Monday, 27 August 2018
What Happened to Selina Smith.
Last night I finally uploaded this novella on Smashwords. Thanks to Phill Evans, who designed the cover, and other people who filled me in on the lives of Victorian showmen.
Selina, 13, and the eldest of four children, lives in a cottage near Market Drayton. Her father works on the canal, unloading barges and seeing to the needs of the bargees and their horses.
Her mother is expecting another child and is unwell and not able to work. Selina leaves school to attend the annual Hiring Fair and is chosen to work at the Rectory as a laundress, where she shares a room with Molly, the parlor maid. Life becomes even harder when Selina's mother dies in childbirth, and to comfort herself she visits Bostock and Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie, which has just arrived in town...
This Menagerie did visit Market Drayton and there is a photograph of the procession, led by a camel and an elephant pulling the lead wagon. Anyone who know camels will tell you this was no easy achievement. Back to the story.
You've guessed it. Selina leaves the Rectory after avoiding the advances of Mr Rodney, the son of the house, who feels she should be his property, and goes off with the Menagerie, becoming part of the circus family with Betty, the Python Handler, Marcus Orenzo, the lion tamer, Wallace the lion, Major Mite Tiny and a dozen more showmen and women.
This book, drawn closely from contemporaneous accounts in newspapers of the era, tells of one young penniless girl's adventures and how she uses her wits and skill to survive, thrive and support her younger siblings.
Saturday, 25 August 2018
This is how it starts...
'Scummo curled up tighter under his dirty blankets. His hair itched and the sour smell of stale damp bedding made his nostrils widen. It was barely light but already the dog warden was doing its rounds. He heard the rattle of the creature’s nails on the gritty concrete outside as it sniffed at his door. He threw a shoe at the door, recklessly. There was a loud growling from the other side and then a frantic scrabbling as the animal tried to get in. Scummo had nailed a piece of tin over the lower part of the door. The dog retreated, and he could hear its paws padding away down the landing.
A child screamed loudly. Minna’s daughter, Kelpin, Scummo guessed. Well, she shouldn’t be out on the landing at this hour. He heard more barking and the sound of doors slamming; then it was quiet again. Scummo reluctantly pushed the blanket to one side and sat up, swinging his pale legs over the end of the mattress, and scratched his dry wiry hair. The apartment was cold... '
So begins the story of THE MARSH PEOPLE.
This young man, Scummo, responds to the distress of a terrified child he hears in the next apartment. Normally he would have ignored the scream, would have shut himself off from the horrific things going on around him, and got on with the mechanical, joyless business of surviving in the City. But this little girl's distress triggers a response he doesn't know he's capable of.
He stops accepting the situation and begins to evaluate the risks of freedom and free will. The adage 'Man cannot live by bread alone' has never been more true.
When I started writing this book, I thought it was about 'learned helplessness - see Seligman's theory - but I think now it's also about the primitive response systems we have to the distress of others. In some of us that empathic response is missing, or has been blunted by events that have left us emotionally numb. New parents are sometimes overwhelmed by the power of the newborn infant to trigger intense feelings of super-protectiveness, a need to nurture, hyper-vigilance and responsibility, and these feelings can extend to other peoples' children too.
A new-born baby's cry is very hard to ignore. A mother weeping for her lost child, a father numbed by his failure to protect, a five year old with no protective adult reliably there - these
should move us all.
In a parallel world, of course, there are very young children who, as I write, are being held in detention centers in the U.S., without their parents. We should all be listening. The President's wife is moved. Why not the President?