Writing ‘A Twist of Fortune’

Posted on by Barbara Mitchelhill

When I first read the words ‘Devil’s Acre’, I wanted to learn why part of London should be given such a terrifying label.  It turned out that Charles Dickens had given it that name, doubtless he visited many times on his night-time prowls.  He would have seen for himself how the poor, the destitute and the criminal fraternity lived in the most squalid conditions just a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey.  Devil’s Acre and was one of the most dangerous and notorious parts of Victorian London.

Having discovered such a deliciously awful spot, I had no hesitation in setting the bulk of my Victorian novel ‘A Twist of Fortune’ in that area.  If three children – let’s call them the Pargeters – were abandoned there, I thought, how would they survive?  What problems would they come up against and, most importantly, how would they solve them?

I wanted this to be an adventure and I threw in larger-than-life characters in the shape of long-suffering Aunt Maud and the ever optimistic Uncle Bert whose gambling debts lead them into trouble. Then I added the hapless Mugworts who ran a money-spinning school out in the country and the cunning, Denbow, who together with the Pargeter children, brought about the couple’s downfall.

There were so many rich Victorian pickings for the book.  There were new inventions like the railway system, Euston station, the building of the Crystal Palace and gas lighting on some streets.  There was also the vast contrast between the rich and the poor.

The Pargeter children meet with both kindness and cruelty along the way.  They face their problems and win through – just as they should.  And that terrible Devil’s Acre where it all began is left behind.

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