Hi Janis and thank you for taking part, to start with by telling us about yourself please.
I was a newspaper reporter for many years. I loved the job because I got to stir up trouble while meeting many interesting people. The greatest joy from my newspaper days was marrying the city editor at my last post. From newspapers, I went to law school and practiced in Philadelphia, where I tried cases. After retirement, I decided to cross “writing a novel” off my bucket list. I attended the 125th anniversary Ripper conference and loved the people. I was even more fascinated by the story and it became the basis of Goulston Street. I’m still married to the city editor and live with him and two black and white cats on the east coast of the United States.
Could you tell us a little bit about your book ?
Goulston Street is about an aristocrat who disgraces her family by marrying a mere footman and is thrown out of the house. The young couple, strapped for cash, manage to buy a home in Whitechapel. The husband is killed in an accident and Lady Sarah is forced to “go into trade.” She opens a boarding house and rents beds to prostitutes. One is an old friend from her father's estate. Her name is Polly Nichols. When Polly dies, Sarah is angry at Scotland Yard for not caring enough about the murders of these women and undertakes to solve the crimes herself.
What were your goals and intentions for the book, and do you feel you achieved them?
Iwanted it understood that the victims weren’t prostitutes because they were callow women but because the had to survive. I wanted to shine a light on how much poor people suffer and how the government turns a blind eye on that suffering. I also wanted to demonstrate that the wealthy aren’t necessarily uncaring but ignorant of the suffering that takes place outside their view. And, finally, I wanted to show how badly women are burdened when unable to take advantage of the same opportunities, such as work, that men enjoy. It is for others to ascertain whether I met those goals.
I started out as a newspaper reporter. That writing is a “just the facts, ma’am” process. No personal views or descriptive adjectives were allowed. I just sat at the typewriter and the facts flowed through my fingers and onto the page. Now, when I sit at the laptop, no one has done anything for me to talk about. I have to create who is speaking, where they are, what they’re wearing and, most of all, why anyone should care.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
They either fall in love with their first draft or they fall into despair after reading it. As Anne Lamott advised, “Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.” I was surprised how helpful it was to have a draft in hand. For me, my work only begins to take shape once I’ve read through it. It is like a skeleton with a bit of flesh. I could see where it needed lipstick.
Why did you start writing?
It is cliché, but I’ve always loved words. Also, I love communicating with others, no matter whether by writing or chatting over dinner. After I retired from my law practice, I had time on my hands. My husband always found it remarkable than when we were on vacation and I wasn’t writing briefs, story ideas flooded into my brain. All at once, I had time now and decided to hit the laptop. After retiring and seeking something to do with my time, I discovered the Jack the Ripper 125th anniversary conference was being offered in Whitechapel and took a plane. I became fully immersed in the story and, after making lots of great friends, returned and started writing Goulston Street. Now I have characters I love to spend time with and real purpose to my work. The ten-step commute to my office doesn’t hurt either.
Do you regret writing any of the books you have written?
I don’t regret any creative activity.If my effort fizzles, I’ll have learned something. If it works, I’ll have learned something.
How did you begin writing?
For some reason, I’d always wanted to write a novel. I pictured myself typing “Chapter One,” adding thousands of words and, finally, writing “The End.” I took the advice to write what one cares about so I undertook to write about drugs and guns and the violence they do to communities where they are openly sold. I’d been a newspaper reporter for years so gathering information was no trouble at all. I did my research, then I talked to homicide detectives and the ATF. The problem is, I’m the second straightest woman in the world, following closely on Queen Elizabeth’s low heels. I simply wasn’t the right person to write about the seedy life After a few thousand heartfelt words about what a pity it all was, I had nowhere to go.
Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing your book?
My authorship was entirely intentional.
How did you become interested in the case of Jack the Ripper?
I was born interested in mysteries. As a young girl, I heard someone on television mention Victorian era murders of women that were never solved even though the police arrived literally minutes after the attacks. I wasn’t permitted to watch the rest of the show but was curious as to why the police couldn’t find someone who had just two minutes head start. It really bothered me. My interest deepened when I fell in love with London. On a visit there, my husband and I took the Ripper walking tour and all the pieces immediately fit. I was startled by how deeply dark Whitechapel was and I knew it would have been even darker in 1888. Also, the streets were narrow, twisty and as interwoven as an Oriental rug. Finally, I understood how the killer could have escaped. Rather than being satisfied with that information, I was suddenly driven to find out whodunnit.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
This is hard to say since all writers are quirky. Some of us have a certain number of rituals they must honor before writing like making sure their coffee is in the right mug and situated in the proper place on the desk.. The only consistency in my writing space is a pair of cats with sit either on my chair, in my lap or on my desk. Stroking their fur calms me when I’m stressed about a scene. As for the writing itself, I always write the dialog first and then enhance the scene. Maybe that comes from my reporting days when I took down quotes and never bothered about what the speaker was wearing or the weather outside at the time of the interview.
What is the hardest thing you find about writing?
The hardest thing about writing in general is the solitude. If you don’t like people, sign up to be an author. As a lawyer, I loved getting someone else’s take on whether one of my legal arguments would fly. I get that feedback now through critiques, but they’re monthly occurrences that isn’t enough. As to what is hard about my own writing, I’m hampered by not being a criminal. When I sit down to think how to commit a crime, I readily see how the plan will fail. Real criminals don’t foresee failure. That’s why there are so many stupid criminal stories. When I do think of a clever way to commit murder, I worry it won’t be believed but I take comfort in how many people get away with it all the time. The same thing is true of the government. I’ll hear of someone trying something outrageous and tell myself, “That will never fly.” The next thing I know, it is the law of the land.
What is the easiest thing you find about writing?
I love spending time with my characters. I hate having to put them through torment but I like planning their escape. There’s a wonderful play, “You Can’t Take It With You,” in which a talentless playwright has written a female character into a monastery but “I can’t get her out.” I haven’t put Lady Sarah in a monastery, but I have had to get her out of some serious scrapes.
And finally if you don't mind me asking, are you at present working on your next book.
I’m very excited about my work in progress. In this book, Lady Sarah and Lady Millie team up to probe the death of a prominent socialist. They’re dodging bombs and trying to prevent Sarah’s uptight brother from discovering they’re investigating yet another murder.
Thank you it's been a pleasure to have you talk you.