|Endings and beginnings|
The advance copies of WOMEN WRITERS AND DETECTIVES IN C19TH CRIME FICTION arrived tonight, delivered by a neighbor. They had gone to her door by mistake two days ago, and she doesn't get out much...
It was a very strange feeling, holding 20 years of research and hard thought in my hands. The book had begun with a question that arose when I was working as a researcher for Stephen Knight, crime fiction historian extraordinaire. It was: who was the first woman to write crime fiction? If it was Anna Katherine Green (1878), then what about Mary Fortune and her stories in the AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL from 1865? And Seeley Regester, alias Metta Fuller Victor,who wrote the first American detective novel (1866-7)? I ended up rethinking the whole early history of crime fiction, arguing it arose as a collision of elements from various genres, including true crime, melodrama, the Gothic, etc. There were some gorgeous moments, as when I realised Catherine Crowe's bestselling novel SUSAN HOPLEY: OR, CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE not only preceded Poe's 'Morgue' by months, but contained three female detectives. Or when legal historian Deborah Williams kindly shared with me her research into a real-life amateur detective, who successfully investigated the murder of her husband in the 1600s.
In the end it became a PhD thesis, then a book with a theme of professionalism, how women writers successfully worked with the crime form and themes, despite being then excluded from the major source matter: the law and the police. As Val McDermid pointed out in her preface, they used their imaginations! And proved every bit as deadly as their male counterparts.
I can see future research arising from the book (the real story behind the Anonyma books, for instance), but for the moment, that chapter of my researching/writing life is closed. Go forth, little book, and be read! I can't break a bottle of sparkling burgundy over your bow, but I raise a glass to your passage, from my study to the uncertain waters of the wider world.