Thursday, 6 October 2011

Revising the Mary Ann Cotton Novel

Revising this novel (A Woman Scorned) –first published in 2004 - has been fun!

I had forgotten how  significant this novel was and how much my outraged sense of justice is at its core. .  Interestingly in my new contemporary novel, Paulie’s Web also looks at justice and injustice in ordinary people’s lives. I had not made that connection until I started on the revision of this 2004 novel.

In my novel, I put the case for the defence of Mary Ann Cotton, who was alleged to have killed at least three and at most  eighteen people in the mid nineteenth century. Hanged for her ‘crime’ in Durham Goal, she has become a  dark legend in the north as their own female serial killer. Green Cover MAC Improved

I kind of went along with this idea  but once – encouraged by my friend Gillian Wales - I had read all the sources I felt that  Mary Ann had been done a great injustice.   The novel – based strongly on the original  sources – came out in 2004 and I am now preparing a revised edition for the  Kindle publication.

To make my point on this revision I have given it a new subheading: A Woman Scorned: Serial Killer or Scandal Victim?

And I have eve designed a new cover to make my point more clear!

What do you think?


A little extract: (These extracts will follow the novel)

The story is told through the eyes of Victoria Kilburn, niece of Doctor Kilburn the doctor central to the story. She is visiting her uncle from London and is delighted and eventually horrified at what she witnesses in this small Durham village. Like Mary Ann (called Marian in my novel) she is an outsider and it is she who witnesses the runaway injustice visited on this unusal and charismatic woman.


Here she is having tea with a new acquaintance Kit Dawson:

… After the usual pleasantries about the weather (gloomy) and our own health (blooming), Kit Dawson tells me a tale about his day sitting at Mr Chapman’s elbow in the local magistrate’s court, making notes regarding a case about two women in West Auckland who came to blows over the abuse of a washing line, and renewed the battle again in court only to be fined five shillings each and bound over to keep the peace.

He thinks this is very funny, but I am concerned at the fine. ‘That would mean such a lot of money to these women. Two week’s wages for Lizzie, my aunt’s maid.’

Kit Dawson is entirely indifferent about this. ‘If they care about that, they shouldn’t start bashing each other. They’re barbarians, every last one of them.’

I shake my head. ‘Mr Dawson. To be poor is a misfortune, not a sign of barbarism.’ I regret the primness of my tone but mean what I say.

To my surprise he laughs. ‘Ah, you live a protected life, Miss Victoria. You should see what I see in court! Drunken miners, low women, thieves and vagabonds, wife-beating husbands, husband-beating wives. For me it’s like that first, most absurd circle of Hell in that courtroom...’

This is the world in which Victoria makes friends with Marian who ends up on the gallows, and shows us the injustice as it happens t0 her new friend.


  1. I love the extract. Two very different viewpoints beautifully captured.

    I have to say the green on the cover is a little heavy.

    I wonder if you could do a treatment more like your "Paulie's Web" cover? Somehow make the photo larger and a backdrop to the text?

  2. Thanks Al. Good advice as always. I have been thinking, as you suggest, that I might enlarge the archive photo to the full page and insert the titleing on that, And make it paler, Great minds think alike.
    Pleased that you liked the Paulie's Web cover. That was a labour of love.
    Thank you for calling by,



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