history

Eminent Victorians: Kate and Maggie Fox

Kate and Maggie Fox, via Pinterest.

The heroine of my next book (The Ruin of Evangeline Jones, coming soon from Entangled Publishing) is a charlatan medium. To tell her story, I researched the Victorian spiritualist movement, which is how I found out about Kate and Maggie Fox. These two sisters are in large part responsible for starting the entire 19th century spiritualist craze.

It all began in the 1840s when they were still children. According to the PSI Encyclopedia, “Maggie and Kate Fox were at the centre of a poltergeist-type disturbance in 1848 that led to the emergence of Spiritualism, a religion based on communication with spirits of the dead.”

The sisters claimed to hear strange knocking and rapping sounds through which they could communicate with the spirit of a murdered peddler haunting their home. Spookily enough, searches under the house revealed bone fragments. Tables moved, doors shut spontaneously and the spirit (whom the girls nicknamed Mr. Splitfoot after the devil) urged the sisters to hold public meetings to spread the word about life after death. Visitors descended on their house and eventually, since the spirit seemed to follow the girls wherever they went, they took their show on the road, joined by their older sister Leah (the entrepreneur of the family).

They became a sensation, attracting many famous admirers and, because of their many imitators, spawned a new religion. Not bad for three ordinary Victorian women from a tiny hamlet in New York state.

The Fox sisters in later life: Leah (1814–1890), Margaretta (also called Maggie) (1833–1893) and Catherine (also called Kate ) (1837–1892).

To this day, many believe the sisters to be genuine mediums despite the fact that Kate and Maggie both took to the stage in 1888 to reveal how they accomplished the fraud. The rapping was nothing more than the cracking of toe and ankle joints. At the same time, both denounced the spiritualist movement as a whole and their now estranged sister Leah in particular. Perhaps those who continued to believe in Mr. Splitfoot put this down to a family quarrel that got out of hand and, to be fair, Maggie and Kate, both in dire need of cash, later resumed giving seances. Maggie also renounced her confession.

Even though I think the sisters were charlatans, I can’t help but admire what they accomplished at a time when women had few career options. They attained a level of success few achieved and sparked a movement that took the western world by storm. What may have started as an innocent prank when they were children still colors people’s beliefs to this day.

history

A new figure for a healthier more attractive you? The S-bend Corset.

So, five minutes ago, I discovered that s-bend (also known as swan bill) corsets were a thing. Apparently, they were invented in the 1890s by Inès Gaches-Sarraute (a medical doctor) as a healthier alternative to regular v-shaped corsets (that is, corsets designed to give women the desirable v shape at the waist), the idea being that it didn’t put so much pressure on the abdomen. They were all the rage from about 1900 and into the early 1910s.

As for what the the corsets looked like…

S-bend corset, 1905, Victorian and Albert Museum, via Pinterest.

So pretty!

Below, you can see the finished effect and how the s-bend got its name.

The straight busque forces the pelvis backwards and the bust forwards. Despite the good doctor/corsetiere’s intentions, the health benefits were minimal, given the extreme strain placed on the back.

And, just like the old-style corset, high fashion often dictated ridiculously tight lacing:

Fortunately, in the 1910s, waist lines rose to pretty much regency height (think Rose in Titanic) and women’s backs and waists were safe for a while. I’d laugh except that, more than a hundred years later, we still torture ourselves for fashion. Stilettos, anyone?

history

Eminent Victorians: Spring-heeled Jack

Urban legend, prank, or supervillain?

This here is Satan, we might say the devil, but that ain’t right, and gennelfolks don’t like such words. He is now commonly called ‘Spring-heeled Jack;’ or the ‘Rossian Bear,’ – that’s since the war.— Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor

The first sighting of the being known as Spring-heeled Jack occurred in London in 1837. A man jumped out and grabbed Mary Stevens, tore at her clothes, and touched her with claws that were “cold and clammy as those of a corpse.” A clear-cut case of sexual assault. The next day, the same man leaped out in front of a coach, causing it to crash, and, according to several witnesses, escaped over a 9ft wall, babbling and laughing. More sightings followed and the mysterious attacker was even featured in a Times article.

What did he look like? Some accounts describe him in tight-fitting oilskin, others in the attire of a gentleman. Most agree about the claws, voluminous cloak, and general devilishness of his appearance. Accounts of subsequent attacks grew increasingly outlandish. Jack is said to have spewed blue and white flames from his mouth (a professional or amateur fire-breather, perhaps?), possess eyes of fire, and metallic claws that he used to tear women’s clothes. He also once appeared in a bearskin (which I feel gives my fire-breather/performance artist theory even more credence). However, the likeliest suspect in the early attacks is the Marquess of Waterford (commonly known as The Mad Marquess).

In 1838, an arrest was made (not the marquess) but, despite a confession and evidence that he committed at least one of the crimes, the man had to be released because he didn’t know how to fire breathe. Gradually attacks became less frequent until a new wave occurred in the 1840s and again in the 1870s. The last sighting of Jack was in Liverpool in 1904. A copycat? Or–an idea that gained increasing momentum among those who claimed to see him–a ghost?

Illustration of Spring-heeled Jack, from the 1867 serial Spring-heel’d Jack: The Terror of London , via Wikipedia.

One of the problems with parsing the Spring-heeled Jack sightings is that he quickly became a literary sensation, the star of numerous plays and penny dreadfuls. The stories of him running about on the rooftops of London, masked, cloaked and performing supernatural leaps, quickly mixed with and obfuscated genuine sightings of what seems to have been a budding sex offender who enjoyed dangerous pranks or, even more likely, a series of similar criminals. (I’m not one for the ghost theory, but your mileage may vary).

Whatever you believe, the stories themselves, the fiction that grew up around Spring-heeled Jack, have ensured that he’s passed into legend.

Book News, Writer's Life

What’s Happening?

I’m a bit snowed under at the moment, but here’s a progress report.

First, let me share this handy How Publishing Works infographic designed by Floris Books:

The Ruin of Evangeline Jones is at the QA and copy-editing stage. Meanwhile, book 3, tentatively entitled The Talented Mr. Ellis, is waaay back at the very beginning of the process. I’ve submitted a book proposal–first few chapters, blurb, and synopsis–so fingers crossed my editor likes it. While I wait to hear, I’m busily writing the rest of the book.

As for The Madness of Miss Grey, marketing is hard! And time-consuming! But that’s okay because I have a secret weapon: Mr. Bennet has become a marketing genius. So much so, that he’s starting to look like this:

Barney Stinson “I’m Watching You” Gif, via Tenor.

Anyway, I’m frazzled, but I hope to resume normal blogging next week.

writing

My Process: How I write fiction

Full disclosure: This isn’t my typewriter. I don’t know whose typewriter this is. I bet it’d be a pain in the arse to write a whole book on it.. Nonetheless, it’s pretty. I use a Desktop, which is nowhere near as photogenic.

Let’s be honest, there’s no one right way of doing this. We find what works for us and whatever it is becomes our process. We’re always refining it. But if you’re just starting out and/or struggling, it can be useful to hear what other writers do. Like finding a map when you’re hopelessly lost.

Step one: Have an idea

Honestly, this is easier said than done. No one knows where ideas come from because they come from everywhere. Books we read, films we see, song lyrics, dreams, a random comment someone makes. I have lots of ideas, but I can’t always see how to develop them into a full-length novel. What works for me is to pick whichever idea has the most details sticking to it. For me, that means I see an image on Pinterest (or somewhere else) and it makes me think about my story. Maybe it’s the face of a character in an old painting. Maybe it’s an antique chair I can imagine them sitting on. If details start to stick to your idea, it’s a sign it might be the one to focus on.

Step two: Start writing

Full disclosure: These are not my writing implements. Mine are like this but imagine more mess and dirt.

I write two drafts at once. Sort of. For example, I write the first draft of scene one in longhand. When it’s finished, I type it into Word, developing, expanding, and fixing as I go. The end result is the second draft of scene one. I repeat this process for every scene.

What happens if you get blocked?

If I’m stuck and the words won’t flow, I make myself write 100 words every day. 100 is hardly any but, by the time I get that far, I often find I can keep going. If I can’t, I let myself stop for the day, patting myself on the back for hitting the minimum amount. I keep doing this until the block goes. I use the free time to work on marketing, research or just reading.

But what if you’re still stuck with no idea how to progress the plot?

I print off the entire manuscript so far and go through it with a red pen. Usually by the time I’ve typed up the changes and rewritten sections, I’ve figured out how to go on. If not, I go through the entire document again. And again. And,if necessary, again.

Step three: Revising

Once I have a complete second draft, I reread the entire thing. Sometimes I print it out and use red pen. When I have a complete draft I can read out loud to myself without wanting to change anything, it’s ready to show my agent and my editor.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.