The Ripper novel from Hell…

29 April 2012

It’s been a busy week here at Guillotine Towers so apologies to everyone waiting on emails, Facebook messages, reviews and stuff from me as I’m feeling completely overwhelmed right now. It’ll be business as usual next week though!

There’s been a definite Ripperologist buzz here as I started work on what will probably be my fifth novel. The original plan was to write a multi perspective piece exploring the effects of the Ripper murders on women of the era, but this eventually changed to become a time slip novel merging the past and present. Which would explain why I’ve been reading so many time slip books lately in an attempt to work out what I think works and what doesn’t appeal to me at all.

So far, all of the time slip novels that I’ve read have been quite similar in style with milquetoast heroines, a dash of romance and an underlying theme of righting the wrongs of the past in some way that generally seems to involve a couple getting together for an EPIC SMOOCH. I’ve also read different types of time slip that involve reincarnation, trances, possessed artifacts, diaries and actual time travel. It’s been a pretty instructive time actually as I’ve found that there’s more different types of time slip books than I had anticipated and that writing one is actually a lot more complex than just writing two stories in different eras and then neatly tying them together. Or maybe it is?

I’ll talk more about how the time slippage in my Ripper novel will work when I’ve actually managed to get more than a couple of chapters finished, but I think it’s fair to say that I’m pretty excited right now about the whole project.

As part of my initial research, I’ve been delving into the story of my Victorian policeman ancestor, Sergeant David Lee from H Division a lot more with the help of Ripperologist, Neil Bell. Initially we were hampered by the lack of a collar number but then found it in this old newspaper article from 1880, which mentions him…

A body in a coal cellar! How typical. St George’s Chambers seems to have been one of those horrible little lodging houses that provided barely adequate accommodation for many people in the east end during the nineteenth century. In Charles Dickens Jnr’s Dictionary of London (1879), he wrote: ‘About the best sample of this kind of establishment extant will be found at St. George’s chambers, St. George’s-street, London-docks, a thorough poor man’s hotel where a comfortable bed with use of sitting-room, cooking apparatus and fire, and laundry accommodation, soap included, can be had for 4d. a night, all kinds of provisions being obtainable in the bar at proportionate rates. To any one interested in the condition of the London poor, this establishment is well worth a journey to the East-end to visit.

As my ancestor was a Sergeant at the time, he wouldn’t have been doing a beat but Neil hasn’t been able to ascertain yet if he was a beat sergeant, who would have checked up on the officers or manning the desk in one of the local stations, possibly Leman Street.

Anyway, now that we are armed with a collar number: 26H, it means that I can start looking for him in photographs of the period. Also, in newspaper articles of the time, collar numbers are often cited rather than names so there’s that too.

I was hoping to find Sergeant David Lee in the best known photograph of H Division, grouped around what is alleged to be Inspector Abberline, but alas he isn’t there. Some people think this photograph was taken just before the 1888 murders but the Sergeant with the 26H collar number shown sitting next to The Alleged Abberline isn’t my ancestor, but rather a certain William Pennett, who is best known in Ripperology circles as the officer who made the grisly discovery of the Pinchin Street torso in September 1889.

Pennett was a plain old bobby at the time but then it appears that he was promoted to Sergeant in 1890 after my ancestor retired and took over his collar number of 26H. This is interesting as it means that the well known photograph of H Division must have been taken AFTER mid 1890 rather than before 1888 as a lot of people suppose and was probably after 1895 as Neil, who is an expert on the policing of the area of the period, tells me that’s when the new uniform tunics were introduced. I’m a bit disappointed, of course, that it isn’t my ancestor in the PRIME POSITION on the front room and next to The Alleged Abberline himself, but I can’t help but be pleased that our little bit of research has helped a bit with the dating of this photograph.

All of this is adding to my plans for a research trip to London next month. I’m planning visits to the Museum of London and Bishopsgate Institute as well as some lengthy mooches around Whitechapel to take photographs and make notes. I’m also going to my favourite pub with some friends. Well, some friends and ‘maybe’ someone who may or may not like me at all! It’s okay, I’m not completely mad – they USED to like me but now they might not. Or maybe they never liked me at all? Who can tell? Anyway, I have a fiver riding on them not turning up so it’s a big deal. Clearly.

Anyway, moving on. Which, I, apparently, find it impossible to do…

In other book news, I’ve now officially commissioned a brand new cover of GORGEOUSNESS for my Marie Antoinette novel: The Secret Diary of a Princess from Lisa Falzon, who painted the lovely cover for Before The Storm. I’ve made a sumptuous Pinterest board in its honour and cannot WAIT to see what she comes up with! I’m planning a bit of a giveaway when the new cover launches…

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