update on Casket Girls

Hello dear friends!  Some absolutely WONDERFUL news:  my novel has a cover, and is now ready for pre-order from Paper Swans!  Here’s a link:


The cover image is from a watercolour I did in London.. A poet friend, Rachael Clyne, suggested that one of my paintings might be appropriate for the cover, and that gave me the courage to suggest this. I am incredibly grateful to her and to Sarah Miles, my wonderful publisher.  This really is a dream come true for me!  Here’s a taster, from my introduction:

 I have learned, over the course of an eventful academic career, that the best work is a combination of careful archival research and passion for our subject.  Casket Girls builds on research I have carried out as a scholar, but it also reflects some of my own passions:  the possibility and desirability of genuine friendship between women of different ethnic, racial and social backgrounds; the importance of economic independence for women; and a commitment to social justice.

When I decided to write a novel and was casting around for a subject, it occurred to me that the Casket Girls would offer the opportunity to explore these concepts and flesh them out.  The title of Casket Girls refers to the filles a la cassette, young women of good birth but without family or financial resources, who were sent by King Louis XV of France in 1728 to New Orleans under the auspices of the Ursuline nuns as prospective brides for the unruly colonists.  (Even then, New Orleans had a reputation for licentiousness).  The cassette or casket refers to the little trunks they were given to carry their trousseau to Louisiana.   One of the conditions under which the Ursulines were allowed to found a Convent was that they would be required to educate, not just gently reared young women in the colony, but also Native Americans, prostitutes, and enslaved women.

I felt that it would be interesting in Casket Girls to explore the interaction between these young Frenchwomen and other young women with a very different backstory.  The novel tells about of four of them:  Sidonie, a bookish young Frenchwoman who wants to be a teacher; her friend Joelle, also a Casket Girl, who dreams of marriage to a wealthy planter; Immaculata, a deranged nun; and Palmyre, an enslaved woman.  They are faced with Convent life and its limitations, sexual violence, and the horrors of slavery.

Writing about these subjects does pose challenges of its own.  One of which I am very aware is the danger of what is described as  ‘wetting one’s pen in the blood of others.’  Many of the events depicted in Casket Girls are based on actual eyewitness accounts of historical events.  In episodes dealing with the violence lying beneath the surface of Southern history and the beauty of the Southern landscape, I am conscious of the danger of descriptions of violence which could be seen as unpleasantly voyeuristic or titillating.  At the same time, however, I have deliberately avoided depicting a South of moonlight, magnolias and happy slaves strumming banjos, which would distort historical reality.  When we look at what actually happened, we quickly reach the following conclusion: you really could not make it up.

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