What was the author of ‘Little Women’ really like?

louisa-may-alcottThis blog is for people who have seen the latest film edition of ‘Little Women’ and loved it and would like to know more about its author.

I’ll bet a lot of you were like me and went straight back to read the book again. The copy I read when I was young has long since disappeared but I got Charlotte to put an e-book version on my iPad and I gobbled it up happily. At the end of the story there was a further piece of writing called a ‘biographical after word’. So I read that too and found it fascinating.

For a start I discovered that Louisa M Alcott was prolific and wrote best sellers. Little Women was published in September 1863 and was an immediate success. The first print run of 2,000 sold out very quickly and she was into a re-print before she knew where she was. By the time she wrote ‘Good Wives’ which was the sequel, it was given a print run of 13,000 and that sold out equally quickly.

The second thing that I found out was that she was the person who supported her family, not her father. The father in the book and the film was the great support of his family but in real life he couldn’t provide a steady income. His name was Amos BronsoAmos_Bronson_Alcottn Alcott and when she was two, he set up a ‘experimental school’ founded on the principal that children should enjoy themselves while learning at their own pace. Much maligned by critics of course, then as now! His school was so very heavily criticised that it failed and that meant that the family were very, very poor.

Later on he taught his own children using the same method and introduced them to his friends who numbered some very impressive, now famous, people one of them was Ralph Waldo Emerson – who was a lecturer, essayist, a poet and a teacher, Henry David Thoreau, – another essayist, poet and philosopher, Margaret Fuller – american journalist and publisher, who was an early advocate for womens and Nathaniel Hawthorne American novelist and a renowned short story writer.

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Unlike the father in both the novel and the film – he did not go to war, but Louisa did and she was horrified by what she saw there. Her biographer says she got a position on the front line and joined the medical service where she changed bloody dressings and assisted in amputations.

It was a costly and terrible war lasting from from 1861 to 1865. In that time it is estimated that 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers died, along with an undetermined number of civilians.

The Alcotts were passionately on the side of the slaves and wanted to see slavery abolished. Their home was part of the ‘underground railway’ which helped escaping slaves to leave the south and get to the north.

When the war was over Louisa wrote three anti-slavery short stories and went on to write  ‘Gothic novels’. She made quite a lot of money from them, which was just as well, as she had a family to support, but she didn’t put her name on  any of them.

Her sister Lizzy died of Scarlet Fever just as Beth in the story does and she herself caught typhoid fever during the war and was dosed with mercurous chloride, which probably gave her mercury poisoning later in her life.

In many ways Louisa was very much like Jo in the book and the film, she wrote that she was old for her age and didn’t care much for girlish things. ‘People think I’m wild and queer but my mother supports and helps me.’ But unlike Jo, she never married.

It’s a fascinating story and made me like her more than ever, especially when I discovered that she was one of the early American Suffragettes and was one of first women who registered to vote, when she voted in a school board election in Concord, Massachusetts.

Just my kinda gal!

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on February 6, 2020. 1 Comment

Tuppenny Times is re-published today!

Tuppenny Times Twitter Banner

Agora are re-publishing yet another book from my back-list today. This one is slightly different from all the others, because it’s the first book in a trilogy, which is called ‘The Easter Empire Trilogy’ because it is about the foundation of a great book selling empire like WHSmiths and was in fact based on the book about the WHSmith family, which the company very kindly sent me to help me with it. I must confess I was not truthful to the original. For although the founder of Smiths like my heroine, started the newspaper empire after her husband died and left her penniless, by selling the ‘tuppenny times’ on the streets for two pennies and a farthing, she was exhausted by her endeavours and died relatively young, leaving the burgeoning empire to be run by her children.

But I was writing fiction and got fond of my heroine, so I followed her adventures in two more books: ‘Fourpenny Flyer’ which was based on the years when the newspapers were dispatched all over the country by train and were taken to the station in carriages called ‘flyers’ which cost fourpence a time and ‘Sixpenny Stalls’ when the company set up stalls in railway stations which sold popular books at sixpence each. As one of my reviewers said when the third book of the trilogy originally came out, ‘she’s inflationary, but she’s worth it.’ That tickled me pink!

I hope new readers will be as entertained by my heroine Nan Easter and like her as much as I did.

You can purchase a copy of Tuppenny Times here.

Happy reading!

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Agora are doing my books proud

Beryl Promo

They’re running a promotion between Thursday January 30th and Thursday February 6th for all the e-book versions of my titles that they publish. They will be on offer for just £1.99 ($2.99 in the US) with the exception of Two Silver Crosses which is only £0.99 ($0.99 in the US).

Click here to view all my titles available!

As there’s such a rush of titles I thought it might be rather fun to tell you the story of how one of the titles ‘Two Silver Crosses’ came about. I can’t always remember the sparks of all the books but this one was rather particular.

One balmy summer day, my old darling and I went to visit Uppark House in Sussex. We enjoyed our tour of the building very much, but it was the butler’s pantry that gave me the story. It was all set out exactly as it would have been when there was a butler waiting on the family and one of the unexpected things in it was an ironing board which the butler used to iron the masters morning paper, because as it was explained to us, ‘it would never have done for the master to find creases in his paper.’

I looked at the paper with considerable interest and found it was a copy of The Times and that it was the top page that was being ironed. No headlines or news, that wasn’t the style in those days. Instead it was full of advertisements for all manner of things and one of them caught my eye and fired my imagination.

“‘Holborn,’ it read, ‘for the attention of twin sisters Virginia and Emily Holborn , late of “High Holborn” near Wolverhampton, last seen ten years ago, in July 1926, at Victoria Station, London, boarding the boat train to Boulogne, each wearing about her neck a silver cross. Should the above mentioned care to contact Messrs Hedgethorn and Crabbit, solicitors, of Little Medlar Yard, London WC1, they would hear something to their advantage.’ “

There was so much in it that needed explanation. Why were they going to France? And where had they been for those ‘last ten years’? What was the significance of those silver crosses they were wearing? What was it they would hear to their advantage? The questions became ‘Two Silver Crosses’. Which was first published in 1993 by Century, Random House and was reprinted by Agora Books in March last year.

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Wee-hee it’s my birthday!

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit scatty today. It’s my 89th birthday and no, I can’t believe it either! And as it’s a fairly sizeable one I started celebrating it on Sunday and that was a hoot! Because nearly all my family were there and the great-grandchildren gave me my presents with great excitement and so quickly, one after the other that I’m still working out who they all came from! And then after the present giving, they gave us a play using the window seat as a stage and drawing and re-drawing the curtains with bubbling excitement! You can’t get better than that.

And now here I am today on my actual birthday, pretending to work with Mary and Charlotte to assist and Dixie at our feet being more or less good, as befits a birthday cat!

Messages are coming in from all over the place and much appreciated, so thank you all very much. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

There’s a lot to be said for a birthday! xxx

This entry was posted on January 28, 2020. 3 Comments

How do you cure far right extremism?

This is a very pertinent question now that the far right are in power in this country. It was posed this morning by Owen Jones on the front page of the Journal in The Guardian.

This is a question that’s been plaguing me ever since I recognised from the big red bus and Farage’s alarmist poster, that our far right wing were using fascist propaganda and that their attitudes towards people they considered their inferiors is very decidedly fascist. Boris Johnson says young people have a ‘Nigerian interest in money.’ Single mothers raise ‘ill-reared, ignorant and aggressive kids’ and that working class people are ‘drunks, criminals and feckless.’ You couldn’t have the attitudes of a fascist put more clearly than that.

Owen Jones was kicked to the ground and punched by three right-wing hoodlOwen-Jones,-Lums whilst he was out celebrating his birthday and last Friday one of them was in court three of East London’s Snaresbook crown court. His name is James Healy, he is 40 years old and his behaviour and attitudes were revealed with inescapable clarity in that court. His home was full of right-wing memorabilia, white power logos, Nazi death heads and an SS flag and at the end of the trial the judge ruled that she was satisfied that Healy holds particular beliefs that are normally associated with the extreme right wing and that his attack was driven by homophobia and antipathy to left-wing politics. He will be sentenced next month. But Owen Jones doubts whether sending him to prison will do him or society any good at all.

‘The Ministry of Justice’ Owen says, ‘boasts of multiple programmes that help de-radicalise prisoners’, but Chris Daw, QC an expert on crime and punishment has told Owen Jones ‘in broad terms, the whole of the prison system is a complete failure when it comes to de-radicalisation.’ And this is because prisoners spend most of their time with other prisoners, extreme right wing talking to extreme right wing, so that they emerge from prison at the end of their sentences more violently fascist (if such a thing were possible) than they were when they went in.

So how can those of us who oppose fascism make any headway against such a system? Especially now that the government is listing any left-wing pressure groups like Greenpeace, The Animal Liberation Front and Extinction Rebellion, as dangerous subversives who should be dealt with by the police.

Opposition to fascism goes back a long way, Oswald Moseley’s black-shirt fascists were opposed by counter demonstrations by people in the left wingmartin luther back in the thirties. Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement was active in the States during the sixties, his great speech ‘I have a dream’ was in 1963. But the most noticeable thing about that movement was that the members were out in the streets peaceably showing their numbers and their extraordinary self control. Mahatma Gandhi’s followers were equally numerous, equally determined and equally peaceable. These men and women have given us a blueprint for how to behave now.

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Can we follow it I wonder? It’s going to be a hell of a job.

Perhaps it might be an idea to suggest that the various protest groups that already exist in this country, should support each other in every possible way. We are on the same side and we must speak whilst we’re still allowed a voice. We share Luther King’s dream. If we march, we are marching to show that all human beings are equal, that Johnson’s claims are wrong,  young people DON’T all have a ‘Nigerian interest in money,’  single mothers DON’T raise ‘ill-reared, ignorant and aggressive kids’, working class people are NOT ‘drunks, criminals and feckless.’

As W.H. Auden said in September 1939 ‘we must love one another or die’.

This entry was posted on January 23, 2020. 3 Comments

The tale of a disgruntled cat

wilddixieDixie is disgruntled as you can see. When a cat has to walk up to the second flight of stairs and give you a look of disapproval through the banisters you can be pretty sure all is not well!

And he’d had such a very good night too. He’d spent it in the garden hunting, which is quite his favourite occupation apart from eating, and he returned at around half past eleven in the morning wearing his hunter’s hat and looking pleased with himself. Lottie and I asked him what he’d been doing, as if we didn’t know!

Whereupon he gave us a brilliant example of his activities, by leapindixie3g at my leg and biting it, as one does! The disgruntledom began when Lottie and I both roared at him to desist. He took himself off to the stairs and glared through the banisters at us. Don’t we understand that it takes a little while for a hunting cat to come out of full hunting mode. We can’t turn our natures on and off like taps. We’re not dogs!

And after all the hard work he does, being a literary cat and looking after the books.  It’s a hard life!

 

 

Signs of the times

The selling off of our national health service is now hotting up. The headline in the Guardian this morning says ‘Doctors lead outcry at plan to scrap A&E target’ and the article below it explains what this is all about.

There is a long established waiting time for emergency care in A&E. ‘95% of people arriving at A&E in England are meant to be treated and then discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours.’ Now because so many beds have been shut by the government and so many staff have left and there has been a ten year squeeze on the NHS budget, this target is often not met, through no fault of the dedicated teams in the A&E departments.

Now we all hear that the health secretary, the renowned Matt Hancock, intends to axe this target because ‘it is no longer deemed to be clinically appropriate’. Or to put it another way – it is not ‘clinically appropriate’ to treat NHS patients in A&E departments within four hours because the government says so. It is a sign of the times. Soon people who pay privately for medical attention will get it and fairly promptly, people who have paid their taxes and their national insurance contributions for their medical attention, will not.

We are back to what was happening in the thirties, when a doctor called to attend a sick patient, would not see him or her until he had received his fee, which could be anything from one guinea to ten.  And this at a time when most working class people thought themselves lucky if they could earn more than two pounds a week. They were the unfair and painful conditions that obtained in those days and led directly to William Beveridge’s report and the founding of the national health service and the welfare state by the incoming Labour government of 1945. Or to put it another way Mr Johnson’s government are putting the clock back eighty to ninety years.

There are other, more subtle, signs of this change in attitude too. The last two or three times I’ve dared to phone my local surgery for the help I need, I’ve had to listen to a long and very pointed lecture from one of the doctors, the gist of which being that if we are ringing for medical help we should consider ways in which we can help ourselves, because, as the last recorded voice put it, over three quarters of the requests for help that the clinic received were for things that could very easily be dealt with at a chemist’s shop and various other venues that he listed. It’s another, more subtle way of saying ‘we cannot see you if you do not pay the fee’. The surgery is now divided into two sections. One for NHS patients, the other for private patients. I’ll bet they don’t subject them to such a belittling lecture.

And I wonder, sadly, how long our NHS will survive when the big American pharmaceutical and medical companies begin to buy it up. After all, Mark Britnell promised that this would happen back in October 2013, so they’ve waited a long time.

This entry was posted on January 16, 2020. 4 Comments