Today, we’ve speaking with Steph A. Amey, author of Holloway 8632…
In 1905 life in the East end of London is hard; poor living conditions, low wages, smog. Sally relies on neighbours and family to look after her child so that she can work long hours in the candle factory. When Connie enters her life, she at first appears to need Sally’s protection. Connie leads Sally into the suffragette movement, led by the Pankhursts. Increasingly drawn in, the two women struggle to balance work, home life and their radical activities. As the movement’s bonds begin to fracture, Sally and Connie question whether gaining the vote will have any impact on their lives, but still they carry on. With their lives devastated by riots, imprisonment and tragedy, they realise they must find an inner strength just to survive.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Steph: I live in Norfolk with my husband and work part-time as a health and safety adviser. Previously, I worked as a water engineer.
Q: When did you begin writing?
Steph: I began writing in 2000, after attending an evening class with the Norwich based poet Hilary Mellon
Q: Can you tell us about your most recent release?
Steph: My novel ‘Holloway 8632’ was published by Freya Publications on 30th September. It is about the effects on the lives of two working class women who join the suffrage movement. They have to balance their working lives while caring for their families and taking part in suffragette activities. They are present at many of the most famous suffragette events, as the movement grows increasingly radical. As the Women’s Social and Political Union starts to fracture, the two women begin to question whether having the vote will alter the lives.
The book is available for download on Amazon.
Q: How did you get the idea for the book?
Steph: There was a lot of interest in the hundredth anniversary of the suffragette hunger strikes a couple of years ago and I thought it would be interesting to look into the lives of working class suffragettes, as most of the history of the suffrage movement seemed to be about middle class women like the Pankhursts.
Q: Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?
Steph: My favourite character is Sally Cox. She is such a strong woman, facing so much hardship
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
Steph: Getting the historical details right. The conditions in prison, including the visiting rules – I had to rewrite that section several times. Other historical aspects were also difficult, the living and working conditions were fairly grim, but I didn’t want to lose my readers with too much gruesome detail.
Q: What is your primary goal as an author?
Steph: To engage the reader and make them feel for the characters
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
Steph: I am researching for a sequel to Holloway 8632
Q: What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Steph: Join a writing group. It will provide you with invaluable support and objective feedback on your work.
About the Author:
Steph A Amey lives in Norfolk with her husband. An engineer and trained teacher, she worked in Kenya and Guatemala before returning to the UK in the late ’90s. This is her first novel and now that she’s working part-time, she’s keen to write more.
You can learn more about Steph on Facebook or on her Blog.
It hurts. They come in all boots and push me back on the bed. Hold me down, arms and legs. The doctor wrenches open my mouth with steel and forces in a long rubber tube as wide as my throat. Forces it scratching, down, down. I feel it scrape the inside of my chest and bump into my belly where it gurgles and grinds. I wretch and choke. On it pushes. The kick and fight has gone from me as my whole body is caught in pain. The funnel pours liquid down into my burning belly and I choke, choke. Then it’s ripped past my heart and tears me and blood dribbles down inside. A damp old rag scrapes across my face and my head falls back on the bed.
I open my eyes and watch the black eye as it flickers against the spy hole in the door. Feet move away and there is click, click on the doors as they spy on other prisoners. More like me and yet not like me.
‘Disturbing the peace’ they said as they grabbed us. An’ all she done were asked a question of the man on the platform. An’ we was shouted down and dragged from the hall. Hard-faced men roughed us up. An’ the police grabbed my breasts and squeezed right hard and pushed me to the ground. Stamped on my hands. Ground his heels in. Spat in my face. And then they was all kicking an’ fighting an’ we were thrown in a police van.
Shoved in a cell, ten of us stood all through the dark night. Banging on the door over and over. ‘‘Names?!’’ they cried and one after the other ‘‘James? Pearce?” and on and on until me “Cox?” We huddled and waited for the next round of names. I held a young girl round the shoulders and whispered in her ear, “there, there, be strong,” as much to myself as to her.
On 23rd October, I was convicted of assaulting a policeman. “Who did the spittin’ an’ stampin’?” I muttered, but was pushed to the back and told to keep quiet. The beak gave us twenty eight days and peered down at us from way up high. He had the ruddy veined nose of a hard drinker that one. We’s all done at once and none could speak. Amelia did try in her right posh voice. Shouted down she was. Jack was in the public gallery. He leant over so I could see him. He was mouthing at me, but I couldn’t make out the words. But I’m sure it was of love.
“Take them down!” the old boy said.
As we tripped down the steps I heard his voice, “’ang in there Sal!” and all went to hell above us – whistles and shouts and the court was ordered cleared.
Stripped I was. Made to wear a coarse green dress that smells of all those who’ve gone before me. I ain’t ever been alone in my bed ‘fore now. Always had sharing with brothers and sisters. Then with our Jack and the little ‘uns – always wriggling and crying and wanting. And Jack wants in a different way – and there’s that o’ course – the heat of another ‘s body, as its cold in here wiv this rank old blanket and lump of a mattress. They say we aren’t sexed, hags and all. Yet there’s kids come as night follows day. Little Jimmy’ll be in bed wiv Jack right now. Asking fer stories to put him to sleep. Jack ain’t no good with tales for kids. His ‘re more for the pub ‘cross a tankard of ale. Jim’s really too big to be in his folk’s bed – needs to move on to make room for more. I moan out loud, for the kids. I need ‘em. Jimmy, his smell, all chubby and clean, Sammy with scabby knees, wiping snot on his sleeve. My loverly Josie – always the boss. The sound o’ them squabblin’ in the yard and squealin’ in delight when Jack comes home. It’s all so far from me ‘ere in the dark, can’t cuddle and comfort ‘em when they’re hurt or scared.
I misses the daylight and wind in my face. Here in the cell it’s stale and dark. The tiny window is behind bars – so as not to harm ourselves. When I’m out o’ the cell, there’s no talking, no smiles. Them’s the rules. Out of my cell to empty my slops, I sneak a look at Amelia, her head’s held high. She fair marches around squeezed into her green uniform – the too short sleeves frayed at her wrists. Her body ain’t broke through beatings. She smiles at me. I look away, scared. Shamed of being scared. But the wardresses is hard and strikes out for the slightest thing and my body is too bruised and my mind too scarred.
Our Josie will help with the kids and Jack’s Ma. She ain’t happy ‘bout me ‘wastin’ time’ on marches and protests. “Fine example ter Josie” she said. It’s for Josie I’m doin’ it – her future not mine. Don’t wan’t Josie to miss school. She’ll get her a, b, c’s and a fine head on her shoulders. Jack supports me, but we’ll be for it this time. It’ll cost me me job at the factory. Mrs Peabody don’t want no troublemakers. Cut back on food, can’t eat much less at home. Maybe Jack’s parents… ‘e’d hate askin’ fer help. They won’t see ‘em starve, me maybe, but not the kids, “It ain’t their fault if their Ma’s a troublemaker” she’d say. I’ll ‘ave to take in washing, or seamstressing at home. It’d be hard work with the kids all round and money’s not good. But first there’s pain and feeding and these four walls.
“Awoit?” says the eye at the door. “Awoit 8632?”
“Awoit,” I whisper. My whole body is pain. I’m rigid with fear. Is it feeding so soon? But there’s no key in the lock and footsteps fade.
The passing is bad in a pail in the cell. The stench creeps around ‘til its smothering me. They pass in a tin cup of dark water and something like bread. The water I sip. It’s soaked up the smell of my body. It’s like blood in my throat as it trickles down into me belly. The feeding is with me again.
And now it’s my time and I can’t keep clean. I begged for some cloths and the blood clots on my legs. And the washing and wiping and pains in my back. I feel dirty, ashamed. Can’t get the stains out of the blanket. I’m weak, my body. My mind hurts. “Want to be treated same as a man? Still bleed like a woman don’t yer?!” the wardress had scoffed as she tossed me some rags
Darkness is broken by cries in the night and banging on doors and boots on the stairs. Scratches on walls an’ mice in the cells. I shiver and feel Jack in my head. His arms round me pulling me close, his name on my lips as we grapple and thrust and I cry out in the night. Jack and I courted from when I was fourteen and Ma kept saying “wait lass, there’s years fer yer yet, and so much ter do.” But waitin’ was wantin’ and I was expectin’ when Jack took me as his wife.
Word had gone round about the Minister’s meeting. I put on a big coat and we three sneaked in at the back of the crowded hall. Men in suits and workers in flat caps crammed on chairs and leant on walls. They nodded and cheered in the smoke filled room. Fit to choke we stood at the back. Minister was smaller on the day. But spectacles made him seem cleverer and he had the fat of money on him. He kept waving a pile of papers and talking “and the rights of the working man are…” I’d been practising to heckle in our back yard