Waterstones Blog, May 2017
Bad Women: Doubly Damned
Whether cast as immoral monstrous deviants or predatory femme fatales, women who commit violent crimes have always been objects of particular captivation and vilification. Following on from the Bad Girls in Crime event at Waterstones Piccadilly, bestselling authors Emma Flint, Sarah Schmidt and Anna Mazzola explore the enduring fascination with the ‘bad girl’ in fiction and why their novels seek to question and challenge those engrained perceptions.
The Platform Blog, January 2017
Bad Women: Do We Still Demonise Female Offenders?
“When woman falls, she seems to possess a capacity almost beyond man for running into all that is evil.” So proclaimed the Directors of Millbank Prison in 1859, voicing the common belief that female criminals were far worse than male criminals. How much has changed? It’s clear that ‘bad women’ continue to hold the public’s attention. That is, of course, why Piers Morgan chose to make a documentary series called Killer Women, and why a third of violent crime stories in British newspapers are about female offenders, even though they make up only an eighth of those convicted.
H for History – December 2016
How the Victorians Changed Christmas
Hate Christmas? Blame the Victorians. At the beginning of the 19th century, Christmas was barely celebrated. It wasn’t just Ebenezer Scrooge who begrudged his clerk the day off – many didn’t consider the 25th December to be a holiday. There were no crackers, no cards, no Santa, and no Christmas trees, at least not in England. By mid-century, however, Christmas was big business
A Covent Garden Gilfurt’s Guide to Life – October 2016
Researching Place for Historical Fiction – The Unseeing and 19th century London
People often ask about how writers immerse themselves in the past, how they capture the spirit of the era and the location. Because that of course is absolutely essential to the success of a novel, especially a historical novel. When I think of the books I love, it is the ones that have taken me to another time and place and made me feel I was really there. So how do you create a world in which the reader will believe?
The History Girls – August 2016
A Dark and Dreadful Interest: Crime as Entertainment in the 19th Century
We often think of the Victorians as a moralistic and upright bunch, and of the 19th century as a time when things became more civilized. After all, over the course of the century, violent sports were mostly outlawed, the Bloody Code was dismantled, and capital punishment was hidden from public view. Yet it was also the era in which crime reporting and murder as entertainment flourished. While researching for my début novel, The Unseeing, I discovered that our current fixation with true crime is nothing compared with what Dickens referred to as the Victorians’ ‘dark and dreadful interest’ in murderers and their punishment.
The Literary Sofa – August 2016
Life Behind Bars: Writing Prisons
Anna joins me today to explain her fascination with life behind bars, and in my review at the end you can find out how she won me over:
I have spent quite a bit of time in prison. Admittedly, not as an inmate, but as a solicitor visiting clients. My first training ‘seat’ was in the Home Office Prisons Team, defending cases brought by prisoners in person. Later, I left Government to bring claims against my former employer, often on behalf of victims, but sometimes for those wrongly detained or suffering abuse in institutions. Prisons are strange, fascinating and often brutish places full of some of the most damaged and vulnerable people in our society. They disclose a life very far removed from the conventional existence that most of us lead. Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise, then, that I ended up writing about a prison, albeit one that no longer exists.
Crime Files – July 2016
The top ten novels based on true crimes – for Crime Files.
From the Newgate Calendar to Serial and Making a Murderer, we have long been fascinated by true crime – by what leads people to commit a terrible deeds, and by what happens to a person when, rightfully or wrongfully, they are convicted. In real life, there are often no answers and no resolution. The job of fiction is to explain it to us in some way; to construct some order from the chaos. The novels that make my top ten lay bare the human heart of stories that on the surface seem incomprehensible.
Women Writers – July 2016
Writing Fiction Based on Fact, or ‘How to Make Life Difficult for Yourself’
The ‘Edgeware Road Murder’, as it became known, attracted great attention at the time due to the gory nature of the crime and the fact that a woman had apparently been involved. During the hearings in the magistrates’ court and at the Old Bailey, Sarah Gale remained silent. She gave only a short statement, read by her barrister, saying that she had not been in Camberwell at the time of the murder. That was what gripped me when I first read about the case: why, when faced with the death sentence, did Sarah Gale fail to fully defend herself? She had not only her own life to consider, but that of another – her four-year-old son, George. So what had really happened?
Several years later, Sarah Gale’s story has become a novel – The Unseeing. I’ve followed a very scenic and circuitous route to get here, but I think I’ve learnt something along the way. I hope that what follows will help provide some shortcuts for those considering writing fiction based on fact.
Writers’ Workshop – July 2016
Plot, Pace and Punch: What Crime Writers Can Teach the Rest of Us
‘You write well,’ Harry Bingham told me. ‘But your plot is a mess.’
This was a telephone conversation I had with Harry in 2014 after coming second in AM Heath’s Criminal Lines competition. Although it was hard to hear it, he was absolutely right. Fortunately, help was at hand. Part of my prize was a critique from the Writers’ Workshop and Harry set crime writer Eve Seymour on the case. Within a few weeks I had an in-depth and spot-on analysis of why my draft debut novel, The Unseeing, wasn’t quite working.
Historia Magazine – July 2016
Anna picks her top five historical fiction novels based on true crimes.
Anna Mazzola picks her top five novels based on real crimes and asks, why are we so fascinated?
‘Based on a real story’, ‘Inspired by a true murder’: we have long been fascinated by fiction and drama with their roots in real crimes. Maybe that is partly because we are drawn to what we believe to be genuine, and partly because we are fascinated and horrified by the peculiarities of other people’s lives – in particular, by what would lead someone to commit a terrible crime. The historical novels that make my top five reveal the human heart of stories that on the surface seem incomprehensible: works of fiction that make the strange truth graspable.
The History Girls – July 2016
Katherine Clements interviews Anna Mazzola and reviews The Unseeing
This is a novel that raises questions about the nature of truth, secrets and manipulation, the lies we tell ourselves and what we choose to believe. And it’s a gripping read. If you like your historical crime beautifully written, intelligent and genuinely moving, this is one for you.
Anna kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book:
Where and when did you first come across the story of Sarah Gale and what was it that fascinated you about her story?
I first heard about James Greenacre and the murder of Hannah Brown in the Suspicions of Mr Whicher. The crime is mentioned only briefly, but seized my attention as it took place in Camberwell, not far from where I live. However, when I read the Old Bailey transcript, I realized this was Sarah Gale’s story. She was accused of helping Greenacre to conceal the horrific murder of another woman and yet she said virtually nothing throughout the entire trial. Her barrister gave a short statement on her behalf saying that she was not in Camberwell at the time of the murder and knew nothing of it afterwards. Very little is said to combat the various claims that are made against Sarah or to deal with the different pieces of evidence that are offered up. Given she was facing the death sentence, I thought that was very strange. What was really going on?
The Literary Consultancy – July 2016
Introducing The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
The Unseeing is a historical crime novel based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted in 1837 of aiding and abetting her lover, James Greenacre, in the murder of Hannah Brown. Sarah was sentenced to death and petitioned the King for mercy. The Unseeing begins with the appointment of the lawyer who is to investigate her petition: Edmund Fleetwood. He – and the reader – has to determine whether Sarah Gale is indeed innocent or whether she is far more involved than she would have us believe.
Writing a work of fiction based on a real case proved simultaneously fascinating and almost impossible, and I went through many drafts (ten, in fact) before I found the right balance of fact and fiction. I received an early critique from TLC in March 2014 that was very helpful in pushing me to work out what I wanted the novel to be. Lesley McDowell’s insightful report, though largely positive, pointed out that some of the narrative, ‘reads too much like imagined non-fiction – I’m thinking particularly of Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.’ This was interesting as it was in fact in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher that I had first read of the Edgware Road Murder. Lesley was absolutely right that I had not yet left the realms of fact; I had not yet figured out what kind of story I wanted to tell. Looking back, I realise that I had mistakenly thought that the history was the story, when of course the story has to be the characters’ arcs – it has to be about what changes.
Times Educational Supplement – 4th July 2016
We may have travelled a long way from the inkwells of the Victorian classroom, but we are still some distance from a curriculum that encourages critical thinking
Nineteenth-century history teaches us that we need to ensure that children’s imagination is nurtured, giving them the capacity to speculate about what is possible, this historian says
“It is doubtless desirable that the poor should be generally instructed in reading, if it were only for the best of purposes – that they may read the Scriptures. As to writing and arithmetic, it may be apprehended that such a degree of knowledge would produce in them a disrelish for the laborious occupations of life.”
This is a quote not from a Dickens novel, but from a justice of the peace in 1807. At the beginning of the 19th century, educating the working classes was seen by many as not only unnecessary, but dangerous: teach a child to think and you might also teach them to become discontented with their lot.
As the century progressed, campaigners for mass education established various schools to offer some basic teaching: Sunday schools taught the poor to read the Bible (but not writing, arithmetic or any of the “more dangerous subjects”); schools of industry were set up to provide manual training; and ragged schools were by 1861 teaching more than 40,000 of the most deprived children in London. In that year, an estimated 2.5 million children out of 2.75 million received some form of education, with the majority leaving school before they turned 11.
Chillers, Killers and Thrillers – 28th June 2016
Interview with Rachel Emms, crime book blogger and author of chillerskillersandthrillers.com
To start off with, can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel The Unseeing?
Happy to. The Unseeing is a historical crime novel based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted in 1837 of aiding and abetting her lover, James Greenacre, in the murder of another woman. Sarah was sentenced to death and petitioned the King for mercy. The Unseeing begins with the appointment of the lawyer who is to investigate her petition, and he – and the reader – has to determine whether Sarah Gale is indeed innocent or whether she is far more involved than she would have us believe.
You have mentioned before that your novel is based on the real-life case of Sarah Gale who was sentenced to hang for the murder of Hannah Brown in the Victorian era. How did you find out about her case and what sparked your interest as a writer to write about this?
I first read about James Greenacre in the Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. I was originally interested in the crime because it took place in Camberwell, not far from where I live. However, when I read through the Old Bailey transcript of the trial, it was Sarah who most interested me. Very little was said in her defence – she gave only a short statement denying being in Camberwell at the time of the murder. As she was facing the death sentence for her part in the horrific murder of another woman, I thought that was very strange. What was preventing Sarah from speaking out to defend herself? Was she guilty? Afraid of James Greenacre? Or something else?
Interview with Sam Dee, crime book blogger and author of Thiscrimebook
This Crime Book – 26th June 2016
I recently caught up with Anna Mazzola, a criminal justice solicitor by day and an awesome debut historical crime author by night, and I’m delighted to share her words with you. But before I do, here’s what you need to know about The Unseeing, it’s ‘a vividly written novel of human frailty, fear and manipulation, and of the terrible consequences of jealousy and misunderstanding.’ Sounds good, right? Read more about it below.
TCB: Your debut crime novel – The Unseeing – is out in July. Can you tell us about it?
AM: The Unseeing is a historical crime novel based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted in 1837 of aiding and abetting her lover, James Greenacre, in the murder of Hannah Brown. Sarah was sentenced to death and petitioned the King for mercy. The Unseeing begins with the appointment of the lawyer who is to investigate her petition, and he – and the reader – has to determine whether Sarah Gale is indeed innocent or whether she is far more involved than she would have us believe.
Liz Loves Books – 22nd June 2016
Interview with Liz Barnsley, book blogger and author of Lizlovesbooks
Anna Mazzola is the author of The Unseeing (Tinder Press), a novel I have just finished and boy are you in for a treat.
The Unseeing is the novel we will be hearing about at First Monday – could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind it?
The Unseeing is based on the Edgware Road murder, which I first read about in the Suspicions of Mr Whicher. When I read through the Old Bailey transcript of the trial, I noticed that very little was said in defence of Sarah Gale, who was accused of helping her lover, James Greenacre, to conceal the murder of Hannah Brown. As Sarah Gale was facing the death sentence for her part in the horrific murder of another woman, I thought that was very strange. What was preventing Sarah from speaking out to defend herself? Why was her lawyer not denying the things said against her?
Can you give us a brief soundbite about what readers can expect from the story or that you hope they will take from it?
The Unseeing is about truth and deception – about the lies we tell ourselves as well as the lies we tell others. Mainly, I hope that people will find it a fascinating read, but maybe also that they will see things a little differently afterwards.
The Peckham Peculiar – October 2015
From Beginners Course to Festival Stage
Local lawyer Anna Mazzola joined a Literary Kitchen Creative Writing for Beginners course in April 2011. On Tues 13 Oct she takes the Literary Kitchen Festival stage as a debut author, of an historical crime novel, The Unseeing, due to be published in 2016 by Tinder Press. So what did that writing road between 2011 and 2015 look like? Here’s what Anna has to say:
“When I was four years old, I was Alice in Wonderland. For at least a month. I had the ‘Drink Me’ bottle. I had the white rabbit. I even drew a miniature door on my parents’ wall. In some ways, then, it’s not that huge a surprise that I’ve ended up writing Victorian fiction, but I took a curious route to get there.
I’ve always loved books, and I studied English literature, but I was somehow diverted into becoming a criminal justice solicitor. I’d often thought about writing, however, and when I saw a flyer for a beginners’ course with Literary Kitchen in Peckham, I decided to give it a go.
Literary Kitchen is run by writer Andrea Mason. Her course was, frankly, terrifying. She made us write. No preparation, no excuses, just do it. It was the kick-start I needed. I wrote flash fiction, short stories, and terrible drivel. Amidst all the dross, however, was a short story that stuck with me – a story based on the life of Sarah Gale who was convicted of aiding and abetting a murder in Camberwell in 1836.
I went on to do the advanced course, continuing to write short stories. After a time, I came back to the story of Sarah Gale, and, with encouragement from Andrea, I began to develop it into a novel, The Unseeing.