Audio book, anyone?

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Who reads audio books? Up until this week, not me. But with the big news that The Girl Puzzle is going to be made into an AUDIO BOOK I thought it might actually be a good idea to listen to one.

Here’s my very first pick, recommended by a friend:

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The Blurb

A twisty, compelling new audiobook about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every chapter in this twisty, captivating new audiobook from Sally Hepworth.

I LOVED IT! Loved the book, loved the whole listening experience. It made me enthusiastic to do laundry! And walk my dogs (although I like that anyway) and do the washing up (a major occupation right now as we are having our kitchen redesigned and have no sink or dishwasher).

It’s definitely a different experience from reading but I found it perfect for keeping my mind busy when my hands were doing something. The only downside was when I sat down I didn’t feel like just listening but I wanted to know what would happen so I probably got more jobs done than I usually do… maybe that’s not a downside at all. There were certainly moments when if I’d had the book I would have sat down and read the whole thing and felt frustrated. And in some ways the experience was longer than I wanted it to be (I can read much faster than I can listen)… but it also meant I could have more than one book on the go. Right now I’m reading this for research:

plantation mistress

 

And I’m also reading this for pleasure:

the testaments

And I’m so thrilled with this audio experience that I’ve started this, which I have in hard copy but think I’m going to really enjoy listening to for the next week or so (it’s 18hrs long!)

the witches

 

Have you tried audio books? What did you think?

 

I’m joined by author Kate Braithwaite today as she shines the spotlight on a character from her novel #TheGirlPuzzle @KMBraithwaite @crookedcatbooks

Really enjoyed writing this character spotlight for The Girl Puzzle and focusing not on Nellie, but on her secretary, Beatrice Alexander.

Emma The Little Bookworm

Welcome, Kate!

Please introduce the character in terms of job, relationships, family etc. …

Beatrice Alexander is a character in my latest novel, a fictional biography of journalist Nellie Bly. For those who don’t know Nellie, the short version of her story is that she took New York’s male-dominated newspaper industry by storm in 1887. Aged twenty-three, she feigned madness to report from inside an insane asylum, and two years later she travelled solo around the world to beat Phineas Fogg, Jules Verne’s fictional hero’s, record of circumnavigating the globe in eighty days. Nellie changed the face of journalism for women, ran her own manufacturing business, promoted equal rights and pay for women, and supported many causes throughout her busy working and writing life.

 In The Girl Puzzle – a story of Nellie Bly, Beatrice is Nellie’s secretary. At this point, Nellie is in her fifties, and Beatrice, thirty…

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New Book – The Refuge by Jo Fenton

Today I’m introducing my author friend, Jo Fenton, and her new book The Refuge which is released on Tuesday, May 28th. The Refuge is the sequel to The Brotherhood, a gritty psychological thriller set in a religious cult. What a page turner! I’m really looking forward to the sequel to see what happens to Jo’s characters next. Here’s all the details on The Refuge and a chat about writing with Jo…

The Refuge - cover picFollowing the death of The Brotherhood’s charismatic but sinister leader, Dominic, Melissa and her husband Mark resolve to turn the Abbey into a refuge for victims of domestic abuse. But when Melissa’s long-lost sister, Jess, turns up at the Abbey, new complications arise.

The Abbey residents welcome the new arrival but find it hard to cope with the after-effects of her past. As Jess struggles to come to terms with what she’s been through, her sudden freedom brings unforeseen difficulties. The appearance of a stalker – who bears a striking resemblance to the man who kept her prisoner for nine years – leads to serious problems for Jess.

Meanwhile, Mark also finds that his past is coming back to haunt him. When a mother and daughter venture from the Abbey into the local town for a shopping trip, there are dreadful consequences.

A build-up of tension, a poorly baby and a well-planned trap lead Mel, Jess and their family into a terrifying situation.

Can Jess overcome the traumas of her past to rescue her sister?

The Refuge and The Brotherhood are available from Amazon. Together they make up The Abbey Series (NB. The Kindle version of The Refuge is available for pre-order, and will be released on 28th May):

The Brotherhood (The Abbey Series Book 1): https://t.co/YXdn8AM506


Jo - profile photo 2 - croppedWhy did you first decide to write a novel set in a religious cult?

When I first decided to write a book, my first idea was to write a fantasy set on some imaginary world. Given I’d never written any story longer than 2000 words, common sense kicked in as I told myself that might be a bit ambitious for a first novel!

I scaled down dramatically, and decided to do my world-building in a ‘closed room’ environment, such as Agatha Christie used in some of her books.

As soon as I thought of that type of setting, the idea of a religious sect popped into my head, with all its inherent possibilities.

What research did you do?

I did some research for The Brotherhood early on, such as checking out the Waco siege, and David Koresh, but many other bits were done as I went along or between drafts. Research included watching various programmes by Derren Brown, googling numerous bits of information that I needed to know (my search history is very scary!), and consulting with a Pharmacist on the best ways to kill someone to make it look like suicide!

For The Refuge, I had different sorts of research to conduct. I spent half a day walking and driving around Macclesfield to help with the setting. I consulted with some of my midwife friends to ascertain key information related to Mel and her baby. I also checked out google (again) for information about drug overdoses, self-harm, and domestic abuse refuge requirements.

There are some dark passages in The Refuge – were certain scenes difficult to write?

I think ‘harrowing’ is a more accurate description, as in some ways, the more traumatic the scene, the more easily the words flowed out. But yes, certain scenes, particularly the flashbacks and the scene in the shed, left me feeling drained and emotionally exhausted. I have to put myself in the place of the narrator when writing those scenes, so when they’re done, it takes a while to break away from it. The best therapy for those is to turn to a good movie or Regency romance novel to take my mind away from what I’ve just written.

As a writer, how do you go about describing experiences that might be very far removed from your everyday life?

I’ve always been very empathic. I can’t watch a sad film without drenching a couple of boxes of tissues. Over the years, I seem to have absorbed those experiences – from reading, watching TV, and from listening to people tell their own stories – and I use that empathy, combined with a healthy dose of imagination, to get things down on paper. I’ve got a dreadful memory, so I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) use other people’s experiences directly, but I believe that everything I hear, see and read merges together to inform my own writing. I think all writers do that to some degree.

51x48mQ2EsL._SY346_How do you think readers have been affected by the darker elements of your work?

A friend who managed to get an early copy of The Refuge messaged me when she’d finished, to say she was sitting in shock eating chocolate. Another friend, after reading The Brotherhood, said it was brilliantly written but she’d found it ‘disturbing in parts’.

My books were written with an aim of inspiring empathy with the characters. I personally don’t like reading books where I can’t empathise with any of the protagonists, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect my readers to continue without that empathy. The downside of that is the battery of feeling that goes with it. I think it’s okay to cry when reading, or to be shocked, or to eat chocolate. I’d rather people did that than felt nothing and were disengaged from the book.

Have you been surprised by any reaction?

I was surprised and delighted when someone I knew came up to me after finishing The Brotherhood, and said it was the first book they’d read since school, but now she wanted to read lots more books. To have turned even one person onto reading is a huge achievement.

The funniest reaction I got was from a friend’s mum, who rang me up and said, ‘how did you manage to come up with all that? You’ve always seemed so sweet.”

The Refuge is a sequel. Should readers start with The Brotherhood first?

The Refuge contains a few spoilers for The Brotherhood. I tried to limit it, but some were inevitable. Each can be read as a standalone, but a fuller experience would be obtained by starting with The Brotherhood, and moving on to The Refuge.

About the author:

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age and, at eleven, discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. She now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her family and is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and three reading groups.

Website www.jofenton137.com                      

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jofentonauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jl_fenton

5 feisty Nellie Bly quotes for #mondaymotivation

Nellie Bly had a lot to say for herself over the years, priding herself on her frankness. Here’s some fine examples…

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Aged 21:

“The Mexicans surveyed myself and my chaperone in amazement. But I defied their gaze and showed them that a free American girl can accommodate herself to circumstances without the aid of a man.”

Pittsburg Dispatch, June 20th, 1886


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First article:

Take some girls that have the ability, procure for them situations, start them on their way, and by doing so accomplish more than by years of talking.”

The Girl Puzzle, Pittsburg Dispatch, January 25th 1885

 


godey's lady's book

Re-visiting her madhouse story:

 

“Energy applied rightly and directed will accomplish anything.”

 

Among the Mad, Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1889


Often motivational:

Energy applied rightly and directly will accomplish anything


And one of my favorites:

“That women should work is necessary. That they should be treated with equality for their labor is just and right. There should be no difference in the recompense for work, whether done by a man or a woman, so long as it is done equally well.”

New York Evening Journal, September 12th, 1921


Nelly Bly. As consistent in her support for women’s rights and equality for women in her 50’s as she was in her 20’s. Who wouldn’t want to read a novel about her?

2d girl puzzle cover“a well-researched and engrossing tale that focuses on female empowerment,” – Kirkus Reviews

“Grounded in historical research, brought to life by a novelist’s imagination, here is Nellie Bly in all her fascinating complexity: outspoken, courageous, kind, clever, sometimes headstrong, other times self-doubting. “Grounded in historical research, brought to life by a novelist’s imagination, here is Nellie Bly in all her fascinating complexity: outspoken, courageous, kind, clever, sometimes headstrong, other times self-doubting. In The Girl Puzzle Kate Braithwaite has created a character who is not easily forgotten.” –  Matthew Goodman, bestselling author of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

“Everything a historical novel should be – illuminating, intriguing and intelligent. Kate Braithwaite has woven a fascinating and atmospheric story from what is known about the pioneering feminist journalist Nellie Bly (née Elizabeth Cochrane).  Braithwaite skillfully blends Bly’s early and later career to give a new insight into a remarkable and complex woman.” –  Olga Wojtas, author of Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar

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If walls had words… a brief history of the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum


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Alexander Jackson Davis via Wikicommons

Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum – a pivotal location in The Girl Puzzle – was designed in 1834 by famous American architect Alexander Jackson Davis. His plan was for a U-shaped building near the tip of Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island looking across toward Manhattan, roughly level with Seventy-Ninth and Eightieth Street, but only a portion of the building was ever erected, with two wings stretching out at right angles from a central octagonal tower.

There was already a prison on the island, opened in 1832, and the addition of the asylum was part of a policy decision to locate institutions on ‘quiet islands’, including Blackwell’s, Ward, Hart, Randalls and Long Island. With more construction on Blackwell’s Island – including a Penitentiary Hospital, a Charity Hospital, an almshouse, a Smallpox Hospital and more – by 1872 there were eleven institutions operating on the Island. It’s not hard to imagine that these islands were a convenient place to confine undesirable elements of society, notwithstanding the grand and costly architecture.

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From the New York Public Library

This 1853 illustration appears tranquil at first glance. The scene is pastoral with a dog frolicking and a couple sitting under a tree. The asylum looks like a museum more than anything else. But what about that building on the left of the picture? What is that?? Is that the Lodge? Or the Retreat?  – gentle, caring names for buildings that were anything but those things. As Stacy Horn writes in “Damnation Island – poor, sick, mad and criminal in 19th Century New York”, things at the lunatic asylum “went south almost immediately.” On the day that it opened, June 10th 1839, 116 men and 81 women were transferred there from Bellevue. That’s 197 patients from day 1. The place was only supposed to house 200. Additional structures were added. Horn describes the Lodge, built in 1848, and the Retreat:

“The Retreat was built to house chronic cases, those who were suicidal and generally too “noisy” and unhinged for the main Asylum, but not as violent as the people sent to the Lodge.”

By 1868, 190 women were housed in the Lodge (and there would still have been male inmates too). The building’s capacity was 66. (2)

Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in the Madhouse

MadhousecvrWhen a new asylum for the insane was built on Ward Island in 1872, Blackwell’s Asylum became an all-female establishment. Nellie Bly carried out her undercover work there in September and October of 1887 and brave though she was, Nellie was not fool enough to get herself sent to either the Lodge or the Retreat. Here’s one of her descriptions:

“The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out. I had intended to have myself committed to the violent wards, the Lodge and Retreat, but when I got the testimony of two sane women and could give it, I decided not to risk my health – and hair – so I did not get violent.”

Nellie’s expose, detailing cold baths, dreadful food and the violent conduct of some staff had immediate effects. Doctors and nurses in the asylum read her articles and improvements were made, even before a Grand Jury was summoned to visit the Island and inspect the premises.

Entertainments in the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum

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Photo by Jacob Riis, likely of the women at Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum

In her 1887 expose, Nellie Bly described hours of tedium with women confined to hard benches with little to occupy them. Mild patients, according to her report, could work in a scrub-brush factory, a mat factory, and the laundry. Patients were expected to do housework, including keeping the wards and nurses bedrooms tidy. An important component of the daily routine was a walk in the asylum grounds but this was wholly weather dependent and strictly monitored by staff. Unruly patients walked roped together to keep them under control.

Other entertainments included dancing and a carousel. Nellie Bly reports that staffed danced with patients and both Halls she was placed in during her stay had a piano. This excellent post by Ephemeral New York, describes an annual Lunatic’s Ball reported by Harper’s Weekly:

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Harper’s Weekly, Dec 2, 1865

The one entertainment that Nellie Bly reports she heard much about, although never experienced due to poor weather, was a carousel. The following image is of the Central Park Carousel, built in 1871, so perhaps the Blackwell’s Island one looked something like this:

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1871 carousel, from carouselhistory.com

It’s hard to imagine a group of grown women in their ill-fitting striped asylum dresses, shawls and battered hats riding round and round, but that’s what they did.

Closing Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum

Following Nellie Bly’s expose, changes were made in the asylum. Improvements were made to food and bathing arrangements as funding increases were approved. But in 1894, the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum was closed and its patients dispersed into other facilities, particularly the on Ward Island where space became available after the opening of immigration facilities on Ellis Island.

The building, after significant renovation, became the Metropolitan Hospital, specializing in the treatment of tuberculosis. The hospital operated until 1955 but afterwards the building fell into disrepair. Today, only the original Octagon remains, but it has been restored. The building is an apartment complex and can be toured. More information here. If only the walls had words… imagine what stories they could tell.

Roosevelt Island today – The Octagon

I visited the Octagon in October 2018, and although the inside was closed so I didn’t get to see the spiral staircase, just being on Roosevelt Island and seeing the building in person was wonderful. There are scenes in The Girl Puzzle that definitely benefited from that research trip. Here’s my then & now photos of the asylum:

Sources & further reading:

“Images of America – Roosevelt Island”, Judith Berdy and the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

“Damnation Island – poor, sick, mad and criminal in 19th Century New York”, Stacy Horn

www.asylumprojects.org

Ephemeral New York


2d girl puzzle coverThe Girl Puzzle – a story of Nellie Bly

Her published story is well known. But did she tell the whole truth about her ten days in the madhouse?

“…a well-researched and engrossing tale that focuses on female empowerment” Kirkus Reviews

“Here is Nellie Bly in all her fascinating complexity: outspoken, courageous, kind, clever, sometimes headstrong, other times self-doubting” Matthew Goodman.

“Everything a historical novel should be – illuminating, intriguing and intelligent.” Olga Wojtas

Book recommendation: The Suspects by Katharine Johnson

After all these last busy days talking about Nellie Bly, it’s a pleasure to take a break and celebrate someone else’s publication day! Fellow Crooked Cat author Katharine Johnson’s The Suspects is out today. Katy’s books are perfect for curling up with: engrossing crime stories with great characters with lots of secrets. Who doesn’t love a book with a secret! Here’s  my review…

thesuspects“The Suspects is a gripping page turner, full of strong characters with dark pasts and secrets – all revealed at just the right moments – by talented thriller writer, Katharine Johnson. Five graduates in late 1980’s Bristol buy a house together, despite knowing little of each other outside of their new workplace. Tied together financially, they have no idea how they will be tested when they discover the body of a man in their basement after a drunken New Year’s Eve party. The Suspects works so well because the strength of its characters and the secrets they’re hiding. Their actions and reactions are believable. As the police close in on the truth, the tension experienced by narrator Emma, and the rising panic and mistrust felt within the group, is palpable. This is a book to be read in one or two great gulps. Addictive reading.”

Here’s the official book blurb…

Shallow Grave meets The Secret History in this quirky psychological thriller.
When you’re bound together by secrets and lies who do you trust?
Bristol, 1988.
Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices spiral out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.
After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies.
But can they trust each other?

I loved both Shallow Grave and The Secret History and wanted to see where Katy would take this. Both that movie and the book were very much in my mind when I started reading but almost at once I forgot about them and became immersed in this totally original story. Congratulations, Katy! It’s another great book.

For more about Katharine Johnson’s novels, click on the book cover above or find her on Goodreads, Bookbub and Amazon.

Another 5 lesser known facts about the amazing Nellie Bly

2d girl puzzle coverIt’s Nellie Bly’s birthday this weekend and in her honor, not only is The Girl Puzzle – a story of Nellie Bly being unleashed on the reading world, but I’m also gathering all my Nellie Bly knowledge and sharing it on my blog. In March I wrote my first 5 lesser known facts about Nellie post but I could have easily kept going. Here are 5 more facts about the amazing Miss Bly that I’m excited to share…

1. Nellie Bly was hoping for a female president of the United States as long ago as 1913

nellie bly on the jobMarch 4th 1913 was inauguration day for a new president – Woodrow Wilson. Nellie Bly, in D.C. for the Women’s Suffrage Parade the day before (she rode in horseback in the parade AND reported on the event for the New York Journal) slipped up onto the inauguration platform just minutes before the new president was sworn in. In her newspaper report the following day she described her thoughts. “Will you and I,” she wondered, “ever see a woman stand there and take the oath of office?”

 

2. She organized a day trip/picnic to Coney Island Luna Park for 750 New York orphans on June 1st, 1920.

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Coney Island’s Luna Park in the 1920s. Photo: Archive Holdings Inc.

“Bly said the day was perfect.” That’s biographer Brooke Kroeger’s account of Bly’s characteristically confident self-appraisal of this feat of organization and planning. A feat it certainly was – involving the donated transport services of The Twentieth Century Brown and White Taxicab Association and the Manhattan Tourist Company to transport 750 children, and presumably some supervising staff, from Manhattan to Coney Island. Food was supplied by The Nedick Company and Mayor Hylan waved the 750 orphans off on their day trip from City Hall.

3. She was an early fan of motoring and even got caught speeding

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 9.37.26 AMHere’s clipping from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 5th 1909. The report details how Nellie and her chauffeur Albert were pulled over for speeding on their way to a stock-holders’ meeting. Although arrested for traveling at 40 miles an hour, it later seemed that the arresting officer had ‘bungled’ the job, and the car was in reality only going at 21 miles an hour. This change in the story may well have had something to do with the status of Albert’s passenger. In the article, Nellie is described as “a business woman clear through… she can give spade and clubs to many men of financial astuteness and beat them at their game.” It is also noted that “she is extremely comely and was the center of considerable attention in court today.”

4. Nellie Bly admired her fellow feminists most – when they were well-dressed

_Dress is a great weapon in the hands of a woman if rightly applied. It is a weapon men lack, so women should make the most of it._

In January 1896, Bly reported on the National Women’s Suffrage Convention and did not pull her punches when describing how poorly she felt the women were dressed. As well as the quote above, she wrote: “I never could see any reason for a woman to neglect her appearance merely because she is intellectually inclined. It certainly does not show any strength of mind. I take it rather as a weakness.”

Still, she was happier some twenty-four years later when reporting on the Republican Convention in Chicago of 1920. She greatly enthused at the involvement of women in politics, but was as keen as ever to stress the importance of keeping up appearances. Of the women she saw there she wrote: “They are the cleverest and brainiest of their kind. That is why they have not neglected their appearance. For while they have fought and won the battle for equal rights with men, they did not forget that man is a creature of his eyes.”

5. Her love life remains something of a mystery

Nellie Bly’s private life is much less easy to follow than her professional one. She did marry, but her choice was surprising to some, and she was also romantically linked to several other men, including one of the doctors she encountered during her daring stay in the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum in 1887. Here are a few of the key men in her life:

From left to right – Arthur Brisbane, James Stetson Metcalf, Dr Frank Ingram and Robert Seaman.

To learn more about Nellie Bly, check out the Nellie Bly Resource list on my blog and/or grab a copy of my novel, The Girl Puzzle – a story of Nellie Bly (Crooked Cat, 2019)

 

One month to go…

So The Girl Puzzle is due to be foisted upon an unsuspecting world one month from today. It’s a date chosen carefully – May 5th was Nellie Bly’s birthday, 155 years ago.

Screen Shot 2019-04-05 at 11.30.25 AMIf Nellie were in my shoes, she’d be a lot more upbeat. She was a go-getter – as I’m sure the book will show – although her life, like everyone else’s, wasn’t all success and accolades. Even as she achieved her ambition and got a much coveted job at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper, she faced stiff competition to keep her column in the Sunday edition. And although she changed the face of women’s journalism by feigning madness and reporting from inside the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum, her stunt reporting wasn’t always serious or hard-hitting. Only a few months after her breakthrough articles about the madhouse took the newspaper industry by storm, Nellie was making her own dance costume and taking ballet lessons. On December 18th, 1887, The World published Learning Ballet Dancing – Nellie Bly in Short Gauze Skirts Kicks at the Mark. Here’s my favourite section from that article:

Dressed at last in a ballet costume I looked at myself and marvelled at the change. There is everything in dress after all. I had entered a quiet, staid-looking spinster, and presto! I now looked like a sixteen-year-old girl and quite flippant and pert. I did not feel as I looked, however. All at once I grew painfully modest. It is not so bad to wear a bathing suit when everybody else around has one on, but when everybody is in full dress one would feel awfully short in a bathing costume. That was my position. I felt as if I had forgotten and gone to a full-dress reception in a bathing suit.

For an instant I was inclined to put on my street dress, and pleading sudden indisposition, take my leave, but I looked so healthy and there was no powder-puff around, so I was afraid the statement would not bear out. Several times I got up and started and my heart failed. I went back and sat down. I pulled at my skirts, but they would not lengthen. I began to fear the Professor would soon think I had fainted or committed suicide. “It’s a go,” I said mentally, and I opened the door and closed it rather quickly behind me, lest I should grow faint-hearted and go back in.”

The illustrations demonstrate that Nellie did get out of the changing room and take her best shot at learning to ballet dance. Of course she did! “I never in my life turned back from a course I had started upon,” she wrote in Among the Mad, in 1889. She went on: “I always say energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.”

2d gp coverI guess where I’m going with this, is that with 30 days to go until The Girl Puzzle is out, I think I need to channel some of my own character’s confidence and determination.

I need to re-write that opening sentence to this post and not think that the story is being ‘foisted’ on the world, but that its ready to be shared. And if the world is unsuspecting, then it’s on me to get the word out about the book, to believe in it, and in Nellie Bly, and do the right thing by her and by The Girl Puzzle.

It’s available to pre-order now, on Amazon. You could have Nellie Bly arrive in all her glory on your kindle on May 5th. She’s just a click or two away… The Girl Puzzle is “a go”.

Book recommendation – The Departed by J.V. Baptie

the departedA body is found in a car boot following an accident, and Detective Inspector John Morrison is under pressure to identify the killer. Was it someone who had murdered before, several decades ago? Or is it a copycat killing?

Meanwhile, Trish, John’s ex-girlfriend, had been working hard to forget the past – until she finds new evidence about her aunt Moira’s disappearance nearly two decades earlier.

Did Detective Inspector Helen Carter miss something in the initial investigation in 1978, and could she live with the consequences if she had?

The past and present intertwine in this gripping case of murders and missing persons.


A week or so ago I was excited to receive a copy of J.V. Baptie’s second novel, The Departed. In a nutshell, it’s a crime novel set in my home town of Edinburgh with a dual timeline that I just loved.

Baptie’s first novel, The Forgotten was set in Edinburgh in the seventies and, reluctant as I am to call part of my own life ‘history’, Baptie got the historical flavour of the city and that period just right. I loved her female policewoman, Helen, and was keen to see what would happen to her in this follow up.

Well it was very interesting. Yes, Baptie went back to the seventies, but she also jumped her characters forward in time to 2008. Helen is still in the force, now working on cold cases, but a new case links back to a murder she worked on in 1977. Then there’s also the unsolved disappearance of Moira McKenzie. So how does that connect to the death of a young student, Sarah Smith?

The Departed is well plotted and moves at a great clip. Baptie adeptly handles a fairly large cast of characters, and her writing sparkles with crisp descriptions. I felt I could see everything very clearly and this would adapt really well for T.V.

Often these kind of books can be read as stand-alone and I guess that this is true here, but I’d strongly recommend reading The Forgiven first. It’s a great story too. You can’t get too much tartan noir in my experience.


baptieJ.V. Baptie graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2017 with an MA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she is also an actress and has appeared in a variety of children’s show and stage plays.

 

5 lesser known facts about Nellie Bly for #InternationalWomensDay

I’m on a mission to let the world know that there was so much more to Nellie Bly than her asylum expose and her round the world adventure – amazing as those things were!

So in honour of International Women’s Day, here are 5 facts/stories about the wonderful Nellie that you may not know already. If you knew them all, or knew none of them, I’d love to hear from you.

1. She famously interviewed Susan B. Anthony

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Susan B. Anthony

In February 1896, as the women’s suffrage movement blossomed in America, Nellie Bly interviewed Susan B. Anthony, eliciting some of the most personal answers to questions ever given by Anthony, then in her seventies. Here’s an exchange from Nellie’s report in The World:

“Were you ever in love?”

“In love?” she laughed merrily. “Bless you, Nellie, I’ve been in love a thousand times!”

“Really?” I gasped, taken aback by this startling confession.

“Yes, really!…. When I was young, if a girl married poor she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealth, she became a pet and a doll. Just think, had I married at 20, I would have been either a drudge or a doll for 55 years. Think of it!”

2. She was the first woman to witness an execution in 21 years

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Sing Sing 1915

In January 1920, Nellie Bly reported on the execution by electrocution of Gordon Fawcett Hamby at Sing Sing prison.

Hamby, who had confessed to killing two bank officials during a robbery in Brooklyn, communicated with Nellie Bly in the run up to his death, and even sent her his Ouija board as, “a slight remembrance (all I have at this time) for your infinite kindness and friendship”.

Nellie was vehemently anti-capital punishment, writing, “I shall never cease to work to abolish this premeditated killing.”

3. She fundraised for Austrian widows and orphans during WWI

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The Wehrmann in Eisen

During World War I, Nellie Bly travelled to Austria to report for the New York Journal, but she became very engaged in supporting the Austrian cause and in particular widows and orphans. Throwing herself into war relief efforts in Vienna, she asked her readers back home in America to send quarters to her fund. Contributors would be rewarded by having their name inscribed in a gold book and a nail driven into a wooden statue in their honour. The Wehrmann in Eisen, (Iron Man for Austria) was one of many popular fundraising symbols in Austria made in this way, and in May 1916, Bly reported to her readers in the Journal that she had personally hammered one nail into the Wehrmann statue, for every person who had sent her a donation.

4. She always faced stiff competition from other aspiring women journalists

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Elizabeth Bisland

Famous as she undoubtedly was in her hey-day, Nellie Bly always had competition to deal with. Although one of the first female journalists, she wasn’t the first by any means. Even at The Pittsburg Dispatch, where her career began, there was already a well respected female journalist, Elizabeth Wilkinson Wade, who wrote under the pseudonym Bessie Brambles. At The World in 1887, no sooner had Bly had her hard-won success with her asylum expose, than another female journalist, Fannie Merrill, was vying for a slot in the Sunday edition with a similar style of reports to Nellie’s. Merrill’s article, Skilful Cigarette Girls came out on November 20th 1887, only a month after Nellie’s reports from the asylum. When she set of around the world in 1889, Nellie Bly had no idea that another woman journalist was running against her. Elizabeth Bisland set off heading west on a train from New York on the same day that Nellie sailed east from the city on a steamship and the two women circumnavigated the globe in the opposite direction. And at one point in the 1890’s, Nellie even faced competition from a conglomerate of female journalists, all publishing under the shared pseudonym, Meg Merillies.

5. She ran an informal adoption agency from a New York Hotel

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The Sun, Dec 19th, 1919

When she returned to New York journalism after World War I, Nellie Bly wrote an opinion column in The Journal and publicly offered to help find homes for orphaned children.

In December 1919, a baby was found at Grand Central Station with a note that read – “To Somebody – for the love of Mike, take this kid… give him to Nellie Bly… he is seven months old and as healthy as they make them.”

The baby was taken to Bellevue Hospital where Nellie Bly rushed to visit him. But this was a story with several twists and turns. The baby, dubbed Love o’ Mike by the newspapers, was first claimed by the wrong family, the Wenzes, whose son had been kidnapped a few months earlier. When that story was publicized by Nellie Bly, the real mother came forward to reclaim her son, saying she’d hoped Nellie Bly would find him a better home than his family could offer, but that the Wentzes were barely any better off than she was.


For more about Love o’ Mike and Nellie Bly’s story,  take a look at The Girl Puzzle, available to pre-order now from Crooked Cat books. (publication May 5th, 2019)

3d girl puzzle coverHer published story is well known. But did she tell the whole truth about her ten days in the madhouse?

Down to her last dime and offered the chance of a job of a lifetime at The New York World, twenty-three-year old Elizabeth Cochrane agrees to get herself admitted to Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum and report on conditions from the inside. But what happened to her poor friend, Tilly Mayard? Was there more to her high praise of Dr Frank Ingram than everyone knew?

Thirty years later, Elizabeth, known as Nellie Bly, is no longer a celebrated trailblazer and the toast of Newspaper Row. Instead, she lives in a suite in the Hotel McAlpin, writes a column for The New York Journal and runs an informal adoption agency for the city’s orphans.

Beatrice Alexander is her secretary, fascinated by Miss Bly and her causes and crusades. Asked to type up a manuscript revisiting her employer’s experiences in the asylum in 1887, Beatrice believes she’s been given the key to understanding one of the most innovative and daring figures of the age.