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…
“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.
It’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
March 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.
“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
Here’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
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.
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.
If 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.”
I 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”.
A 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.
J.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.
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Her 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.
If you know about Nellie Bly at all, you most likely know that she went round the world by herself in 72 days in 1889/90, or that she got her first break into New York newspapers by feigning madness and getting herself committed to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum in 1887.
But there was a lot more to Nellie Bly than that. Here’s a perfect example: Nellie reporting for the New York Evening Journal on the March 3rd Suffrage March in Washington D.C. in 1913. There are some great little videos about it on YouTube. Here’s an example:
And here’s Nellie’s thoughts on the event, taken from Brooke Kroeger’s biography, Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist.
“Can you imagine it? Ten thousand women in line? They say that was the number by actual count… Picture if you can an endless chain of butterflies, divided into sections according to color fluttering along and it will give a little impression of the parade which made history… I was never so proud of women; I never was so impressed by their ability; I never so realized their determination and sincerity. I am glad I am one.”
The suffrage march was led by this woman, Inez Milholland, a lawyer, feminist and pacifist who probably deserves a novel of her own. She’s definitely someone worth celebrating.
“Mad Marriages” was the title of Elizabeth Cochrane’s second article for The Pittsburg Dispatch. Marriage and divorce was a topic Elizabeth had strong views on, and in her article she weighed in on divorce law reform as well as her concern that both parties to a marriage really knew each other, warts and all.
Her own family history – her father died when she was six and her mother remarried but then divorced in 1879 – was clearly at the forefront of her mind as she wrote. So, most likely, was her brother Albert with whom she would have a contentious relationship throughout her life. The article was opinionated, strident and intended to provoke debate. It was also published under a new byline.
George Madden, recognising Elizabeth’s great potential, didn’t want to publish “Mad Marriages” with the Lonely Orphan byline. She needed a name, but as was customary at the time, it couldn’t be her own.
He called into the newsroom for suggestions and, from among the replies, picked out Nelly Bly. The name came from a popular song, written in 1850 by Stephen Foster, known as ‘the father of American music’, and a Pittsburgh native.
Madden misspelled Nelly, as Nellie and Nellie Bly was born.
On January 25th, 1885, The Pittsburg Dispatch published its first article by a new employee. In the week leading up to this date, a young woman called Elizabeth Cochrane had answered George Madden and Erasmus Wilson’s advertisement, seeking the author of a letter they’d received, signed only by a ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’
Much later, both Wilson and Nellie Bly would reflect on this first meeting. Wilson recalled the young woman arriving, breathless from climbing the stairs. She appeared to him to be shy, but when she smiled her whole face brightened and he remembered she had beautiful teeth. For her part, Nellie was surprised by both Wilson and Madden. Wilson, author of the provoking Q.O. column whose views on a ‘women’s sphere’ had enraged her so much she’d put pen to paper, was not at all the cross old man of her imagination. Instead he was ‘a great big good-natured fellow who wouldn’t even kill the nasty roaches that crawled over his desk.’ And Madden, the editor, was a ‘mild-mannered, pleasant-faced boy,’ not at all the fierce, bushy-bearded man she’d imagined him to be.
Best of all, Madden didn’t simply want to publish the girl’s letter. He wanted more of her views and opinions. The result? Her first published article, The Girl Puzzle.
The article, staunch in its view that girls are just as good, if not smarter than boys, calls out for women’s working opportunities to be expanded, and sympathy and assistance offered to struggling women, instead of scorn or unconcern.
Aged 20, Elizabeth (or Nellie as she would become) held firm views that did not change as she grew older. She called for action, not just words, from advocates for women, directly suggesting that leaders of the women’s movement, ‘forgo their lecturing and writing and go to work; more work and less talk.’ No wonder George Madden found something he could not pass up in her first letter to the paper. As Wilson later recalled Madden saying:
‘She isn’t much for style, but what she has to say she says it right out regardless of paragraphs or punctuation. She knocks it off and it is just right too.’
A week later, with his editorial guidance, the Lonely Orphan had her first piece in the newspaper.
Elizabeth Cochrane was not yet Nellie Bly. But she was on her way.
I’m excited (nervous) to announce that I’ll be live on Facebook this Sunday (Jan 27th @3pm ET/8pm GMT) talking about my books and all things historical fiction.
If you would like to join in, you’ll need to be a member of the Facebook group, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. This is a lovely closed group that I’d recommend to anyone who loves books and book recommendations. There are lots of readers and writers in the group chatting about fiction and sharing book related stuff.
To join the group, you need to be invited by a current member. Like me! So if you want to, just drop me a note by email (email@example.com) or on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KateBraithwaiteAuthor/), or comment on this post, and I’ll get you fixed up. The offer to join doesn’t mean you have to come to the author live on Sunday, but I’d love to see you there. I’ll be answering questions and running a competition to win… something that I haven’t quite thought up yet 😉
On Saturday January 17th, 1885, George Madden and Erasmus Wilson of the Pittsburg Dispatch decided to do what they could to find the author of a letter they’d received from someone calling themselves ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’
In the ‘Mail Pouch’ column of the paper, where they featured letters to the editor, the following note appeared:
Why did they follow up with this particular letter writer? Erasmus Wilson later recalled the paper’s editor George Madden saying this:
“She isn’t much for style, but what she has to say she says right out regardless of paragraphs or punctuation. She knocks it off and is just right too.”
The Lonely Orphan Girl would go on to become a world famous journalist. Here is Nellie Bly’s biographer, Brooke Kroeger’s introduction to Nellie’s life story:
“Nellie Bly was one of the most rousing characters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries… She feigned insanity and engineered her own commitment to a mental institution, then exposed its horrid conditions. She circled the globe faster than any living or fictional soul. She designed, manufactured, and marketed the first successful steel barrel produced in the United States. She owned and operated factories as a model of social welfare for her 1,500 employees. She was the first woman to report from the Eastern Front in World War 1. She journeyed to Paris to argue the case of a defeated nation. She wrote a widely read advice column while devoting herself to the plight of the unfortunate, most notably unwed and indigent mothers and their offspring.” (Brooke Kroeger, Nellie Bly – Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist)
But on January 17th, 1885, neither Madden or Wilson had any idea of what was about to unfold.
Would the Lonely Orphan Girl even see their advertisement?