I am thrilled to have my friend and fellow author, Maggie Richell-Davies visit the blog today to explain the how she became interested in research and her process for delving into the sources available for her historical novels. Thank you for your time today, Maggie.
As a teenager I lapped up the escapism of Georgette Heyer. Yet my reading of Jane Eyre and WutheringHeights, told me her frothy stories of balls and muslin gowns were fantasy for many regency women, especially those obliged to work for their living. London in the 18th century was far from an upright city. It was a place of vast wealth and privilege, but also of tragedy and want. A world where men had all the power and women had to make the best of it, especially those unfortunate enough to be poor.
“The church bell announces the hour. Two o’clock. Followed by disjointed ringing, near and far, from neighbourhood steeples and towers. So many places of worship, so many fine churches. When I observed them from my garret, I thought what an upright city this must be. With so many houses of God.”
My historical thriller, The Servant, deals with the realities of life for women at the bottom of society. From Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen we know something of the lives of governesses and have glimpses of women in service: Mrs Hill, the put-upon housekeeper in Pride and Prejudice; Bessie’s brusque carer in Jane Eyre. But where are the scrub women and childminders, the laundresses and innkeepers’ wives – women whose only alternative to a
life of deadening drudgery was prostitution?
Despite being the daughter of a respected Spitalfields silk weaver, Hannah, my orphan heroine in The Servant, is forced into servitude. Employed by a harsh and disgraced aristocrat she finds herself in a house of mysteries, with a locked library and strange auctions being held behind closed doors. However, unknown to her employers, Hannah is educated. But being able to read and write puts her in terrible danger from the dark underbelly of Georgian London.
Few 18th century women had the luxury of an education, marriage being their best hope of security – though, without reliable contraception, wives could be pregnant (with its attendant risks) during much of their child-bearing years. For an unmarried woman, of course, having a child in a judgemental society with no Welfare State spelled disaster.
A trip to London’s Foundling Hospital Museum floored me with its display of poignant identifying tokens left by illiterate mothers in the hope they might, one-day, reclaim babies that desperate circumstances forced them to give up. A scrap from a dress, a key, a button, a piece of embroidered silk bearing my own initials of MD. I was embarrassed not to have previously known of the epic seventeen-year struggle of retired sea captain William Coram to provide this haven for babies otherwise destined to be abandoned on London’s dung heaps. I would urge anyone within reach of London to visit the Museum, which is in Bloomsbury close to enticing coffee shops. But do take a handkerchief…
Winner of the Historical Writers' Award 2020 Unpublished Novel Award with The Servant, Maggie was born on the North-East coast of England and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University.
Her page-turning thriller was inspired by a visit to London's Foundling Hospital Museum - with its heart-breaking stories about the tokens desperate women left there in the hope that they might, one day, be able to reclaim their child - and research into the exploitation of women and girls in 18th century London.
Details of how she came to write Hannah's story are on her website, below.
Maggie has had short stories published and been shortlisted for Bridport Flash and the Olga Sinclair and Joan Hessayon Awards. She is a member of the Historical Writers' Association and of the Romantic Novelists' Association.
She lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells with husband, Mike, but also worked for a number of years in Peru, Africa and the United States.
writing group: ninevoices.wordpress.com