fiction, historical fiction, Novel

Feature: Historical Fiction Author Samantha Wilcoxson

The Forgotten History of the Radium Girls

By Samantha Wilcoxson

June 7, 2020 – Luminous Blog Tour

I have loved reading about history for as long as I can remember. On more than one occasion, I was asked what class I was reading a book for and I had to admit that it was something I had selected to read for enjoyment. Yet, I was not familiar with the story of the “radium girls” until I listened to Kate Moore’s excellent book.

It was one of those snippets of history that seems unbelievable. When you think things are changing for the better, something happens and everything gets worse. Then you realize that events just like it continue to occur to this very day.

Called radium girls because of the luminescent paint they used to make watch and instrument dials glow in the dark, the young working-class women who were exposed to radium on a daily bases began sickening and dying in the years immediately following World War I. The companies they worked for denied liability, rejected the idea that radium was the cause of the women’s problems, and made any excuse at their disposal to avoid a decrease in profits.

The women had little help from the outside. Doctors, who had been using radium as a sort of miracle cure, were reluctant to admit that it might be dangerous. Most lawyers had no interest in taking on the case of women with little ability to pay fees and insufficient support to win their case. Worker’s compensation laws varied by state and often didn’t include the women’s situation. They were left at the mercy of the corporations that had caused their health to fail and then often fired them when they were unable to work.

When women began to die of radium poisoning, the symptoms were attributed to all manner of diseases. Diphtheria, tuberculosis, and even syphilis were documented causes of death for some of the poor girls. Some of the results of radium poisoning, such as sarcoma and infections, were listed as cause of death without an understanding of the underlying cause. Some doctors were in the pocket of the radium industry. Others simply didn’t know any better.

In Luminous, I have focused on the story of Catherine Donohue, an employee of Radium Dial in Ottawa, Illinois. Catherine was a typical small town girl, who counted herself lucky to obtain a good-paying position at the dial studio, until she developed a limp that never healed. Then she watched one of her friends collapse at work and another die of an infection that spread like wildfire. Catherine stood up for the Ottawa dial painters, even as her own health failed. Luminous is her story, and I hope that it is one that inspires curiosity about the past as well as a hunger for justice in the present.

Samantha Wilcoxson

Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.

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fiction, historical fiction, Novel, Uncategorized

The Moments that Define Us

People often ask me when I began to write and why. Well, the answer is, it crept up on me. My first desire to write cropped up during my English lit degree with the Open University. For those of you familiar with the OU, one chooses which module they wish to study from a selection of courses relevant to the degree. I was in my third year, and at a crossroads. None of the options appealed to me, so I chose creative writing. Well, I thought I love to read, so why not? And that was that. With my love of history and a particular interest in WW2, I was hooked.

For me, it was a defining moment and I have not stopped writing since my degree years. It is fascinating how even the smallest of events define us, often altering our life’s path, encompassing great change. Perhaps we are drawn to the historical past because many events, situations remain current, and so people can identify with the past, and feel a certain connection.

Paris at night

My interests in military history range far and wide, but having come across an old biography written in the 1950s, about Nancy Wake, I was mesmerised. Later, I bought the memoir she wrote herself, published in the 1980s. While it was a captivating read, it mainly detailed her life in France on the eve of war and during. I learned about her time as a journalist in the 1930s, her first encounter with her future husband, Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist, her courageous work as a courier with the Resistance, and finally, her life as an SOE agent.

All accounts talk of her war work, and I often read about this fierce Guerrilla fighter, a leader of seven thousand maquisards, who could drink any man under the table and still be sober enough to recall every detail. But instinctively I knew there was more to this fearless lady. Yes, she was strong-willed, she was angry, so ferociously angry with the Germans, and for a good reason. Mad enough to have the will to do something about their cruel ways.

Nancy was a lady who enjoyed the finer things in life, beautiful clothes, and dining. She was as far removed from the fighter she became when she first stepped onto French soil in 1933. Once I’d read all about her, a picture formed in my mind, but it was one mined with gaping holes, where secrets lay, buried, forgotten, and I had to uncover them to get to the heart of this amazing woman.

Nancy Wake was a frivolous, decent, young woman when she decided to study journalism in the early 1930s. She’d left her home in Sydney, unhappy with family life, embarked on a cruise, docked in England at the finale, and had to make a living. So, having completed a six-month course, armed with the basics in reporting and typing, she was fortunate enough to be offered a post in Paris, working with the Hearst News Group. In the beginning, life was idyllic.

She had suitors, dined out, and enjoyed the jet-setting lifestyle of a reporter, travelling the breadth of France, venturing across borders into Europe. It was her travels where she began to hear and see for herself, the ugliness metered out by the Nazi Party. Like so many at that time, she was intrigued by Adolf Hitler, but when she finally witnessed the brutal treatment of Jewish people by the SA in Vienna, she’d seen enough. It was a turning point in her young, gentile life. A defining moment. Hatred of the Nazis began to burn in her soul, one that would burn until her dying breath. What she witnessed in Vienna defined her in a heartbeat, and she would seize her chance when it sailed along, making a decision that would change her life forever.

The Nancy I went searching for, was a young girl in Sydney, having moved there with her family at the age of two. Originally born in New Zealand, her mother was descended from the French Huguenots and Maoris, her father from the British. Nancy had a tough upbringing, and her parents divorced when she was six years old. Sadly, her father sold the family home, effectively leaving his wife and children homeless. A new home elsewhere beckoned. Nancy was the youngest of all of her siblings, and so childhood was lonely at home. But when she went to school, she found friends and was a bit of a tomboy by all accounts.

It was this innocent child that drew me in because I began to picture a girl who had been shaped by hard family life, disappointment, rejection, an apparent lack of parental affection, and scarred by the absence of her father. As she once said, ‘I adored my dad, but he was a bastard.’ Nancy never saw her father again.

As people, we are so complex, and Nancy was no different. It seemed essential that I discovered every detail possible, to truly know the subject of my novel. Not all detail needed to be included in the book, it’s more about finding the person. After much digging and trawling genealogy sites, I’d gathered as much information as I was likely to find. Finally, I’d found Nancy. And she was quite different to the figure in those biographies.

Once we find what we are looking for, we must make sense of it, and things aren’t always as they seem. Nancy was often quoted as saying that she was never afraid. She was too busy to be scared, or her hatred of the Nazis flowed so deep that eclipsed all else. Well, you see, I believe Nancy was afraid, and, quite rightly so. I think what she genuinely realised was that fear would not be a barrier. She really was far too busy to dwell on it, and, like most people, simply got on with things. As a writer, we have an option to exercise some creative licence when writing about real people, while taking care to be as factually correct as reasonably possible.

As any writer of historical fiction knows, the research phase of writing can be exhausting, producing mountains of notes, many of which are never utilised – at least not in the written sense. But much of what is uncovered is used in other ways because the writer is now informed, and such insight informs their writing, characterisation, voice etc. It is the light bulb moment – a defining event. And it’s exciting, and satisfying when that finally happens.

Madame Fiocca is available to buy now from Amazon as an e-book. It is also available to read for FREE via KindleUnlimited – mybook.to/MadameFiocca

fiction, Novel, Uncategorized

New Release: The Du Lac Princess

Today I’m thrilled to announce The Du Lac Princess – a fantastic new release by award-winning author, Mary Anne Yarde, available to buy now. For fans of her series, The Du Lac Chronicles, this latest release is certain to be a hit with new and existing fans alike.

Mary Anne Yarde(1)

Blurb

War is coming…

The ink has dried on Amandine’s death warrant. Her crime? She is a du Lac.

All that stands in the way of a grisly death on a pyre is the King of Brittany. However, King Philippe is a fickle friend, and if her death is profitable to him, then she has no doubt that he would light the pyre himself.

Alan, the only man Amandine trusts, has a secret and must make an impossible choice, which could have far-reaching consequences — not only for Amandine, but for the whole of Briton.

Purchase Links:

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Book Extract

“This isn’t a laughing matter,” there was censure in the monk’s words.

“If I don’t laugh then I am going to cry. I have been made to feel like a sinner even though I haven’t sinned, not really. I am a woman without hope and without any friends or family. I have lost everyone I ever loved, and now you tell me that life is going to be difficult. How much more difficult can it get?”

“The Pope has condemned you with Bell, Book and Candle,” Brother Daniel stated. “But that is not all. The Abbot made sure that the Pope was all too aware of your crimes. I am sorry, Amandine, but the Pope will never welcome you back into the Church.”

Amandine gasped, her laughter faded and any colour that was left on her face vanished. “What?” her voice was quiet, barely audible. “But I thought…all the penance. I thought… Tell me it isn’t true.”

“You are damned,” Brother Daniel confirmed. “No one will want you, neither man nor Church. You are completely at the mercy of Philippe. But rest assured, I believe he has every intention of protecting you. I will not lie to you, my dear, you will be shunned, even with the King’s support. The chances of you marrying again are very slim.”

“I wasn’t looking for a new husband,” Amandine said as she tried to make sense of Brother Daniel’s words.

“It also means that you will never be able to leave the protection of the castle. The protection of this room.”

Amandine scoffed with realisation. “I am to be Philippe’s prisoner? Why don’t you just say what you mean?”

“You are not his prisoner, think of it as being his special guest. This is for your own protection. Many would see you hang or worse. I have spoken to the King. Alan will be in charge of your safety from now on. Philippe thought you would find no fault in that, as you and Alan appear to be on good terms. Amandine, you must understand there are many who saw what you did the day Merton died. They saw how you were dressed in his clothes. They saw how you threw yourself at him. How you got down on your knees and begged the King for mercy on Merton’s behalf. They saw how Merton reacted when you were threatened. And those who didn’t will have listened when the Abbot condemned you. You are a fallen woman, a threat to their good Christian souls. Our main concern now is keeping you alive. You must never leave this room. Ever.”

“But I thought—”

“That you were doing penance? So you have said. Did you really think that the Abbot was going to pardon you of all your sins? Oh, Amandine, you are not stupid. He was never going to give you absolution.”

Amandine shook her head, and she began to wring her hands together in despair.

“You must be strong,” Brother Daniel reached across and stilled her hands with his. “And brave. Just like our Lord Jesus was in those darkest of days. Remember, he too was condemned for a crime he did not commit.” He smiled at her and squeezed her hands. “I must leave you now. I shall make sure some food is brought up, but it will be tested before you eat it, so do not fear about being poisoned.”

“Poisoned?” Amandine gasped, she had not even thought of that.

“You need to rest and regain your strength.” Brother Daniel rose to his feet and smiled down at her. “I will be back tomorrow to listen to your confession.”

“If I am damned, then what need do I have to confess?” Amandine asked, staring defiantly back at the monk. “Besides,” she looked away, “I consort with demons. I am evil. I am a sinner. My soul will burn in Hell. I will be damned forever—”

“Ask for mercy, and you will receive it,” Brother Daniel stated, interrupting her.

“I have,” Amandine challenged back, “and look where that has got me.”

 Red Stilleto Strategy by Hunter S. Jones(5)

Author Bio

Mary Anne Yarde is the Award-Winning author of the International Best Selling Series — Mary Anne Yarde Head ShotThe Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury–the fabled Isle of Avalon–was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

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