Friday, 22 July 2016

'Suffering little children': the Victorian Crime of Baby-Farming

''Inspector Greig has served in the police force since he was eighteen. So he has seen and heard things that would turn the stomachs and harrow the souls of lesser men. 
It takes a lot to move him, but as he scrambles into the hole where number 9 Hind Street formerly stood, and looks down on the small bundles that are being carefully examined by two of his men, he feels an unexpected surge of emotion.
“What have we got?”
Sergeant Ben Hacket stares at him, his youthful face white and stricken. He is a country lad, new to London and to the Metropolitan Police. He hasn’t yet developed the hard carapace needed to survive the horrors he will encounter.
“Eleven dead babies, sir.”
A couple of contractors watching proceedings from the edge of the hole, turn their faces away. Greig nods, takes out his notebook and begins the laborious procedures necessary whenever a dead body - or bodies - is discovered. Upon these notes will depend the report that he will submit to the authorities and the sort of inquiries that he may be requested to undertake  as a consequence.
He writes down where the tiny bodies are lying, drawing sketches of their exact position and relation to each other. He makes notes on the old rags and newspapers covering them, and checks for any objects that may be in the vicinity that might have contributed to their deaths.
He works swiftly and in grim silence, watched by his colleagues and the shocked group of contractors. At last he closes the notebook and glances at Sergeant Hacket. 
“There will have to be a coroner’s inquest,” he says quietly.''
                                                                                              Murder & Mayhem

It isn't often that I find myself writing through my tears, but for Murder & Mayhem, the fourth book in the Stride & Cully series - shortly to be published, this was the case. One of the themes in the book revolves around the awful practice of baby farming, via the chilling discovery of murdered babies in the cellar of an abandoned house.

In Victorian times the attitude to illegitimacy and unwed mothers was harsh and punitive. The Bastardy Clause in the New Poor Laws of 1834 deliberately absolved fathers of any responsibility for their bastard children (sic) thus economically victimizing the mother in an attempt to restore female morality and discourage others from indulging in extra-marital promiscuity.

The practice of baby-farming was a direct result. Young women who had been seduced and abandoned, or raped by their employers would pay an individual to 'adopt' or 'foster' their children. The fees demanded by these individuals varied from £80 for well-off parents who wanted to keep the birth secret, to £5 for poorer women.

Once the fee was paid and the baby handed over, its fate was sealed. Starvation leading to early death. Babies were plied with alcohol, laudenum or Godfrey's Cordial - an opium based sedative, which meant they passed their short lives semi-comatose and disinclined to eat. Their milk was watered down with lime or other substances. The sole aim was to get rid of them as quickly as possible, so that more money could be made.

Often, babies were buried in the backyard, or their emaciated little bodies were wrapped in old rags and newspapers and dumped in deserted streets. Many were thrown into the Thames. Even when discovered, local coroners would probably record the deaths as 'lack of breast milk' or 'debility from birth'. Greig is lucky that in his case, the evidence of malpractice is so overwhelming that the coroner records a verdict of unlawful killing, meaning that he is free to track down the baby farmers and bring them before the courts.

Ironically there were vigilant laws in place against the mistreatment of animals, but until 1872 there were no regulations against the mistreatment of infants. Newspapers like the Daily Telegraph or the Christian Times ran scores of adverts from 'widows with a small family' who would be 'glad to accept the charge of a small child'.  Such was the horror of illegitimacy and the reverence for the sanctity of the family that it wasn't until 1897 that an amendment to the Infant Protection Act empowered local authorities to actively seek out baby farmers and remove children to a place of safety.

I find it equally unbelievable that several earlier attempts to stop baby farming were opposed by Parliament and members of the National Society of Women's Suffrage, who all saw it as an infringement on the rights of parents and an attempt by the state to interfere in ordinary citizens' lives.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The PINK SOFA meets Catherine Curzon

Catherine Curzon, alias @MadameGilflurte, Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout; professional purveyor of 18th century royal tales is no stranger to the PINK SOFA. Indeed, it is still recovering its equilibrium from her last raddled visit. However, as she has a new book out, the Sofa has dusted itself down and is delighted to host her, and any alcoholic beverages she may have about her person, once again.

''When gadding through the annals of royal history for Life in the Georgian Court one thing I discovered was that things were anything but plain sailing for our 18th century monarchs. One lady who learned this to her cost was Maria Isabel, Queen of Spain, a woman who was just 21 years old when childbirth with a grisly surgical twist claimed her life.

Maria Isabel was born an Infanta of Portugal, daughter of John VI of Portugal and his wife, Carlota Joaquina of Spain. They didn’t look for for her arranged marriage and the young last was betrothed to her maternal uncle, Ferdinand VII. Family ties be damned; he needed an heir and Maria Isabel was the ideal candidate to provide one.

The royal wedding took place on 29th September 1816, with the nineteen year old bride married to her thirty two year old uncle and set for a life in Spain. Surprisingly given how so many royal weddings went, their marriage actually got off to a happy start. Imagine then the celebrations when, just a few months after the knot was tied, news reached the respective royal families that their longed-for heir was finally on the way. Things were indeed rosy in Spain!

Sadly the happiness of the couple was short-lived and though Maria Isabel delivered a daughter, MarĂ­a Luisa Isabel, in August 1817, the little girl lived barely six months before her premature death plunged her bereft parents into mourning. Once again the court waited with baited breath for announcement of a pregnancy and once again a pregnancy was duly announced but, sadly, once again the event was not destined to be a happy one.

Maria Isabel went into labour in December 1818. For long, agonising hours she tried without success to deliver a stillborn, breeched baby until her strength deserted her. The prolonged seizures Maria Isabel suffered during the delivery left her in a coma so deep that the royal physicians believed she was dead. They immediately began to cut into the apparent corpse of the queen, intending to remove her stillborn daughter. Horrifyingly, Maria Isabel was not dead, though she soon would be.

With horror the physicians started back as the supposedly dead woman gave a cry of agony at the touch of their blades, the newly-made surgical wound in her abdomen already bleeding profusely.

So comprehensive were the queen’s injuries from both the difficult birth and the surgery that followed that she had no hope of survival. She died that same day, aged just twenty one. Her bereft husband mourned his wife deeply and built the Museo del Prado in honour of her dedication to art and antiquity, a monumental achievement that stands to this day.''

About the Author

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian and blogs on all matters 18th century at A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life.

Her work has featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has also provided additional material for the sell-out theatrical show, An Evening with Jane Austen, will she will introduce at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, in September (tickets are available here).

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

Her book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Book Depository and all good bookshops!

Life in the Georgian Court

As the glittering Hanoverian court gives birth to the British Georgian era, a golden age of royalty dawns in Europe. Houses rise and fall, births, marriages and scandals change the course of history and in France, Revolution stalks the land.

Peep behind the shutters of the opulent court of the doomed Bourbons, the absolutist powerhouse of Romanov Russia and the epoch-defining family whose kings gave their name to the era, the House of Hanover.

Behind the pomp and ceremony were men and women born into worlds of immense privilege, yet beneath the powdered wigs and robes of state were real people living lives of romance, tragedy, intrigue and eccentricity. Take a journey into the private lives of very public figures and learn of arranged marriages that turned to love or hate and scandals that rocked polite society.

Here the former wife of a king spends three decades in lonely captivity, Prinny makes scandalous eyes at the toast of the London stage and Marie Antoinette begins her last, terrible journey through Paris as her son sits alone in a forgotten prison cell.

Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world, where even a king could take nothing for granted.

Order the book at: 
Visit Catherine's blog:
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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A journey to myself: almost there.

It is one thing to be researching the past for a work of fiction, it is quite another thing to be searching it for one's own past. I sent my family name out into cyberspace, not sure what was going to come back. Not much did, to begin with. I found a reference to my father's business. I found a list of the books my mother had translated from German to English. Nothing significant.

I emailed the German Embassy to suggest that I was probably not going to be able to apply for restored citizenship after all as I was not in possession of the correct documentation. Privately I decided to give up. The Embassy's reply, when it came, was unexpected and heartening:

''Dear Ms Hedges,
if you are not in possession of the documents you can nevertheless apply according to Art. 116 and submit all documents or copies of documents you find. The application process is free of charge.
Best regards''

I resumed the search. And then someone on Facebook suggested I try Yad Vashem - the organisation that has painstakingly listed the names and last known details of every Jewish person who perished during the Holocaust. So I found their site online. I typed in the names of my paternal grandparents. I pressed send. And unbelievably, there they were on the database. Alma and Raphaele.

Their names were on pages of testimony from survivors, on a deportation list from Berlin, on a list of murdered Jews from Germany. The map accompanying their entries gave their final destination as Katowice, in Poland. The location of Auschwitz concentration camp. Under the heading: Fate, one word: murdered.

When I got over the shock of what I was looking at, I tried to recreate what I'd been told about them. It was so pitifully little. They were affluent members of their community. They were highly educated; they had read Goethe and Schiller. They had a maid called Kate who spoiled my father and his brother with sweets and cake.

I also knew that, despite the huge privations they were beginning to suffer, Alma made up a food parcel every fortnight to send to my father in England. Like all Jewish refugees, he was interned here for the duration of the war, meaning that he was forbidden to work and was dependent upon charity and meagre handouts from the state.

I thought about their final days together as the net closed upon the remaining Jewish population in Berlin. How two intellectual and cultured individuals were marched out of their comfortable family home, pushed into an over-crowded cattle truck, denied food and water and then, when they reached their destination, brutally separated from each other and summarily gassed, because the government of that time had decreed they weren't human beings any more.

And when I had stopped weeping, I thought about all the words we use to describe those other people, the ones that are not us: migrant, foreigner, immigrant, refugee. Jew, Arab, Muslim. Words that we think give us permission to hate. And I felt great sadness that nothing much has been learned.

So my journey to discover myself reaches its final stages. At the end of this month, I shall make an appointment with the German Embassy to present my documents. I hope that what I have discovered is enough to convince them to restore my family's citizenship and ensure that my descendants will forever be members of the European family to which they have a right to belong.

I will let you know their decision in due course.

Friday, 8 July 2016

A journey to myself ...ctd.

The 'welcome' that awaited my parents
To be honest, the fightback to preserve my identity post Brexit was going no further than a few rants on social media. And then last week I saw an article in the Guardian 'Family' supplement and everything changed. I did not know before reading it that I was entitled to apply for 'restored citizenship' thanks to a little known act passed at the end of WW2 which states:

 'Former German citizens who between 30th January 1933 and May 1946 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall, on application have their citizenship restored.' 
German Basic Law, Article 116, para 2

The phrase 'and their descendants' leaped out at me. The writer, also of Jewish descent, described how his feelings towards the nation who had destroyed his family had, over time, undergone a change. Like me, he had been favourably impressed by the way Angela Merkel welcomed refugees into the country, comparing her actions with the weasel words uttered by our own Prime Minister.

It is easy to point the finger at Nazi Germany and conveniently forget that this country's government did very little to help Jews fleeing persecution. The extract from the Daily Mail shows clearly the thinking of many people in the UK, an attitude that we have seen emerge once again thanks to the legitimization of xenophobia during the EU Referendum campaigning.

So here's the plan: I am going to apply for restored citizenship, given that I and my family will soon be restricted in our opportunities to work, study or live abroad by a set of mendacious politicians intent on promoting their own agenda. I have already emailed the German Embassy. Ideally, I'd like dual nationality, so that my family could take advantage of it too.

I am estranged from my family - and my parents are now dead, so I have little original documentation to support my application - no birth certificates or proof of residence, thus I am now researching on the internet, looking for any information about my father's Jewish grandparents, whose names I know, but whose faces I never got to see in this world.

Wish me luck!

To be continued ....

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A journey to myself

As most of you know, my parents, Hans and Suzanne Flatauer were German Jewish refugees - my mother came from Berlin, my father from Hanover. They met at an international Jewish conference. This was in the early 1930's, when many predicted, correctly, that Hitler's rise to power would mean persecution in some form. Although those who'd read Mein Kampf could deduce what form this was going to take; many people felt equally that the German population would see through Hitler and his thuggish rhetoric, and vote his party out.

As restrictions on the lives of Jewish citizens began, including their right to education (my mother had to leave Berlin University) and attacks on individual Jews went unpunished, they decided it was time to leave. My mother's family, Lotte and Richard Mannheim came with her and settled in Hendon, north London. My father's parents Raphael and Alma, affluent, highly intellectual Orthodox Jews, but maybe not so worldly-wise, decided to stay. They subsequently perished in one of the camps - part of Hitler's deadly 'Final Solution'.

In their absence, my parents' German nationality was taken away, as happened to all who fled Nazi persecution. They never went back, and I was born in the UK, grew up here, suffering racial taunting from time to time - age 7, I remember asking my mother why a kid in my class had called me 'A dirty Jew' when I had a bath every night. I was though, to all intents and purposes, a British citizen. I had a British passport then in time, an EU one. And so my 'story' might have run its course - until two weeks ago, when this country voted to leave the EU.

My parents were stripped of their German citizenship. Now I have been stripped of my EU citizenship. As it currently stands, I and my descendants will soon no longer be able to work, live, or study freely abroad. Once again, other people have removed at a stroke my 'identity'. But this time, I refuse to submit quietly. This time, I am going to fight back.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Saying nothing (Grandma Moments)

In the interests of making sure that she is developing 'normally', Little G has recently undergone her two year checkup with a health visitor. It went as well as could be expected. Meltdown when she had to lie on the floor to be measured. Meltdown when she was asked to perform various tasks. Meltdown whenever the health visitor came near her.

It reminded me of You must be mad's two year checkup, many years ago, during which she was given six bricks and asked to build them into a tower. Having eyed them with total disgust for a couple of seconds, she then handed each one in turn back to the health visitor and wandered off.

We don't do stupid in my family. Apparently the health visitor asked whether Little G could talk (she had refused to speak other than to protest), but was interrupted by Little G who launched into a complicated explanation as to why she was giving up on the (hard) jigsaw she was doing and why she wanted an easier one.

Evasive action is very much the name of the game right now, though Little G has always been good at avoiding answering stuff. I have been trying to find out what she gets up to at nursery since she started, age one. All I ever get told is: painting. And that she eats toast. That's it.

Recently she has advanced this to a higher level. Selective deafness has been added to the repertoire. And a recent inquiry by You must be mad as to how she spent her day elicited the response: 'I didn't do anything at all' which is now her standard reply to most questions.
Clearly a job in MI6 beckons.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dancing in the Dark

Every Spring the lake near Little G's house welcomes new arrivals. Birds fly in from Russia, the Sahara and all over Europe to spend the Summer feeding, breeding and being peered at by the local RSPB and other bird watchers.

Sometimes there are squabbles with the local ducks who have remained here over the Winter and set up nesting sites on the island, but on the whole, everyone gets on with scrounging bread from tourists and local kids, intimidating dogs, and messing up the path and lakeside grass with copious amounts of bird poo.

Over the past couple of years however, there has been a change. Pollution and the District Council's refusal to shoulder the costly burden of draining and then cleaning the lake has resulted in the water is becoming more and more polluted.

Yesterday when I walked past it, the stench emanating from the lake was really foul. The water was grey in colour and you couldn't see into the depths. Close to the edge, where children formerly played and dogs swam to retrieve sticks, curd-like scum rocked gently in the breeze.

There were still some brave ducks out in the deep part, but not many and the tourists who normally flock to the park to take pictures or eat their packed lunches by its sparkling side, had stayed away. Was this a rather unfortunate analogy? I thought so.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Eating my words

The poet Robert Frost wrote: 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both.'

I'm sure all writers can relate to these lines. We choose a path to publication: self publishing, via Amazon and its cohorts, or if we take the other road, a mainstream publisher. We choose the format our books will be read in: paperbacks or ebooks, or both.

When I started out, I wrote teen and YA fiction and I went down the mainstream publishing route via OUP & Usborne. Then, when I changed genre and age-range, I moved to Crooked Cat, a small independent publisher who published my first three Victorian Detective books.

As most of you know, last Christmas I 'went off' traditional publishers majorly and made the decision to self publish my Victorian Detectives books (see sidebar to your right). A couple of my Teen/YA books have also appeared as ebooks as I got my rights back from OUP (see also sidebar). I really enjoy the freedom I now have to play with Amazon keywords, alter pricing, do my own publicity and get a higher return for all my hard work.

However, behind the scenes I have been trying to get my rights back on the four teen Spy Girl books. These came out in the early 2000s, were very popular and were stocked in all the main bookshops (ah, the days of Borders!) and libraries.

Children's fiction is a different 'road' to adult fiction. It is essential to be visible. To have 'real books' in shops, to be on school and public library shelves. Children's writers have to be a more visual presence generally. In the Spy Girl days I used to visit loads of schools and do book talks. I appeared at the Edinburgh & Cheltenham Literary Festivals.

However, publishers change their focus and Usborne decided in 2008 that they didn't want to foreground the series any longer. They chose to change the lovely shiny covers for cheaper but less attractive ones, and sales dropped drastically. That is their right as publishers in a fast moving marketplace.

Eighteen months ago I decided to try to get Usborne either to republish the four books with nicer covers, or give me my rights back. It has taken a LONG LONG time for them to respond to my many emails - but I am delighted to share that I now have those rights back. And the icing on the cake? Accent Press have signed up all five books for their new YA list.

Hang on Carol .... FIVE? Yes! There was always a fifth book, which was never read or published by Usborne. Accent Press will be publishing it. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that the redoubtable Jazmin Dawson will be crime-fighting and world-defying once again!

The books will be coming out in 2017. The fifth one in the summer, the others filtering in behind it to build the series. Thy will be published in book format and also ebook. They will have a new series name, new covers, but the same titles (the titles are mine). So currently, I am revisiting the previously published four, rewriting, editing and just changing them subtly so that they are 'new'.

I shall continue to self-publish the Stride and Cully books: the next one Murder & Mayhem will be out in the Autumn. To return to Mr Frost: I am about to take both roads through the yellow wood ... and I hope it will make all the difference.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Sugar, sugar (Grandma moments)

Ever since she was born, Little G has been on a 'low sugar' diet. Chocolate and sweets, cake, desserts and sweetened drinks have been rationed or not introduced. This is mainly because she is not a big fan of brushing her teeth, and will only do it reluctantly and while watching a Frozen video on You must be mad's phone.

Plus we have all seen the news clips of very small children having to have their rotten milk teeth pulled out in hospital. Little G hasn't seen them, of course, but the rest of us have been suitably scared. Mind you, as the wife of a diabetic, I am amazed by the amount of hidden sugar that lurks in most food nowadays. Bread, fish fingers, pies all contain sugar - sometimes disguised as dextrose, maltose or anything else ending in 'ose'.

However Little G is now nearly two and a quarter, and the odd sugary treat comes her way in the form of ice cream, the occasional chocolate penny, and homemade or otherwise cake. Interestingly, if she has too much sugary food, she gets very hyper, which I had never witnessed until last week, when I rashly gave her a big jammy biscuit mid-afternoon for her snack.

Having licked out all the jam, we then set off to get the bus back home. I think it was the loud singing that alerted me. Followed by the 'I don't want this toy throwing', and the point blank refusal to sit quietly and look at the nice cars. Little Hyde was making her presence known.

I wondered fleetingly as I hauled her noisily off the bus, what the rest of the passengers were thinking. I wanted to turn round and tell them: sugar rush! But it made me ponder how many of the badly behaved fractitious children I see every day are suffering from sugar overload.

Maybe a low sugar diet might be better than a dose of Ritalin and a diagnosis of some behavioural problem that will follow them round for the rest of their life? Just a thought.

9 REALLY useful tips for writers

A writer. Not me

1. If possible, write on something that is NOT connected to the internet. That way you aren't tempted to check Facebook/Twitter every 5 minutes. Or less.

2. If you are writing on an internet-free laptop, make sure it isn't in the same room as the internet connected one (see 1).

3. If you can't accomplish 1 and 2 for physical/financial reasons, try to allocate yourself specific times of the day to Tweet/update your Facebook. Do not weaken.

4. Unless specific, dickering about on Google is not 'research'.

5. Checking your Amazon rating and sales figures every two days is liable to lead to suicidal feelings. Ditto reading posts from other writers who do this.

6. Ditto reading the 'I wrote a whole novel today - go me!' claims on social media

7. There is no such thing as 'Writer's Block', it is just a posh excuse for not writing.

8. The only way to write a book is to write a book.

9. If you are not constantly awash with doubt/fear/insecurity/self-loathing/envy/anxiety/panic, you probably aren't a writer.