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.


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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A Conversation with Author Judith Arnopp

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

You are very welcome, Judith, please introduce yourself:

JudithThank you for inviting me to your blog. I write historical fiction from my home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales. I like to put myself in the shoes of the women who lived and breathed under the rule of the Tudors, sometimes my characters are members of the Tudor family, sometimes they are subjects but they all share one thing – the fight to survive the political upheaval of the day.

The Tudor novels include: Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace; The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series); A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York; Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr; The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn; The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII.

Early in my career I wrote in the medieval/Anglo Saxon era and produced three novels, The Song of Heledd; The Forest Dwellers, and Peaceweaver. I also write nonfiction – my articles appear in several anthologies.


Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?

I write historical fiction, mostly in the Tudor period. I have always loved history so when I graduated from university it made sense to stay on a while longer and study for my masters in medieval/Tudor history. When I could find no more excuses not to leave full time education I began to write, turning my hobby into a career. My first novel, Peaceweaver, was published in 2009 and I am now writing my eleventh (I think). I live very quietly, and am a bit of a recluse so I feel much more at home writing in the Tudor period than I do in the present day.

Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

I used to read historical fiction exclusively but now I am an author I try to avoid it. I don’t want to taint my own voice or style so I read crime fiction, or classics. The book I most enjoyed last year was The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb, a rewrite of The Little Mermaid – I was totally gripped by it and sorry when it came to an end. Of course, there are always a few historical fiction titles I can’t resist and I am very excited to hear the Hilary Mantel has finally got around to finishing the sequel to Bring up the Bodies. I will certainly be reading that one.

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

Time in which to get the first draft written. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours to do everything expected of an author today. I’d love to be able to just sit and my desk and write but if you neglect marketing, social media, keeping your covers updated and producing new attractive posters your current books will cease to sell. There are so many authors these days that is has become very difficult to be ‘seen’ and it can be disheartening to pour hours into a blog post that nobody reads or comments on. I’d love to have time to deal with all these things but the older I get the shorter my working day becomes, and something has to be sacrificed. I just do what I can. If my whole morning is spent marketing, I get very few new words on the page, if I spend the morning writing, I sell fewer books. I really need a team of enthusiastic marketing managers so I can just write but I am not rich enough. I just do what I can, when I can – my working life is a desperate muddle of seeing what can be achieved before I drop – I don’t have an answer to this difficulty.

What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?

I was advised to write, write, write, to hire an editor and to never believe I was good enough. I stick to this advice. I try to write every day. I have a fabulous editor Cas Peace, who ensures my commas are in the right place and hunts down the typos. Between us we produce something worth reading. The piece of advice I pass on to new authors is to never think I am good enough. This doesn’t mean one should tear out your hair and wail that your writing is rubbish – it means to strive to be better, always see the faults and failures in your own work (then you won’t be so disappointed when others call you out on them). Do the best you can and then, next time, try to do better still. Complacency has ruined many a fine author.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

I write in the mornings while I am alert enough to think clearly. I start the day answering emails, tweeting and responding to social media messages while I fuel myself with coffee and cornflakes. Then I edit what I wrote the previous day before launching into the next part of the story. That is the plan anyway; sometimes I have to research, or life gets in the way in the form of grandchildren or appointments, or answering interview questions as I am today.

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

That is a very good question. I have no idea. I can’t really see myself doing anything else. My side line is making French hoods, coifs and medieval bags etc. which I sell in my Etsy shop so perhaps I would do that in a more serious way. I could never work in an office or a shop. I like to work from home and have become used to being my own boss. Or perhaps I’d enjoy interior design, I do a lot of that and I am running out of rooms to make over at home. Or garden design – I love my own garden and have transformed the one we have now. Come to think of it, there are heaps of other jobs I could do but I have learned that if you turn a hobby (in my case writing) into a job inevitably some of the shine is rubbed off.

If a movie was made of one of your books, who would you like to play the lead roles?

A movie! What a lovely thought. I am not very good at remembering the names of actors but I will give it a shot. If The Winchester Goose was being filmed I’d choose the following.  Francis Wareham is the main male character. He is very dashing and handsome but not very old so would need to be played by someone like, erm …Simon Woods who was Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, the Keira Knightly one.

GooseI think Alex Kingston would make a brilliant Joanie Toogood, the ‘goose’. She did a great job with Moll Flanders and I think she has all the necessary credentials.

Isabella and Evelyn Bourne are gentlewomen from court. Emma Watson would be good as Eve or maybe Jenna Coleman, the girl playing Victoria at the moment,. The actress who plays Edith in Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael, would make a lovely Bella. For Peter, who is a costermonger from Southwark it would have to be Rupert Grint – wonderful actor who played Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. Henry VIII would not be played by Jonathon Rhys Meyers (as gorgeous as he is) I think the role is better suited to Steven Waddington who played Lord Buckingham in the Tudors. As to Katherine Howard and Anna of Cleves, goodness, I have no idea. I will leave that to the directors!

If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?

This is an easy one to answer. I’d visit the Tudor period to see if I’ve got it right in my novels. I’d like to discover for myself what changed Henry VIII from a virtuous, golden prince into an embittered ‘monster’. At the start of his reign he had great potential yet something happened to change him after 1536. Some say it was a fall from a horse that damaged his mind, others that it was nurture and some believe he was born that way and the decline in his character was inevitable. I’d like to find out for myself at close quarters but not so close that he would notice me. I’d not want to end up on the scaffold.

Please tell us about your latest published work. 

SistersMy latest release is Sisters of Arden and it is set during the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign. The plight of those affected by the dissolution has always intrigued me and I enjoyed revisiting the period. The records of Arden Priory are scanty but by piecing together what little we know with wider records of the dissolution and the Pilgrimage of Grace, I have explored the closure of the abbeys and the uprisings that followed from the perspective of a group of three insignificant nuns.

Sisters of Arden follows the path of Margery, Grace and Frances, after the closure of Arden. Their adventures take them the length and breadth of Yorkshire. They move from determination to despair, from hope to disillusion but, with their world in pieces, the only thing they can do is try to rebuild it.


Arden Priory has remained unchanged for almost four hundred years. When a nameless child is abandoned at the gatehouse door, the nuns take her in and raise her as one of their own.

After the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the embittered King strikes out, and unprecedented change sweeps across the country. The bells of the great abbeys fall silent, the church fragments and the very foundation of the realm begins to crack.

Determined to preserve their way of life, Margery and the sisters of Arden join a pilgrimage thirty thousand strong and attempt to lead the heretic king back to grace.

Sisters of Arden is a story of valour, virtue and veritas.

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


Amazon Author page



Next Stop – King’s Cross Underground!

Early History of King’s Cross

The area now known as King’s Cross is reputedly an ancient crossing point of the River Fleet, and it is believed to be the site of the legendary battle between the Romans and Queen Boudicca. The queen’s resting place is said to be under Platform Nine of the present station. The locality remained predominantly rural during the 18th century and was a popular retreat for Londoners availing of its health spas and country inns. Continue reading “Next Stop – King’s Cross Underground!”

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

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.

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?

Amazon Buy Link

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 …

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.


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!).

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.


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 Wayne Turmel

Today in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Wayne Turmel, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into his life as an author.

You are very welcome Wayne, please introduce yourself:

turmelheadshotroppedHi Pam, thank you so much for letting me drop by and play in your sandbox. I live and write in Las Vegas, although I am Canadian by birth. In my life I’ve been a stand-up comedian, a car salesman, and a corporate trainer. I have been writing non-fiction for 15 years, and fiction since 2014. I’ve written three novels and multiple short stories. My latest is Acre’s Orphans, a sequel to my Crusades-era adventure Acre’s Bastard. Continue reading “A Conversation with Author Wayne Turmel”

Historical Fiction Cover Competition June 2019

What draws you to a historical fiction book cover? 

Welcome to my monthly historical fiction cover competition. I hope you find some new books and authors for your ‘must read’ list. If a cover interests you, just click on the link to learn more about the book. Continue reading “Historical Fiction Cover Competition June 2019”