It’s been a long time coming. Two years, 3 months and 6 days to be precise. But launch day is finally here.
I want to start with a very big thank you to my advance readers, who have already been sending me feedback and asking about the best place to post reviews. I always suggest starting with the website where you normally buy your eBooks and Goodreads and BookBub. Thanks also to everyone who has pre-ordered the eBook. If, like me, you prefer paperbacks, I’m afraid that they won’t be available until 28 August, although I will be receiving a small consignment soon. Look out for news of a giveaway.
My ninth novel begins in August 1949 when the Nine O’clock News began in radio silence, because a flock of starlings had landed on one of Big Ben’s hands, making it run four minutes slow, and ends at the stroke of nine o’clock on 13 July, the precise moment of Ruth Ellis’s execution. In one of those uncanny coincidences of the ‘You’re not going to believe it, but…’ variety, the random date the PR company suggested for its release turns out to be the 65th anniversary of Ruth Ellis’s death. My tag line for this newsletter was going to be ‘Party like it’s 1949’ but I’m not quite sure that seems appropriate. What I’d like to do is share with you some of the sights, sounds and tastes of post war London, many of which I reference in the book.
- Rationing is still in place at the start of our journey and the black market (described in this article for The Guardian as criminal but relied on by most) is still thriving. Tea rationing will be in place until 3 October 1952 and sweet rationing until February 1953, but it won’t be until July 1954 that rationing finally comes to an end.
- This blog from Historic UK about 1950s menus will give you some idea of the dinnertime treats that are in store – spam fritters, with tinned peaches and evaporated milk for afters.
- ‘Before the war you were just a woman.’ In this post Dorris remembers what it was like to gain independence outside the home. Any whys she was reluctant to give that up.
- Whilst, for many, the post-war era was a time of austerity, in 1951 the Festival of Britain came to the South Bank, suggesting that a bright future was just around the corner. Take a tour of the wonders on display with this colour footage.
- This British Travel Association was also keen to highlight London as a tourist destination. This film is narrated by actor Rex Harrison. Enjoy the reference to ‘new-fangled devices such as telephones.’
- Seventeen-year-old Caroline Wilby has set her sights on becoming a hostess at the newly-restored Café de Paris, London’s most glamorous nightclub. This blog from West End at War describes the night of 8 March 1941 when the dance floor suffered a direct hit, which killed 26-year-old swing musician Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson and at least 33 others, and injured 80 more.
- Much of the action in the book takes place in a private member’s drinking club. This blog about one of the West End’s more notorious clubs explains how Britain’s licencing laws created a gap in the market. In fact, private member’s clubs catered for a variety of tastes and specialisms. The Steering Wheel Club (a far more sedate venue, on the face of it) was the preserve of the motor-racing fraternity, while Murray’s (where Ruth Ellis and her friend Vickie Martin and, ten years later, Christine Keeler worked) provided cabaret.
- On the subject of which, it must be time to pour yourself a drink. My fictional hostess Caroline earned commission by selling the club’s members bottles of champagne, but if bubbly isn’t your tipple, you might like to mix yourself a gin and tonic.
- When Caroline arrives in London, the headlines are dominated by the story of John George Haigh, the Acid Bath murderer. Although the number of history’s mass murderers is limited, his case is one of the few that will be used as an argument to thwart Patrice’s husband’s attempts to abolish capital punishment.
- At a time when the city runs on cheap coal, London winters are characterised by smog, a deadly combination of fog and pollutants. In December 1952, an estimated 12,000 people die as a result, Caroline’s friend Sandy being just one of them. This footage shows Londoners wearing special filtering facemasks – which will also become a feature in 2020!
- The film to see at the Regal in 1949 is All About Eve, and since it is about an actress who is approaching middle age, it seems appropriate to our story. This clip shows Marilyn Monroe’s first film performance.
- Like my fictional film star, Ursula, Rita Hayworth was still married to Orson Welles during the early days of her courtship with Prince Aly Khan. Hayworth’s reputation suffered as a result and some American fans boycotted her films. But the wedding now marks the first occasion a Hollywood actress becomes a princess, and the event is receiving huge publicity. This newsreel has a soundtrack worthy of the happy endings of movies.
- This is an age when it is thought actors have the power to corrupt morals. Those who refuse to toe the line are listed in the illusive Hays ‘Doom Book’, as this blog describes.
- Ursula returns to London to play the part of Gladys Aylward, the British housemaid turned Chinese missionary. Ingrid Bergman plays her in the film, the Inn of Sixth Happiness.
- My fictional duchess, Patrice, ponders the future of her family estate. This article explains how rights of inheritance favour the male bloodline.
- Rock n Roll is in its infancy, but has yet to make an impact on the British charts. In 1951 My Resistance Is Low by Hoagy Carmichael held the No 1 spot for 4 weeks. The reason I’m choosing this song is because my parents owned a copy (then called 78s), and I grew up listening to it. It comes complete with static and crackles.
- The 1950s is very much a man’s world. This blog provides a sneak inside White’s, the gentlemen’s club that Patrice’s husband belongs to and one of the oldest and most exclusive in the world.
- Fabian of Scotland Yard is one of the first crime series to be televised. This episode from 1955 shows a villain looking uncannily like John Christie, one of the 1950’s most notorious mass murderers. Fabian also refers to the Bathtub killer, giving a nod and a wink to the Acid Bath and the Washhouse murders.
- On 4 April 1955, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill retires. This British Pathé newsreel shows the scene outside number 10.
- Another newsreel, this time announcing the end of the twenty-six-day newspaper strike.
- Final scene. The book ends at nine o’clock in the morning of the day of Ruth Ellis’s execution. As Ruth was given one of the first tape recorders for Christmas 1954, in this recording you can hear her speak to us from the past.
- Reluctant to end on such a sad note, instead I’ll leave you with a montage of film clips from a woman who always made the most of her bad-girl reputation, Mae West. Judge: ‘Young lady! Are you trying to show contempt for this court? Ms West: ’No, I’m doing my best to hide it.’
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