Friday, 20 November 2015

Revisiting A Shelved Manuscript

I have this mutual, yet unspoken agreement with my agent, where I send her manuscripts for submission and whatever feedback she receives is passed on to me. She never comments on a story herself, or makes suggestions as to how to improve it.

I admit I did ask her once what she thought of a particular story of mine and her response was, 'If I didn't think you could write I wouldn't be representing you.' In other words I must stop fishing for compliments and just keep writing. OK Message received.

In fact I regard this as a strength as an author friend of mine once completely rewrote a novel at the instigation of her agent, who subsequently failed to sell the book. Anyway, I digress - a couple of years ago I sent my agent my first attempt at an historical cosy mystery. I was also working on an historical biographical at the time, one which was accepted for publication, so that first manuscript was forgotten.

Some time later, I asked my agent about this story, which she tactfully explained was 'a weaker' novel, and that she had chosen to submit the subsequent manuscript instead. I am easily discouraged, so I mentally shelved the story and wrote another book, which was also accepted for publication. My agent has never referred to the original manuscript again, and neither have I - probably much to her relief.

I found that original manuscript the other day and expected to experience that cringing embarrassment one gets when reading an old piece of work when your writing skills have moved on. Strangely, I was drawn into the place and time as I reacquainted myself with the characters. Could this story be improved by applying the general rules of novel writing - i.e. insert more tension, raise the stakes and bring in more emotion?

I still feel the the bare bones are good, but the story needs some spark. I am reluctant to abandon it altogether, so maybe this one deserves some attention? 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Evelina Hospital For Sick Children, Southwark

My research for the fourth novel in the Flora Maguire Mysteries series brought my amateur sleuth  to the year 1904 - the year the Entente Cordial with France was signed, and Frederick Henry Royce meets with Charles Stewart Rolls to start their exclusive motor car factory.  I discovered the Evelina Hospital in Quilp Street off the Southwark Bridge Road in one of the poorest areas in Victorian London.

Evalina Rothschild
In December, 1866, Evelina de Rothschild, [Evy] the English,wife of Austrian Baron Ferdinand James Anselm de Rothschild, gave birth to a premature son following a railway accident. The baby was stillborn and Evelina died later the same day. In her memory, Ferdinand built, equipped and endowed the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children.

That area of Southwark was the scene of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist, where Bill Sykes is chased to his death in The Rookery.  The pollution from the docks, leather works, spice wharves and factories combined with poor sanitation to make children die of infectious diseases whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis were rife, although the hospital recovery rate was good. Child mortality remained high, mainly due to the weakened state of the children brought in and the fact they returned to the same conditions on discharge.

Charles Booth's Survey of London wrote of the area in 1899:

'This bit is known as The Grottos: many children [in the streets], all well fed but dirty; with sores on faces: clothes ragged, too large; too small, windows broken; patched : there may be a few thieves ; prostitutes but Barton does not know them as such : they make their appearance in the police court for drunks and assaults.'

The Evelina opened in June 1869 in a four storey building with 30 beds, expanding quickly to 100. The basement contained the kitchens and offices, while the ground floor had a Board Room and accommodation for the Matron and the medical staff.  Two floors were devoted to the wards and the top floor contained dormitories for the nurses and servants, as well as a small quarantine ward.  There was a separate kitchen for the preparation of food for Jewish patients. Outbuildings contained the wash-house, a disinfecting oven and a post-mortem room, while a detached wing held the dispensary and the Out-Patients Department.

A Ward in the Evalina Hospital c1900. Reproduced from The Evalina: the History of a London 
Children's Hospital, 1869-1969, by Harold Priestley.
The wards were 100 feet long, each containing four fireplaces so that the space could be sectioned off into smaller rooms if needed.  A small ward with its own kitchen was set apart for Jewish children; as well as a play room, and an isolation room for children with whooping cough; claimed to be the only one of its kind in London when it opened in 1877.

During its second year, the hospital charged 1d for each bottle of medicine, and began to recruit trainee nurses.  Infants under two years 'should be refused save under very exceptional circumstances', but numbers continued to grow, and the rule was rescinded. By 1900 babies and toddlers accounted for 50% of all admissions.

A subscription scheme was established where those who promised 30 guineas a year or more could have a cot named after them. They were allowed to recommend patients for admission or out patient treatment, the number determined by the size of their donation. Even with a charity health was still bought.
Matron Alice Cross

The hospital always struggled for funds, and by 1900, only 60 beds were in use, although the hospital treated 20,000 patients a year .

Unlike Great Ormond Street, which had its own convalescent home, the Evelina relied on a network of seaside and country homes, places paid for through a special fund.

A local newspaper described the dilemma of local children:
'It is piteous … to see the little ones … return to the dark, unfurnished, overcrowded rooms … One of the nurses told us the pity she felt [when] she met a child who had not long left her care clinging to a drunken mother's skirts, and following her zigzag plunges from one side of the street to the other'.

Alice Cross was appointed Matron in 1879, though nothing is known about her other than she trained at St Bartholomew's, and some of London's best respected physicians and surgeons offered their services to the Evelina.

In 1946, The National Health Service merged the Evelina into Guy's Hospital and in the early 70’s, the building on Southwark Bridge Road was closed and the hospital moved onto the Guy's site and became the children's ward - its name and independence lost. In 2005, a new building was opened across the road from St Thomas's Hospital, named Evelina London Children’s Hospital, dominated by a huge glass atrium and multiple play areas.

It's nice to know Baron Rothchild's tribute to his lost wife and son continues.
Evelina Hospital for Sick Children

Historic Hospital Admissions Records Project  - Which has some biographies of some of the children admitted to the Evelina and details about their families.

The Old Operating Theatre

The Woulfes of Loxsbeare

The Rebel's Daughter and The Goldsmith's Wife 
now available in paperback

Helena Woulfe's adventures in 17th Century Devon and London during the days of the Monmouth Rebellion and The Glorious Revolution

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Review-The Lost Child by Ann Troup


Mandy Miller disappeared from Hallow’s End when she was just 3 years old. She was never found.
Thirty years on, Elaine Ellis is carrying her mother’s ashes back to Hallow’s End to scatter them in the place that she once called home. Elaine has never been there, but it’s the only place Jean talked about while she was growing up – so it seems as good a place as any.
As Elaine settles into her holiday cottage in the peaceful Devonshire village, she gets to know the locals; family she never knew she had, eccentric and old-fashioned gentry, and new friends where she would least expect them. But she is intrigued by the tale of the missing girl that the village still carries at its heart, and which somehow continues to overshadow them all. Little does she know how much more involved in the mystery she will become…


This story opens with a wonderful description of Elaine driving to a holiday home with the ashes of her mother Jean, in the car – intending to scatter them at Hallows End where Jean once lived.

Elaine was difficult to engage with at first, but it soon becomes clear that her upbringing has unusual in that she has been closeted in a semi-abusive relationship with her controlling mother – as a result she is na├»ve, insecure and introverted. She relishes the final breaking of the bond with Jean, but also feels guilty about it and has to fight to let her go mentally.

I loved the use of Jean’s ashes as a constant presence insinuating themselves into the world of the living as if unwilling to let go. Slightly creepy and  brilliantly handled although I don’t think it was meant to be a paranormal element as some reviewers believed, more a constant and physical reminder of Jean’s insidious influence. 

The character of Brodie, who latches onto Elaine, is a fifteen-year-old girl from a council estate who hid behind baggy clothes and had learned very early that all grownups in her life have lied to her and will always let her down. Yet the child in her refuses to stop loving them no matter how they behave. The drunken mother, the avaricious sister, the disinterested brother. She latches onto Elaine and they have a unique mother/child relationship which keeps alternating.

The story isn’t so much about who the missing Mandy Miller is, but what happens to the lives of those involved when the truth is revealed. An unusual, beautifully written mystery

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Tower Subway

The most enjoyable thing about historical research, is the fascinating facts about London I have discovered which supply perfect fodder for my novels. One I will definitely add to my Flora Maguire Mystery series is the existence of the second oldest tunnel under the Thames built during Victorian Times.

In 1863, an attempt to bridge the river failed due to ‘the great height required for the passage of ships’ A steam ferry service was also abandoned as it would have disrupted the heavy amount of shipping which used the river in the mid-19th Century.
Tower Hill Entrance

The Tower Subway ran between Tower Hill on the north side of the river, to Vine Lane, just west of where Tower Bridge stands now on the south bank. Built using a method similar to Isambard Brunel, i.e a wrought iron tunnelling shield bored through a layer of clay just below the river bed. Budget restrictions meant the tunnel was only 7 feet in diameter and 1320 feet long.

The tunnel progressed at a rate of 9ft every twenty four hours and was completed in just over a year, designed to take a narrow-gauge cable-hauled railway powered by a static steam engine. Passenger lifts to the surface and a cable car were powered by a 4hp stationary steam engine.
From behind a hoarding at Tower Hill, passengers would descend by lift into a vaulted and well lit area of about fourteen feet square designated as a waiting room. Then shuttled twelve at a time in a cable car across the river on a journey which took about 70 seconds to Vine Street, where the shaft was slightly shallower, a few minutes’ walk from London Bridge Station.

For the first hundred feet or so the omnibus was pulled by a rope fixed to a stationary engine; then descended by its own velocity down an incline and up the incline on the other side to the foot of the shaft.
The Waiting Room

Priority of ascent was given to first class passengers, who paid two pence, while the second-class passengers paid one penny. I am not sure if this means that the extra money meant you could jump the queue and leave the ‘Halfpenny’ crowd waiting a lot longer than the designated five minutes for the entire process, but that was probably how it worked.

Collins' Guide to London and Neighbourhood stated: Those, however, who are afflicted with chest complaints should not attempt to make use of it, owing to the extreme closeness of the atmosphere and the limited space in the tube, which renders stooping necessary. It is open from 5.30 AM. till midnight.

The service proved so uneconomical, it lasted only from its opening in August 1870, until the company went into receivership that November. The cable car and tracks were removed and the tunnel turned into a pedestrian walkway the following year. Gas lighting was provided, with stoneware tiles replacing the wooden planks. The lifts were replaced by spiral staircases; the one on Tower Bridge side was 96 steps. 20,000 people a week braved the dark, dank and claustrophobic tunnels to walk beneath the Thames at a cost of a halfpenny each way.

Omnibus Carriager
Tower Bridge was opened in 1894, when crossing by bridge in the open air was free, the toll tunnel was abandoned, then eventually closed for good.

At its height, the subway carried a million foot passengers a year. The tunnel was sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company for hydraulic tubes and water mains which is what it is used for today.

During WWII, the tunnel was badly damaged when a German bomb landed in the Thames, although the tunnel lining was not penetrated.

The Tower Subway is not open to the public, but the northern entrance still exists at Tower Hill, next to the Tower of London ticket office. The entrance is not original, but a replacement built in the 1920's. Strangely, English Heritage does not feel Tower Subway does not meet the criteria for listing as an historical building.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
 .........A curious feat of engineering skill, in the shape of an iron tube seven feet in diameter driven through the bed of the Thames between Great Tower-hill and Vine-street. The original intention was to have passengers drawn backwards and forwards in a small tram omnibus. This, however, was found unremunerative, and the rails having been taken up the tunnel has since been open as a footway. Unfortunately, however, after subtracting from its diameter the amount necessary to afford a sufficient width of platform, there is not much head-room left, and it is not advisable for any but the very briefest of Her Majesty’s lieges to attempt the passage in high-heeled boots, or with a hat to which he attaches any particular value. It has, however, one admirable quality, that of having cost remarkably little in construction. 


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