Monday, June 20, 2011

Suffragettes

My latest title, Angels at War, out this month in paperback, is the sequel to House of Angels, although the story will stand alone. Again this book is set in the Lake District, partly in the beautiful Kentmere Valley around the time of the First World War It’s a beautiful quiet corner of England which hasn’t changed much since. The nearest village is Staveley, situated between Kendal and Windermere, and the hills can offer some of the best walking the Lakes. Here is picture to tempt you to visit.




But this book is also about suffragettes. The suffragette movement in Great Britain was focused around Manchester as that is where Emeline Pankhurst and her family lived. The general election of 1905 brought it to the attention of the wider nation when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenny interrupted Sir Edward’s speech with the cry: ‘Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?’

They were charged with assault and arrested. The women further shocked the world by refusing to pay the shilling fine, and were consequently thrown in jail. Never before had English suffragists resorted to violence, but it was the start of a long campaign. Their headquarters were transferred from Manchester to London and by 1908, and now dubbed the suffragettes, they were marching through London, interrupting MP’s speeches, assaulting policemen who attempted to arrest them, chaining themselves to fences, even sending letter bombs and breaking the windows of department stores and shops in Bond Street. They went on hunger-strikes while incarcerated, brutalised in what became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act.’ This ‘war’ did not end until 1928 when women were finally granted the vote in equal terms with men. They showed enormous courage and tenacity, were prepared to make any sacrifice to achieve their ends.

Livia is one such woman. She is fiercely independent – a ‘modern’ woman in her eyes, and having suffered at the hands of a brutal father, she is reluctant to give up her independence and subject herself to the control of any male. She dreams of bringing back to life the neglected drapery business, but standing in her way is the wealthy and determined Matthew Grayson who has been appointed to oversee the restoration of the business. His infuriating stubbornness clashes with Livia’s tenacity and the pair get off to a bad start. She then joins the Suffragette Movement which puts further strain on her relationship with Jack, the other man in her life, who she has promised to marry one day.

I’ve written about suffragettes before, as the subject fascinates me. How passionate these women must have felt to put their lives at risk in the way they did. Here is a description from the book of the force feeding ritual.

Excerpt:

This morning when the cell door banged open, instead of the tempting tray of food brought to plague them, came a small, stocky man with side whiskers and a mole on his chin. The wardress shook Livia awake.

‘Get up girl, the doctor needs to examine you. We can’t have you die on us for lack of food.’
There followed a humiliating examination in which she was again poked and prodded, a stethoscope held to her chest, her pulse taken. When he was done he turned to the wardress and gave a nod. The wardress smiled, as if he’d said something to please her. ‘If you will not eat of your own accord, then we must find a way to make you.

There were four of them now crowding into the cell, huge Amazonian women with muscles on them like all-in wrestlers, and they brought with them such a bewildering assortment of equipment that even Mercy paled.

‘Dear lord, they’re going to force feed us.’

They dealt with Mercy first. She fought like a tiger while Livia cried and begged them to stop, and finally sobbed her heart out as her protests were ignored. The four women held Mercy down, shoved in the tube and poured the liquid mixture into her stomach. When they were done they dropped her limp body back on the bed.

Then it was Livia’s turn.

She tried to run but there was no escape. They picked her up bodily and strapped her into a chair by her wrists, ankles and thighs, then tied a sheet under her chin. The sour breath and stale sweat of the women’s armpits made her want to vomit; their heavy breasts suffocating her as they held her down. The wardress was panting with the effort of trying to force open her mouth, while another woman held her nose closed. Livia did her utmost to resist, heart racing, teeth clenched, but she could scarcely breathe.

Then she felt the cold taste of metal slide between her lips. The implement, whatever it was, cut into her gums as the wardress attempted to prise them open. Livia tried to jerk her head away but it was held firmly by one of the women standing behind her. Once again pictures flashed into her mind of the tower room at Angel House, the place where her father had carried out unspeakable tortures upon the three sisters, bullying one in order to control the other.

Livia hadn’t been able to escape then, and she couldn’t now.

The constant stabbing at her gums and teeth was every bit as painful as having one drawn. The steel probe scraped against her gums, and Livia tasted the iron saltiness of her own blood, felt it trickle down her throat. She heard the rasp of a screw, felt the inexorable pressure of a lever. Either she opened her teeth beneath the unrelenting pressure of the steel instrument, or they would shatter. That’s if she didn’t die of suffocation first.

As Livia snatched at a breath a tube was instantly shoved down into her stomach. ‘Gocha!’ the woman cried in triumph.

It scraped down her dry throat, causing the muscles to convulse. Then the screw, or lever, whatever it was, jammed firmly between her teeth so that she could resist no more as a curdled mix of milk and egg was poured into her.

Livia felt as if she were choking, as if her entire body were filling up with the liquid and drowning her. When the tube was finally pulled out, the whole mess seemed to explode out of her, spraying the clean aprons and hard, unyielding faces of her assailants. They were furious and flung her on to the hard bed, gathered up their equipment and left her blessedly in peace, stinking of sour milk and vomit.

Angels at War, published by Allison & Busby - now released.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Thrill of Seeing the Cover for the First Time

I’ve just received the cover artwork of this year’s novel IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER and it looks stunning. A girl in a blue coat stares pensively from this cover, soldiers in the background returning from the Great War and street urchins following them. I must say that every time I see the cover of each book for the first time, I am blown away. But this one is really breathtaking and my thanks go to the Simon & Schuster team who made it possible. I also have a few lines at the top from Jean Fullerton, a wonderful East End author, who like myself, specializes in East End novels. On the back page, there’s a note for Dilly Court and Katie Flynn fans, who might like to read another gripping story written in the same genre. So from now until October it’s my job to profile my book to a loyal core readership and those new to the Rivers books. Here’s what Amazon has to say about IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER. (Hardcover August, Paperback October)

“Winter 1919. Two months after the Armistice that ended the Great War, and life in London's East End is slowly returning to normal. But for 25-year-old Birdie Connor the battle is only just beginning. Frank, Birdie's older brother, has been sent to prison for deserting his army post whilst fighting in Belgium, and the shame heaped on the Connor family by their neighbours is unrelenting. Wilfred, Birdie's widowed father, has disowned Frank and vows that he will never set eyes on his son again, but Birdie cannot believe that her brother is guilty So when Frank escapes from prison and comes to find Birdie in secret, she promises to help him and is determined to prove his innocence. But little does she realise that she is exposing herself to danger as Frank gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble with the so-called friends he met in prison. Helped by the Connors' lodger, the handsome Harry Chambers, will Birdie be able to find the proof that Frank needs in time to reconcile him to their frail father before it is too late? And can she build a future to keep herself and her younger brother, Patrick, safe?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Just released! The House of Women

I'm so excited that my historical novel, The House of Women, is now released.

Blurb

    Leeds. 1870. Lonely and brokenhearted, Grace Woodruff fights for her sisters’ rights to happiness while sacrificing any chance for her own.
   The eldest of seven daughters, Grace is the core of strength around which the unhappy members of the Woodruff family revolve. As her disenchanted mother withdraws to her rooms, Grace must act as a buffer between her violent, ambitious father and the sisters who depend upon her. Rejected by her first love and facing a spinster’s future, she struggles to hold the broken family together through her father’s infidelity, one sister’s alcoholism, and another’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy by an unsuitable match.
   Caring for an illegitimate half-brother affords Grace an escape, though short-lived. Forced home by illness and burdened with dwindling finances, Grace faces fresh anguish –and murder– when her first love returns to wreck havoc in her life.  All is not lost, however. In the midst of tragedy, the fires of her heart are rekindled by another. Will the possibility of true love lead Grace to relinquish her responsibilities in the house of women and embrace her own right to happiness?

Excerpt

Grace blinked to clear her frozen mind as her mother and Verity climbed the staircase. If Verity was here then was William here too? Movement at the door caused Grace to close her eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to open them and see the one man she’d longed for since she was sixteen.
        ‘Miss Woodruff?’ Doyle inquired at her shoulder.
        Startled, she spun to face him, but she was blind to him, blind to everything but the sensation of having William here. Crazily, she wondered if she would swoon like a maiden aunt.
        Doyle’s hand reached out, but he quickly tucked it behind his back. ‘What is it, Miss Woodruff?’
       Grace swallowed, feeling the fine hairs on her arms and nape prickle. He is here.
       'Good evening, Grace.’
       At the sound of William’s deep velvety voice, her heart stopped beating, only to start again at a rapid pace. Her stomach clenched and her legs felt unable to support her anymore. Slowly, she swivelled to gaze into William’s blue-green eyes and knew she was lost again. William smiled his captivating smile. He had aged, no, matured since their last meeting. He looked leaner, but broader in the shoulders. There was an aura about him, something that females of any age wanted. He made all other men around him seem insignificant. A magnetism, a mystical air surrounded him, catching Grace in its clutches once more.

Order The House of Women from Amazon.com, or The Book Depository, which has free postage and currently on discount.
http://www.bookdepository.com/House-Women-Anne-Whitfield/9780956790187

 For more information about me or my books, please visit my website.
http://www.annewhitfield.com

Friday, June 3, 2011

LADY LIGHTFINGERS



LADY LIGHTFINGERS
Janet Woods
Severn House
Hardcover release UK 30th June.

Celia Laws has a past to be ashamed of – by necessity, living in the London slums and on the wrong side of the law. Notably, by perfecting the art of being a pick-pocket, whilst at the same time, trying not to disappoint her mother, who is battling the odds trying to keep her daughter respectable .

After her mother dies she attracts the attention of budding lawyer, Charles Curtis, who offers her a fortune to part with her innocence. Celia takes the money and runs.
Taken in by her aunt, she makes a new life for herself.

But her past comes back to haunt her in the form of Charles Curtis, who doesn't recognize the beautiful young woman as the ragged waif from the London slums he once tried to buy. They fall in love, and the background Celia has been so careful to hide begins to unravel as her conscience begins to plague her.