Here is a link to my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.
I have just read a very snooty review of my book in the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. The critic begins by saying that this is not the sort of book she normally reads and, after damning with faint praise for most of the article, concludes that it is an enjoyable read and would probably appeal to those who like sagas and ‘rags to riches’ stories. Since this is exactly the brief I received from the publisher I guess that means it is a success. It ‘does what it says on the tin’!
But it does beg the question, why give a book to be reviewed by someone who does not understand the genre? All the reviewers in the magazine are amateurs and books are allocated by editors who deal with the work of a particular publisher. Couldn’t he have found someone who enjoys that kind or book?
As a consolation, the book continues to receive 5 star ratings on Amazon.
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Workhouse Orphans is a fascinating and richly detailed book focusing on the poor of Victorian Liverpool and the world they live in.
In mid-Victorian Liverpool, two young children, May Lavender and her brother Gus are orphaned by the death of their mother. They are sent to the Workhouse, a cruel, cold place, where they are separated. Beaten by the teachers, starved and over worked, they manage to make friends and learn the skills they need to survive.
Finally escaping, May and Gus embark on difficult lives, always aware they are tainted by their past. May becomes a servant, and barely escapes an horrific fate to work in a department store, while Gus runs away to sea and becomes involved in the American Civil War.
Workhouse Orphans is a very enjoyable read. Holly Green has obviously done meticulous research for this book, and it shows in the level of detail. She clearly knows the history of Liverpool well, including the docks and the streets. I was fascinated by the scenes on the ships, and in the shops, and by the descriptions of Victorian Liverpool.
The lives of the two children, and their friends, manage to reflect the roles of the poor in Victorian England â€“ abused, used, discarded and reliant on luck and friendship to see them through. Having said that, this isnâ€™t a bleak book. May and Gus are likeable characters, and manage to navigate their way through the many dangers they meet. It’s the other characters who tend to fall victim to the darker side of Victorian life prostitution and abuse are everywhere. Holly Green doesnâ€™t shy away from the ugly scenes, but she also shows us the strength and companionship these people had.
The characters are well-drawn, including the minor ones, and the places â€“ not just Liverpool, but all over the world â€“ are vividly drawn. I knew nothing about Liverpool before reading this and now I want to visit.
I found Workhouse Orphans an absolutely compelling read that will appeal to those who like sagas of the poor and dispossessed making their way in the Victorian world.
Well, it’s that time of year again. Picking and freezing I lay waste my powers – to misquote Wordsworth. There are strawberries and raspberries from the local PYO farm to make into ice cream and summer puddings; French beans and mange tout peas and tons of courgettes to be frozen somehow, or turned into something else. To say nothing of keeping on top of the weeds!
But it doesn’t matter. For once I am well ahead with my writing. WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, my first Holly Green book, will be out in paperback on August 24th. The sequel, WORKHOUSE ANGEL, is finished and at the copy-editing stage. It should be in the libraries before the end of the year and out in paperback next summer. And I hope to finish the third book in the quartet by next spring. So for once I am free to enjoy the summer without feeling I should be at my desk.
I have found the research for these books really interesting. I knew very little about workhouses and the people who had to live in them but I soon had to expand my field of enquiry to take in Victorian society in general, and Liverpool in that period in particular. As always, I found the story taking me off in unexpected directions. Who could have guessed that it would lead me to the American Civil War and the blockade running ships built for the south in the dockyards of Liverpool and Birkenhead? Did you know that the final act of that conflict took place in the Mersey estuary? Or that Birkenhead Park was the first civic park designed for public use, and was the pattern for Central Park in New York? Book Two has taken me to Ireland, to look into the aftermath of the famine and convent education for girls, and the lives of Irish tinkers. And I found myself reverting to more familiar territory when the story led me to a travelling company of variety artistes.
Book Three will require research into nursing in the mid-Victorian era and the work of Florence Nightingale.
One good thing has come out of all this. I have found myself reading or re-reading Victorian authors – Dickens and the Brontes in particular. Nicholas Nickleby and Jane Eyre were potent sources of inspiration.
We have had two holidays this year. The first was a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Viking and I must say we were very well looked after. It was a fascinating journey, with so many beautiful and interesting cities and landscapes on the way. I should have liked to spend longer in Vienna, but Budapest was definitely the highlight. Then, at the beginning of this month, we went with our son and his wife to the Verdon Gorges in the Alpes Maritimes, north of Nice. It is a spectacularly beautiful area and we had glorious weather. The only bad things were the journeys out and back. We flew into Nice quite late in the evening and had to queue for a long time to pick up our hire car. Then the sat-nav went mad and took us on a scenic tour of the area – which might have been nice if it had not been pitch dark! We finally reached our rented villa at 3am! Then, coming back, our flight was cancelled. After a long wait in another queue we were sent to a hotel for the night and told we could fly back the next day to Gatwick. Considering the fact that our car was at Liverpool airport, this was less than convenient. However, it turned out that there were seven of us in the same boat and easyjet sent us back by taxi. The other five were really lively companions and we passed the time chatting and telling travellers’ tales. I think I may also have sold a few books!
I hope you are all enjoying the summer and finding time to do some reading.
With best wishes
I am delighted to tell you that my new novel, WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, which is published under my new pen name of Holly Green, will be in the libraries from March 3rd. Please put in a request for it straight away, so you will be at the head of the queue when it arrives.
I am already half way through the second book in the series, hoping to get it finished before the summer comes, so I will have a bit more time for the garden. This book takes on the story of May and Gus, but the main focus is on Angelina, the little girl to whom May became devoted in the workhouse but who was then adopted. This has led into new areas of research, including the beginnings of the Fenian movement in Ireland and the lifestyle of Irish tinkers. I have also been looking into convent schools in nineteenth century Ireland and have found a very interesting novel called ‘Land of Spices’ by Kate O’Brian, set in the convent of the Faithful Companions Of Jesus near Limerick. Well worth a read on its own account and invaluable for research. The next step is to investigate the role of children on the Victorian stage. I hope this is enough to pique your curiosity without giving away too much of the plot!
WORKHOUSE ORPHANS is now complete and in the hands of my editor, though I have no doubt there will be some tweaks required before the final version. It has been hard going, but enjoyable. There are so many areas to research, particularly as the nineteenth century is not a period I have written about before. It has also made me look into the history of Liverpool more closely. You might think that, living just across the Mersey as I do, I would have done it before and there are aspects of it which I discovered long ago when writing WE’LL MEET AGAIN; but there is so much I didn’t know. For example, during the American Civil War, while the UK was official neutral, the citizens of Liverpool supported the Confederate States of the south. Many of them were troubled in their consciences by the slave owning ethos of the south, but Liverpool relied for much of its wealth on the trade in cotton and Manchester was desperate for supplies for the mills. The northern states were blockading the ports from which the cotton was exported, so ship builders in Liverpool and Birkenhead began building ‘blockade runners’, steam ships built to evade the blockade and bring out the cotton. Researching this, I came across the story of the CSS Shenandoah, a ship whose purpose was to capture and destroy merchant ships belonging to the northern states and in particular to target the whaling fleet which produced much of the north’s riches. She was not built in Liverpool, but many of her crew came from there, and it was in Liverpool that she finally surrendered, as the very last act of the civil war. You will find that her voyage features in my book. Also there, is the creation of the first department store, a new concept in merchandising.
My two protagonists, May and Augustus (Gus), brought up in the orphanage attached to the workhouse, have to struggle against the odds, and in the face of Victorian class prejudice, which required people to ‘know their place’, in order to escape a life of drudgery and brutality. It takes courage and determination, and a few lucky breaks, but they get there in the end. En route, they learn a great deal about themselves and about the society they live in, fall in and out of love and find kindness in strangers. I am very fond of both of them, and I hope you will be too.
After a long period of drought I am delighted to tell you that there are four new books to look forward to. I have been commissioned by Ebury Press, part of the Penguin/Random House group, to write four novels set in nineteenth century Liverpool and centring on the inhabitants of the huge workhouse/orphanage which once stood on the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic cathedral. The reasons for how they came to be there, and their ultimate fate, offer many narrative possibilities and I have found the initial research fascinating. Book 1 will focus on a sister and brother sent to the orphanage after their father was ‘lost at sea’ and their mother died. The story of how they transcend their difficulty beginnings and find new lives will take in the foundation of Liverpool’s first department store, blockade running in the American Civil War and the Australian Gold Rush, to give you just a flavour of what to expect.
Hopefully, Book 1 will be in the libraries next summer and the book stores in the autumn, but that depends on me getting it finished by the end of this year. It’s a tall order as so far I have only written one chapter, so I’m going to have to work hard but it’s great to know that there is still a market for my work. The commission came about because the publishing director’s mother read We’ll Meet Again and raved about it. I shall be eternally grateful to that lady!
A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR
The year is 2005. Britain has left the EU and has been subjected to a terrorist attack similar to that of 9/11. As a result, the country is now governed by an extreme right-wing party, kept in power by nationalist thugs…
I called it ‘alternative history’ …. now it seems to be coming true. Am I clairvoyant – or is this just coincidence?