Writing fiction, I have discovered, is very different from writing someone’s story.
The story idea for my first novel came to me when I spent Christmas in Saltburn, a town that had once been a poor fishing hamlet and then when the railroads were built, a new seaside resort, popular with the newly rich industrialists and Northern gentry of Victorian England.
I thought of the economically impoverished families who had once lived there and their feelings when the wealthy arrived and they were confronted by a totally different way of life, which looked down on them, the original inhabitants. It was then that the glimmer of an idea for the book came to me.
Over the months I struggled to put it into words. My agent was inundated with draft after draft of my opening chapters. Chapters that pleased me; but alas, not her. Her rejection of my carefully crafted efforts were relayed kindly by email, and the delete button and my fingers became very well acquainted. But I persevered.
Hours of painstaking research was done. How, I asked myself, did writers cope before Google?
As I delved deeper and deeper old newspaper articles opened up for me. In them the bravery of both men and women, now called the Reformers, came to light. They were the ones that got the laws in England changed to protect the poor and the vulnerable and most importantly to me, to have the age of consent raised from twelve to sixteen.
I learnt that underneath the veneer of Victorian respectability lay a completely different story. London then, was the sex capital of the world. Now Dickens might have made us aware of child labour, but not of children sold and trafficked abroad. It was in researching those achieves that I found out about Mrs Jefferies the notorious brothel owner and white child slaver.
I downloaded a book written in the 1869 by James Greenwood. I admit I struggled with the Victorian style of writing, but I saw his anger at the injustices of the treatment of the poor, his sympathy for women left with little option but to sell themselves and the hopelessness of those who, with the coming of machinery, were put out of work. Not all the research I did was doom and gloom though-I also had access to books on the fashions of that time leant to me by a kind friend. We certainly have an easier time getting dressed now then our great grandmothers did! I read about the transport of that time even visually explored numerous old pubs in Saltburn and London. Using much of the information I had gathered, I began to weave a story combining both fact and fiction of two girls from completely different backgrounds.
They meet in Saltburn when it is a very fashionable northern seaside resort. Both are taken to Mary Jefferies’ establishment, a brothel catering for some of the most powerful men, not just in England but in Europe as well. One girl, Agnes, a fisherman’s daughter, left willingly because she wanted to be reunited with her sister. The other child, Emily, is an heiress and is kidnapped because of her exceptional beauty. Mrs Jefferies is horrified that a girl from one of England’s richest families has been brought to her and initially plans to kill them. For with the unequal laws for the rich and the poor, the taking of a child from the lower classes was a misdemeanour, but the taking of an heiress was classified as a felony As you can surmise I clearly did not let that happen, otherwise there would be no story!
My completed novel is with the copy editor and will be available towards the middle of July. (Date to announced)