Archive of ‘writing’ category
When I first started writing the Sinclair’s Mysteries, while I loved the idea of Edwardian girl detectives, I had a feeling that it was unlikely that my heroines Sophie and Lil had many real-life counterparts. Although I’d come across works of fiction like Revelations of a Lady Detective, and The Female Detective published in the mid-19th century I suspected that real lady detectives at this time had in fact been few and far between. And although many new opportunities were opening up for women in the early 20th century, I couldn’t somehow imagine that there were really many young women who had the opportunity to work as professional detectives as Sophie and Lil do in my stories – never mind setting up their own detective agency. However…
Reader, I was entirely wrong.
In my research for the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, I’ve discovered that there were many women engaged in detective work both in London and further afield in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. In fact, one of the first lady detectives Kate Warne got a job at the famous Chicago agency Pinkerton’s as early as 1856. By 1894, Henry Slater (head of one of London’s largest detective agencies) was advertising Slater’s Women Detectives and at around the same time, Moser’s Ladies Detective Agency was set up by his rival, the ex-Scotland Yard inspector Maurice Moser. Meanwhile, Kate Easton was one of the first lady detectives to set up her own agency in London, which she established in 1905, declaring: ‘Blackmail, divorce, evidence, robbery, I undertake it all; I have touched everything except murder.’
Meanwhile, although women could not officially work for the police in the UK, Scotland Yard had been quietly hiring lady detectives to help with their cases as early as 1899. And across the pond in the USA, Isabella Goodwin was hired as New York’s first woman police detective in the 1900s, investigating burglars and swindlers; whilst Frances Benzecry worked as a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan to expose fake medical pracitioners.
Anyone who has read the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents will be interested to hear that another place women detectives could often be found in the 1900s was in London’s department stores! Stores like my own (fictional) Sinclair’s would frequently hire women to help prevent shoplifting, as women detectives were better able to blend in with the customers. When it opened in 1909, Selfridges hired a detective named Matilda Mitchell as the head up its very own ‘secret service’. She and her staff helped to catch thieves and frustrate the efforts of gangs like the ‘Forty Elephants’ who would sweep into the shop and cause a rumpus, while others quickly stuffed furs and expensive trinkets into outfits fitted with pockets especially for the purpose.
I recently read a fascinating new book The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton which explores the intriguing story of one of these early lady detectives, Maud West, in more detail. I was especially interested to discover that Maud had a surprising number of things in common with Sophie and Lil!
Maud reportedly set up her own detective agency in 1905: she had a number of both male and female detectives working for her, and an office in Bloomsbury. She had a particular eye for publicity, placing advertisements in the press (‘Maud West, Lady Detective. Are you worried? If so, consult me! Private enquiries and delicate matters undertaken anywhere with secrecy and ability’) but also writing colourful newspaper stories about her cases, seeking out publicity stunts, and circulating pictures of herself in various disguises.
According to her own accounts, her detective work involved everything from unmasking blackmailers to foiling jewel thieves to infiltrating dangerous gangs. She frequently used disguises, changing her appearance with wigs and make-up, and often dressed as a man, occupying rooms in a hotel as a ‘titled Englishman’ and following her suspects ‘into their clubs, playing baccarat beside them at the Monte Carlo Casino. She would reportedly disguise herself as ‘a shabby old scrubwoman’ at 5pm before being at the Ritz elegantly dressed for dinner by 7pm. She even claimed to have been involved in catching foreign spies, and just like Sophie and Lil, apparently worked for the British intelligence services during the First World War.
Something else that I was particularly intrigued to discover about Maud is that just like Sophie she appears to have started her career as a shop assistant – possibly even working in millinery – and that just like Lil she may have spent some time on the stage.
Later, her two daughters also came to work for her as detectives. One newspaper reported that her daughter Vera (described as ‘a pretty fair-haired girl of 17’ when she first started working for Maud) was such a clever young detective that she was dubbed ‘Miss Sherlock Holmes’.
It seems that my idea of Edwardian girl detectives was not so very far-fetched after all!
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries and Taylor & Rose Secret Agents
Following on from my list of children’s books set in Paris, I wanted to put together a new list to celebrate Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg!
There are obviously lots of children’s and young adult books set elsewhere in Russia, or that are inspired by Russian folk tales. However, these five all have scenes that are set specifically in and around St Petersburg (or Leningrad) itself.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico
Deep in the snowy woods, Feo lives in a wooden house, with her mother – a ‘wolf-wilder’ who helps to re-wild the wolves that foolish men have tried to tame. Feo has grown up amongst the wolves, and could howl before she could talk. But when the Russian Army appear and kidnap her mother, Feo’s life is turned upside down. Now she must travel through the harsh winter landscape to St Petersburg to try and rescue her mother, teaming up with some unexpected new friends she meets along the way. This is an enchanting story from Katherine Rundell, with wonderfully atmospheric illustrations from Gelrev Ongbico.
Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
In this reimagining of the classic story of The Prince and the Pauper set in Tsarist Russia, Elena lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her future is bleak, until the night that a grand steam train stops unexpectedly at her village’s abandoned station. Aboard is Ekaterina, a girl who looks just like Elena, although in every other way she couldn’t be more different. Soon the two girls have switched places and Elena is on her way to St Petersburg – beginning an extrordinary adventure that also features a Fabergé Egg, the mythical Firebird, a prince in disguise, and the famous Baba Yaga herself.
Rendezvous in Russia by Lauren St John
In this instalment of Lauren St John’s engaging Laura Marlin series, young detective Laura, her faithful husky Skye and her friend Tariq have left behind their Cornish home for another adventure abroad. This time they’re joining a film crew in the faraway city of St Petersburg. But once on the set of ‘The Artistocratic Thief’, a new movie about an art heist, they find themselves mixed up in a real-life mystery.
The Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakoleva, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Set in 1938, during the time of Stalin’s purges, this is the intriguing story of 7-year-old Shura. He leads a normal life in Leningrad, going to school, playing with his friends, and fighting with his big sister. But then his Mama, Papa and baby brother Bobka suddenly disappear without trace. The neighbours are saying they were enemies of Stalin, who have been taken away by the mysterious ‘Raven’. Desperate to reunite his family, Shura sets out to hunt down the ‘Raven’ – but there are strange adventures ahead.
The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable
On a school trip to St Petersburg, Sophie and her friends get aboard the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful and mysterious Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers that secrets – and dangers – are lying in wait for her in the crumbling palace …
Finally of course I have to mention Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg! In the second in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series, it’s 1911 and Sophie is missing in action after an explosive Secret Service Bureau mission in Paris. Lil decides to take matters into her own hands, setting out to track her down in misty and mysterious St Petersburg. But can they uncover the identity of their true enemy – and can they trust anyone, even the Bureau itself?
If you have a favourite children’s book set in St Petersburg I’d love to hear about it – leave me a comment below!
If you enjoyed this list then do check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists:
To celebrate the publication of Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Peril in Paris, I wanted to share a few more children’s books with a Parisian setting. If you’re planning a trip to the City of Lights – or simply want to imagine yourself there, here are some recommended reads:
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
As a baby, Sophie was discoveed floating in a cello case after a shipwreck on the English Channel. She finds a home in London with her eccentric guardian Charles – but when a child welfare agency threaten to send her to an orphanage instead, the two of them set off to Paris on a quest to find her lost mother. From an attic window, Sophie soon begins exploring the rooftops of Paris with a boy called Matteo and his friends, who have adventures above the busy city streets. Can they help Sophie find her mother before she is caught and sent back to London? This enchanting children’s story is absolutely charming – a deserving winner of the Blue Peter Book Award.
Paris Up Up and Away by Helene Druvert
The Eiffel Tower decides to cut loose and fly over the night-time rooftops of Paris in this gorgeous and whimsical illustrated book. Through a series of delicate paper-cuts, Helene Druvert captures all the sights of the city, from the Seine to the Opera to Notre Dame. There’s something about this book which perfectly evokes the feeling of Paris, making it a really lovely introduction to the city for younger children.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
One of my favourite young adult romances, this is the tale of American girl Anna, who is not at all happy about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris by her parents. But when she meets the charismatic Étienne St Clair, and everything changes. This is a truly delightful love story that will make you fall in love with both Paris and Étienne along with Anna, and will leave you yearning to stroll around the city streets.
Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson
I’m a huge fan of Catherine Johnson’s historical fiction for children and young adults, and her two books featuring young surgeon Ezra McAdam (the first is Sawbones) are some of my absolute favourites. In this story, Ezra must hasten to Paris to rescue his friend Loveday and her charge Mahmoud, who have been caught up in the Revolution. On his journey, Ezra travels through the battlefields of Northern France, putting his surgical skills to work – but when he finally arrives in Paris, he realises that finding Loveday and Mahmoud will not be easy…
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Another gripping novel for young adults which is set during the French Revolution, this is an enthralling fantasy with an intriguing cast of characters. Yann is a boy with amazing magical abilities: a brief meeting with Sido, a lonely, shy young heiress will change his life forever. After crossing the sinister Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, he finds himself in danger, and must escape to London. But before long he returns to Paris to find out Kalliovski’s darkest deeds – and save Sido from the guillotine…
In Paris With You by Clementine Beauvais
Inspired by Pushkin’s novel and Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, this verse novel is definitely one for older young adult readers. A chance meeting aboard the Paris Metro reunites Tatiana and Eugene 10 years after their summer when they were 14 and 17, stirring up all kinds of emotions. What really happened that summer? Could they ever be together after everything that has passed? Beautifully translated from French by Sam Taylor, this is a wonderful, nostalgic and wistful Parisian love story.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
‘In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…’ No list of children’s books set in Paris would be complete without the classic Madeline series of picture books, which are now over 80 years old. Full of charm, the glorious illustrations perfectly evoke a delightfully old-fashioned Paris.
Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson
Amongst the tummult of Paris in 1871, 16-year-old Zephyrine is lured by the ideals of the city’s new government, and the prospect of freedom, hope and equality. Young musician Anatole is soon swept up with her – but his friends are not too sure. Opera-singer Marie and photographer Jules are uncertain about what life under the Paris Commune will mean for them. Soon all four must the reality – and dangers – of life during a revolution. In this historical novel for young adults, Lydia Syson paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune.
William and the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Hancocks
William the detective cat sets out to Paris — ‘the city of art and cheese’ — to solve the mystery of a stolen painting in this delightful picture book. The quirky and colourful artwork is perfect for this hilarious riff on the classic detective tale, featuring mysterious clues, a sinister villain, lots of silly cheese-based puns, and a dramatic final reveal. But as well as being a fun story for children and adults to enjoy together, it’s also a lovely portrait of Paris — complete with art galleries, noisy traffic, stylish fashions and long lunches.
Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais
This is my second pick from the brilliant French author Clementine Beauvais, and it’s not even really set in Paris, but I couldn’t resist including it as I adored this book. After being voted the three ugliest girls in school by their classmates, the three ‘Piglettes’ – Mireille, Astrid and Hakima – climb aboard their bikes and set off on a summer roadtrip to Paris, with fame and adventure in store. Witty, irreverent and joyful, it’s an absolute treat.
Although my list of ten is complete, I want to finish by mentioning some books of my own! Rose’s Dress of Dreams, illustrated by Kate Pankhurst, is my story inspired by Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette’s dress-maker who is often considered to be the world’s first fashion designer. Young Rose dreams of sewing stunning dresses for the women of Paris, but when a chance encounter with royalty changes her life, Rose must draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all…
And finally, there’s Taylor & Rose Secret Agents: Peril in Paris
which sees young detectives Sophie and Lil setting out on a mission amongst the boulevards and grand hotels of Paris in 1911. But danger lurks beneatht the bright lights of the city – and intrigue and murder lie in store. As aeroplanes soar in the skies overhead, our heroines will need to put all their spy skills to the test to face the peril that awaits them…
Do you have a favourite children’s book set in Paris? Let me know in the comments below…!
Edit: if you enjoyed this list then do also check out my other Taylor & Rose inspired booklists:
The clock on the mantelpiece had chimed four o’clock and the light was already fading, but down below her, all along the street, the shop windows were bright and twinkling, and the pavements were thronged with people, wrapped up in overcoats and mufflers. Groups were gathering before the windows of Sinclair’s to admire the parade of Christmas trees, beautifully dressed with gleaming silver stars, candied apples and bonbons wrapped in shiny paper…
Beyond, uniformed porters hurried out to waiting motor cars and taxi cabs, their arms piled high with Sinclair’s parcels, and all the while, Sidney Parker, the Head Doorman, stood at the top of the steps ringing a bell to welcome people in.
When I was writing the Sinclair’s Mysteries I knew that the final book, The Midnight Peacock was going to be set at Christmas in 1909. I was excited to write about snowy Edwardian London and Sinclair’s department store during the festive season – but although I already had a good idea of how the Edwardians celebrated Christmas, before I got started, I wanted to learn more about their festive traditions.
Here’s an overview of the Edwardian Christmas:
Christmas trees were a firm fixture of the festive season, having become popular in the UK from the 1850s onwards. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who was German, is usually credited with having introduced them to the UK. Many people put up their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve itself. Christmas decorations would typically have included plenty of evergreens – holly, ivy, laurel, and mistletoe – as well as paper-chains and other home-made paper decorations.
Christmas crackers were first invented in the 1840s by a confectioner called Tom Smith. Originally they were sweets wrapped in pretty paper, containing a motto or message: the idea of making them ‘crack’ is supposed to have been inspired by the crackle of logs burning in the fireplace. Later the sweet inside was replaced by a small gift. Smith’s growing cracker business was later taken over by his sons, Tom, Walter and Henry: Walter introduced paper hats into the crackers, and travelled in search of new ideas for gifts to put inside them. The company went on to develop many different ‘themed’ crackers, including some specially designed for the Suffragettes! By 1900, Tom Smith & Co sold 13 million crackers each year.
Christmas cards were also sent in the UK from the 1840s onwards. Postage was cheap and as a result, sending Christmas cards became very popular: by 1880, 11.5 million cards were sent in the UK each year. But not all of the designs were quite what we’d expect today: far from the traditional images we might imagine, Victorian and Edwardian Christmas cards could feature rather more surreal pictures like these…
Hanging up stockings for Father Christmas to fill was a relatively new tradition, which didn’t begin in the UK until the late 19th/early 20th century. Children’s stockings would have included toys and sweets as well as the traditional orange and nuts. Father Christmas himself looked a little different on Edwardian Christmas cards – often shown wearing a blue hooded robe rather than the red-and-white suit we think of today. Sometimes he was also depicted with a wreath of evergreens around his head.
Christmas dinner wouldn’t necessarily be turkey. Many people in the 1900s would eat roast beef or roast goose for their Christmas meal – but a grand Edwardian Christmas dinner could have included a vast array of dishes such as pheasant pie, an ox-heart in aspic, or even a whole roasted pig’s head. Mince pies and plum pudding would certainly have featured on the Edwardian Christmas menu.
The idea of Christmas shopping was still fairly new. The Edwardians did exchange gifts at Christmas, but not on the same scale that we do today. Many people would give handmade gifts; however, by 1909 department stores like Selfridges were becoming popular for buying Christmas gifts. They had sumptuous Christmas window-displays which for the first time were lit up at night, for passers-by to admire. The first Christmas illuminations arrived a few years later, in 1912.
For more about Edwardian Christmas-time, there is a lovely little book of illustrations called An Edwardian Christmas by John S. Goodall, shown above (sadly now out of print but available secondhand). Lots of Edwardian children’s books have wonderful Christmas scenes – try The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E Nesbit, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett or The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme. Less well known is Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive which is a funny tale about a little girl’s Christmas holiday in a large Edwardian country house.
Or of course you could also read The Midnight Peacock which as well as Sinclair’s at Christmas will take to a Christmas country house party at snowy Winter Hall, and to Mr Sinclair’s very glamorous Midnight Peacock Ball for New Year’s Eve!
Find out more about The Midnight Peacock | Buy now from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon
The pictures in this post all come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board (click on an image for the source)
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries
After my recent Behind the Scenes post all about Edwardian fashion, I’ve been looking forward to writing about one of the most iconic designers of the early 20th century, Paul Poiret – and his influence on The Midnight Peacock.
Born in Paris in 1879, Poiret started out as apprentice to an umbrella-maker and then worked as a dress designer before being hired by Paris couture house Jacques Doucet. His first design for them (a red cape) sold an impressive 400 copies. He went on to work for another famous couture house, the House of Worth, where he pioneered new modern shapes, and simple loose-fitting styles that were suited to a slim, uncorseted figure – and were very different to the fashions that Edwardian ladies typically wore.
These styles were often highly controversial – in fact, when he presented the Russian Princess Bariatsky with one of his kimono-style coats, she exclaimed:
What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that!
In 1903, Poiret established his own couture house where he focused on bold new styles including the hobble skirt, the cloche hat, the ‘lampshade’ tunic, and most daring of all the ‘harem pants’. His designs made use of strong shapes and lines, innovative draping techniques and a rich colour palette. He particularly disliked the pale pastel colours of his day, which he describes in his autobiography as:
…nuances of nymph’s thigh, lilacs, swooning mauves, tender blue hortensias, niles, maizes, straws, all that was soft, washed-out and insipid… I threw into this sheepcote a few rough wolves: reds, greens, violets, royal blues, that made all the rest sing aloud… There were orange and lemon crêpe de Chines, which they would not have dared to imagine… the morbid mauves were hunted out of existence.
Poiret took inspiration from Leon Bakst’s designs for the Ballets Russes as well as objects he saw in museums, and the latest modern art movements. He worked with a number of artists, who drew fashion illustrations or created textile prints for him – including Raoul Dufy and Erté. He also collaborated with art photographer Edward Steichen to create what is now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. His work was enormously influential, and continues to inspire designers today. (The rich colours, lush fur trimmings and sumptuous embellished velvets of A/W 2017 are definitely very Poiret!)
But as well as being known for the artistry of his designs, Poiret was also a highly innovative marketeer. He gained a reputation for his theatrical flair for promotion, creating opulent and eye-catching window displays – some of which were inspired by the seasons. He wrote:
When it snowed, I called up all the faëry of winter by white cloths and tulles and muslins intermingled with dead branches, and I dressed the passing moment with an appositeness that ravished all who walked by in the street.
Poiret was also one of the first fashion designers to branch out into other areas such as interior design and perfume. In 1911, he unveiled a line of fragrances named ‘Parfums de Rosine’ after his eldest daughter.
Parfums de Rosine
He really pushed the boat out for the launch of his first fragrance, throwing a sensational party at his luxurious home in Paris, entitled ‘La Mille et Deuxième Nuit’ (the Thousand and Second Night). 300 guests attended the event, which he described as ‘an unforgettable fete’. His gardens were lit with lanterns and filled with tropical birds and monkeys: there were storytellers, dancers, ‘mysterious and sinful drinks’ served in ‘crystal ewers’ and Poiret himself appeared as the reigning ‘sultan’ of the evening, gifting his guests with bottles of his perfume ‘Nuit Persane’.
If you’ve read The Midnight Peacock, you won’t be surprised to learn that Paul Poiret was an important point of inspiration for the character of French fashion designer César Chevalier who appears in the book and teams up with Mr Sinclair for a lavish New Year’s Eve Ball to launch his new Maison Chevalier fragrance ‘The Midnight Peacock’. The Midnight Peacock Ball itself of course also takes some inspiration from Poiret and his lavish parties. The scented fan invitation which appears at the start of the book also takes its cue from Poiret, who used scented fans like this one to advertise his ‘Parfums de Rosine’.
The clothes that Sophie and Lil and the guests at the Midnight Peacock Ball wear are also very much inspired by Poiret’s designs – and I think he’d definitely approve of the rich purple cover! Take a look at the Midnight Peacock Pinterest board for lots more visual inspirations for the book.
If you’d like to read more about Paul Poiret, his autobiography The King of Fashion published by the V&A is full of entertaining snippets, whether he’s describing a black cloak as expressing ‘all the sadness of a romantic dénouement, all the bitterness of a fourth act’ or describing a fellow couturier as ‘pinning on ribbons with enchanted hands, modelling and draping and cutting out, with the great scissors he produced from his pocket, in a fire of inspiration, satins, taffetas, tulles and muslins…the joy and excitement that fill a true creator of fashion.’
The pictures in this post all come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board (click on an image for the source) where you can also find lots more pictures of Edwardian fashion
Find out more about The Midnight Peacock | Buy now from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries
*Don’t forget! You have until 18 December to enter my Midnight Peacock competition to win a signed book and a box of festive goodies. Sign up to my newsletter here to enter – or find out more*