Remembering the suffragettes: Julie Hearn on Hazel and Emily Wilding Davison

This week marks the centenary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, an activist who fought for women’s suffrage in Britain, famously stepping in front of the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby. Author Julie Hearn joins us to talk about Emily, the suffragettes, and the inspiration behind her novel Hazel.

For a while, years ago, I lived in a bedsit down The Old Kent Road. The walls were the faded mauve of wisteria.  I bought a green silk throw for the bed and a junk shop chair and chest of drawers, which I painted toothpaste white.

‘Suffragette colours,’ my mother said.

‘What?’

I hadn’t ‘done’ the suffragettes at school.  I don’t think they had crossed my radar at all. I was nineteen years old and taking everything for granted.  Further education.  Independence.  My right to speak as I found and do as I pleased.  Everything.

Older now, and more enlightened, I recently went all out on eBay to secure, for myself, an Edwardian shoe buckle of green and white enamel set with purple stones.  And it pleases me to know the facts behind the fact that Carlisle Park in Morpeth, Northumberland, has been planted, this summer, with  Purpleicious Veronica, White  Bell Campanula, and the variegated greens and whites of carefully chosen hostas.

This year marks the centenary of Morpeth suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s death.  Hence the colours in the park.  And the flurry of commemorative events being held, this month, across the country.  And the new edition of my fourth novel, Hazel, which begins with the ill-fated action that ended Emily’s life.

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Emily Wilding Davison was a leading militant in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She believed that deeds, not words, would get women in this country the vote. On June 4th, 1913, she joined a crowd of spectators at the Epsom Derby with two suffrage banners concealed beneath her coat.  Grainy newsreel footage shows her stepping onto the racecourse, and raising her hands, as horses thunder past.  She is kicked and sent flying by Anmer, a thoroughbred owned by King George V.  She died in hospital four days later, without regaining consciousness. She was 40 years old.

‘In her mind she saw, again, the kick and the fall.  The woman had resembled an ungainly bird flying through the air like that with her black coat billowing. A stoned crow. A smashed rook. A blackbird hit by a pea-shooter.’  (Hazel, p. 10)

I never set out to put real people in my books. They turn up, like actors with no pre-arranged audition, while I’m researching a time or a place. It started with a few poor souls who were shown as ‘monsters’ at Bartholomew Fair at the beginning of the eighteenth century (Follow Me Down). Then Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General swaggered into The Merrybegot, followed by a young and utterly charming Charles II. Dante Gabriel Rossetti is ‘The Italian’ in Ivy. And in my seventh novel, Dance of the Dark Heart (to be published by OUP in April 2014) fantasy and history do a fairly resounding ‘high five’ when the Devil’s son plays the fiddle for the fifth wife of Henry VIII.

Emily Wilding Davison got into my notebook, and my head, very soon after I began researching Hazel. At that point, I knew a lot about Hazel’s mother, Ivy (the protagonist of my third novel) but nothing at all about Hazel herself. The story needed to be set at a time when Ivy might, conceivably, have had a teenage daughter, so I’d written 1910-1915? in big red letters, on the first page of my notebook.

I didn’t want to write a war story.  I didn’t think I could.  So 1913 became the year I looked at first—and that’s where I found Emily, slipping under the railing at the Epsom Derby.

As usual, following one thread led to another. Before long, my notebook was filling up nicely and my head buzzing with questions. I saw Hazel and her father watching the race and knew, at once, that Hazel was a ‘little princess’—a pampered, naive girl knowing even less than I did, at her age, about the ways of the world.

And I thought: what if Hazel’s father turns out to be a serious gambler? What if he loses money—a LOT of money—at this race and has some kind of a breakdown as a result? What might the repercussions of that be for Hazel?

It was enough. I began to write.

Recently, I gave a talk about Emily Wilding Davison and Hazel at a girls’ school in Bristol.  I wore my Edwardian shoe buckle on a velvet choker; a purple skirt, white blouse, and dark green boots and cardigan.

‘I didn’t just throw myself together this morning, girls,’ I said to a group of year eights.  ‘What do I mean by that?’

‘Suffragette colours!’ chorused around fifty young, female, voices.

Emily would have been proud.

Julie Hearn1

Julie Hearn used to be a journalist. After her daughter was born she began a degree in Education but switched to English after suffering a panic attack while attempting to teach maths to year six.

She went on to complete a Masters Degree in women’s studies at Oxford University, where something she read about a young girl who was shown as a fairground ‘monster’ in the 17th century inspired her first novel, Follow Me Down.

Since then Julie has written many novels. She has been nominated four times for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award, the UKLA Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction prize.

Julie lives in Oxfordshire where she writes full time (most mornings anyway) in a pink and green office in her garden.

Find out more about Julie’s ‘Emily and Hazel’ school and library talk here, which explores the Suffragette Movement through fact and fiction. You can contact Julie via her website.

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Hazel is out now.

The secret world of smuggling: researching Smuggler’s Kiss

Historical fiction author Marie-Louise Jensen introduces us to the hidden world of smuggling – the backdrop to her latest novel Smuggler’s Kiss. Isabelle is rescued from drowning by the crew of a notorious smuggling ship, and finds herself in a world of adventure, romance, and a thrilling fight for justice.

9780192792808_SMUGGLERS_KISS_CVR_MAR13Researching smuggling is a tortuous and fascinating conundrum. The very nature of the smuggling trade required it to be cloaked in secrecy: nothing written down, no traces left behind. The loyalty of the coastal communities to the self-titled ‘Gentlemen of the Night’, or smugglers, was absolute. And this often included the vicar, the magistrate and the squire. Deliveries to local people were made quietly and discreetly under cover of darkness; payment by cash or favours only. The ponies’ hooves were muffled and they even wore special no-jingle harnesses.

So the question is; how do we know the details of the smuggling that was done in the 1700s, at this distance of time? The answer? Honestly? We don’t.

We do have information, of course. Smugglers were caught and tried and we have the records of those trials. Dedicated revenue officers tracked and watched them and wrote reports. Evidence, in the form of barrels of brandy, was discovered in the unlikeliest of places (churches, graves, ponds) and confiscated. A few brave or foolhardy smuggling veterans wrote accounts of their adventures in later life. But these are pieces of the story; fragments that do not always fit together. The gaps are filled in by folklore and local tales which abound. Whole legends have grown up around the illicit trade. What is delightful about most of this is it is notoriously, wonderfully unreliable.

It was never in the Gentlemen’s interest to spill their secrets, their contacts, their routes or their ploys. Even caught red-handed, they were relying on being acquitted by juries loyal to the smugglers not to the King.  Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall juries (the areas I studied) could rarely be brought to convict, no matter how damning the evidence. And even if smugglers were put in gaol, they relied on their colleagues in free trading to support their families; by continuing in the trade, naturally. Not to mention that measures against informers and their families were often severe. Not all the gangs were violent, but there are accounts of atrocities.

I love the idea that we don’t really know all that went on. I have based my own accounts of smuggling runs and ploys in Smuggler’s Kiss on the tales that have survived to be recounted in books, with no certainty which of them are true and which are exaggerated folklore. The notion of land signals such as a sail or sheet spread on the roof of a barn, spout lanterns or fired gorse bushes seem plausible, as does walking along a cliff in a red cloak to give an all-clear signal. I have Isabelle do this in Smuggler’s Kiss. According to stories that have survived, it was a woman called Lovey Warne of the New Forest who was credited with the daring idea.

We know that the smugglers were brazen enough to call their swift, manoeuvrable ships names like The Invisible; a name so wonderfully cheeky that I had to borrow it for the story. We also know that French traders had warehouses set up in France especially to supply the smugglers with goods packaged small enough that they could be unloaded in remote and inaccessible parts of the English coast and carried. On the other hand, the rumours of extensive caves and long tunnels inland on the south coast of England which are so popular in folklore have largely been discredited. After all, how could all that earth have been moved? Why have no long tunnels ever been found?

Ultimately, a lot of the ‘history’ is guess work. The trade kept many of its secrets. Afraid of knowing too much, the communities looked the other way and were happy to buy the Gentlemen’s cheap brandy, tea, snuff or lace without asking too many questions. As Kipling said in his poem, A Smuggler’s Song: ‘Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!’

Louise Photo for av. author sheet

Born in Henley-on-Thames of an English father and Danish mother, Marie-Louise Jensen’s early years were plagued by teachers telling her to get her nose out of a book and learn useful things like maths. She studied Scandinavian and German with literature at the UEA and has lived in both Denmark and Germany. After teaching English at a German university for four years, Marie-Louise returned to England to care for her children full time. She completed an MA in Writing for Young People at the Bath Spa University in 2005.

Her books have been shortlisted for many awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Branford Boase Award.

Marie-Louise lives in Bath with her two sons.

Smuggler’s Kiss is out now.

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