A Conversation with Historical Fiction Author, Carol Hedges

Today in the library I have a very special guest. I happen to be a huge fan of Carol’s Victorian crime series, so I am really pleased to share this interview with you.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
 
I write Victorian crime fiction. I used to write teenage fiction, until the market got flooded by celebs, and I decided to switch genre. As I read Victorian authors, like Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, etc., and specialized in this era at university, it seemed a natural choice. My series ‘The Victorian Detectives’ is set in 1860s London … mainly because the 1880s is a rather crowded field. I have two main detectives, DI Leo Stride and DS Jack Cully, and a host of other members of Scotland Yard’s Detective Division, plus the populace of London who wander in and out of the books, causing havoc.
 

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

I don’t think you CAN be a writer unless you are a reader. I always have a couple of books on the go. One is usually a research book on some aspect of the Victorian era (currently a book on Lunatic Asylums). Then, true to my genre, I have a couple of crime novels to read. I enjoy Philip Kerr, Kate Atkinson (the Jackson Brodie books), Robert Harris, Donna Leon, Tobias Hill. I’ll sometimes dip into a writer I’ve never come across, if recommended. I like series best ~ you know if you’ve enjoyed one, there are more to follow.

 
Are you a self-published/traditional or hybrid author?
I used to be published by Usborne, when I wrote YA. Now, I am entirely self-published, using Amazon as a platform. My publishing name is Little G Books (named after my granddaughter). I publish in ebook and paperback formats, and I use a professional cover artist to do my wonderful covers. It is definitely worth paying out for good covers. The advantages of self-publishing, for me, is that I have control over pricing, platforms and publicity. The disadvantages are that few mainstream bookshops will take Amazon-generated fiction. But then, as most of my sales come via ebooks, that isn’t a big problem. I don’t ‘owe’ an agent 12% of my earnings, nor a publisher 25%! All good as far as I am concerned.
 
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
My English teacher has probably been my greatest influence, which shows how important schooldays are. Mrs Myles, who taught me in Years 7 & 8, loved the writing process. She used to set us ‘compositions’ every week, giving us a title and then seeing what we produced. It stopped me being terrified of the blank page, and made me think in all sorts of directions. I am so upset that the modern curriculum no longer gives space for free creative writing! I wonder how many writers of the future are being stifled.
 
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
I am a TERRIBLE procrastinator. Given the choice, I’d rather dust behind the fridge than actually write. I have learned, though, to be disciplined, as I know that as soon as I sit down at my computer to write, I will just get on with it … and time will flash by as I do. I gather, from ‘fessing up’ to this on social media, that I am definitely not alone.
 
What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?
I remember reading somewhere that there is no such thing as ‘writer’s block’ ~ it is just a fancy excuse for not writing. Yes. Ouch!
 
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I like writing in the late morning … and then again late afternoon. If I am editing, I can do it at any time, but I seem to be drawn towards those particular times of day. I do NOT set myself any word limits; if I manage a page or five pages, that is enough. Distractions include: cat taking over writing chair, fish cavorting in the pond below my window and the local goldfinch thug-pack visiting the bird feeders.
 
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?
I would love to go back to my fictional period: the 1860s. Not sure who I’d be ~ possibly not one of the starving poor, but I’d like to stand in Oxford Street and just watch the passing traffic and people. However much research you do, there is so much more you miss. What did it SMELL like? How did the people SOUND? What were their faces like? We know that any TV/film adaptation of a Victorian novel cannot ever be accurate ~ I find I shout at Ripper Street and The Woman in White, etc., as I know they are presenting a false image. Where are the rotten teeth? The smallpox marks? The clothes are always far too clean, as are the streets. I’d so love to go back, for 24 hours, and see what it was really like. And then come back and write about it!
 
Please tell us about your latest published work. 
Intrigue & Infamy is the 7th book in The Victorian Detectives series. I am currently working on the 8th, Fame & Fortune, to be published later this year.
 
It is 1866, the end of a long hot summer in Victorian London, and the inhabitants are seething with discontent. Much of it is aimed at the foreign population living in the city. So when a well-reputed Jewish tailoring business is set aflame, and the body of the owner is discovered inside, Detective Inspector Lachlan Grieg suspects a link to various other attacks being carried out across the city, and to a vicious letter campaign being conducted in the newspapers. Can he discover who is behind the attacks before more people perish?

 

Elsewhere, Giovanni Bellini arrives in England to tutor the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Haddon, ex-MP and City financier. But what are Bellini’s links to a dangerous Italian radical living in secret exile in London, and to beautiful Juliana Silverton, engaged to Harry Haddon, the heir to the family fortune?

Romance and racism, murder and mishap share centre stage in this seventh exciting book in the Victorian Detectives series.  Buy Link

Social Media Links:
Twitter: @carolJhedges

1886 LADIES’ FASHION

Peterson's Magazine Sept 1886

The mid 1880s were notable for the increasing size of bustles, often made of steel with horsehair padding. Some were even collapsible to enable ladies to sit down! Intricate folds of fabric were draped over these structures, adding even  more volume.

Peterson's Magazine Jan 1886

Postcard_depicting_Liane_de_Pougy,_dated_1886
Liane de Pougy, French Actress 1886

Drama was the order of the day with exaggerated silhouettes, lush and expensive fabric and highly decorative details. Long trains on evening dresses, particularly for married women, and v-necklines were also extremely popular.

Patterned fabric added drama, ranging from checks, plaids to stripes. Colour, as ever, played an important part with strongly contrasting colours, such as stripes of red and blue being utilised. Although, some ladies preferred more muted colours.

And the bling? That was provided by lots of silk ribbon, braiding, tassels and beading. Embroidery incorporating precious stones and metallics gave dresses that extra pizzazz.

In No Stone Unturned, my heroine Lucy Lawrence attends a Christmas Eve banquet at her family home. This is her impression of the fashionable people present:

“It was as if the salon had been invaded by a flock of exotic birds, each displaying their plumage in a kaleidoscope of colour. Every conceivable shade of silk, satin and velvet was on display and it appeared likely the jewellery boxes of Yorkshire had been emptied for the occasion. It almost hurt to look upon so much glitter and sparkle in such a confined space. Thankfully, the gentlemen in full evening dress were perfect foils for their more vibrant companions.”

♠♠♠♠♠

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

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?

Amazon Buy Link

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!”

The Victorian Christmas

Who doesn’t love Christmas traditions? And yet the way we celebrate the season now is relatively new. Before Queen Victoria’s time, Christmas was barely celebrated at all and gift giving was usually done at the New Year.

Contrary to popular belief, Mr Charles Dickens did not invent Christmas. However, he took the idea and ran with it, creating one of the most iconic ghost stories of our time, A Christmas Carol. Most of us associate the book, and the marvellous film versions of it, with a typical Victorian Christmas, but the commercialisation of the season came about due to two main influences; Queen Victoria marrying her German first cousin, Prince Albert; and the mass production of cheap goods due to the Industrial Revolution.

So, what did the Victorians do for our Christmas traditions?

Mother and daughter prepare the Christmas tree
Illustration Credit: ©iStock.com/clu

The Christmas Tree

Prince Albert brought many of the German Christmas traditions with him to England, including the Christmas tree. The first one was erected in Windsor Castle in 1841 and when the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree in 1848, the public went crazy for the idea. It wasn’t long before every home had a tree decked with homemade decorations and small gifts. The ‘traditional’ tree as we know it, free-standing on the floor, evolved with the German tradition of table-top Christmas trees.

Christmas Gifts & Santa Claus

Gradually as the season gained popularity, the exchange of gifts moved from the New Year to Christmas. Initially these were small items such as fruit, nuts, sweets and small handmade gifts which were hung on the Christmas tree. However, as gift giving became more popular, and the gifts became bigger, they moved under the tree.

As technology advanced, mass production became the norm in all industries and toy manufacture was no different. Cheap dolls, bears and clock-work toys were suddenly affordable for middle-class families with their new-found disposable income. However, in poorer households, a child would usually get an apple or an orange and maybe a few nuts.

Normally associated with the giving of gifts, is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. An old English midwinter festival featured Father Christmas who was normally dressed in green. He first appeared in the mid 17th century but fell foul of the Puritan controlled English government who legislated against Christmas, considering it papist! However, the origins of Santa Claus or St Nicholas were Dutch (Sinter Klaas in Holland). The American myth of Santa arrived in the 1850s with Father Christmas taking on Santa’s attributes. By the 1880s, the nocturnal visitor was referred to as both Santa Claus and Father Christmas.

The Christmas Cracker

Another item which was mass produced was the Christmas cracker. A sweetshop owner by the name of Tom Smith had the idea in the 1840s, having been inspired by the French tradition of wrapping sweets in twists of paper. By the 1860s, he had perfected the explosive bang and the Christmas cracker was soon a very popular item in Victorian homes.

The Christmas Card

Christmas greetings card, 1885
Illustration credit: ©iStock.com/Whitemay

Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), commissioned the artist J.C. Horsley to design a festive scene for his seasonal greeting cards in 1843. He had 1,000 printed and the left-over cards were sold to the public. Luckily, Rowland Hill had introduced the “Penny Post” in Britain in 1840, however, the price of one shilling for the cards meant they were not really accessible to most ordinary people. As a result, children were encouraged to make their own Christmas cards at home.

But industrialisation of colour printing technology quickly became more advanced and the price of card production dropped significantly. The popularity of sending cards was helped when a halfpenny postage rate was introduced in 1870 as a result of the efficiencies brought about by the vast network of railways. By the 1880s, the sending of cards had become hugely popular, with 11.5 million cards produced in 1880 alone.

Christmas Dinner

The origins of the meal date back to the Middle Ages but it was the Victorians who developed it to what it is today. The traditional meat at Christmas had been boar (in Medieval times) then goose and beef, but as the well-to-do Victorians began to consume turkey instead, the lower classes followed suit. Plum pudding and mince pies also gained huge popularity at this time. The Victorian love of lengthy meals with many courses still has echoes in our Christmas dinners today, when we generally eat and drink far too much.

19th century engraving of children 'The Christmas Carollers'; Artist Robert Barnes, engraver Joseph Swain; Victorian Christmas 1890
Illustration credit: ©iStock.com/Cannasue

Christmas Entertainment

Christmas was seen by the Victorians as a time for family and friends and they entertained lavishly. After dinner, they would sit around the piano and sing or play parlour games. Rail travel meant that loved ones from far and wide could come home to enjoy Christmas with the family.

Carols and caroling were extremely popular although not new by any means, having originated from the ‘waits’, an old English tradition of going from house to house and singing in exchange for food. The Victorians, revived the popularity of carols, with the first collection published in 1833. Most of the carols we sing today are ‘new’ versions of old carols which the Victorians adapted to suit their taste.

***

It was the Victorian love of homecoming and the joy of family at Yuletide which partly inspired my novelette, Christmas at Malton Manor.

Christmas At Malton Manor CoverChristmas 1884: Home is where the heart is …

Kate Hamilton is companion to the dullest and meanest woman in England, but she is looking forward to going home for Christmas and her sister Mary’s wedding. When her employer refuses to release her, Colonel Robert Woodgate comes to the rescue.

Robert now owns Malton Manor, Kate’s old home in the village of Malton. Recently returned from the Boer War and recovering from his injuries, Robert has been reclusive and morose. Clashing several times over his plans and sweeping changes in the village, their relationship has always been tempestuous.

But when Kate returns to Malton, she discovers her sister’s wedding is to take place at Malton Manor and everyone is convinced the Colonel has an ulterior motive. Can Kate resist the lure of her old home and the memories it holds? And does she have the courage to break down Robert’s defences to find happiness at last?

Buy Link: http://MyBook.to/Malton

 

I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The O’Donovan Saga: Tales of 19th Century Ireland & America

One of the greatest joys for me since stepping into the publishing world, has been the opportunity to meet and befriend fellow authors, particularly those who write historical fiction. So I am delighted this evening to host Irish-American author, Patricia Hopper Patteson. Earlier this year, Patricia and I met for the first time, face-to-face, on one of her trips home to Dublin. I also had the opportunity to attend Patricia’s Irish book launch for Corrib Red. Continue reading “The O’Donovan Saga: Tales of 19th Century Ireland & America”

A Conversation in the Library with Author Nicola Cassidy

Thanks so much to fellow writer Pam O'Shea for comingOnly a few weeks’ ago, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of December Girl, the debut novel of fellow Irish historical fiction author, Nicola Cassidy. I’m a few chapters in and really loving this story. It grabs your attention straight away – I read the first chapter with my heart pounding!

Nicola has found some time in her very busy life to come along and  join me in the library this evening to share some insights into her life as an author. Continue reading “A Conversation in the Library with Author Nicola Cassidy”