Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-five): The march of women

 

30 March 1915

In the past week, the Times has continued to shrink in pages, and expand in its messages of desperation. Letters from the Front speak of A DOCTOR IN THE BATTLE LINE and his AMBULANCE WORK UNDER FIRE, from Neuve Chapelle:

“It has been quite impossible to write lately, as there has been a tremendous battle going on, the earlier part of which was a great success… Life has been absolute Hell; there is no other word for it…..Getting the wounded away was the worse. I had only four stretcher-bearers out of 16, and only two stretchers; and the shell fire was so great that it was impossible to carry them to the ambulance a mile and a half away.”

Boys at home are being encouraged to respond to the thrill of War, that they might be encouraged to volunteer for service in the Red Cross, to raise war funds, and to dig potatoes for desperate farmers. In the meantime, THE CALL TO WOMEN includes TO WORK IN ARMAMENT FACTORIES doing SHELL-MAKING, and to FARMING.

Under this relentless barrage of War news, the headline BRIDES DROWNED IN BATHS, concerning one George Smith of Shepherd’s-bush who stands accused of killing a series of three wives by drowning each of them in a bath, seems positively droll and homely by comparison. As does the description of NEW PROFESSIONS FOR WOMEN that includes POSSIBILITIES OF MUSIC ENGRAVING and WOMEN TRAM CONDUCTORS. I do not know that music engraving fills a tremendous wartime need, although I suppose even the boys on the Front need to sing. Driving a tram would at least free a man to carry a gun—as my own driving frees the doctor to concentrate on his work, allowing him to doze the roads instead of hunching bleary-eyed over them.   It may be a sign of his cumulative fatigue (the district’s other practitioners are all in France) but either my driving has improved, or he is too tired to notice. The other night, the sound of a fence-post scraping against the side of the motor only caused his snores to briefly pause, and fortunately it missed the head-lamp.

I fear, however, that the good doctor will have to make use of another chauffeur before too long. I am determined to make a more active service to this, my mother’s homeland: I shall drive an ambulance at the Front. Last December, I learned the skills of looking older than my years. In the past weeks, I have perfected the art of driving over uneven ground at all hours of the day and night. I can even perform basic repairs to the machine. My nerves are steady, my stamina considerable, and my wits sharp: England needs such as me. I know my vision of coming to the rescue of Thomas Saunders is but a figment of imagination, but surely any number of other young men could stand in his stead.

I have heard of a local widow-woman who is not only well skilled behind a wheel, but whose sons are now out of her house, leaving her at loose ends for employment. To make matters even more interesting, the lady is of an age appropriate to my Doctor, whose own wife died three years ago. I have arranged the use of the motor this afternoon, while the Doctor holds surgery hours, and will go and see if she might be willing to step into my place, freeing me to forge identity papers and leave for the Front. If a schoolboy child with ten shillings of choir money can work his way to France, I shall have no trouble at all slipping into a driver’s position amidst the chaos of a field hospital. By the time I am discovered, I will have made myself indispensible.

Talking Dreaming Spies

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to see one of my Dreaming Spies tour stops, the good folks at Anderson’s Books in Naperville, IL have posted a nice interview about writing the book, the Bodleian library, being inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, Russell’s Twittering, and writing Sherlockian erotica, all over on your YouTubes:

MWA cooks

So, this crime writer walks into a kitchen…

Or maybe a bar—it depends on what story you’re after, and what you’re hungry (or thirsty) for.

Whether it’s drinks to curl your hair or a soup to warm your heart, Kinsey Millhone’s peanut butter & pickle sandwich or Valentine Wilde’s chicken fricassee, or maybe a cup of Jack Reacher’s coffee with one of Mrs Hudson’s coffee-sheet cookies, there’s enough here to keep you fed and watered for weeks to come.

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Besides that, the book is really gorgeous–

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with pictures of scampi & bullets, spaghetti & pistols, and food porn that makes you want to ring up Nero Wolfe and invite him over for a plate of Alafair Burke’s run-soaked Nutella French toast. Check it out, here.

Pardon me, I’m feeling a bit peckish.  Maybe it’s time for me to slip out to the grocery store…91WTIdS-VbL

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook is available today, from your local Indie bookseller, from Barnes & Noble, from Amazon—or until April 3 you can enter to win a copy at Goodreads.

The Mystery Writers Cookbook, by a hundred or more of us murderous sorts: recipes to kill for.mwa_cb_final_300dpi

Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-four): Conquest and carburetters

 

23 March 1915

This week has taught some interesting lessons, both in practical knowledge and, perhaps more valuable in the long run, in the subtle relationships between the sexes.

Dr X and I (I decided I should probably not use his name, since my presence as his chauffeur is probably against a string of regulations and I would not want the man struck off simply because he is too exhausted to stand up to me) have forged a reasonable working relationship, in which he agrees to permit me to drive him about the countryside on his daily rounds, while I agree not to lay wait for him outside of his door at night. As a temporary solution, it is most workable, although eventually I shall have to take on the skills of night-time driving.

One of our trips this past week took us to Seaford, where he anticipated a longer than usual visit. As I prepared to settle in with my Latin, I noticed just down the road a small garage, so I set aside the text and moved the motor over to the establishment’s forecourt.

I have not reached the age of fifteen years without realising that men prefer not to take women seriously—even less, young women such as myself. There are two ways around this: one can either force matters, asserting one’s needs and abilities until the man reluctantly admits some degree of acknowledgment, or one can manipulate him. The first way is easier on a woman’s self-respect, but I have to admit, the second way is often faster and more productive.

In this case, my request—that the man in the greasy coveralls be hired to introduce me to the mysteries of the internal combustion engine—had the result I had anticipated: he laughed. Had his hands not been so filthy, I think he might have patted me on the head.

But instead of bridling and manoeuvring him into a corner, I did the unnatural (to me) and unexpected: I went soft, blinking my eyes at him (and contriving to seem shorter than I was) and admitting that it was silly, I knew, but until I knew just a couple of things, like changing tyres and what to do if the starter wouldn’t catch, the aged grandmother I lived with far at the end of a country lane would be vulnerable and might even have to move into town…

He relented, patently amused at the idea of a girl changing a tyre, much less cleaning the points of a carburetor, but since the forecourt was empty of other cars—and, perhaps more important, other men—he walked around to the bonnet and opened it to demonstrate the key architecture.

Two hours later, having passed from amusement through bemusement to astonishment, he had taught me all the main parts of the motor and what to do in any event short of a broken axle.

Dr X was most taken aback at my appearance, and my aunt filled with outrage, but I shall purchase my own set of coveralls and keep them in the motor, against my next exploration of the guts of the machine.

Expressing interest in the future

Mad as this may seem, you can now pre-order a copy of The Murder of Mary Russell: a book I have yet to finish, a book without cover art, a book more than a year from ending up in your hands. A book with more questions than answers.

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It all feels rather Kickstarter-ish, doesn’t it? However, I am assured that the publishing world Takes Pre-Orders Seriously, meaning that a hefty indication of early enthusiasm catches the attention of those who make decisions when it comes to marketing and touring and the like.

True or not, mad or not, I pass on the information to you, as a chance to let the book world know that you’re interested in the story.

(Either because, or in spite, of its title…)

Signed copies can be ordered now from Bookshop Santa Cruz and from my good friends at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, as well as Kindle and Amazon, here.

And really, the next thirteen months will pass so very quickly.