Saturday, 24 September 2016

Inspiration or Perspiration? #Amwriting


So here we are, almost the end of September, and I am trying not to put the central heating on, as last year I spent my meagre heating allowance at least 20 time over. The price of oil is supposed to be lower than at any time over the past few years, yet I spend every penny I earn on keeping warm enough to earn the money to spend on keeping warm. 

Paradoxical world.

As writers, we are often asked (well, I am) how the creative process of writing a book happens. What I think people desperately want to hear is the apocryphal Enid Blyton response on the lines of: I just wander into my little writing place, and suddenly, all sorts of lovely characters and plots tiptoe through the mental bluebells straight into my mind fully formed, and all I have to do is write them down and hey presto! a book appears. In other words, writing is easy and you, interested interlocutor, could easily do it too.

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. At least not for this little duck. In another of these paradoxes, I find that creativity only occurs when disciplinary structures are applied. Rigorously. In other words, I have to make myself sit at the keyboard, regularly, and write. I can fantasize about the book all I want, imagine the amazing prose that I will write when I get round to it, but until my rear end and the chair are brought into contact, and remain in contact for long periods of time, nothing creative happens.

Sure, there are moments, and flashes of inspiration, when one stares at the screen, and wonders whether the Writing Fairy has just made a house call, but on the whole, these episodes only tend to emerge out of a period of just slogging away at the writing process. And I should know, having just topped 70 thousand words of the next Victorian novel, purely by dint of making myself sit down at the eMac every day and write it.

An article in the Guardian recently lifted the lid on how to be a successful author. No secret, sadly. A lot of labour and a bit of luck. Heavy on the former. As Wm Blake remarked: Without contraries is no progression. Ain't that the truth!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Pitfalls & Pratfalls of Self-Publishing an Ebook


Anecdotally, it is very easy to publish an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Anecdotally, it is as easy as uploading a post to Facebook. Yep. If you believe the anecdoters. More fool you if you do. Let me enlighten you, gentle blog reader. 

The story starts with a writer, an eMac, and a newly finished novel called Murder & Mayhem ...

* Copy novel onto memory stick and take down to office computer. Spellcheck, because eMac has limited vocabulary. Go through whole book adjusting spaces and paragraphs which have gone awry in short distance from upstairs to downstairs. As things do.

* Format novel** as word file and send out to first editor.

* Novel returns. Deal with issues arising.

* Send novel to second editor.

* Ditto

* Novel is proof read.

* Ditto

* Apparently flawless novel is turned into epub file and transferred onto BH's iPad for final checking.

* A few small formatting mistakes are found in the transfer and dealt with.

* Send now definitely flawless novel as mobi file to select group of reviewers for pre-reading.

* Deal with small formatting mistakes spotted by one eagle-eyed reviewer.

* Go onto Kindle Bookshelf and do all the 'back of house stuff' ready for upload. This involves    uploading cover, writing blurb, deciding on Amazon categories, keywords, pricing etc.

* Upload 'temporary book' so that can offer it for pre-order.

* Amazon sends email that 'real book' must be uploaded in 10 days time. Ignore it.

* Family stuff happens.

* Amazon sends second email warning that if book not uploaded by agreed date, will remove book, writer, reputation and probably send goons round to burn down house.

* Fail to appreciate that in the US, month comes before day. Think we only have two days. Panic.

* Load Calibre to format book file as epub. (One day left before Amazon ends career.)

* Calibre refuses to recognise book file and convert it. Panic.

* Try putting book file through as doc-ex. file. Seems to work.

* Upload epub to Bookshelf six hours before Amazon deadline expires.

* Preview book. Seems OK. Hopefully.

* Await publication day (22nd September) with great trepidation and large bottle of prosecco.



**  All the techie stuff is done by Beloved Husband. I do the checking, panicking and drinking.You didn't seriously think I was capable of doing the techie stuff. Did you? 


Saturday, 10 September 2016

BOOK CRITICS: what are they good for?


At last someone (Professor Michael Luca) has come out and said what we've always known: there is absolutely no difference in the quality and accuracy of a book review by an 'ordinary' reader on Amazon, and a professional book critic. Moreover (and we all knew it as well) professional critics were more likely to praise a book when the author was well-known/a prizewinner/had garnered press-coverage/ was connected to some media outlet.

For proof of this, we only have to consider the reception of one Robert Galbraith, who barely got a mention in the mainstream book review pages until 'he' was outed as J. K. Rowling. After which every critic in the land was falling over themselves to praise the very things they had failed to notice previously. Laugh? I nearly started.

I have also suffered from the 'critic with an agenda'. I remember Dark Side of Midnight the first in my soon to be reissued YA Spy Girl series was compared unfavourably on Amazon to a certain well-known children's writer in the same field. As was the second book. And then the third. This happened so many times, that the words 'stitch-up' came to mind. I have also read fulsome reviews of books by writers whom I know share the same publisher/agent. Or awful reviews where some personal spat is being used to exact revenge.

Charlotte Bronte was equally sceptical of the so-called 'prof'We had the impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes used for their chastisement the weapon of 'personality' and for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise.'
essional book critic'. She wrote in 1850, over the sisters' decision to adopt the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell:

Interestingly, when Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, Ellis Bell was praised for the strength and passion of 'his' tale. As soon as it was revealed, however, that 'Ellis' was in fact 'Emily', the same reviewer slated the book as being 'odious and abominably pagan'.
Nul points, that critic!

As a corollary: the importance of the 'lay' critic cannot be overstated. Amazon (responsible for over 89% of online book/ebook sales) bases much of its online placing of a book on the amount of reviews it garners. I will leave you with the following poster. If you read, do please consider reviewing also.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

So You've Published A Book?



In a couple of weeks, the fourth Victorian Detectives novel will hit cyberspace. It's called Murder & Mayhem (I'm into linked titles) and if you cast your eyes to the right sidebar and down a bit, you can see it. I'm into linked covers too. If you click on the 3 previous covers, you can read a free sample and get an idea of what I write about. It would be easy now to sit back and preen. Many writers do. The book is soon out. Let the sales start.

Oh no they won't!

Writing a book and getting it published, by whatever conduit you use, is only the start. To get any sales, you have to make people aware of your masterpiece. In this blog, I'm exploring some of the ways I use to promote my work, because unless you are out there, loud and proud, nobody will notice you.

1. Social Media: There are loads of blogs about how to use Twitter to enhance your digital presence . Suffice to say that most of my sales come from Twitter. And practically all come from people recommending the books to other readers, and that comes from me chatting, interacting and posting funny stuff and reciprocating favours. In other words, I'm a friend first, an online character second, and a writer selling books third.

2. Press Releases: The local press are (usually) delighted to receive a press release, a publicity pic and a free copy to review.

2a. Press Releases: Anywhere your book is set will be delighted also.

3. Local Radio: Contact them via Twitter, phone them up, arrange to do a studio interview. Listen, I sound like a 15 year old mainlining helium, but I still do it.

4.National Press: Will be interested if you have a brilliant backstory, particularly if it involves abuse, or hardship. Also if you earned shedloads of advance shekels or you are very very photogenic. I haven't cracked this one yet. Maybe you will.

5. Literary Festivals: Everybody's doing it. Local library will have contacts of yours. Get in touch. I've done the St Albans Literary Festival twice. I ran a workshop on how to get published ... ooh, and I had some books on a side-table. Next year I hope to extend my range a bit and do some further afield.

6. Signings: Local bookshop is worth approaching. Also local gift shops and Oxfam.

7.Talks: WI ~ you have to audition and be approved, but it's worth it. Local book clubs/writers' groups, libraries are also worth contacting. If you write YA or children's fiction, schools are always keen to have a visiting writer. Make sure you get paid ~ the Society of Authors has recommended fees.

As you now see, there is a lot more to being a writer than merely writing. Writing is the ''easy'' bit! And lest you should eye your mainstream published brethren and mutter 'bet they don't have to do all this' ~ YES THEY DO! Big publishers are very selective about who they spend their publicity budgets promoting. If it ain't you, you will still have to do the legwork. I've spoken to some ''famous'' names, and it is so.

Finally: make sure you are registered for PLR - Public Lending Rights: that's the money paid by libraries every time your book is borrowed. You can register at www.plr.uk.com. Every little helps.

If I've missed out your favourite publicity medium, then please mention it in the comments. Congratulations on being a published author, welcome to the club.  Now get out there and sell!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cover me!

New cover ... almost ready

They always say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

I have received both praise and 'stick' for my covers. Interestingly, the praise has always come from readers, who appreciate the nuanced designs, with their nod to original Victorian covers. This is deliberate ~ if you read the novels, they are not just fast-paced detective stories, but a 'homage' to the style of novels of that period, which I frequently reference as I go.

The 'stick' has come from various publishers who've approached me to ask if I'd consider letting them take the series over ON CONDITION that they changed the covers.
Original early Victorian book covers

The fact that you are looking at the new cover for Murder & Mayhem (published via Amazon this September in both book and ebook formats, all being well) gives you an indication of my response. Thanks but no thanks. My covers are designed by a local graphic designer and friend, David Baird, thus adding an extra personal dimension to them. They are now published under the Little G imprint (my own) adding yet a further one. They are special and it is a joy to share them with you.
It always amuses me, when scrolling through Twitter, to pick out the 'I bought an off-the peg cover' people. It's so easy to do. Frequently you see the same muscled bloke or shapely young lady with accompanying pout in different settings, and wearing different clothes depending upon the genre. There seems to be a smallish pool of cover models out there. And although many of the cover suppliers SAY they do not re-use a design once you have bought and paid for it ~ they do. Believe me. Seen it with my own eyes, Guv.

So I shall continue to have my own bespoke covers, using original Victorian fonts and colours (the new one is teal) until I run out of ideas. And in case you can't make out the blurb, here's what the complete description on Amazon will look like:

The city is in the grip of railway mania when the gruesome discovery of several infant corpses in an abandoned house forces Inspector Lachlan Greig of A Division, Bow Street Police Office and his men to enter the dark and horrific world of baby farming. It will take all Greig's skill and ingenuity to track down the evil perpetrators and get justice for the murdered innocents.

Meanwhile two school friends Letitia and Daisy stand side by side on the threshold of womanhood. One longs for marriage to a handsome man The other craves entry to higher education. Will their dreams come true, or will their lives be shattered into little pieces by the tragic and unexpected events that are about to overtake them?


Some lovely late Victorian covers
Hope meets horror, and Parliament is threatened by anarchists in this rumbustious fourth Victorian crime novel, set once again amongst the dangerous twisting alleyways and gaslit thoroughfares of 1860s London.


Grab DIAMONDS & DUST, the first in this electrifying series.

Praise for HONOUR & OBEY: 
“Carol Hedges has again delivered a book which is written to be devoured in one sitting.” ~ A Woman’s Wisdom

Praise for DEATH & DOMINION:
''I love Carol Hedges' portrayal of atmosphere .... and her gift for conveying exactly what a character is like.''   ~  Rosie's Book Review Team


So that's my cover philosophy. That's how I roll. How about you ~ what makes a 'good' book cover? Please join in the debate...

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Bluestockings:The Campaign for Female Education



In 1971 I graduated from Westfield College, University of London with a BA (Hons) in English & Archaeology. I took it for granted that I had a right to go to university and that following my degree, I would enter the marketplace as a professional woman, equal to any man doing the same job of work.

I started researching the roles and expectations of young Victorian women for my novel Murder & Mayhem (publ this September). The story features bright 17 year old ‘Feminist’ Letitia Simpkins who desperately wants to learn more, but is denied access to further education by her authoritarian father. It made me realise how lucky I was to have been born in the mid-20th century rather than the mid-19th century.

For bright young Victorian women, the doors to further education closed at 16. Intellectual curiosity and thinking skills were considered a waste of time, given that the purpose of a woman’s life was to marry and be the mother of (many) children.

As one contemporary wrote: “Girls are to dwell in quiet homes, among a few friends; to exercise a noiseless influence, to be submissive and retiring.” (Sewell, Principles of Education).

Interestingly as far back as 1694, Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies suggested a type of university education. But of course, the very fact that the proposer was female meant that the idea was not taken up or considered seriously.

Women were just thought of as physically incapable of scholarship. For a start their brains were nearly 150 grammes lighter than men’s brains. So that must indicate that their intellect was weaker. And then there was the vexed question of menstruation, which sapped the body of lifeblood.

Put those two together, and it was quite apparent that women who used their brain too much ran the risk of becoming sterile, as their wombs atrophied, thus negating their purpose in life, or even worse, producing “a puny, enfeebled and sickly race” of children.

You may laugh, or gasp in amazement, but this was a widely held medical opinion at the time. Girls were strongly advised to focus on making their homes a sphere of accomplishment, rather than striving for a higher education. And to wait patiently for some young man (who may well have had the benefit of a university education) to come calling.

That the ‘petticoat problem’ began to resolve itself was entirely due to the actions of a few determined young women who decided that rather than break down the doors, they’d pick the lock and fight for equal education for women.

In 1850 North London Collegiate School opened, followed a few years later by Cheltenham Ladies College. The key word is ‘college’ – these weren’t places to learn embroidery, a smattering of French, some maths and what to do in a thunderstorm. They were seats of learning, encouraging girls to see themselves as capable of entering university and from there, the workplace.

In 1879 London University became the first to admit women undergraduates on the same terms as men. One of the pioneering women who enabled this to happen was Constance Maynard, who in 1863 campaigned for girls to be allowed to sit the Cambridge Locals (the equivalent of GCSEs) and then the Higher Locals (A levels).

When I was at Westfield, originally founded as a women’s college, my hall of residence was called Maynard House, a fitting tribute to a Bluestocking pioneer. Without women like her, prepared to step out of the shadows and campaign for their beliefs, I would not have had the benefit of a university education, and the opportunity to have a productive and fulfilling career.

Murder & Mayhem: an extract

In which our heroine Letitia Simpkins discovers an unpleasant truth:

''The pleasant and instructive visits to the Regent Street Ladies’ Literary & Philosophical Society seem a distant memory. The outside world seems a distant memory. There is nothing in Letitia’s life now that she recognises. The joy of it has run out as quickly as it gathered.
Letitia pauses outside the parlour door which unusually, has been left ajar. She leans against the door jamb, bone weary and despondent. She sees her papa and Mrs Briscoe sitting side by side on the sofa. Mrs Briscoe is speaking. It takes Letitia a few seconds to realise whom she is talking about.
“Really, it is a most unfortunate situation. The girl has barely learned sufficient to equip her for a useful life. I do so sympathise with you, my dear friend. That mauvais quart d’heure in between school and marriage is always difficult.”
Her father snorts.
“It was Susan’s whim to send her to the boarding school in the first place. She thought mixing with a better class of girl would help her find a husband. As if any self-respecting man will marry her. She hardly has the looks to attract a suitor. And I cannot offer a dowry - there is the boys’ schooling to pay for, and then their university fees. They must have the best start in life.”
“I do so understand. And of course, you are quite right. But as I wrote in my little pamphlet: How to be Happy Though Unmarried, there are many things a girl can do. The poor are always with us, so there is plenty of charity work.
“And there is no household task that any girl should deem beneath her position to perform, as I have frequently reminded Letitia. All these useful occupations will enable her to pass her days in dignified tranquillity”
Letitia’s eyes brim with tears. She does not know what hurts more, to hear her own father admit her lack of beauty, or to understand that he does not care what happens to her in the future. However Mrs Briscoe’s next remark causes her to breathe in sharply.
“Has she had any more letters from those vile Women’s Rights creatures?”
“Not for a while.”
“I am so glad you managed to intercept them, my dear. A parent must be vigilant at all times. One tiny slip, and a girl’s reputation is gone, never to return.”
“I have locked them away safely, never fear. And I have instructed Mary to make sure the post in and out of the house is always placed directly upon my desk.”
Mrs Briscoe leans forward, placing her hand on his.
“It is no more than your duty as a loving caring father. And now that you are a widower - though hopefully not for too long, you must be even more vigilant on your daughter’s behalf.
“A young girl’s true sphere is in the home, and there she shines brightly. Skill with her needle is the only accomplishment she needs.” ''
                                                                                                              (Murder & Mayhem tbp.)


Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Victorian Workhouse: Relic of the Past?

Luke Fildes Admission to a Casual Ward (1874)
Even though Fildes' famous painting was posed (the gent in the top hat was a known street 'character' and was allegedly paid to lean against the wall, looking decrepit), it is still a pretty accurate depiction of life for those at the bottom of the Victorian food chain. When you had no job, no money for food or rent, and nothing viable left to sell or pawn, you had 2 choices: the 'Asylum for the Houseless Poor' or the street.

Henry Mayhew, writing twenty years earlier, paints an equally vivid picture. He describes:

''..the homeless crowds gathered about the Asylum, waiting for the first  opening of the doors., with their bare feet, blue and ulcerous with the cold, resting for hours on the ice and snow in the streets. To hear the cries of the hungry, shivering children ..is a thing to haunt one for life. There are 400 and odd creatures utterly destitute - mothers with infants at their breasts - fathers with boys holding by their side - the friendless - the penniless - the shirtless, shoeless, breadless, homeless; in a word, the very poorest of this the very richest city in the world.'' 
(Mayhew, London Labour & The London Poor volume 111)

Although the Workhouse has had a very bad press - think of Oliver Twist, many poor people had no option but to enter it, even if only temporarily. For a large percentage of the working poor, jobs were seasonal or sporadic. Men were hired by the day (docks), by the season (agriculture) or for a limited time (May-June was the London Season). With no trade unions, no labour laws and no minimum wage, they were unable to budget. No work = no pay. Any work-related accidents at a time when medical care had to be paid for, could spell disaster.

Whitechapel workhouse

Once they entered the Workhouse, personal possessions were taken away, and families split up. Inmates quickly became institutionalised and neglected. The routines of hard physical labour, the poor quality food, the feeling of belonging nowhere and having no future must have been devastating upon their sense of self.

In Honour & Obey, the Clapham family are driven out of their slum tenement by their ruthless landlord, Morbid Crevice. Here, they encounter their first taste of Workhouse life:

The family are led through a series of dark passages, then across a dismal yard to a bare unlit room. Cold from stone flags seeps into their thin shoes.
      ''Women and children in there,'' the porter says, pointing at a closed door.
      The woman clings desperately to her husband's arm
      ''Come along old gel,'' the man says. ''It won't be for long. I'll go out and find work tomorrow and we'll soon be on our feet again.'' But the hunch of his shoulders and the hopelessness in his voice belie his cheerful words.
      The girl tugs at her skirt.
      ''C'mon Ma,'' she says. '''Best not to linger, eh?''
      The man gives the girl a grateful look. She stares back, her eyes hard like stones. She isn't fooled. She knows that it is the end of the road for her family. That her little brothers and sisters will be sent elsewhere, that her father will sink even further into drink and her mother into despair. That is what always happens.
      What she doesn't know is how she is going to get revenge on those who did this to them. Not yet. But she will.
(Honour & Obey by me)

Couple the sense of utter despair with the knowledge that society regarded the poor as 'undeserving' - it was widely thought character defects, drink or sheer idleness meant that people were reduced to beggary, homelessness or reliance upon the meagre provisions of the Workhouses. Reading derogatory articles in the press about the 'underclass' that inhabited the less savoury parts of the city, one can see how many on both sides of the poverty line regarded the workhouse as one step away from actually being in prison.
Workhouse dining room
The Workhouse was a relic from the past. One that we look back upon with some horror. But have attitudes to the poor changed? I think not. Consider the 'zero hours' contract. The exploitation of workers by firms such as Sports Direct. The ruthless cutting of housing and family welfare benefits. The gradual privatization of dentists and many NHS services, denying the poor access to basic health care. The recent scrapping of university maintenance grants now closes the doors on tertiary education for all but the well off.

Consider too the demonization of the poor via TV programmes like 'Benefits Street', the rush to condemn 'improvident' parents who have too many children/feed their families on junk food. The eagerness with which private landlords and councils now employ bailiffs to turn whole families out of their homes because they cannot afford to pay the extortionate rent.

This summer, one in five 'low-waged working parents' will go without food to feed their kids. Many people will visit Food Banks, or be reliant upon the charity of friends and relatives. We may have moved away from incarcerating the poor and elderly in barrack-like Workhouses, but little in our public attitudes towards them seems to have changed much.

As one inmate of Poplar Workhouse plaintively said: ''Poverty's no crime, but here it is treated like a crime.'' (quoted by Will Crooks, Poplar Workhouse guardian 1893)

In our time too.


STOP PRESS! 
Coming soon: Murder & Mayhem the fourth Victorian detective novel featuring DI Leo Stride, DS Jack Cully and a host of sparkling new characters


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

#AugustReviews: Ready, Steady, Review!




If you  follow me on Twitter, you will be familiar with tweets like this:

‏@carolJhedges

❤ Read it?
❤ Loved it?  
❤ REVIEW it!  

#Writers make the world go round


I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts (hopefully positive) onto a review site. One of my writer acquaintances @TerryTyler4 has now started #AugustReviews with the idea of encouraging readers to write reviews of books they have enjoyed on Amazon, and then tweet the link so that we can all share it.  

So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least 3 cogent paragraphs of analysis, not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5') help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.

As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book. Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writer's lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.

Reviews are also very important in boosting sales.That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas,because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, are pretty remote.

For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has also come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers) to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2016 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.

So over the next four weeks .. and beyond, may I encourage you to read and review  -  it needs only be a paragraph or two. Long essays not required. But it will make a HUGE difference to the writer.

Thank you.




Saturday, 30 July 2016

The PINK SOFA meets writer Elizabeth Ducie


The PINK SOFA had barely cleared the gin stains and cake crumbs from its previous guest, when Elizabeth Ducie knocked at the Attic Room door bearing chocolate and flowers. Ever susceptible to blandishments of any sort, and a great fan of her multi-coloured hairstyle, the SOFA is delighted to host her, and share with you, beloved fans of its rather louche lifestyle, the exciting news of her newly published thriller Counterfeit!

''I wrote my first pieces for public consumption when I was a teenager and the Catholic newspaper, The Universe was running a four-part competition. There was a crossword and other puzzles to complete, plus a short story and a poem to write. My toe-curlingly saccharine, not to say illogical, short story was about someone returning to religion after the death of her husband; and my poem was about the order of nuns who ran the school I was at. Rather to my surprise, I was one of the four prize-winners who won a fifteen day tour of France, Spain and Portugal, with an emphasis on religious sites. It was my first overseas trip and hated every minute of it!

Over the next forty years, I wrote millions of words, but all of them were non-fiction, scientific and highly technical. Along the way, I got over my aversion to foreign travel and eventually worked in more than fifty countries helping emerging pharmaceutical industries make drugs safely. I also gathered lots of experiences and anecdotes about the people I met and the places I visited. My husband often said I should write about my travels and I would answer ‘yes, one of these days.’
Then in 2005, I had a bit of a health scare and realised that today was ‘one of these days’. I started learning about life writing and travel writing, but was surprised to find I was better at incorporating my stories into fictional settings; which is why so much of my writing is set in Russia and Africa.

I self-published my first collection of short stories in 2011, but thought it a prelude to finding an agent and getting my novels traditionally published. However, my views gradually changed and now I am very happy as an independent. My debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, was runner-up in the 2015 Self-Published Book of the Year Awards, and that felt even more special than my teenage success.
In 2012, I decided I’d devoted enough time to pharmaceuticals and science and gave up the day job to write full-time. Well, I say full-time, but by the time I’ve factored in the production and promotion aspects of being self-published (which I love) plus all the activities associated with life in a small town in Devon, it’s rather a part-time occupation. But I’m having the time of my life. Today is still ‘one of those days’.

Counterfeit! is a thriller, set in Southern Africa. It introduces readers to Suzanne Jones, a regulator in the pharmaceutical industry, who is heading up a campaign to cut down the supply of fake medicines into Africa. The campaign becomes personal when a friend buys a bottle of counterfeit cough syrup with tragic consequences and Suzanne finds herself, her family and friends in increasing danger. While the story is fictional (and I am definitely NOT Suzanne Jones) there are real incidents in the book and conversations I had with government and industry people when I worked in Africa a decade ago.

I am a great fan of James Patterson’s books, especially his Women’s Murder Club series and wanted to develop a similar group of strong female characters. Counterfeit! is the first in a series of at least three novels involving Suzanne Jones and her team. It will be followed by Deception! and Corruption!, both of which I hope to bring out during 2017.''

This is the opening scene from the book, at a conference in Swaziland in 2004:

‘In conclusion, lack of controls on imports makes it inevitable that many of the medicines available in Africa today are counterfeit.’ Suzanne Jones looked up from her notes. The light was dim. Moth-eaten gold velvet curtains had been closed to block out the midday sun, but she knew the hall contained representatives of every branch of healthcare in the region. There were regulators, mainly black Africans, from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, hoping to learn from their South African colleagues, known to be even stricter than the American Food and Drug Administration. There were the Asian owners of local pharmaceutical factories, desperate for hints on how they could win vital government tenders. The very few white faces in the room belonged to the Afrikaans distributors or ex-pat managers of the handful of multinational companies still trying to maintain a presence in Southern Africa.

Suzanne took a deep breath and spoke directly to the hundred-plus delegates. ‘The Intergovernmental Health Forum knows the problem is particularly bad here in Africa. We’re doing everything we can to disrupt the supply chains at the factories. However, Africa must play its part by tightening controls.’ She paused, smiling to take the sting out of her words. ‘Thank you for your attention. Are there any questions?’

‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have the luxury of worrying about quality. My responsibility is to provide enough drugs for all the people. If a few bad ones get through, it’s the price we have to pay.’ The Honourable Walter Mukooyo, Kenyan Minister of Health, leaned back in his chair. He mopped his forehead with a large spotted handkerchief, and glared over his half-moon glasses at the crowded hall, as though challenging anyone in the audience to disagree with him.

The minor civil servants who made up the Minister’s entourage were sitting in the front row, nodding vigorously. Suzanne bit back angry words. She tucked damp strands of long, straw-coloured hair behind her ears and tried to ignore the sweat trickling between her shoulder blades, down her back and soaking into the elastic of her knickers. She really didn’t want to lose her temper in front of this group. ‘That’s an interesting viewpoint, Minister,’ she said.

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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 - 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. The fact that I now have tw small grandchildren meant that my research into this area was even more poignant.

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.