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Pretty Maids All In A Row – Now available in paperback and eBook on Amazon: CLICK HERE“Toni Maguire is very good indeed at creating living backdrops, through beautiful descriptions of the characters’ surroundings and of the characters themselves. Mrs Jefferies sent shivers down my spine, as did her appalling and almost unbelievable treatment of the children she buys and sells. This novel truly shows the cruelly grimy underbelly of Victorian society. It’s a brilliant snapshot of the nineteenth century — the neat contrast between the lives of the rich and the existences of the poor, illustrated in Emily and Agnes: there is an almost inconceivably vast gulf between them.” – Hazel Orme, Editor
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)
Where was the desk, the one I would be sitting behind, in reception? The one where, dressed in immaculate clothes, I would greet new arrivals. The one with a bell that I, with newly polished nails and freshly coiffed hair, would press to summon a porter! The one with a huge display of flowers that perfumed the air.
Well it was certainly not where I was standing on a tiled floor, inhaling the stink of spilt beer and stale cigarettes.
Nor was the woman, short, big busted and unsmiling, who introduced herself as the manager, going to give me the warm welcome I was expecting. No words expressing solicitous concern, that I must be tired and hungry, were going to pass through her lips I could see.
“Here Marion,” she called, “take the new girl to her room.”
A tall blonde woman – dark roots, red lipstick, appeared from the dim interior.
“You can show her the ropes. She can work with you”.
“Any experience?” asked my escort.
“We get them green all right from Ireland”.
How green, I was just to find out.
“Well, have you ever worked in a bar before? Pulled pints?”
Maybe the shabbiness of my suitcase was giving the wrong impression; better put her right, I thought.
“No. Why? I am the new receptionist,” a reply that was met with derisive laughter.
“No you are not love. That agency’s been telling you porky pies. Told the last one we wanted a trainee manager. Do you girls never look at what you sign?”
Clearly not closely enough.
“You,” said my co worker a mere hour later, “can wash the floor, clean behind the bar, polish all the mirrors and …” these instructions she rattled off every day for a week.
Pay day. I thought on the seventh day.
“Not for you,” said the manager, “first ticket to pay for, then a week in hand”.
No, I decided. There was a sales representative on his way to Birmingham; a city like London with streets paved with gold. He could help me find work. He had an aunt with a room to rent.
“Ah Auntie’s away,” he told me as the city’s outskirts came into view. “You’ll have to share my bed.”
An offer, I declined.
“Well then, there’s the bus stop,” and both my suitcase and myself were unceremoniously dumped on the pavement.
“Good luck” he said. His tone telling me I would need it.
“Where to?” asked the bus conductor?
To be continued…