Penny Dreadfuls – Only a Bit of Fun?

If you enjoyed a good old execution in the 18th or early 19th century, it was possible to buy a crime broadside at the hanging which was produced by specialist printers. These would feature a crude picture of the crime and the culprit, a written account of the crime and trial proceedings and a doggerel, thrown in for good measure. Most of the poor could not read but they enjoyed the lurid pictures, and there was always someone on hand to read out the cautionary poem.

Varney_the_Vampire_or_the_Feast_of_Blood 1845During the Victorian era, however, literacy rates increased. Combined with technological advances in printing and the advent of the railways making wide-spread distribution viable, the demand for cheap, entertaining reading matter increased rapidly. This led to the first penny serials (originally called penny bloods) being published in the 1830s, and by 1850, there were over 100 publishers of penny-fiction. The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and were predominantly aimed at young working class men and boys. They usually had eight pages with black and white illustrations on the top half of the front page. Working-class readers could afford these and they did a roaring trade. In contrast, serialised novels at the time, such as Dickens’ work, cost a shilling (12 pennies) per part and were out of the reach, therefore, of most working class readers.

The subject matter of the penny horrible, penny awful or penny blood was always sensational, usually featuring detectives, criminals or supernatural entitles. Popular characters included Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber, first printed in 1846, who murdered his clients so his neighbour, Mrs Lovett, could cook them in her meat pies. Then there was the endless retelling of Dick Turpin’s exploits and his supposed 200 Pennydreadfulmile ride from London to York in one night! Supernatural characters, such as Varney the Vampire were extremely popular. But the most successful of all time was the Mysteries of London, first published in 1844. It ran for 12 years, 624 numbers (or issues) and nearly 4.5 million words.

Many famous authors began their writing careers writing penny dreadfuls including, GA Sala and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. She reputedly said “the amount of crime, treachery, murder and slow poisoning, and general infamy required by my readers is something terrible.” Many authors took the melodrama of the dreadful and infused it into their later very successful novels.

When highwaymen and evil aristocrats fell out of fashion, true crime, especially murder, was the most popular. These were then overtaken in the popularity stakes by detective stories with the focus on the police rather than the criminal. By the 1860s, the focus changed again and children became the main target audience.

It was easy for the middle and upper classes to look down on the penny dreadfuls as cheap, sensational nonsense. Some even went to far as to blame them for infamous crimes and suicide. But I suspect many read them surreptitiously – for who doesn’t enjoy a good yarn now and then?

In No Stone Unturned, Lucy’s maid, Mary, is huge fan of the penny dreadfuls and cheap sensational novels. Lucy, feeling obliged to look out for her maid’s moral welfare (so she claims!), often reads these books and thoroughly enjoys them, too. When the women’s lives are in danger, Mary comes to the fore with her penchant for intrigue and spying. Lucy suspects Mary’s favourite reading material may be at the root of it.

No Stone Unturned is the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series.

NoStone-EBOOK

A suspicious death, stolen gems and an unclaimed reward: who will be the victor in a deadly game of cat and mouse?

London October 1886: Trapped in a troubled marriage, Lucy Lawrence is ripe for an adventure. But when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone, over the body of her husband in the mortuary, her world begins to fall apart.

When her late husband’s secrets spill from the grave and her life is threatened by the leader of London’s most notorious gang, Lucy must find the strength to rise to the challenge. But who can she trust and how is she to stay out of the murderous clutches of London’s most dangerous criminal?

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Death by Coffin!

For any lover of the Victorian era, London’s most famous cemeteries hold endless fascination. My favourites are Highgate and Kensal Green with their eerie Gothic and Neo-classical architecture. The Victorian obsession with death, the after-life and spiritualism, sparked the trend for highly decorated tombs and crypts. Heartbreaking inscriptions, lichen-encrusted headstones and mournful statuary lend a melancholy air to these places. It’s no wonder they feature so much in Gothic fiction. As I researched my latest novel, No Stone Unturned, I delved a little deeper into the history.

Both cemeteries were built in response to London’s population explosion in the early part of the 19th century which had resulted in graveyards being crammed in between shops and houses with little control over the number of corpses being interred. The smell these sites generated was described as terrible.

With public health at risk, Parliament passed a statute for seven new private cemeteries to be opened in the countryside around the city boundary. These included Highgate and Kensal Green.

Highgate Cemetery

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Photo Credit: Dan Bridge

Highgate is probably the most famous of all the Gothic cemeteries. In May 1839, it was dedicated to St James by the Lord Bishop of London. Of the seventeen acres, fifteen were consecrated for members of the Church of England and the remaining two acres were set aside for ‘Dissenters’ (everyone else). Elizabeth Jackson, aged thirty-six, was the first ever burial in Highgate in May 1839.

London’s wealthy invested heavily in the cemetery due to its amazing views over London (highest point 375 feet above sea level) and its unique architecture and landscaping.

Kensal Green Cemetery

“For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen; Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.” G.K. Chesterton’s poem The Rolling English Road.

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Photo Credit: Kraft_Stoff

Kensal Green was opened by the Bishop of London on 24th January 1833 and was the first commercial cemetery in London. The first burial was the same month.

A competition for the design of the cemetery was held and the winning entry was for a Gothic style, however, the Chairman of the General Cemetery Company had other ideas. The final design was Neo-classical. As in Highgate, the burial grounds were divided up between the Church of England and the Dissenters. 

Killed by a coffin
Illustrated Police News, 2nd November 1872

An Unfortunate Death!

A pallbearer by the name of Henry Taylor met a tragic end in Kensal Green. While carrying a coffin, he missed his footing and stumbled. His fellow pallbearers let go of the coffin which fell on poor Henry, killing him instantly.

Here is the description from The Illustrated Police News, November 1872:

“KILLED BY COFFIN. Dr. Lancaster held an inquest Saturday evening at the University College Hospital, London, on the body Henry Taylor, aged 60. The evidence of E. J. Heading, undertaker’s foreman, and others showed that on the 19th inst. deceased, with others, was engaged at a funeral at Kensal-Green Cemetery. The Church service having been finished, the coffin and mourners proceeded in coaches towards the place of burial. The day being damp, the foreman directed the coaches with the mourners to proceed to the grave by the foot-way, and the hearse across the grass towards a grave-digger, who was motioning the nearest way. The coffin was moved from the hearse and being carried down a path only three feet six wide, by six bearers, when orders were given to turn, so that the coffin, which was what is known in the trade as a four pound leaden one, should head first. While the men were changing, it is supposed that deceased caught his foot against a side stone and stumbled; the other bearers, to save themselves, let the coffin go, and it fell with great force on to deceased, fracturing his jaws and ribs. The greatest confusion was created among the mourners who witnessed the accident, and the widow of the person about to be buried nearly went into hysterics. Further assistance having been procured the burial service was proceeded with, while deceased was conveyed to a surgery, and ultimately to the above mentioned hospital, where he expired on the 24th inst. The jury recommended that straps should be placed round coffins, which would tend to prevent such accidents. Verdict—accidental death. “

Sadly, although Henry lost his life in Kensal Green, it appears he was not buried there.

♦♦♦

In No Stone Unturned, my heroine Lucy Lawrence buries her husband Charlie in Kensal Green. A mysterious mourner at the graveside soon turns her life upside-down as Charlie’s dirty secrets spill from the grave …

No Stone Unturned is the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series.

NoStone-EBOOKA suspicious death, stolen gems and an unclaimed reward; who will be the victor in a deadly game of cat and mouse?

London October 1886: Trapped in a troubled marriage, Lucy Lawrence is ripe for an adventure. But when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone, over the body of her husband in the mortuary, her world begins to fall apart.

When her late husband’s secrets spill from the grave and her life is threatened by the leader of London’s most notorious gang, Lucy must find the strength to rise to the challenge. But who can she trust and how is she to stay out of the murderous clutches of London’s most dangerous criminal?

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The Blue Velvet Sapphires of Kashmir

My latest novel, No Stone Unturned, is the first in my Victorian mystery series featuring Lucy Lawrence. As I started to research, I stumbled across the story of the famous Kashmiri sapphires. I could not believe my luck. It is a fascinating story and got me thinking: what would a scurrilous Victorian rascal do if he got his hands on some …

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Kashmir Landscape: Photo Credit Nick Kent-Basham

Treasure in the Hills: A mountainous region of Kashmir, known as Padar, held a fabulous secret. It is a remote region high in the Himalayas, well off the beaten track. Various stories abound as to how it finally revealed its treasure-trove; some say a landslide, others that hunters or travellers came across the first stones lying on the ground. Not knowing what they were, the gems were traded for salt and other supplies in Delhi. Eventually, they were sold on to someone who recognised they were rough sapphires. Many transactions followed until they eventually turned up in Calcutta.

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2263ff92-48af-11e4-85c0-e01c50cfcd63-2The news of this transaction got back to the maharajah in Kashmir, who discovered the sapphires had originated in his area. Extremely annoyed, he went to Calcutta and demanded them back. Every single transaction in the long train had to be undone. Each man who had sold the sapphires gave back what he paid, and so it went through many towns, until at Delhi, a merchant received back a few bags of salt (not his lucky day!).

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Padar Mine 1890

Still miffed, the Maharajah of Kashmir sent a regiment of sepoys to take control of the mines to ensure no more precious stones went astray. During the life of the mines, the yield was disappointingly low and commercial mining ceased early in the 20th century. Their rarity and the fact they are exceptionally beautiful, with a texture like velvet, has led them to be the most prized and expensive sapphires in the world.

 

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Victorian 4.3 Carat Diamond and Kashmir Sapphire Ring
 

No Stone Unturned is the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series.

NoStone-EBOOKA suspicious death, stolen gems and an unclaimed reward: who will be the victor in a deadly game of cat and mouse?

London October 1886: Trapped in a troubled marriage, Lucy Lawrence is ripe for an adventure. But when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone, over the body of her husband in the mortuary, her world begins to fall apart.

When her late husband’s secrets spill from the grave and her life is threatened by the leader of London’s most notorious gang, Lucy must find the strength to rise to the challenge. But who can she trust and how is she to stay out of the murderous clutches of London’s most dangerous criminal?

Amazon Buy Link

A Conversation with Author John Anthony Miller

This evening in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­John Anthony Miller, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into his life as an author. You are very welcome, John. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Hello, Pam – and thanks for having me.

photoI live in the U.S., in southern New Jersey, and my writing is motivated by a life-long love of travel and history. My fifth book, Honour the Dead, a historical murder mystery set in Italy in the 1920’s, has just been published. Continue reading “A Conversation with Author John Anthony Miller”

A Conversation with Author Dianne Freeman

This evening in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Dianne Freeman, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

Dianne Freeman headshotA special welcome to you, Dianne. I love to chat with historical fiction authors, particularly those who write in the same time period as I do. Please tell us a little about yourself:

I’m a life-long book lover who retired from the world of corporate finance to pursue my passion for writing. After co-authoring the non-fiction book, Haunted Highway, The Spirits of Route 66, I realized my true love was fiction, historical mystery in particular. I also realized I didn’t like winter very much so now my husband and I pursue the endless summer by splitting our time between Michigan and Arizona.

Did you read much as a child? Are you an avid reader now? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

When I was about eight years old, my family moved to a house about 3 blocks from the public library and I’ve been an avid reader ever since. I don’t get to read quite as much now as I used to but while historical mystery is my favorite genre, I enjoy all varieties of historical fiction and most types of mystery.

Are you self-published or traditionally published?

I’m traditionally published with Kensington Books.

Which genre do you write in and why?

I write historical mystery with a bit of humor. I started with this genre because it’s what I love to read. I continued because I enjoy digging into the late Victorian era, plotting a crime, then creating a story around it. I love leaving clues then leading readers in the wrong direction with a scattering of red-herrings.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

I like to think if Janet Evanovich and Edith Wharton had ever been able to collaborate, they might have come up with a main character like my Frances Wynn. (I also like to think there are no calories in food eaten while standing so what do I know?) But I’ve definitely been influenced by Evanovich’s humor and the elite world of Wharton’s books.

Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?

 I’d imagine it must have, but not in anyway I could define.

What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?

I write in drafts, so every time I have to return to page one and start the next draft I have a moment of dread that I won’t be able to fix whatever is wrong. I’ve found if I print the draft and read it through first, maybe jotting a few (hundred) notes, I realize it’s not that bad and I can tackle whatever problems it presents.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

Late afternoon is my favorite time, but I like to take a walk to think about what I need to write before I sit down and actually do it, so sometimes weather can interfere with my writing schedule.

What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?

I have a feeling this is a common answer, but I love the whole process of writing—the research, plotting, spinning a tale—it’s like traveling to another world. Marketing and promoting aren’t all bad, they can actually be fun, but they really take up a lot of time.

Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?

I do enjoy social media, but as mentioned above, it can be so time consuming. My favorite way to distract myself would be Facebook.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?

I’m retired so I’d go back to doing whatever I want, which would include plenty of reading, gardening, and maybe I’d even learn how to cook.

It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?

Pride and Prejudice – again. At least I already know how it ends in case I don’t get to finish it.

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder 600px widePlease tell us what you are working on and your latest published work.  

I’m currently working on book three of The Countess of Harleigh Mysteries. Book one, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder released in June, 2018.

The story takes place in London in 1899. Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, is a widow dealing with a high society burglar, a marriage-mad sister, and a murder. When the London season turns deadly, she fears one of her sister’s suitors may be the killer. Frances must rally her wits and a circle of gossiping friends and enemies to unmask the culprit before she becomes his next victim.

 

Buy Link – Amazon US

Buy Link – Amazon UK

If you would like to know more about Dianne and her work, please check out her links below: 

Website:  https://difreeman.com/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/DianneFreemanAuthor/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Difreeman001

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/diannefreemanwrites/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17347322.Dianne_Freeman

 

 

 

A Conversation with Author Sharon Thompson

Head shot 1 Feb 2018 copy for gravatarThis evening in the Library, I am delighted to welcome fellow Irish author, Sharon Thompson, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

Please tell us a little about yourself:

Sharon Thompson here, Irish author who is living in Donegal. I write anything I can but my debut crime novel just launched in January 2018 with leading digital publishers, Bloodhound Books UK. It was a #1 Best-seller on Kindle. Continue reading “A Conversation with Author Sharon Thompson”