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.

The Amazon global link:
Twitter: @ElizabethDucie

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.''
                                                                                              Rack & Ruin

It isn't often that I find myself writing through my tears, but for Rack & Ruin, 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 two 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.

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: The end of the journey.

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.


I heard back from the lovely UK German Embassy last night (23rd November)

Dear Carol,
 I hope this email finds you well.
I have today received an email from the Federal Office of Administration  stating that the processing of your application is just about to be completed!
However they need certified copies of the following documents:

-          your marriage certificate
-          your parents’ marriage certificate   

       We are making progress! The first document is not a problem. The second will involve some searching through the UK General Register Office. I have initiated the search.


 Feb 2018. Halfway through radiotherapy (another story): THIS arrived:

Dear Carol,

Happy New Year!

I am delighted to inform you that ‘Bundesverwaltungsamt’ in Cologne has approved your application for naturalisation according to Art. 116 (2) Basic Law. I have just received your certificate of naturalisation, which needs to be handed out personally.

I can currently offer you dates throughout Jan/Feb/March/July for an appointment in the Embassy.

Meanwhile .....

Out locally campaigning for staying in the EU in the middle of radiotherapy


April 16th 2018: I am given my certificate of naturalization, my badge, and (later) a lot of prosecco!

My journey finally comes to an end.


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 parents~ my 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 some 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 ...