about how you can pre-order The Cry of the Lake here.

18 tinyI’m also reading (on a much more relaxed schedule!) 18 Tiny Deaths: the Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics. I first came across Lee a few years ago when my mum and I took a trip to D.C. to go to an exhibition of “The Nutshells of Unexplained Death.” The nutshells are dollhouse models of crime scenes. This might not be everyone’s idea of a mother/daughter outing, but if you know me and my mum at all, you will not be surprised. Mum has always made dollhouses and we both love crime! The 18 houses or dioramas we saw were built by Lee and her assistant when she was in her sixties. They were used to educate detectives on crime scene and are quite incredible in their detail and realism. This book – highly readable and well researched, tells Frances Glessner Lee’s whole story and for anyone who, like me, likes to learn about amazing women from the past, it is just excellent!

far from the madding crowdSo far so good with the book juggling. But then I’m also listening Far From the Madding Crowd on audio loan from my local library. Here’s where I admit that despite doing English at university, I have managed to live my life without reading any book by Thomas Hardy or even watching any tv/movie adaptation.

It’s going to take me a while to get through it. Audio book time is reserved for gardening and dog walking and it’s very warm here so dog walks are on the wane and sweaty gardening is only happening in short stints. But I am enjoying it so far. Farmer Gale is rather charmingly naive and Bathsheba Everdene (ooh – Hunger Games connection?)’s rejection of his proposal had me chuckling.

These are 3 very different kettles of fish/book and I think that’s the only reason I can have them all on the same go at the same time. What’s your experience of book juggling? Does it work for you?

 

 

Dark London – the story behind my story

dark london vol1

The minute I saw the call for submissions for the Dark London charity anthology I knew I’d be submitting a story. London is so rich in history and plenty of it is dark.

newgatecoverI’ve already spent much time there – in my head and on the page – when I wrote The Road to Newgate (Crooked Cat, 2018) and my mind jumped to Newgate prison and Jack Ketch’s kitchen. As I wrote back then, “most people give little thought to the bodies returned to Newgate and delivered to the kitchen. That’s where Jack Ketch completes his work; he is not only a hangman. He’s also responsible for stripping the bodies, and poaching heads and limbs in his kettle to better make them last out on those spikes and gibbets, and keep the birds away.”  I had an idea about a daughter, living in the prison, facing some unknown threat. And so I thought about that for a bit. But the idea didn’t really take off.

Initially I’d thought it would be good to use my knowledge and prior research, but instead I decided to explore some other part of London’s history. The Blitz, I thought. WW2 is so popular in historical fiction these days. So I did a little research and came across the story of Gordon Cummins, known as the Blackout Ripper, who murdered four women and attempted to murder at least two others in 1942. I even read a book about the murders… but still… I wasn’t quite committed.

Then – an idea. Out of nowhere. I thought of this…

IMG_3726

Evie and the Sea Monster started to take shape. Here’s another note from that first spark of an inspiration that became pretty important:

IMG_3727

Of course I needed a time period and historical context for the Evie’s story. I needed real locations in London and characters busy living historically accurate lives, wearing appropriate clothing and so on. And that’s when I came across this TREASURE of a primary resource for anyone wishing to learn about 19th Century London.

london labour

Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) was a London journalist, a co-founder of Punch, and a social researcher. London Labour and the London Poor began as a series of articles for the Morning Chronicle where he surveyed, interviewed and described the poor people of London. It’s highly readable and remarkably thorough. Here’s just a snippet from a section I found useful. It’s about mudlarks:

IMG_3793

“On questioning one, he said his father was a coal-backer; he had been dead eight years; the boy was nine years old. His mother was alive; she went out charing and washing when she could get any such work to do. She had 1s. a day when she could get employment, but that was not often; he remembered once to have had a pair of shoes but it was a long time since. ‘It is very cold in winter,’ he said, ‘to stand in the mud without shoes,’ but he did not mind it in summer. He had been three years mud-larking, and supposed he should remain a mud-lark all his life.”

I hope that has you rushing out to order your copies of Dark London! There are two volumes due for release in paperback and ebook on June 25th and July 2nd. All proceeds from sales will go to two London-based charities and all the writers have contributed their services for free. It was great fun to write mine and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading both books. I’m sure you will too!

 

 

 

Monday Bookishness – The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

lost friendsI was a big fan of Lisa Wingate’s last book, Before We Were Yours – about the scandalous adoption agency run by Georgia Tann in the 1940s – and jumped at the chance to review her new book for the Historical Novel Society.

So this is not a review – because that’s for the HNS magazine – but instead its a taster of some of the history behind the story in The Book of Lost Friends.

caroline flowersThis is a dual timeline novel, set in Augustine, Louisiana in 1875 and 1987. The earlier story concerns a young woman, born into slavery, called Hannie Gossett. Hannie is eighteen in 1875, but when she was six her family were sent to Texas for the duration of the Civil War. Enter a scurrilous nephew of Hannie’s owners who sells off the slaves as they travel, separating Hannie from her eight siblings and mother. Now eighteen, Hannie is free, but still tied to the Gossett family, trying to earn a portion of land. All of her family members are still missing.

Here’s the real-life Lost Friends advertisement, written by a woman called Caroline Flowers, that inspired Wingate’s story about Hannie. It’s chilling to read and think about people being treated like objects in this way, not to mention the longing and uncertainty they endured not knowing what had happened to their relatives.

One way these individuals tried to find answers was by advertising. The Lost Friends database, where Wingate found and was inspired by this and other stories, is a project run by The Historic New Orleans Collection – a website to lose yourself in for a few hours if ever there was one.

Within that, The Lost Friends database is an easily searchable record of nearly 2500 advertisements placed in the Southwestern Christian Advocate (a methodist newspaper published in New Orleans and distributed to preachers, post-offices and thousands of individual subscribers) between 1879 and 1900.

Many advertisements are much shorter than Caroline Flowers’, but all have the same polite and restrained sense of yearning for answers. And of course they are not lost friends being sought here, but real, flesh and blood, lost families. Written by sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles – each one is a real human story of loss and suffering. Here’s just one that caught my eye with the poignant lines, “I left two or three other sisters behind, but I can not think of their names. I was small when I left…”

another lost friend

I’m still reading The Book of Lost Friends so I don’t know how Hannie’s fictional journey to find her lost family will turn out. But I’m now interested in reading this book:

help me to find my people

In it, Heather Andrea Williams “follows those who were separated, chronicles their searches, and documents the rare experience of reunion.”

It seems like a must-read.

 

Monday Bookishness – Dark London!

dark london vol1This Monday, I’m excited to share news of a two-volume anthology of dark short stories set in London that will be released in ebook and paperback at the end of the month. I have a story in Volume One called Evie and the Sea Monster. Its historical (no surprise there) but not based on real events which is my usual m.o.  I’ll be back to write more about the story and the research and inspiration about it very soon!

dark london 2Please rush to Amazon and pre-order both volumes today ;). I have heard from a lot of people that with so much going on in the world, reading a whole novel can feel like a mountain to climb. Well, these are short stories – and really good ones too!

But why am I so, so excited about these two volumes? Well because my brother has a story in Volume Two!!  It feels very special to be book buddies together.

In celebration of the fact I got onto our mum to find a cute photo of us together. Here we are aged five and seven in a place that definitely gets a mention in Alan’s story, Finding Victoria, in Volume Two. Is it just me or was everything a bit browner and fuzzier in the 1970s?

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