The Mind of a Murderer – A guest post by Angela Buckley

Amelia Dyer 1
Amelia Dyer              (Thames Valley Police Museum)

Today I am thrilled to have as my guest on No wriggling, Angela Buckley, who has written for me before, about her last book,  The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada. Today she looks into the mind of Amelia Dyer, the notorious Victorian baby farmer, who plied her shocking trade in Bristol and Reading. Angela’s latest book Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders is a gripping read and heartily recommended!

In the spring of 1896 the body of an infant was found in the Thames near Reading. This gruesome discovery exposed the nefarious crimes of one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers. Notorious baby farmer Amelia Dyer advertised in the newspapers for babies to look after for money, strangled them and disposed of their bodies in the river. Over a century later, the question still remains: was Amelia Dyer mad or bad?

There is no clear evidence that Dyer suffered from any mental health issues during her childhood, despite the early deaths of two siblings and her mother. She established her baby farming business in her home city of Bristol, in the late 1860s and the first documented incident of possible psychological problems arose in 1879, when a coroner opened an inquest into the deaths of four babies in Dyer’s care, following a suspicious death certificate. When police called at Dyer’s house to take her to court they found that she had taken a laudanum overdose, which prevented her from appearing. This was the first in a series of drastic actions taken by Dyer seemingly to avoid the law.

Gloucester asylumIn the early 1890s Amelia Dyer’s situation as a baby farmer became increasingly precarious, when a governess tried to claim her child, after her circumstances had changed. The bereft mother came several times to Dyer’s home and even brought a police officer on one occasion. Each time Amelia Dyer had a breakdown, was certified ‘insane’ and committed to the asylum. She made two further suicide attempts, by cutting her throat with a knife (she only sustained a slight scratch) and by throwing herself into a pond. Dyer spent three brief periods in the asylums at Gloucester and Wells, after which she returned to her baby farming trade.

When Amelia Dyer was finally brought to trial for murder at the Old Bailey on 21 May 1896, much of the evidence focused on the key question of her sanity. All the doctors who treated her in Bristol testified. Dr Thomas Logan described how Dyer had threatened to break his skull with a poker, leading him to conclude that she was suffering from brain disease and her ‘insanity’ had been exacerbated by mental anxiety. Dr Lacey Firth examined Dyer at Bristol Hospital after her drowning attempt. He believed that she was melancholic, but not insane. A third doctor came to the conclusion that she was ‘of unsound mind’.

In an attempt to unravel the mystery of Dyer’s mental state, the judge called upon expert witnesses. Dr Forbes Winslow had examined the prisoner in Holloway. Her delusions and hallucinations led him to believe that she was insane. However, the prison’s medical doctor claimed that she was not. The final expert medical witness was Dr George Savage, from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, a renowned doctor with ‘long experience in lunacy’. His final conclusion was that Dyer was not suffering from ‘homicidal mania’, and that the crimes were not the act of an insane person. Despite the contradictory evidence, the jury returned a guilty verdict and Dyer was sentenced to death.

Granny Smith
Granny Smith (Reading Borough Libraries)

The final word on this debate should go to those who were closest to Amelia Dyer. Her daughter, Mary Ann Palmer, told the court how her mother alternated between quiet periods and bouts of extreme violence – she had threatened Mary Ann’s life several times. Interestingly, it was Mary Ann who had told the doctors in Bristol about her mother’s mental health history, while they were considering her treatment. The person with the least reason for incriminating Dyer was Jane Smith, also known as ‘Granny’, an elderly woman whom Dyer had rescued from the workhouse. After visiting Dyer in Reading Prison, a journalist asked Granny if she thought the prisoner was ‘trying the old game on’, to which she replied, ‘I do; but I don’t think she will get off so easily as she has done before.’ Mad or bad, Amelia Dyer was executed for her crimes on 10 June 1896.

Cover copy[arEN][1]Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley is available in ebook and paperback via Amazon and other online retail outlets. You can find out more about Angela’s work on her website angelabuckleywriter.com

Guest post: Cholera’s Lasting Legacy by Amanda Thomas

Amanda Thomas with her latest book Cholera: The Victorian Plague
Amanda Thomas with her latest book Cholera: The Victorian Plague

Today I am lucky enough to have a guest on my blog – author and historian Amanda Thomas, whose latest book Cholera – The Victorian Plague has just been published by Pen & Sword History. Here she offers a fascinating, and tragic, overview of this terrible disease, which still ravages communities in many parts of the world. My sincere thanks to Amanda and full details of how you can purchase her book are given at the end of the piece. If you have any questions or comments we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

I have been interested in cholera for many years and my second book on the subject, Cholera: The Victorian Plague has recently been published by Pen and Sword.  I first became aware of the cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century when a distant cousin, Susan, asked me why some members of our family had disappeared in Lambeth in the late 1840s, specifically James and Anne Osmotherly, who originated from the Hoo Peninsula in Kent.  James is my second cousin five times removed and Anne was the niece of Susan’s great grandmother.  Susan and I visited Lambeth Archives in London and discovered that James and Anne had both died of cholera, an often fatal disease which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, and which is commonly thought to be caught by ingesting water tainted with sewage.

It was at Lambeth Archives that I opened for the first time a box of documents entitled The Lambeth District Sanitary Reports.  These pristine papers, virtually untouched since the day they had been written, were to form the basis of many articles about the 1848 to 1849 cholera outbreak and eventually my first book on the disease, The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849 (McFarland, 2010).  The District Sanitary Reports were written in two or three phases in January and February 1848 and give a vivid insight into the deplorable living conditions of Lambeth’s working poor.  They were produced in response to the 1847 Metropolitan Sanitary Commission to investigate whether better drainage and sanitation might improve the health of Londoners.

London Slums  Wellcome Library, London
London Slums
Wellcome Library, London

In the nineteenth century thousands died from cholera in Britain during the four major epidemics of 1831-2, 1848-9, 1853-4 and 1866, and in the years between when the disease was still prevalent but not so virulent.  In Lambeth alone in 1848 and 1849 around 2,000 died, perhaps more, but many deaths were attributed to dysentery and, despite the introduction of civil registration in 1837, some went unrecorded.  At a time when disease was little understood and the government was fearful of uprisings like those which had taken place in France and America, it was important to keep the working poor in check.  Deaths from cholera in the early stages of an outbreak were kept as quiet as possible by the medical elite so as not to cause widespread panic; those most at risk of the disease were the poorest members of society and also most likely to cause unrest.  The working population was concentrated in the densely populated riverside communities of conurbations which had grown up and rapidly expanded in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.  Epidemic diseases such as cholera are opportunistic and will spread easily and fast in environments like these where there is a lack of sanitation and little understanding of basic hygiene.

Death from cholera is swift, painful and unpleasant, as the dehydrating effect of the disease causes the blood to thicken, affecting circulation and respiration.  In a densely populated community cholera will spread voraciously once it has taken hold, killing vast numbers throughout the warm weather of summer and early autumn.  During the worst epidemics gravediggers were unable to keep up with the number of burials, and the merciless nature of cholera, together with the sight of coffins piled high at cemetery gates, had a profound and lasting effect.  In the nineteenth century cholera was as feared as the plague, or Black Death.  Local authorities and the government knew something had to be done but the challenge was enormous and also extremely costly.  In the new urban industrial areas such as Lambeth’s waterfront, houses for the working population had been erected hastily and without care.  A lack of sanitation, filth, damp and poor ventilation were all factors in the spread of other potentially fatal diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, measles and diphtheria.

Politics and religion divided opinion and played a part in delaying social reform; ignorance and prejudice impeded scientific progress.  Most believed disease was spread by miasma, or foul air, which did not help the argument for improving sanitation.  Yet whilst the poor were the worst affected by cholera, the better off were not immune, and the repetitive severity of successive cholera outbreaks highlighted an urgent need to improve Britain’s sanitary infrastructure for everyone.  Outbreaks of influenza and typhus in the late 1830s also had an effect, but by the middle of the century the putrid stench emanating from rivers and open sewers, scientific observation and the gathering of statistics were all catalysts for change.

Vibrio cholerae bacteria Source: http://remf.dartmouth.edu/images/bacteriaSEM/source/1.htm
Vibrio cholerae bacteria Source: http://remf.dartmouth.edu/images/bacteriaSEM/source/1.htm

The stories of Dr John Snow and the removal of the pump handle in Soho, and Joseph Bazalgette’s new system for London’s sanitation are well known.  They reinforce the common understanding that cholera is not transmitted through the air in miasma, but rather, it is a waterborne micro organism, a vibrio, which spreads through water tainted by sewage.  Today cholera remains a serious threat to public health but current research and the recent outbreaks, such as those in Haiti and Bangladesh, have shown that contaminated drinking water is not the whole story, which the historic record confirms.

In Bristol during the 1866 cholera outbreak Dr William Budd realised that the working population was at risk of contracting the disease not just from a contaminated water supply but because of their poor hygiene.  Budd and his colleagues made local people aware of the need for cleanliness and also put in place a system for disinfecting affected houses.  As a result only 29 people died in Bristol during that outbreak.

Amanda with the heritage plaque she wrote for Lambeth Council  Credit: Alexander Thomas
Amanda with the heritage plaque she wrote for Lambeth Council
Credit: Alexander Thomas

There is no doubt that the cholera epidemics during the Victorian era played a part in speeding up social reform, including effective sanitation.  However, as the recent Ebola outbreak has highlighted, deadly infectious diseases are still a threat to public health in Britain.  The good sanitation which we all enjoy – and the efficacy of antibiotics until recently – have created a dangerous complacency.  Today most diarrheal disease in Britain is caused by an ignorance of good hygiene, particularly the importance of hand washing and careful food preparation.  In the Victorian period the rapid spread of cholera through densely packed communities was not because of tainted water, but rather by hand-to-mouth (oral-faecal) contamination.  At the peak of successive outbreaks, cholera spread most rapidly through the female population, the women caring for the sick and washing the garments and bedding of the dead.  Cholera is a resilient bacterium and can remain dormant for long periods of time, including within dried vomit and excrement.  Those handling such materials who neglected to wash their hands with soap and water afterwards caused the spread of cholera just as effectively as the tainted water supply in John Snow’s Soho.  Bacteria are cunning and opportunistic and our ignorance of the importance of basic preventative measures – such as simple hand washing – means that we will always be vulnerable to diseases like cholera.

AMANDA THOMAS is an author, historian and linguist; she has previously worked in journalism, and public relations. Her books include ‘The Non-Conformist Revolution’ (Pen & Sword History, 2018), ‘Cholera – The Victorian Plague’ (Pen & Sword History, 2015), and ‘The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849’ (McFarland, 2010). She has advised on the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ (Series 10, 2013), ‘The One Show’ (2016) and, in collaboration with English Heritage, on ‘The Flying Archaeologist’ (2013) 

www.ajthomas.com

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Cholera-Hardback/p/10951

The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur – author Gill Hoffs on how Victorian corsetry contributed to a tragedy…

Sinking of RMS Tayleur - Gill Hoffs - hi res imageI have been really lucky with the books I have been asked to review in recent weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed The Real Sherlock Holmes by Angela Buckley and now can honestly say I have spent three sunny days gripped by “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic‘” by Gill Hoffs. (Pen & Sword, 2014) I can heartily recommend it for the detailed research Gill has done into the Victorian period,  combined with her skills as a true storyteller. It is a tragic tale, beautifully told, with a respect for the victims that doesn’t preclude a thrilling description of a horrific shipwreck.

So I am delighted to host a guest post from Gill on my blog today. As she researched the book, Gill was curious to find out why only three women and three children survived out of over 170 while more than half of the men on board managed to escape the sinking ship. Here she interviews one of the many people who helped her research 

Jennifer Garside
Jennifer Garside

When researching a particular period or person, it can be useful to find someone who’s essentially carried out the work for you in advance and has a passion for the subject. I needed to know about British clothing in the 1850s, and why the fashions of the day contributed to the deaths of at least a hundred women in one shipwreck alone. Luckily Jennifer Garside, a motorbike-riding, corset-wearing, broadsword-fighting businesswoman, runs Wyte Phantom Corsetry and Clothing (specialising in neo-Victorian designs) and agreed to help. Jennifer demonstrated to me using samples, contemporary accounts and illustrations, how heavy and restrictive the women’s outfits would have been on board the Tayleur, and how that influenced their survival when the ship wrecked. As is often the way, each answer led to yet more questions, including some about Jennifer herself.

What came first for you: the interest in sewing, history, or re-enactments? How did you get into re-enactments and corsetry?

I was always crafty as a child, my mother taught me to sew and use a sewing machine, and as far as I can remember I had a fascination with pretty historical dresses. My grandmother had a button tin with pictures of Victorian ladies round the outside; I loved to play with it both for the images on the tin and the amazing buttons inside. Re-enactment came later; it wasn’t until I was at university that I discovered a group and found it was something I could actually get involved in.

I blame my parents for the re-enactments. As a child, I loved to explore castles, and they took me to see a joust when I was about 8, and I decided I wanted to have a go! At University, I found both a re-enactment group, and a HEMA group (Historic European Martial Arts) and started to study swordsmanship. The corsetry was probably born out of my love of the beautiful hourglass Victorian dresses. I have always been small, but when I was about 18-20, I had a very boyish figure not the curves I wanted. I discovered corsetry and as I was a student and couldn’t afford to buy a good corset, thought I would try making them. It took a long time to teach myself as there weren’t the resources there are available now.

How do you source vintage designs?

Fashions of 1854
Fashions of 1854

There are a lot of good resources now for vintage patterning, you can still get hold of original patterns from the 1900s (I have some amazing 40s and 50s patterns that I picked up from ebay and junk shops!), as you get earlier, there are reprints of Victorian and Edwardian patterns from magazines that are reasonably easy to get hold of and lots of books available detailing construction. The earlier you get, the harder it is to find original material to study, but by studying pictures and the material that is available, it is possible to work out how these pieces were probably made. Where possible though, the best way I find to learn is to look at extant garments, most museums have the facility to let you study pieces in their collection if you contact them, and there is so much more you can learn by looking at something in person than by looking at a photo.

What are the hazards of your work?

CAD – Cat assisted design. My ginger mog has an annoying tendency to try to get involved at the most awkward times! Also, most of my work is carried out on a 1930’s Singer sewing machine that will sew through just about anything, including fingers as I have learnt the hard way.

Do you find you notice costuming over story and acting in period dramas?

Yes and no, if the story is good and I can lose myself in it, then I can forgive most things other than the totally glaringly obvious, but I will often find once I have noticed something I can’t concentrate on the plot as the error keeps niggling at me!

What is the one key issue you think researchers need to bear in mind when thinking about clothing in the past?

I think you have to understand somewhat the culture, mindset and conditions people were living in. It is only relatively recently that we have had mass production and global communication, therefore in the past although there would be fashions, there would be a lot more geographical variation in styles and each garment would be individually made. Clothes in any period of history say something about the wearer, be that status, profession or any of a myriad of other things.

How has engaging in broadsword fighting and similar activities improved your understanding of the practical requirements of outfits throughout history?

It’s not just the fighting, by wearing the clothes of a certain period you get a better understanding of how a person could move and how they would stand or sit. This may seem unimportant, but if you want to really understand the past I think this really gives you an insight. A simple example would be the footwork when learning to use the smallsword, the weapon itself looks similar to a modern fencing blade, but looking at the original treatises the steps and lunges tend to be much smaller than in modern fencing, you discover the probable reason why when you try fencing in period footwear with smooth leather soles!

Who are your favourite female fighters?

Jennifer Garside 2This is a difficult one too. All throughout history there are examples of often unnamed women fighting alongside their male counterparts, normally only uncovered as women after death or injury. I could list hundreds of inspirational female fighters, but I’ll limit myself to two from two historical extremes. The earliest known European fencing treatise is Royal Armouries MS.I.33 or the Tower Manuscript, this dates from about 1300 and shows a system of combat with sword and buckler (a small round shield). In the latter part of the manuscript, in place of one of the two male figures we see earlier in the text, we have a female figure referred to as Walpurgis. While there is still debate as to why a female figure is used in the text, I feel that her presence maybe indicates that females fighting wasn’t such an unusual occurrence as we might otherwise believe. Travelling forwards 600 years we have Edith Garrud, trained in Bartitsu (probably one of the first ‘mixed martial arts’), she in turn trained The Bodyguard, a group of about 25 women whose task it was to keep the leaders of the militant Suffragette movement out of the hands of the police. She is immortalised in a lovely 1910 Punch cartoon showing her fighting off a group of policemen.

Thank you for all your help with my research, and for sharing so much information about your enviable life!

And thank you Gill – it is a great book and I hope to be there at one of your entertaining talks before too long!

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: the Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ (Pen and Sword, 2014), is out now – see http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/ for further details. Contact Gill at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk, @GillHoffs or through http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com.
For more information about Wyte Phantom Corsetry and Clothing, visit http://www.rosenkavalier.co.uk/wytephantom/wytephantom4.htm, call 0774 686 4354, or email wyte_phantom@hotmail.com.

 

Talking Books goes walkabout with The Real Sherlock Holmes…..

A13cI-0avRL._SL1500_Talking Books, my show on 10Radio.org,  went national last week when I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Angela Buckley’s great new book ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada‘. The launch took place in the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street in the heart of London and Angela was good enough to allow me to wander around the room with my radio mike, John Motson style, putting her many guests on the spot, and grabbing some great interviews.

‘The Real Sherlock Holmes’ is wonderful ride through crime fighting in Victorian Manchester. Jerome Caminada was not the dashing and flawed character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels but he was a resourceful and committed ‘super sleuth’ in his own right, utilising all manner of disguises and subterfuge to solve the many high-profile cases that made him a national figure in the late 19th century. More recently overshadowed by his fictional contemporary, Angela has brought him to the fore once more in a book that takes you through the poverty-stricken streets of Manchester, and further afield, on Caminada’s coat tails. One can only admire the audacity of his methods; disguises, undercover operations (including the duping and schmoozing of domestic servants) and determined chases that brought some remarkable criminals to justice. He even had his own equivalent of Moriarty, a criminal who threatened to be his nemesis.

mcGHow marvellous it would be to see him on-screen, perhaps interacting with Holmes and Watson. I have been thinking about who might play the role of Jerome, a more solid and less flamboyant man than Holmes but just as dashing. Aiming for big box office – how about George Clooney, Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman? All look good with a beard after all. If Paddy Consadine hadn’t already played the eponymous Mr Whicher, of Suspicions of fame I would suggest him. But I am nominating Ewen McGregor. About the right age with just the right about of gravitas. Find his agent’s details Angela!

download (1)Anyway, do listen to the recording of the event below. It was great fun and you will hear snippets from writers and historians Emma Jolly and Rosemary Morgan, Essie Fox, Kate Mayfield and Mel Backe Hansen as well as the lovely Rachel Hale, author of the fabulous History Magpie blog and Angela’s writing buddy who came along with her husband Steve who is an accountant and a jolly good sport. I was determined to find out who was the on-screen favourite Sherlock Homes. I think Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch will have to settle for a draw. Angela and I had a good long chat about Jerome and I also got a great interview with Nick Barratt of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’  fame, who, it appears, also has a great-uncle of dubious fame…..

Angela’s children Ella and Ethan were stars. I was quickly reminded by Ethan that the Buckley household never ran out of cornflakes whilst Angela was writing because they ‘only have Shreddies’. One day he will be a challenge for Paxman…….

So grab a copy of Angela’s book and enjoy. It is published by Pen & Sword History (Angela and I share a lovely editor, Jen Newby) and is selling like the proverbial. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to piggy back her launch to cut my outside broadcast teeth. I had a great time and as you can tell from the recording, so did everyone else there.

angelaThe Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com

Speaking to the dead: spiritualism, secularism & seeing the ghosts of the Great War

 

Mina Crandon  known as Margery) one of the most controversial mediums of the 1920s
Mina Crandon known as Margery) one of the most controversial mediums of the 1920s

Do you believe in ghosts? Can you trust in mediums who claim to commune with the dead? In Shell Shocked Britain I look at the rise of spiritualism during and after the First World War, examining why it experienced an explosion in interest and what it offered a nation traumatised by loss and grief. It is a fascinating subject that encompasses not just the supernatural, but issues of gender, the role of religion and the psychological need for both certainty and succour.

Even before 1914 church attendance was declining. As now, the majority of the population would classify themselves as Christian, but religious observance was increasingly confined to traditional holidays such as Christmas, Easter, harvest festivals and rites of passage – births, marriages and deaths. Demographic changes had led to the breaking up of small and close knit communities and young people were finding the strictures of the scriptures less relevant to their lives.

The Great War thrust the established church back into the limelight as clergy were called upon to rally people to the cause and offer hope and comfort to combatants and civilians alike. However, many found the support of their local priest wanting.  The church was sometimes viewed as too ready to promote an aggressive patriotism, focusing on fighting the good fight, rather than offering the necessary emotional support to those grieving. Yet if an individual priest were seen to be questioning the war, he would be vilified in local and national press. The church lost its way and a grieving nation sought meaning elsewhere.

Spiritualism as we would recognise it today began in mid-Victorian North America and by the 1870s there were numerous Spiritualist societies and churches throughout Britain and the United States, which in 1891 joined together to form the National Federation of Spiritualists. In 1902 the organisation became the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU), which still exists today.  Spiritualist mediums, whose influence had declined following the the heyday of the séance in the late nineteenth century, became, for thousands of people during the First World War,  a focal point for grief and hope. Great crowds would attend spiritualist meetings across the country and enthusiasm for the gatherings went across all classes.

espiritus‘Celebrity’ endorsement furthered the cause. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Oliver Lodge were great advocates for the movement, affected as they both were by the loss of sons to the war. In Shell Shocked I look at some of the key reasons why such eminent intellectuals were ‘taken in’, and at Mrs Osborne Leonard, one of the mediums who made such an impression on them. It makes disturbing reading, but in the 21st century there are equally audacious ‘cons’ that draw us in. Many sought to prove spiritualism was a fraud, including illusionist Harry Houdini, but that interest only heightened the public interest.

Gladys Osborne Leonard was born in 1882 and would later say that she had first had commune with spirits whilst still a child. Thwarted in her ambition to become a professional singer by illness, she turned to spiritualism and was giving professional sittings by 1915.  It was when she came into contact with scientist Sir Oliver Lodge that her fame spread. Lodge’s experiences of working with her to communicate with his son, killed in action in 1915, were written up in his book Raymond or Life and Death – a paean to the afterlife and ultimately to his desperate grief at the loss of his son.

Spiritualist medium Mrs Osborne Leonard, who worked with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Sir Oliver Lodge
Spiritualist medium Mrs Osborne Leonard, who worked with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Sir Oliver Lodge

Leonard worked with the Society for Psychical Research, an organisation established to prevent fraud, which offered a veil of respectability.  However, many later suggested Leonard was a clever charlatan who used auto-suggestion in a similar way to many of the doctors treating shell shocked soldiers, tapping into her client’s unconscious until they believed what she wanted them to believe. Her work may seem feeble by today’s standards, but in the days of early wireless technology it was not difficult for Sir Oliver Lodge to believe that invisible radio waves were acting as a conduit to his dead son’s existence on the other side.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also a firm believer and said of Leonard: “The greatest trance medium with whom the author is acquainted is Mrs. Osborne Leonard. The outstanding merit of her gift is that it is, as a rule, continuous. It is not broken up by long pauses or irrelevant intervals, but it flows on exactly as if the person alleged to be speaking were actually present. The usual procedure is that Mrs. Leonard, a pleasant, gentle, middle-aged, ladylike woman, sinks into slumber, upon which her voice changes entirely, and what comes through purports to be from her little control, Feda”

It is little wonder that so many were attracted to this contact, and with the ‘Happy Valley’ in which Leonard said dead soldiers lived a comfortable life. They smoked pipes, drank whisky and took springtime walks.

As worrying as the fraud on the recently bereaved was the exploitation within spritualism itself. In the 19th century, the formal spiritualist movement had been dominated by female mediums, such as the Fox sisters. It was closely allied to women’s suffrage and offered an opportunity for women to make their views known. However,  some of these women were preyed upon by male confidence tricksters who, to all intents and purposes, ‘pimped’ them around meetings and informal gatherings. A movement that had originally given women subject to the restrictive social mores of Victorian and Edwardian society a ‘voice’ now became another way to subjugate them.

In the inter-war years spiritualism was the only way many could make sense of loss and cling to the belief that their loved ones were in a ‘better place’. It stepped in where the Anglican church, along with other denominations, seemed muddled and without a lead, unable even to agree on what was meant by an ‘afterlife’.

In Shell Shocked Britain I look at this subject in  more detail, to assess how hundreds of thousands came to rely on the voices of the dead to keep them in the land of the living. It is a fascinating aspect of the emotional turmoil the whole country experienced during and after the Great War, and one that is rarely discussed.

Rattling the Bones of Detective Caminada

Jerome Caminada
Jerome Caminada from The Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

Today I am thrilled to be hosting Guest Blogger Angela Buckley, whose new book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada will have its official launch in London next week. She has taken time out on a hectic blog tour to tell us here of a dilemma many of us, as researchers, face – how to ensure we deal with the stories of the dead in a sensitive fashion and why she believes Detective Caminada’s story must be told.

The first time I visited the grave of Jerome Caminada in Southern Cemetery, Manchester, I had mixed emotions. I was excited at the prospect of uncovering the story of this exceptional detective, which had remained hidden for almost a century, but at the same time I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Is it fair to rattle bones that have been long since buried and bring the dead back to life?

Jerome Caminada was born in Manchester in 1844 to immigrant parents. A child of the slums, he overcame staggering odds to become one of the city’s finest police officers, reaching the lofty heights of Detective Superintendent. He was an extraordinary man: a fearsome law enforcer who was never afraid to tackle the most daring and desperate of criminals, but also a man with a compassion for others and a deep sense of social justice. I began my journey into his past with his memoirs, published at the end of his 30-year-long career.

Nineteenth century police memoirs are essentially work histories, rather than accounts of domestic life, and Twenty-Five Years of Detective Life by Jerome Caminada is no exception. In this weighty tome, he recounts ‘over fifty stories, dealing with all manner of crime and criminals’. I used contemporary newspapers and court records to reconstruct his cases, and although the accounts often differed, I was able to re-discover his adventures as he tackled thieves, pickpockets, cunning swindlers and even cold-blooded murderers, on the streets of his city. But it wasn’t until I dug deeper into his personal circumstances that I really began to bring Detective Caminada truly back to life.

SlumsJerome’s parents were Francis and Mary Caminada. His father was a cabinetmaker of Italian descent and his mother was an illiterate textiles worker, with her roots in Ireland. Both families had been among the masses of workers who had migrated into the city of Manchester in the wake of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century. Their meagre existence was totally precarious and when Jerome was just three years old, his father died of heart disease, leaving his mother alone with the surviving four of her six children. There was still worse to come and the family was forced to move into one of the worst rookeries in Victorian Manchester, later described by Jerome as ‘a very hot-bed of social iniquity and vice’. It was in these crime-infested streets that Detective Caminada developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the shady characters and nefarious criminals who lived there, which would become one of his most effective weapons in fighting crime.

GraveThe terrible suffering of his family, who experienced further devastating losses and grinding poverty, instilled in Jerome great empathy for others and kindness to those less fortunate than himself. Throughout his career, he never failed to help individuals in genuine need and to plead their cause, whatever they had done. His faith and hope in humanity kept him going in the most difficult of circumstances, in both his professional and personal life. It has been a challenge to bring Detective Caminada back to life but now that his story is ready to be heard once again after a century of silence, I am proud to have rattled his bones!

angelaMy sincere thanks to Angela. The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com

What does it mean to dream? On Victorian thoughts & the 21st century soul…

VBODWhilst on holiday in Suffolk a few weeks ago I bought a small book at a second-hand stall at the market in the lovely little town of Framlingham. Called The Victorian Book of Dreams, it is clearly a forerunner of the little books you might have picked up at the till in Past Times as a desperate last moment Christmas present for someone who has everything (other than a book about Edwardian manners or tips for husbands).

The picture on the front cover is magnificent and reading through it has been fun; but it has made me realise that the interpretation of dreams has come a long way in the past one hundred and twenty years or so.

For example, one entry in the book states ‘Bagpipes – to dream of this musical instrument is always unfortunate; it denotes extreme poverty and you will have to labour hard all your life.’ I can’t help feeling there is some stereotyping involved in that meaning. Another suggests that should you be unfortunate enough to dream of a butcher cutting up meat, ‘some of your friends will be hanged and you will experience much misery and poverty’. However, if you dream that you or a friend is being hanged, it means you will become very wealthy. Work that one out.

Continue reading “What does it mean to dream? On Victorian thoughts & the 21st century soul…”

Broadmoor Revealed – Victorian Crime & the Lunatic Asylum

Today on No wriggling I am lucky to have a guest post from Mark Stevens, Senior Archivist at Berkshire Record Office, responsible for looking after the Broadmoor Asylum archives. Pen and Sword Books have recently published a revised and expanded edition of his book ‘Broadmoor Revealed’ which became the most popular history e-book of 2011.

My sincere thanks to Mark for offering me this fascinating piece. All the links to learn more are included in the text.

BMRcover

Broadmoor Hospital is one of those institutions that everybody knows.

In fact, they probably only know it as ‘Broadmoor’.  A bit like Madonna, or Pele, one word suffices to indicate the subject.

If you push someone, then they might mention the Krays, Peter Sutcliffe or more recently Jimmy Savile.  Push someone a bit more and it is possible they might mention the artist Richard Dadd or lexicographer William Chester Minor.

When the Broadmoor archive arrived at my workplace some nine years ago, I was the sort of person who struggled to do more than know the one word.  But my relationship with the hospital has changed dramatically since then.  The archive was – is – incredible.  And it is part of my job to look after it.

I’ve said elsewhere that the archive sort of draws you into it.  It feeds the voyeur in us with page after page of the most raw, unscripted history.  It is bursting with stories, often very sad ones, that give an insight into a hidden community, experiencing what was and still can be a silent problem.

I’ve tried to tell some of those stories in my book Broadmoor Revealed.  I have included Dadd and Minor, and a couple of the other more high-profile cases, because I think that people expect to see them in a book about Victorian Broadmoor.  But for me the more interesting thing is not these remarkable and – dare I say it? – mostly middle class, intellectual patients.  Rather it is all the ordinary Victorian men and women, who were simply getting on with their workaday lives until they experienced an overwhelming and irrational desire to do something dreadful.

Many of these dreadful acts followed a similar pattern, and usually, it was the patients’ nearest and dearest who suffered.  Modern crime studies suggest that we are always most unsafe under our own roof, and the Victorian cases that I’ve read suggest that it was ever thus.

Patients on the terrace, Broadmoor Asylum c1908
Patients on the terrace, Broadmoor Asylum c1908

So the book has examples of husbands who killed their wives, such as Isaac Finch, a devout Christian who became convinced that both he and his wife were damned for their sexual sins.  There is no true crime glamour in Finch’s story.  The family were desperately poor, existing on seasonal farm work in Essex, when Isaac took a razor to Martha’s throat.  He was simply suffering from a delusional problem that ended in a tragic solution.

Even sadder than that are the cases of those parents who have murdered their own children.  These mums and dads often ended up in Broadmoor because Victorian courtrooms were all too ready to find their act insane.  It is interesting to see how 19th century society sought to rationalise what was terrible by seeking proof that the perpetrator was irrational.  Today, we might prefer to create monsters rather than medicine out of such defendants.

This type of patient made up the typical female admission to Victorian Broadmoor.  I’ve written about some of them in my book.  One of the things that interests me in such cases is how the wider family unit responds to such a devastating trauma.  One of the mothers I’ve written about was effectively abandoned by her partner, for example, though actually this outcome is very rare.  The more often heard refrain from family is one of wanting their unwell member back.

You could choose any one of these women’s stories and find a tale that tugs at your heart.  I just couldn’t find space for them all in the book.  One who didn’t make the cut is Martha Baines, a housewife from Kendal.  One cold winter’s day in 1875, she poured bleach down the throat of her youngest child, aged five months.  She said that she had done it to keep the baby quiet, as it had cried for such a very long time.

She left behind her husband and three other children, and they felt strongly that Martha needed compassion, rather than treatment or punishment.  ‘No one was a better mother and wife than she’, wrote her husband to Broadmoor’s chief, pleading for her return.  It is extremely touching, and also of some comfort to know that they were reunited some two years later – a comparatively short time after the offence, and evidence of the hospital’s own compassion, together with a possibility that post natal depression may have been the cause of Martha’s illness.

To a certain extent, the desperation to obtain Mrs Baines’ discharge might be seen in an economic as much as a loving context.  Without friends or family to look after young children, a lone parent might find it difficult to raise an income while their other half was shut away.  The families of patients had everyday problems, as befits a group who were everyday people.

Author Mark Stevens
Author Mark Stevens

Which brings me back, I think, to the very unexceptional nature of most Broadmoor patients, regardless of the often dramatic cause of their admission.  After reading through so many case histories, I have concluded that the true story of Broadmoor is found not in creative geniuses or indeed in monsters of evil, but rather in the boy or girl next door.

And that may in itself be a fairly shocking statement.  But the bald truth is, as MIND confirms, that in any year around one in four of us will experience some mental health problem that requires a visit to our GP.  It is not so great a leap from that to see that a small percentage of us will from time to time experience symptoms so severe that we need hospital care.  And in the intervening period between symptoms and care, it also seems inevitable that occasionally bad things will happen.

Those bad things might suggest that Broadmoor is potentially a dark subject for any book.  Yet that is to suppose that life is static; that everyone affected by the place is frozen into solid form.  In reality, life flows within Broadmoor as it flows without the walls.  Not every unhappy beginning has an unhappy ending.

For me, that provides enough light to see Broadmoor in a variety of textures and shades.  It provides hope, too; and hope as much as horror lies behind the Broadmoor name.  The one word is never enough.

 

 

The most beautiful words ever written?

The Eve of St Agnes - Millais
The Eve of St Agnes – Millais

I have been on my own for two days. The family is away being athletic – not a talent I can share with them. So who could I turn to for company but John Keats?

Yesterday I re-read Isabella: or the Pot of Basil and was struck not by the undoubted flaws it contains, but by the wonderful storytelling and the way Keats lets his personality and his political views sneak in to some of the stanzas.

Today though, I have taken the reading of his poetry to another level, with The Eve of St Agnes.

I didn’t want to undertake a long analysis here, but to encourage you to read the poem, but put simply it is a poem populated by stock characters (young lovers, warring families, old nurses) but packed with description. It isn’t a story that rattles along; it lingers on detail and draws the reader in from the bitter cold of both the weather and the hearts of the violent families into the warmth of the chamber belonging to a young woman – Madeline – who undertakes the rituals of St Agnes’ Eve in order to dream of her future love. That lover appears in physical form as young Porphyro who bribes Madeline’s old nurse to allow him access to the bedroom where Madeline sleeps. He enters her dream, and when she wakes (here there is some doubt as to whether they consummate their love – an addition that shocked some readers at the time and worried Keats’ publisher enough to ask him to tone it down) Porphyro declares her his bride and they run away from the castle into the storm.

So does this old story oft repeated justify the title of this post?  I will tell you why I believe so. It is because of  stanza XXIV, in which Keats describes Madeline’s chamber….

A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
    All garlanded with carven imag’ries
    Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass, 
    And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
    Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
    As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
    And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,
    And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
  A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.

The Flight of Madeline & Porphyro - Holman Hunt
The Flight of Madeline & Porphyro – Holman Hunt

I would encourage you to read this aloud, or just under your breath. Feel and enjoy the words as if they were a plate of the most delicious food you can imagine. It is no surprise that Keats was a significant influence on the Pre-Raphaelites and Victorian poets such as Tennyson. The poem as a whole is a visual delight, the colours sparkle through the text and it is as if Keats has had a vision of Millais’ or Holman Hunt’s representations of the story as he writes – he is literally creating a work of art on the page.

j-keatsI think these literally are the most beautiful words in English Literature. A controversial assertion I am sure but one I feel confident making. A close second, and of a similar sensual nature, are also by Keats (you can tell I am not in the least biased…) from the second verse of Ode to a Nightingale..

O for a beaker full of the warm South! 
 Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
  With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
   And purple-stainèd mouth;

So what do you think? Challenge me by all means! I know there are passages in Shakespeare and many other poets that might be quoted but I stand by these as words I could literally consume. They send a tingle down the spine. Beat them if you dare!

On Victorian London, forensics and writing inspiration: a conversation with D.E. Meredith, author of The Devil’s Ribbon

D.E Meredith
D.E Meredith

Today I am lucky enough to have a guest on my blog – the author D. E. Meredith writer of the historical crime series, The Hatton and Roumande Mysteries featuring the first forensic scientist, Professor Adolphus Hatton, and his trusty French morgue assistant, Albert Roumande.

D.E Meredith studied English at Cambridge, worked in advertising during the late 80s but soon found that world unsatisfying and embarked on a dramatic change of career working as a campaigner for conservation causes, ultimately working in the press office at the British Red Cross. She has witnessed history first hand – Afghanistan just before it fell to the Taliban and Rwanda as it was devastated by the terrible genocide in 1994 for example. Working in a field where injustice was rife and violence part of everyday life inspired her she says, to bring those themes into her crime novels and indeed they run as threads through both The Devil’s Ribbon and the first in the series, Devoured.

Here she talks of Victorian forensic science, inspiration and writing discipline, something I am more than a little short of. So thanks to D.E. Meredith for taking time out to talk to me!

I have read other interviews with you that suggest you have almost become a writer by  accident! The inspiration behind Hatton and Roumande is fascinating. Would you mind telling us again how you felt the urge to tell their story?

I read a travel diary by the great Nineteenth Century naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, called “The Malay Archipelago.” Russel Wallace was Darwin’s alter ego and came up with similar ideas on evolution at the same time as his more famous contemporary but history has not given Wallace the credit he surely deserves. The travelogue was full of amazing detail about taxidermy, specimen collecting, orangutan hunting and life as a Victorian scientist. Fantastic and inspiring stuff and I was sure there was a novel in it. It just so happened that I’d finished a contract for Greenpeace and was between clients, I had builders in the house so it was hard to work anyway and so I simply started to mess about on the computer, thinking why the hell not? I knew if I was ever going to write a book, it would be a murder mystery. I devoured them as a child – no pun intended – especially PD James and Agatha Christie so that’s what I started to write. As the Victorians were at the cutting edge of so much new scientific thinking, forensics seemed an obvious ingredient to add into the mix. And I guess, that’s how I created Professor Adolphus Hatton and his Chief Diener, Monsieur Albert Roumande of St Bart’s

devil's ribbonwb (1)Here I must admit to being a little squeamish…. Some of the episodes in both Devoured and The Devil’s Ribbon are very gory. How easy do you find it to imagine such scenes?

I love writing anatomy scenes. I do a lot of research to try and get them right. Not only in anatomical  terms but also to describe the bodies as a Victorian surgeon would have viewed them. I’ve seen a number of surgical operations when I worked for the Red Cross and was in and out of field hospitals, seeing the impact of war and in particular, land mines on people so I am not shocked by blood and guts. I treated myself to a copy of Grey’s Anatomy. This was the bible for surgeons in the Nineteenth Century and contains exquisite line drawings.   I often flick through my copy not just to check the inner workings of an organ  but also to wallow in the intricacies and beauty of the human body which never fails to astound me. Added to which,   it’s important we see the world through Hatton and Roumande’s eyes. Decomposition and cadavers are hardly an avoidable theme when the books you write concern a pathologist working in a morgue in Victorian England. Dissection and cutting up corpses  is Hatton’s and Roumande’s business. I see no reason to sugar-coat my descriptions. The violence I describe isn’t  gratuitous or titillating though it is macabre. I am very aware I’m writing in a period which gave us the Gothic tradition and the beginnings of the horror genre and  so it feels right that my own writing is imbued with those of sort of blood soaked drama.

The dark and seamy side of Victorian London has become a popular backdrop for new detective fiction.  I think you bring something quite new, and raw, to the environment your characters work in. Scotland Yard detectives are hard to like in your books, for example. Was it difficult to find an original ‘angle’ on Victorian crime?

I didn’t plan to be an author or do much pre-thinking about how I wanted my books to be. I  didn’t look at the genre before I started writing , so I wasn’t looking for any kind of angle and maybe for a new writer that’s liberating. I just set sail, free as the wind and followed the story. It’s only after I had my first book published and reviewers started comparing it to Michael Cox’s work in particular,  that I realised there was a whole plethora of other writers  out there doing “Victorian crime.”   I try not to read it. I don’t want other people’s work influencing mine though I do try and read contemporary thrillers to try understand the issue of pace. The only book I had in my mind when I wrote Devoured was The American Boy by Andrew Taylor , who I now follow on twitter (I love all of his books) but not because I wanted to emulate what he was doing. Taylor is a master of re-creating an authentic voice – in the case of The American Boy – a regency voice and I knew if I couldn’t do it as seamlessly as Taylor, then I didn’t want to do it at all.  I think the raw quality which others have spoken about comes, not just from the subject matter, but from my prose which tends towards the gritty.  Life was hard back then. I think of the Victorian Age as being like  Slumdog Millionaire only with top hats. It was tough and visceral on the mean streets of London. As for the police being corrupt? It went with the job. Many policemen in the 1800s often wore two hats. They worked for the Met but they also did a bit of private work for those who could afford to hire them. Corruption was rife,  so I’ve based my idea of the police force  on what I think was happening at the time.

I thoroughly enjoy your detailed plots and the way in which Hatton and Roumande’s are not only challenged by criminals but by the police. How do you keep track of the clues to ensure your reader is kept guessing to the end?

I love plotting but I do find it a challenge because for all the planning in the world, once you start writing, novels take on a life of their own and it can be hard to keep control. My plots are very intricate and complex, multi-layered with elaborate structures  but that’s how the world is, isn’t it? The world isn’t lateral and neither is the imagination – well,  mine, isn’t. I like to set lots of plates spinning but I don’t want to confuse readers or undermine the pacing. This is all part of the craft of novel writing, something a writer has to learn to do through trial and error. But I think if I can combine tangential scenes and blind alleyways with an overall story which is homogenous, then I’ll deliver something that’s rich and satisfying for the reader. I’m highly organised in life but much more freefall when I write. I  don’t like plans. I do them in advance, on a couple of sheets of paper but  then I nearly always chuck them away when I start to get into the meat of the novel. I feel over planning kills creativity.  I like the fear factor. I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff edge when I begin a new chapter. Of course, I think about the characters in advance – who they are, what they look like, how they feel, how they relate to others and so forth.   As to the layering which is so crucial if you’re trying to create  a puzzle, adding or rearranging clues and red herrings can be honed (added in or cut back)  during  the process of  rewriting. The first draft is never the last draft.

I can sense that Hatton and Roumande are the natural predecessors of Sherlock Holmes. Did Mr Holmes’s perspicacity inspire you to go back into the history of his forensic techniques?

Not self consciously although I did get the idea of the tattoo on lady Bessingham’s finger in Devoured from the Holmes story but I can’t remember which one. I wrote it first and then thought – hang on a minute I’ve seen this before so I googled it, found it and decided, hell, it works,  so I’m going to use it  anyway. I hadn’t read much Sherlock Holmes but like everyone else, Holmes is just part of my psyche from a misspent youth in the suburbs  watching too much telly – old B&W films, the brilliant series with Jeremy Brett in the 80s.  And now, of course, I watch the fabulous Cumberbatch version with  my kids. My youngest son is a  big fans of the books, so I’ve got more into Conan Doyle in terms of the actual writing recently. I’ve even been to see Conan Doyle’s  house in Surrey as part of the campaign to save it from the evil hands of developers.  It was rather moving and I felt like I  was walking in the shadow of Doyle. He had an incredible imagination. Hound of the Baskervilles has to  be one of the greatest and spookiest detective stories, ever.  As for my characters, they have some similarities to Watson and Holmes in that they’re a pair working in Victorian London (although Holmes was fin de siècle) but Roumande is more than Hatton’s equal and in terms of intellectual insight. I split perspicacity between the two of them and often it’s their knowledge of the human heart which helps crack the case in the end, not just their knowledge of forensics.

220px-Old-microscopesFrom your research, what do you think (other than DNA) has been the key breakthrough in the field of forensic science and why?

Without a doubt, the invention of the microscope.  All the early microscopists saw quite distorted images due to the low quality of the glass and imperfect shape of their lenses. Little was done to improve the microscope until the middle of the 19th Century  when great strides were made and quality instruments like today’s microscope emerged. Companies in Germany like Zeiss and an American company founded by Charles Spencer began producing instruments which allowed Victorian scientists to see the world in its wonderful minute detail. Both the Zeiss and the Spencer feature as “stars” in my novels. Studying blood samples, smears  of glistening semen, hairs, human skin  or other traces left behind on a cadaver, or at crime scene, would never have been possible without an effective  microscope.

Many people, myself included, can find it hard to find the ideal place to write. Where do you find it easiest to get the word count going in the right direction? Do you write in silence or can you shut out all the background noise, or listen to music?

I wish I could listen to music but for me it has to be silence. I wrote three novels in a tiny corner of the bedroom but I have recently moved house (two weeks ago) and now have an office and so it’s bliss. I’ve already doubled my output because the house is bigger so firstly, the kids can’t track me down quite so easily asking “What is there to eat?” and secondly, I can’t hear the relentless drone of Sky Sport pummeling through the walls, because we’ve put the telly in the basement – along with  my rugby mad teenage boys and their mates. Routine is vital for writers. You have to invent your own structures. Nobody’s going to do it for you. We all have distractions. I’m a mum and I have to juggle all sorts of stuff but I religiously go for a run or a bike ride after my kids have been waved off to school – “Adios amigos!” –  and park my butt on a seat in front of my laptop by 10.00am with a coffee LATEST. I don’t do anything else till the kids get home at three-ish. I don’t meet friends, I don’t have coffee or do lunch. I block the internet out increasingly using the download “Freedom” if I seem to lack focus (hello twitter!) and find that I can do 4 hours good work (ie: actual writing) and then the rest of the day is spent doing general PR, writing features, posts etc  or my favourite bit, the research – there’s a huge amount of research in my books and it all takes time. Writing requires discipline and it doesn’t require you to be a social butterfly. In fact, it demands withdrawal.

Can you tell us a little more about your future writing plans?  Is there another Hatton and Roumande planned for the near future? And will you ever write contemporary fiction?

I am currently writing the next Hatton and Roumande  book called The Butcher of Smithfield (working title) which is  set in 1863, so five years on from The Devil’s Ribbon. It’s been a really interesting challenge picking up the characters and their lives from where I left them. I’m having great fun – though it’s demanding. You’re creating something out of nothing. I spent a long time  researching the Jewish community living in London in the 1860s and the German community which was huge and centred around Whitechapel and Dalston. I’ve also been looking at mind doctoring, early attempts at brain surgery and the beginnings  of neurology along with colonial exploits in Africa and The Crimean War – quite a lot of material but the story is working really well and it’s all coming together. Huzza!

I wrote initial drafts for a contemporary novel set in Rwanda against backdrop of genocide but have put it in a pending tray till later. I found it difficult to write because the material was too  close to the bone but I am more experienced  writer now, and fully intend to go back to this book and deliver a contemporary thriller based on some of my own personal experiences during my time as an aid worker. The material is too good to ignore.  But for the time being I am fully immersed in my Victorian world and will be there for some time, I suspect. And I adore it.

I’ve done a little bit of flash fiction and I really enjoyed it. I don’t have time at the moment to pursue it but for budding writers out there, it’s a really interesting challenge. To tell a story in less than 500 words, means every word counts. This is a good thing to remember even when you are working across say, 100k words which is the usual length of my novels.

In a recent interview I asked author Lynn Shepherd (Tom All Alone’s, A Treacherous Likeness) who she thought should play the part of her detective, Charles Maddox, if we were to be allowed to enjoy the books adapted for television or on the big screen. She sees Tom Hiddleston in the role and has him in her head as she writes.  Who can you see as Hatton? Roumande?

Ed Norton

Adolphus Hatton has to be played by Ed Norton just as he appeared  in The Painted Veil. He’s fabulously repressed, quintessentially English, uptight, work obsessed, wiry but sexy as he appears in that film and if we can’t get him,  then James McAvoy would be good. Roumande MUST be played by the uber gorgeous Javier Bardem because he’s the right “look” (big, dark and burly) and all my mates will pay me good money to meet him if he accepts the part which I’m sure is only a matter of time. I’m ever hopeful. And clearly,  completely delusional.javier_bardem

The Devil’s Ribbon is the second book in the acclaimed Hatton & Roumande series, by D E Meredith and is out now in hardback, publishing by Allison & Busby priced £19.99. The first book Devoured is also out now in paperback, price £7.99.