A guest blog.
For reasons too complicated to go into here, when I lived in Wem I didn’t have a washing machine. So I checked out the local laundry, and then, seeing its worth and not wanting to burden the Earth with unnecessary white goods, began using it regularly. The man who ran it was a charming Turkish chap, with whom I became friends. One of the things which was made apparent to me during our various conversations was the difference in attitude to children between the Turks and the British.
In Turkey, children are cherished. In my opinion, in Britain – speaking in general of course – cherished is not the right word to use. What is, then? Tolerated? Managed? Directed? Ignored? I’m aware that this is controversial territory, so I’m going to repeat: I’m talking generalities here. But when I considered the Victorian attitude to children, my case was clearer. In my new Conjuror Girl trilogy therefore I wanted to work with this historical attitude to children.
My first child creation for the novels was the League Of Ignored Children. In Victorian times children without families could be looked after by orphanages, or by ragged schools, institutions for destitute children which were charitable organisations. Such schools were usually in working class districts. Another alternative was the workhouse: children of poor families lived there. In all cases, life was harsh. Conditions were sometimes appalling. In my novels however I wanted to create an institution run by children for their own benefit. The League Of Ignored Children exists in a part-demolished building next to a foundry, which keeps them warm in the cold months (they refer to it as their “Winter Palace”). However, children being children, and in particular boys being boys, there is a hierarchical structure with leaders, just as in the adult world. This allowed me to explore my chosen theme of selfishness and its relation to male culture and society in general.
The League Of Ignored Children for me epitomises the exigencies of Victorian societies. Alas, I think some of those exigencies still exist. You only have to watch the news to see that in Britain, and in other nations too. We fail children so often.
I researched the darker side of childhood with the aid of Sarah Seaton’s Childhood & Death In Victorian England. Monique – the main character of the trilogy – is a keen reader of the local newspaper, and she relates some of the tragedies: Poor Ruth Sampson, killed by her father, who smashed her against the hearthstone. But he was not guilty, because drink sent him insane. Emily Holland, murdered by a mechanic up north. And only five years ago, Florence Albery, killed in a river by her own mother. Well, at least she had a mother, but what good did it do her? When all men can do is accumulate for their own benefit, no wonder the small and the weak are victims. And: This land doesn’t like children. It doesn’t see our value, it doesn’t see our potential. It’s irritated by us. It would rather we didn’t exist so it could get along with more important business. We are ignored. We’re all ignored children… What are we except a nuisance? People are too busy with their own lives to have a thought for ours. And all the time they ruin us, by leaving us on the streets, by exploiting us, by restricting us…
I suppose this is a rather depressing view. Many children have marvellous childhoods, and grow up to be stable, sane adults. But when others do not because of the corruption and blindness of the modern state – ruled by men, not women – it is perhaps no surprise that tragedies continue to happen.
How different the British attitude to children would be if women were in charge, not men.
Find out more about Stephen’s work on his website http://www.stephenpalmer.co.uk/