Tuesday, 21 February 2017


Lilie Ferrari writes about Dickens' friendly rival, the author Mary Braddon:

‘Everyone has heard of Charles Dickens, author of the books we grew up with as children and continue to read as adults – Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend…I could go on. In his lifetime, Dickens published more than a dozen major novels, a large number of short stories, a handful of plays, and several non-fiction books.

However, you may not know that during his lifetime he had a friendly rival – and although forgotten now, during the 1860’s, the popular fiction writer Mary Elizabeth Braddon was queen of the Victorian sensation novel in England. 

Like Dickens, she was the Victorian version of a soap writer. Like him, Mary Braddon’s novels were originally published in magazines, in many instalments (sometimes sixty or more).  She wrote over eighty “sensation” novels, and was a writer of extraordinary appeal and popularity. Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) was the most successful of her novels: that and Aurora Floyd (1863) made her rich for life. But there were dozens more, all keenly received and highly praised at the time. Henry James  described her writing as “brilliant, lively, ingenious and destitute of a ray of sentiment.”

She contributed essays, short stories, and poems to such high-circulation periodicals as Punch and The World; and edited the two literary magazines most closely associated with the Sensation Novel, Temple Bar and Belgravia. In 1899, the Daily Telegraph named Lady Audley's Secret as one of the world's best one hundred novels, despite the fact that it had been published almost four decades earlier. According to The Victorian Web, Braddon “had been one of a handful of young, revolutionary novelists who in their artistic responses to the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 had created dangerous, scheming heroines embroiled in the complications of what negative reviews termed the "Bigamy Plot." She, Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins, Ellen Price Wood, Edmund Yates, and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu created a new genre while championing the rights of women against an obviously male-biased law that determined that, while a wife's adultery alone was sufficient cause for a divorce action, a husband's adultery was insufficient unless accompanied by physical abuse.”

Should we be surprised that her name has all but disappeared? Probably not – as we know, the same is true of so many women in the history of all creative arts.

Mary Braddon’s own life reads like a Victorian melodrama. When only four years old her mother left her father, a feckless Cornish solicitor, and took her three children away. Mary began writing at the age of eight, but in 1857, when her mother’s money ran out, she took the name of Mary Seyton and became an actress, beginning with a part as “Fairy Pineapple” in a pantomime. Three years later, support from an admirer allowed her to leave the stage and write. She began writing serial fiction for the popular magazines of the day, several of which were owned by the Irish publisher John Maxwell, with whom she lived in unmarried union. Maxwell’s wife was in an insane asylum in Dublin, so the couple were unable to marry until the wife’s death in 1874. John Maxwell and Mary had six children, and also reared Maxwell’s five children from his first marriage.

Although her sensation novels created a huge moral storm, they were read avidly by  the famous men of her day: Tennyson, Dickens, Thackeray, Gladstone and Henry James, while at the same time being dismissed as fodder for girls and women “below stairs”.

Forgotten for so long, Mary is due for a revival, and one may be coming. As ever in the vanguard, Virago has reprinted some of her novels.  There’s also a Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association, founded in 2013 “to promote interest in the life and works of this important nineteenth century popular fiction writer”  (www.maryelizabethbraddon.com).  My small contribution to this campaign is the tv script that I am writing of Eleanor’s Victory, my favourite Braddon novel – now all I have to do is persuade some sympathetic broadcaster to turn away from Dickens – after all, his novels have all been dramatised to death - and look elsewhere….’

Lilie Ferrari is a tv script writer. She was co-creator and writer for the medical drama series ‘The Clinic’ for RTE, and has written episodes of ‘Peak Practice’ (Carlton), ‘Dangerfield’ (BBC), ‘Casualty’ (BBC), ‘Berkeley Square’ (BBC), ‘Holby ‘(BBC) and numerous episodes of ‘EastEnders’ (BBC). She storylined for 'EastEnders', ‘Family Affairs’ (Channel 5), and ‘Playing the Field’ for Tiger Aspect/BBC. Lilie has also had four novels published, and is currently working on her fifth. Her short story Sorry Business will appear in Words And Women: Four.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Our International Women's Day celebrations!

We're having a week of celebrations. 
Have a look at our dedicated blog page IWD17 for more details.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Our anthology writers – part 5

Victoria Shropshire moved from North Carolina to Glasgow to pursue a PhD in 2015. Her critical research and creative writing focus on the impact of inherited narratives on identity (re)construction. While the odd poem and short story emerge, she is currently focused on completing her debut novel, a fictionalized memoir in which a derelict debutante is rescued by Dobermans and drag queens. A cancer survivor with a wicked sense of humor, Victoria is a lover of all dogs, cigars, books, fine dining, beach houses, art, music, jigsaw puzzles, and Netflix.  Her pet peeves are seahorse birdbaths, cypress clocks, and velvet paintings of Elvis. Victoria’s story Beauregard’s Last Walk will feature in Words And Women: Four.

Penny Simpson is a fiction writer and deviser of creative research projects exploring culture and human rights. She is currently recipient of an AHRC/CHASE postgraduate research scholarship at the University of Essex. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies published by Bloomsbury, Dalkey Archive Press and Virago. She has also published two novels. Her short story Winter’s Map  will appear in Words And Women: Four.

Mary White lives in West Cornwall and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Lancaster. Her house opens onto sand dunes and she loves to walk her dog here, hoping that the beauty and mystery of this place will inform her creativity. She loves to write about identity and the process of change in the lives of ordinary people. She has worked for many years with troubled young people and more recently with the survivors of domestic abuse. Her area of study within the MA is the short story form and her reason for studying at this level is simply to become the best writer that she can. Mary loves family and grandchildren, walking and talking, reading (everything) and enjoying the wonderful food and creative arts that Cornwall has to offer. She loves statement jewellery and in her spare time likes to design and make her own. She was previously runner up in the Five Stop
Story competition. Mary’s story Some Adjustment Required  will appear in Words And Women: Four.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Our anthology writers – part 4

Marianne Picton is a third year English Literature and Creative Writing student from Cambridge, studying in Norwich at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Her hobbies, besides writing, include reading (of course) and baking ‘informal’ but very yummy carrot-and-walnut cakes. Her short story Memory Thief  will appear in Words And Women: Four.

Ronne Randall was born in New York in 1947 and has lived in the UK since 1985. She has worked in book publishing since the late 1960s, and in 1980 began editing and writing mass-market and educational children’s books – she has published more than 150 titles. More recently, she has been focusing on writing for a different audience, and has had stories published in Mslexia and The Forgotten and the Fantastical, volumes 2 and 3 (Mother’s Milk Books). The Talent Show , which will be published in Words And Women: Four, is part of a longer memoir she is writing about growing up in a Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Kate Robinson is a sculptor whose public art is represented  throughout the country. Her work has been published in creative and academic contexts on subjects as diverse as the rhetoric of sculpture to the history of science. She has devised and directed work for theatre and has recently been commissioned to adapt an early play by the Czech writer Franz Werfel. Her non-fiction piece Komodo Dragon  will feature in Words And Women: Four.

Cherise Saywell was born and brought up in Australia and lives in Scotland. She has published two novels, Desert Fish (2011) and Twitcher (2013) (both Vintage). Her short stories have won the Mslexia Short Story Prize and the VS Pritchett Prize and been shortlisted for several others including the Asham Award, the Bath Short Story Prize and the Salt Prize. In 2015 she had a story selected for the BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines. Cherise’s stories have been published in Mslexia, The London Magazine and New Writing Scotland, as well as several anthologies. She lives in Edinburgh with her family and is working on her third novel. Cherise’s story Private Parts  will appear in Words And Women: Four.