I love historical fiction and I love crime dramas too so what could be better than to have Maggie Richell-Davies here on the blog today to tell me all about her debut novel which blends both elements?
Staying in with Maggie Richell-Davies
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Maggie. Thanks so much for agreeing to stay in with me. Which of your books have you brought to share this evening and why have you brought it?
You are virtually confined to the house. Forced to spend your days and nights in close proximity with people you suspect might drive you mad. In a climate of uncertainty, and fear.
Sound familiar? But this is not the corona virus lockdown. This is Georgian London.
The background of uncertainty in my debut novel – which won the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award this spring – explains why it feels appropriate to bring The Servant to share with you this evening.
Oh yes indeed. Tell me more. What can we expect from an evening in with The Servant?
My heroine is a fifteen-year-old servant who is sent to work in the shuttered house of a disgraced aristocrat. Hannah has known herself to be “an object to be disposed of” since, at the age of 10, she was orphaned and dumped in the poorhouse. But as her life unravels, in addition to hard work and cruelty, she encounters mystery, villainy and terrible danger.
I rather like Hannah already. What inspired you to create her?
Hannah’s story was inspired by a visit I made to London’s Foundling Museum, with its heart-breaking tokens of ribbon or lace or coins left by desperate mothers in the hope they might, one day, be able to reclaim their precious child. It holds a glass up to the struggles of the vulnerable female servant classes in the days before the safety net of social services.
Eighteenth-century London was a place of great wealth, but also desperate poverty. Historians estimate that as many as a thousand babies a year were abandoned on its streets. A retired sea captain of the time, Thomas Coram, was so affected by their plight that he spent seventeen long years campaigning to set up Britain’s first ever home for such unwanted children. Crucial to his success was the support of sixteen ladies of rank, headed by the Duchess of Somerset, whose signatures on The Ladies Petition presented to George III in 1735 finally made his dream a reality.
Gosh. I’d never heard of Thomas Coram. The Foundling Museum sounds fascinating.
The Museum is a place I would urge everyone to visit now that it is open again.
I’d love to. So, what else have you brought along this evening and why have you brought it?
The other book I have brought with me is, appropriately,a copy of London’s Forgotten Children by Gilliam Pugh, chief executive of Coram (the Foundling Hospital’s present-day incarnation) from 1997-2005, which tells the story of Thomas Coram and his quest to give a future to infants whose mothers were unable to do so through extreme poverty or an unwanted pregnancy.
Thomas Coram sounds an amazing man.
Since we are in the realms of fantasy, it is the tenacious Captain Coram that I would love to bring along with me looking, as he does in Hogarth’s famous portrait, like everyone’s dream grandfather.
I think we can allow you that Maggie!
Our refreshment should be hot chocolate, the fashionable drink of the day, infused with pepper, cardamom and cinnamon. There will also be a plate of gingerbread men, since Gilliam Pugh writes of the soft-hearted Thomas Coram, in his later years, being “a familiar sight, sitting in his red coat, in the arcade in the grounds of the Hospital handing out gingerbread men to the children with tears in his eyes”.
I adore gingerbread!
Finally, my choice of music. The tenor, Aled Jones, has recorded a poignant adaptation of a Handel aria about love and constancy – a theme also explored in The Servant.
Did you not hear My Lady
Go down the garden singing?
Blackbird and thrush were silent
To hear the alleys ringing.
Oh, saw you not My Lady
Out in the garden there?
Shaming the rose and lily
For she is twice as fair.
Though I am nothing to her
Though she must rarely look at me
And though I could never woo her
I love her till I die.
Surely you heard My Lady
Go down the garden singing?
Silencing all the songbirds
And setting the alleys ringing.
But surely you see My Lady
Out in the gardens there
Rivalling the glittering sunshine
In a glory of golden hair.
That sounds glorious Maggie. It seems as if you’ve lived and breathed The Servant. What do readers think about it?
This is what people are saying about The Servant:
“You are dropped straight into a scene of gothic darkness.” CMP, Amazon Review
“I fell in love with Hannah immediately. Her pain, her humiliation, her desperation reached through the pages of this beautiful book and grabbed my heart.” Jeanie Thornton, The Books Delight.
“I am not in the habit of writing to authors, but read The Servant yesterday – all in one go. I couldn’t put it down! It was a joy to read and such a good story.” Thelma H. via email.
“Hannah is an admirable heroine, brave, strong and entirely credible, while the love story is an uplifting thread running through the book. It is also beautifully written with such elegant language. I found this a compelling read that I continued to think about long after I had finished.” Nicola C. Goodreads
“A brilliant mix of intrigue, history and romance.” Connie G, Amazon Review
Ooh. Those are such good responses Maggie. I’m delighted I have a copy of The Servant on my towering TBR!
Since, in these difficult days, we have been advised that reading is just about the best thing to relieve both stress and anxiety, why not step out of the twenty-first century and into Hannah’s intriguing world of 1765?
That sounds very good advice indeed. Thank you for staying in with me to chat about The Servant Maggie. You share out the gingerbread men and I’ll give blog readers more details:
Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.
Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries – with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.
As a servant, she has little power but – unknown to her employers – she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.
Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.
But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?
Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.
She must act alone, but at what price?
The Servant is available for purchase here.
About Maggie Richell-Davies
Love historical thrillers? Unsurprised that someone who lived for 20 years in a timbered house, built during the English Civil War has written one?
Maggie was born in Northumberland and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University.
Her debut novel, The Servant, won the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award, together with a publishing contract from Sharpe Books.
The thriller was inspired by a visit to London’s Foundling Hospital Museum, with its heart-breaking stories about the tokens desperate women left there in the hope that they might, one day, be able to reclaim their child.
Maggie has had short stories published, been shortlisted for Bridport Flash and the Olga Sinclair Award and longlisted for the Exeter Novel Award. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
She lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells with husband, Mike, but also spent a number of years in Peru, Africa and the United States.