Felicity was born in Germany, attended boarding school in the UK, and emigrated to Western Australia with her parents in 1976. She, her husband and their three children moved to a small farm 40 kilometres north of Perth in 1990, and now, when she is not writing, she works on their Suffolk sheep stud and rears orphaned kangaroos.
It’s no secret that I have loved Felicity’s Dody McCleland series since the first book was published in 2012. Set in Edwardian London, it features Britain’s first female autopsy surgeon, and I was interested to read on Felicity’s website that the background of this character is drawn from the life ofCrime plus historical fiction is an exciting mix, and Felicity always weaves in social issues of the times, along with family, class and gender dynamics.
I am looking forward to reading the latest (fourth) in the series, The Insanity of Murder.
Here is the book’s blurb:
To Doctor Dody McCleland, the gruesome job of dealing with the results of an explosion at the Necropolis Railway Station is testing enough. But when her suffragette sister Florence is implicated in the crime, matters worsen and Dody finds her loyalty cruelly divided. Can she choose between love for her sister and her secret love for Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, the investigating officer on the case?
Dody and Pike’s investigations lead them to a women’s rest home where patients are not encouraged to read or think and where clandestine treatments and operations are conducted in an unethical and inhumane manner. Together Dody and Pike must uncover such foul play before their secret liaisons become public knowledge—and before Florence becomes the rest home’s next victim.
And now, over to Felicity…
2 things that inspired the book
1. One of the constant topics running through my Dody McCleland series is society’s attitude to women in the Edwardian period. I’ve dealt with hunger striking suffragettes, criminal abortions and the abuse of the weak by the powerful. None, however, can be more horrific to me than the treatment of the mentally ill.
My concern and interest in the topic began when I was a student nurse seconded briefly to Graylands psychiatric hospital. I’ll never forget witnessing a woman being subjected to ECT therapy: the tying down, the lack of control and the awful convulsions. I am in no position to give an opinion on the efficacy of the treatment, other than to say that to an almost layperson it seemed horribly brutal, a remnant from another time.
If I had not seen this with my own eyes, I don’t think the treatment of female insanity in the Edwardian period would have resonated so strongly with me.
2. Leading on from this, the second inspiration would have been my visit to the science museum in London, where I came across this charming contraption. It’s a D’Arsonval cage, believed to cure all sorts of medical and psychological problems. With a small amount of poetic licence, I modified this machine and turned it into something much more lethal.
2 places connected with the book
1. The Elysium rest home for women is my old school boarding house, from the croquet pitch at the front and down the hill to the lake where we would smoke and meet boys. I was never a smoker, but enjoyed the danger of hanging out with the rebels. As for meeting boys, well, maybe one or two.
2. The coal cellar in one of the final chapters belonged to my grandmother. It was a spooky place with big lacquered doors through which, once a month, the coalman would tip his delivery of coal and coke.
2 favourite things about the book
1. The themes of my books are often quite intense and I lighten the tone every now and then with humour. I particularly enjoy writing the character of Florence, my protagonist’s sister. She is everything Dody is not—impulsive, flippant, reckless and irreverent—but also vulnerable, especially in this book. The extract below follows a scene in which Florence has taken some pills in order to appear insane to a ‘nerve doctor’.
Dody turned on her sister as soon as Doctor Lamb had left the house. ‘Florence, how could you!’ Florence calmly ignored Dody’s outburst and reached for the sherry decanter.
Dody slapped her hand away. ‘Don’t you dare! Not on top of those pills you’ve taken.’
‘Pills, what pills?’ Florence asked innocently.
Dody felt like strangling her. ‘Fast acting, short lasting. I left them on the dressing table—more fool me—never expecting that you would help yourself to them. I can see your demeanour improving before my very eyes.’
‘That reminds me; I must look a fright. May I borrow your comb please, dear?’
2. I wouldn’t be writing this series if I did not revel in the research. While I research the major topics I often come across interesting little tid-bits that just have to be found a place in the manuscript. I came across one little known fact, a dietary guideline called ‘Fletcherizing’, while I was researching the topic of anorexia in Edwardian women. Doctor Fletcher was known as the ‘Great Masticator’.
This is taken from a scene featuring Dody’s rather ‘straight’ lover, Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, and his daughter, Violet.
‘Would you like an ice cream, or a packet of biscuits to take home? They bake them on the premises. I’m told you cannot find fresher biscuits in the whole of London.’
Pike nodded to a pile of artfully arranged biscuits displayed under a glass dome on the tearoom’s expansive counter. Next to it stood an extravagant iced wedding cake all Doric columns and bell towers. It looked very pricey. How much did it cost to get married these days? he wondered absently.
‘No, thank you, Father,’ Violet answered. ‘Doctor Fletcher says ices and biscuits are incredibly bad for one.’
Pike’s eyes flicked back to his daughter. ‘And who’s Doctor Fletcher when he’s at home?’
‘A diet doctor from America. Among other things, Doctor Fletcher says one must chew each mouthful thirty two times: “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.”’ She paused and regarded him with a frown. ‘I’m not teasing this time, it’s not funny, Father. Many famous and intelligent people are followers of his teachings.’
‘I’m sure they are,’ Pike said, trying to maintain a straight face.