Letters from ElsewhereI’m a bit worried about today’s visitor. I think she’s supposed to be in a lunatic asylum and I’m not sure how she got here. If you don’t hear from me again, expect the worst.

Dear Patrick,

It is worse than we ever imagined it would be. The first few days were the worst: the shock of my new surroundings, those abhorrent acts of brutality, the threat of which lingers in the shadows, leaps out at the merest look of defiance. But – and this has come as a shock to me – I have quickly grown used to the place and seem to be able to block out all but the most severe cruelties. I have lost track already of how many days I have been here – very few though, perhaps eight or nine. It feels like so much longer; I miss you and Fleur terribly. Maybe it is best not to dwell on it, after all, I must remember my purpose here. My motives are good; I just hope nobody will judge me too harshly for them.

There is no harm in any of the women. Indeed, there is one I believe I can even count on as a friend. She is a brave soul, Minette Dolan, only about eighteen or nineteen years old. She is very protective of the more vulnerable patients and has shown me the way to survive in this place. When I asked her how long she had been here, she said she didn’t know. She knows the date she came in here, she says, but does not know what date it is now, or even which day of the week, for we are not allowed a clock or calendar. When I asked what had brought her to Saint Anne’s, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “Moral insanity.”

She would not be drawn on it any further, and I have considered it for some time: moral insanity, what could that possibly mean? Dolan believes she can communicate with the spirit world; she gives comfort to some of the women here, women who have lost children or loved ones. I don’t believe there is any malice in her; she is misguided, that’s all. What harm could it do, to offer solace by bringing messages from the other side?

And yet women like Dolan are ten a penny in this Godforsaken city. We have met women like Dolan before, have we not? Since coming here I have thought about Soubrette often, the charlatan in her red room, with her ringed fingers and china figurines all rattling on her shelves.

In the end, I believe you nearly fell for her, but I think perhaps you wanted to. You had more at stake than me. One could be forgiven for being deceived.

It is time you let go, Patrick, let go of the past and start living again. Pictures of Magdalen are dotted all over the house; the portrait of her standing at the top of a horseshoe-shaped staircase with a flower garden behind her, another taken after she died. That one sits in a frame on your dresser in our bedroom. It is hard to live up to the memory of a ghost.

Ghosts – our house is full of them. There is Zeus, also, who you had prepared and stuffed, sitting always at our fireside, menacing me with his glassy stare. He never liked me; he was Magdalen’s dog, forever slobbering on me and pinning me against walls with his docile weight. Magdalen’s dog, Magdalen’s husband, Magdalen’s bed and her wardrobe full of clothes. There is only Fleur who is really mine.

I know you will never forget Magdalen – I wouldn’t want you to – but it’s time to let her rest in peace. We can talk about it more when I come home. It won’t be long now. I only say this because I love you. I love you and Fleur more than anything in this world, and can’t wait to see you both, just as soon as my work here is done.

Yours, always,
Cicely

Thanks for that, Cicely. And to the rest of you: you don’t really have to worry about me because Cicely comes from the pages of (soon to be released) Delirium by the very talented Emma Rose Millar.

DeliriumAbout Delirium

1881

Saint Anne’s Lunatic Asylum, London

One woman whose secret has brought her to the brink of insanity; another who claims she can tell fortunes and communicate with the dead. With seemingly no way out – and everything at stake – only one of them has the tenacity to survive.

Lies, murder, obsession… Delirium.

View the trailer here.

Find Delirium on Amazon.

About the Author

Emma Rose MillarEmma Rose Millar is a single mum from Birmingham who works part-time as a sign language interpreter. She writes historical fiction for adults and poetry for children. Her first novel, Five Guns Blazing, won the Chaucer Award, (Legend Category) in 2016. Her novella, The Women Friends: Selina, co-written with Miriam Drori, was shortlisted for the Goethe Award for Late Historical Fiction in 2016. Delirium is her third novel and was shortlisted for the Chanticleer Paranormal Book Awards in 2017. Some of Emma’s children’s poems will be published in 2019 by The Emma Press.

In her spare time, Emma enjoys swimming, yoga and ice-skating, and makes delicious chocolates.

 

Can you name a single book that everyone likes? I very much doubt it. Readers have widely differing tastes. You only have to read the reviews of any book to see that.

thewomenfriendsselinawithbirdsSo why am I telling you that The Women Friends: Selina isn’t for everyone? Because it’s probably more controversial than some. It’s also very different from my first novel: Neither Here Nor There. It follows the fictional story of a woman struggling to survive in a strange environment in traumatic times. She gets involved in things some readers might not want to read about.

However, while little is known of the two models in Klimt’s painting: The Women Friends, the story remains true to what is known of the women who inspired the great artist, as well as to the turbulent times in which it is set.

One reader, in the first review of the book, describes the book brilliantly, although there are parts that I didn’t see in the same way. We all read different things into the same books.

Up to now, I haven’t made much of the fact that The Women Friends: Selina is a finalist in the Goethe Awards, because my name didn’t appear on the list. I’m happy to say that has now been rectified, and Emma and I are delighted that the book has reached this stage.

In this post, I will endeavour to put all the information about The Women Friends: Selina in one place. If I forget anything, or more details become available, I will add them.

The Women Friends: Selina will be released this Thursday, 1st December. That’s tomorrow.

It’s the first in a series of novellas about the women in Gustav Klimt’s paintings.

It’s a finalist in the Goethe Awards (although they still haven’t added my name EDIT: now they have).

You can buy it on Amazon.

You’re invited to our launch party at 3pm (UTC). (Just go there and click on Going.)

Lots of information about the background to The Women Friends: Selina can be found in these articles.

A reading from the start of the novella.

The English Informer posted my article here and here.

The one and only Seumas Gallacher, author of several crime thrillers, posted my article.

According to Vanessa Couchman, I’m an unintentional history person.

EDIT: It’s in the online magazine of my former college.

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Plus… a bit of fun with The Women Friends.

And this lovely picture from Crooked Cat:

thewomenfriendsselinawithbirds

(Continued from Klimt and Judith I)

The brochure continues:

klimtjudith2brochure1997reduced“Perhaps influenced by the 1907 performance of Richard Strauss’s opera, Salome, Klimt returned to the subject of the femme fatale in 1909, when he painted Judith II. Here again, critics mistakenly identified the subject as Salome. Indeed, this Judith appears threatening and monstrous: her face and claw-like fingers instil fear, and her dress engulfs Holofernes’ head, symbolising his loss of identity. As in Judith I, the artist’s counter-decapitation of Judith is suggested by the two white stripes cutting across her neck.

“Klimt’s depictions of Judith and Holofernes deviate from the traditional narrative and express the ambivalent attitude towards women in fin-de-siècle Vienna. In art as in society, women were compartmentalised into one of two categories – vulgar prostitute or untouchable ideal creature. Sexual hypocrisy was rampant: many upper-class men carried on affairs with working-class young women, prostitution flourished and pornography developed into a thriving industry. Women’s unprecedented demands for political and social emancipation, the Secessionists’ call for sexual liberation and Freud’s writings on the unconscious all heralded a revolution in traditional perceptions of sexuality and guilt. However, the new, sexually-liberated life-style was seen by many men as a threat to their identity and also brought with it a gnawing fear of venereal disease. It was this terror which gave birth to the image of female lover turned insatiable predator – the femme fatale, epitomised in Klimt’s Judith I.”

The Women Friends is a series of novellas written by Emma Rose Millar and Miriam Drori, and based on the painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt. The first in the series, The Women Friends: Selina, will be published by Crooked Cat on 1st December, 2016.

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Author of the Day

Sarah Louise Smith writes chick-lit. Her four novels to-date have all been published by Crooked Cat and one of them, Izzy’s Cold Feet, is free to download from Amazon for one day only. Sarah can be found all over the Internet, sometimes with Arwen the puppy.

(This is where I get to reveal the gorgeous new book cover.)

What links my first book, Neither Here Nor There, with my second, The Women Friends: Selina, written together with Emma Rose Millar?

Not a lot. It would be easier to list the differences:

  • Contemporary – Historical
  • Romance – Story of love, but not romance
  • Light – Dark

One link is orthodox Judaism. Esty in Neither Here Nor There leaves the ultra-orthodox community in which she grew up. Janika, the second of the models in The Women Friends, does something similar, but that’s described in the second novella. In the novella to be published by Crooked Cat on December 1st, Janika takes a big part but is not the main character.

The other link is orange, which is what makes the two covers so distinctive.

Neither Here Nor ThereCoverFront

A little Sunday sunshine.

There was a Crooked Cat and another Crooked Cat.
They found a crooked painting and yelled a crooked “That!”
They wrote a crooked story and took a crooked look.
And it all came together in a little Crooked book.

CrookedWomenFriendsExcept that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds!

The Women Friends – coming early in 2017.

Following on from my announcement of changes to my blog, this post links all three themes of my blog: writing, social anxiety and living in Israel.

I get it when women say they need to talk problems over with women friends. There’s something about the conversations that makes them different from conversations with men. Yet, for most of my life, I didn’t have any women I was close enough to to confide in. Social anxiety caused that. It told me to keep my distance from women… from everyone… because while I needed them, they didn’t need me or want my friendship and I shouldn’t cling to them.

RambamRambamI still don’t meet other women very often, but I’m getting better at it. There’s one I often meet. We write together and talk, too. And two days ago I met up with someone I haven’t seen for many years. I even initiated the meeting and travelled all the way to Haifa for it. Well, for this country it’s a long way. The bus journey from Jerusalem to Haifa takes all of two hours.

We had a pleasant and interesting chat together. She also gave me a brief but fascinating tour of Rambam Hospital, where she works. In particular, I saw how the underground carpark can be turned into a whole hospital in times of emergency. Amazing!

TechnionChurchill1

Sir Winston Churchill at the Churchill Building, Technion

As I was in Haifa anyway, I did a bit of research for a novel I began in November and plan to return to. I wandered around The Technion Institute of Technology and found some details to add or change in the novel. It was hot and humid and the paths of the campus, up there on the Carmel mountain, are very steep, but I’m glad I went.

The title of this post also has a different significance for me and connects to the exciting news I hinted at in my last post. Along with another author – the lovely Emma Rose Millar, who appears again at the end of this post – I have been working on two novellas based on the painting The Women Friends by Klimt. The first, which will be published early in 2017 by Crooked Cat, tells the story of Selina, a country girl, desperate to escape the demons of her past and searching for solace in the glittering city of Vienna. The second novella follows Janika, who is Jewish. It begins when the first novella finishes, in 1938, a time when Vienna wasn’t a good place for a Jew to be in, to say the least.

So that’s my big exciting news. If you’re interested, you can also read about how I’m spending the summer over on Nancy Jardine’s blog. How are you spending your summer? Or winter, if you’re in the other half of the world?

AnnouncementPicWithAuthors

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Author of the Day

Today, I highlight two authors – the two who appear in the post.

Emma Rose Millar writes historical fiction. Five Guns Blazing, set in the eighteenth century and written together with Kevin Allen, follows a convict’s daughter from London to Barbados. More information is on Emma’s blog.

Nancy Jardine is a multi-talented author, who writes historical romantic adventures, intriguing contemporary mystery thrillers and YA time travel historical adventures. Her published novels are too numerous to list here, but can be found on Nancy’s blog.

I’m delighted to be joined by Emma Rose Millar, who has come to tell us about her novel, Five Guns Blazing, published by Crooked Cat Publishing and on sale this week.

We stood out on deck, overlooking the river while the captain, the gaoler and witnesses signed the transportation bonds, my mother chained by the neck and ankles to five of the most miserable creatures I had ever seen. Also in her gang were: Ezra Corey – theft of a cupful of raisins – seven years; Martha Eales – theft of a pair of stockings – seven years; Ellen Nutt – theft of a handkerchief and gold ring – fourteen years; Johnathan Ward – theft of two flaxen sheets – seven years; and Sarah Wells – theft of a silver watch – fourteen years. We were taken down to one of the lower decks which was dark and airless. I stumbled and clung to the walls to find my way, sliding my feet along the planks. I heard my mother cry out as one of the other convicts bumped against her, with the galling of her chains. Then a single lamp was lit beside the door and through the gloom I saw a floating dungeon of only about fifteen feet long, with a ceiling so low that most of the men could not stand, but yet more people kept coming in, convicts chained together in gangs of six, until there must have been at least eighty of us crammed into the hold.

I had thought that the first night must surely be the worst, when the lamp was extinguished and the rats came scurrying amongst us in the pitch black where we lay, when the darkness was pierced by the shrieking of women against the vile assaults taking place below deck. Then there was the bestial grunting of men as they stifled their screams, the filling of the necessary pots whose stench became sickening and foul. But as we sailed through Dartford and Gravesend then finally through the mouth of the river, along the coastline to Portsmouth and into the wide, open sea, the waves grew high and tempestuous and the wind began to howl. There were rolls of thunder, forks of lightning way out on the horizon which lit up the hold through holes in the rotten timber.

Redemption was tossed around like a matchbox on the crashing Atlantic waves as the storm lashed against the ship, lifting its bow from the raging ocean while the captain fought to bring her under control. We slid from one end of the hold to the other. My mother’s skin where her collar chafed against her neck became bright and horrible in shades of purple and crimson and black as it peeled back and rubbed away, but while others screamed now at every movement of the ship, my mother stared icily into the gloom, as if she was no longer there at all. It was only then, as I imagined land fading into the distance, and the vast expanse of sea that it hit me: my old life was gone forever.

(Five Guns Blazing – Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen)

meBut what of the real men, women and children who were sent to the colonies during the eighteenth century? Most surviving accounts of transported convicts focus on notorious criminals or scandalous circumstances.  The overwhelming majority, ordinary men and women, convicted of petty offences, have been forgotten.  After being handed down their sentences they promptly disappeared from the history books. However, a few of these records still survive.

stockingsOn December 1st, 1722, Margaret Hayes went into a shop and began to barter with the owner, Elizabeth Reynolds over the price of a pair of stockings.  In the middle of their discussion, she grabbed the stockings, which were on display and ran out into the street.  Alerted by Elizabeth’s cries, Margaret was pursued by a number of people and dropped the stockings to the ground just before she was apprehended.  At the trial she denied ever having gone into the shop but was found guilty of theft.  As the goods were priced at the princely sum of two shillings, Margaret faced a penalty of death by hanging.  Often in these cases the jury would take pity on the felon and devalue the stolen goods.  Mercifully, this was exactly what happened to Margaret; the jury devalued the stockings to ten pence and she was transported to the American colonies for a period of seven years.

The only reason we know anything about Margaret is that she was one of the passengers on board the Jonathan, which sailed from London on February 19th, 1723.  The Jonathan was a former slave ship and was bought by Jonathan Forward for his fleet.  The difference with this vessel was that records were kept of all the convicts on board.  From the ship’s records we know that Margaret was thirty years old, she was a widow with a dark fgbcomplexion.  When I was writing Five Guns Blazing, this unknown woman caught my interest.  I wondered how desperate a person must have been to have risked going to the noose all for a pair of stockings.  I wondered whether Margaret had children, and if so, what happened to them, how she would have felt being torn from those children and having to leave them behind.  I tried to build a character around one of these unfortunate, petty criminals and through her, show the plight of women transported to the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Conditions on board the ships were horrendous; many of the convicts died during the voyages of cholera and typhoid.  Those that survived were severely weakened by scurvy, dysentery and fever.  Convicts went on board shackled and in chains.  A hatch was opened and they went below deck, where they would spend the rest of the voyage.  Usually the chains were removed in the prison deck but sometimes not.  They were allowed on deck at intervals for fresh air and exercise.

If they survived the voyage, convicts were sold to plantation owners and worked alongside indentured servants and African slaves.  The status of convicts varied depending on the plantation; some were treated in line with indentured servants while others were subjected to the same forms of degradation as slaves, the big difference being that the convicts were only sold for the terms of their criminal sentences.

Nobody knows what happened to Margaret, or whether she made it as far as America.  Most of the convicts at that time were illiterate so there are very few surviving journals.  The Jonathan caught fire after it landed in Maryland and never made it back to England.

FIVE GUNS BLAZING

“Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.”

1710:

Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.

In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.

As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon.