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The Worm Hole Podcast Episode 101: Jacquie Bloese (The Golden Hour/The Secret Photographs)

Charlie and Jacquie Bloese (The Golden Hour/The Secret Photographs) discuss early erotic photography, Victorian erotic stage performances, and the beginnings of bicycle use for women which had a huge impact on female agency.

Please note there are mentions of suicide and abuse in this episode.

General references:
The photograph of Marie Berin
Marion Sambourne’s diary
I can recommend the keyword phrase ‘early bicycle wear women’ for lots of pictures of the outfits Jacquie describes
Wikipedia’s article on the history of women cycling (bicycling and feminism)

Books mentioned by name or extensively:
Jacquie Bloese: The Golden Hour

Buy the books: UK || USA

Release details: Recorded 3rd April 2024; published 8th July 2024

Where to find Jacquie online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram || TikTok


01:26 The whys of this book and the inspiration, particularly in the context of the photography
03:56 More about the model written about by Linley Sambourne, who committed suicide, and how Jacquie was influenced by it
05:47 Why Jacquie chose Brighton, and why she chose the Victorian period in that context also
09:00 About the female photographer, Marie Bertin, that Jacquie mentioned
09:58 About Holywell Street in London
11:30 The women points of view of The Golden Hour – Ellen, Clem, and Lily
16:23 Harriet (Harry) Smart and the music halls/theatres
20:28 More about The Vigilant Association
24:08 How Jacquie plotted her book and kept all the secrets straight in her mind
28:34 How Ottile had a bigger role in previous drafts
31:46 The importance of the questions of sexuality
34:53 Ellen and Reynold’s mother, her story and the significance of her story
38:05 Women! Cycling! And the importance of cycling for women at the time
42:09 About Jacquie’s inclusion of cats and the way they influenced the book
44:35 What Jacquie’s writing now, her book that includes silent films


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast episode 101. Bringing on an author and talking with them, about one – occasionally more – of their books in detail. I’m Charlie Place and today I am joined by Jacquie Bloese who I’m delighted to have on, particularly because her writing of location is awesome. We’ll be talking today about The Golden Hour or The Secret Photographs, her second novel which is set in late 19th century in Brighton. Ellen and her twin brother, Reynold, own a photography studio. They photograph families and create mementoes of celebrations and then, what those clients don’t know, is that later on in the day they invite over the girls from the nearby bawdy theatre and take entirely different sort of photographs which are sold on to distributors in London. But Reynold wants to be the one whose name is on the shop and Ellen is not fond of working only in his shadow. We also have Lily, a young woman from a poor and abusive background, and Clementine, an American who had to marry her new English husband so her mother could continue to have a nice lifestyle. And Clementine is a member of the Vigilant Association, who wants to rescue women and save society from its immorality. Hello Jacquie!

Jacquie: Hi there, Charlie. Thanks for having me.

Charlie: You are welcome. I would like to ask first why you wrote this book, what inspired you to write it, and maybe particularly in the case of the photography?

Jacquie: So my first book was set during World War Two, and I wanted to write about a different period of history; I’ve always been fascinated by Victoriana, I grew up reading Charles Dickens and loved those novels. And obviously the Victorian period was a time of great change; that was when photography, the medium of photography, was invented in 1837. And I started doing some preliminary research and I wanted to set it in the late Victorian period, and I came across a cartoonist from Punch magazine, which is a satirical magazine at the time, was extremely popular. And this man was called Linley Sambourne, and he was their lead cartoonist. Every week he was doing cartoons for the magazine. And he was a very keen amateur photographer as well, and he had a dark room in his house in Kensington. As I started sort of just casually researching him and reading his wife’s diaries and a book about his work, it didn’t take long to unearth the fact that some of the photographs that he took were of life models who used to come to a camera club that he was a member of in Chelsea. And I became very intrigued by these models and by his relationship with them. There were notes in his diary about what they were like, and, you know, to be honest [laughs], those notes did not put him in a very good light. So he’d refer to models as being ‘difficult’ or ‘ugly girl’, ‘stupid’. And then there was a footnote about one of the models that really greatly intrigued me, and it’s a little bit of a spoiler in The Golden Hour itself, but that was what set me off on the path of thinking, who are these women? Why were they doing what they were doing? And what are their stories? And, of course, thinking about photography then and now, where we are all, we all see ourselves, or most people see – if you have a smartphone, you are a photographer. That’s how so many of us communicate. And, of course, it’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also potentially quite a dangerous thing, because we’re putting images of ourselves out there on the Internet that can be used in ways that we don’t know about, necessarily. So I was thinking about that, too, and about privacy. So it was marrying up the past and the present in some ways.

Charlie: Okay, so I’ve got a few questions from that – you said about it being a spoiler for your book, but can I ask you, what was this thing that you came across?

Jacquie: So it was this model – I can’t remember her name, it might have been Maud. She was a regular model of his, of Linley Sambourne’s. And he wrote in his diary, a throwaway note, that she’d committed suicide and she’d thrown herself from the cliffs along the south coast. There was no sort of emotion on his side, you know, you had no idea what he thought about that. But I just thought, ‘gosh, this poor woman’. And I think his last encounter with her had been a difficult one, from the sounds of it. And so there was this sort of ellipsis, this period of a year or so, and I wondered what had happened and what had brought her to do that. And did it have anything to do with the life she was living and what she was doing and how voluntary was it? So those are all the questions that I was pondering and which fed into one of the characters in The Golden Hour, one of the models.

Charlie: Goodness, okay, so you had this plot thread from very early on, that part with Lily. I’m gonna jump straight to that, because we’re on the subject. [Jacquie: Yeah.] Were you ever tempted to change that story?

Jacquie: No, actually. And in terms of plotting, it’s quite interesting because to begin with, my very first draft, I actually opened the novel with a body washed up on the beach. And, in fact, I realised later, that it was in completely the wrong place, structurally, for the book. That was my starting point, really, the tragic death of this young woman that everything else revolves around in The Golden Hour – as it stands, it’s a prologue, and so it kind of ripples, the effects of that death ripple through the book. And, yeah, so, no, I always wanted to keep that as it was, although she died in different circumstances to the model that we were talking about, Linley Sambourne’s model.

Charlie: Goodness. Okay. And also, I noted that you begun your answer to me talking about location and time. And I think the thing that I did take away from your novel, like, in a personal sense, is just how immersive I found it. I really did see a movie in my head and all the location details and all the things that other people have talked about in the past, like the clothes and the smells and everything just came alive. I want to ask you about that, in terms of location and time being important, why you chose Brighton and also that particular time, if that makes sense?

Jacquie: Well, I chose Brighton because I just moved here, actually. It was during the pandemic that we moved here, and it really was a way of me connecting with this town that I found myself in. And, you know, I didn’t know many people. And also, I’m sure if we’d moved somewhere else in the country that wasn’t us inspiring or atmospheric, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to set a novel there! But Brighton is absolutely, you know, it’s drenched with atmosphere. Yeah. I mean, I think if you’ve got any interest in history, I mean, it’s impossible to avoid it – if you’ve got any interest in history at all, just sort of wandering around, you’ve got the madness of the Pavilion, George IV’s folly and the destroyed west pier. So you walk past that and think, ‘what was it? What did it look like? What went on on that pier?’ I was saying earlier that I started researching photography; well, I suppose in answer to your question about why did I set it in the 1890s, I wanted the photography industry to be well on its way. So this was not a new technology, by the time I was writing, even the poorest families were very likely to have had a photo of some kind taken. And of course, as the technology changed – so not to get too technical about it, but when I’m writing, it was dry plate photography, that was the process that was being used. And what that meant was that it was much easier for people to set up as photographers without that much expertise, because the processes were simpler. So you could buy plates that were already coated with collodion and you didn’t need to develop them immediately afterwards. So you’ve got these dry plates, you can expose the plates, put them to one side, and then develop them at your leisure. So it meant that there were lots of itinerant beach photographers. And because Brighton was such a hub for people of all kinds coming down from the city, there was lots of business and trade. So when I’ve been researching Brighton and censuses and businesses, there were a large number of photographers, and interestingly, there was a female photographer who set up a business here, too, which I thought was really pretty intriguing and quite daring for that time. So that’s how I sort of came upon that time. And also, it was towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, and the country was on the cusp of change, really, you’re heading into the 20th century, and there was change afoot for women. It was not uncommon any more to see women on bicycles, which was a symbol of liberation for women. So it was a time where there was possibility, but still great restraint.
Charlie: You mentioned the female photographer there. Was she able to influence you? Was there enough evidence or anything there?

Jacquie: No. Her name was… I think I’m right in saying it was Marie Bertin. One of her parents was French, and her father, I think, had been a photographer. And then she’d set up on her own. There’s just an amazing photograph of her, and she just looks… she’s got a very contemporary sensibility about her in this photograph. I didn’t have any other information about her other than where her premises were. There’s a little bit of biographical detail, but not much. She never married, which I thought that’s interesting, she was a very attractive woman, but didn’t marry at a time when the vast majority of women did. So it’s not like I’ve got a photo of her on my desk or anything, but it’s just a detail that I suppose, paved the way a little bit towards the main character of Ellen.

Charlie: Yeah. Logged in your head and, yeah, it was there for you [Jacquie agrees.) Umm, Holywell street in London.

Jacquie: Oh, yeah, yep.

Charlie: I did not know if that was going to be a real place as such, Holywell street, or if it was going to be in Brighton – I got a bit confused when I was reading the book at some point – but it was a real line of bookstores?

Jacquie: Yeah, so that was an actual street. It’s quite fascinating history, actually. So it’s just off – well, it doesn’t exist any more, it was actually pulled down at the beginning of the 20th century, I think – but, yes, it was just off the strand, and it was known for its bookshops. And so you’d walk down and there were like, long trestle tables with books, second-hand bookshops and new books. And it was also [chuckles] known as a place you’d go if you wanted adult – adult fiction, shall we say. So, yeah. And there was quite a lot of under the counter business that was going on with erotic postcards and photographs and that kind of thing. So when I came across it, when I was doing my initial research, I thought this would be a great location for Ellen and Reynold, one of their sources of distribution, to distribute the photographs, because I didn’t want them doing it on their doorstep. That was quite important, that they weren’t just distributing the photographs in Brighton because that would be dangerous for them, you know, they’d be likely to be caught at some point. So yeah, they take their business to London and that’s where they do it. And the houses were very old and old timber and it had quite a unique feel, I think. But it was destroyed, but, of course, that business just moved. It moved elsewhere. It just moved to Soho, basically.

Charlie: Okay. Yeah. You have these three narratives, and I wanted to ask you if you could give us a brief summary or however you want to do it, talking about these three narratives and looking at these three classes of women, the hows, the whys you chose to do this?

Jacquie: Well, so in a nutshell – so, as you say, its about these three women from different classes: Ellen, Clem and Lily. And they all get drawn in different ways into this underground trade in erotic photography. And Ellen is the main character, and she is – how would you describe her class? She’s probably aspirational, lower middle class. So because of her family circumstances, she actually has quite a lot of freedom, a lot more freedom than either Lily or Clem do. And so she works alongside her brother as his assistant in the photography studio, although she’s just as capable, if not more so, than he is. And financial necessity has drawn them into this trade in photographing nude models. I know some reviewers have sort of said, ‘oh, it’s about the early days of the pornographic industry’. Well, it’s [laughs] I suppose it depends how you define it, but I saw these photos as actually what we would see today as being fairly tame sort of boudoir photographs. And in some of them the girls, the models that come to the studio, don’t show their faces and they get paid less for that because they don’t want to be recognised obviously. So Ellen is there, she’s working alongside her brother. One of her roles is to find, basically procure, these young women, find the models, and she feels that she’s helping these women; at the start of the novel, she doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with what she’s doing, that they’re being paid fairly, they’re being paid well, they take the photographs, they’re distributed and that’s that, and everybody’s happy. So that’s where she is at the start. Of course it’s far more complex than that which she goes on to discover through the course of the novel. Then there’s Clementine – Clem – and she is an American. I suppose in modern terms you’d say she’d been trafficked from America. Her stepfather lost his fortune in a financial crash and her mother basically married her off for money. So she’s been married to an older English gentleman called Herbert who is fairly benign in lots of ways but he’s not who a young woman like Clem would ever have chosen to marry, and he’s a bit old fashioned, and she’s miserable from the get go as soon as she arrives in Brighton. And so she’s bright, she’s vivacious, she’s got a very contemporary outlook and she wants to try everything and she’s being held back at every turn. So although she’s living on the Crescent she has a lot of luxury and privilege but she isn’t free in the way that Ellen is, for example. And then there’s Lily. And Lily is working class; he comes from a very poor family, an extremely [laughs] dysfunctional family, to use a 21st century term. So her father’s in prison. Her mother is no better than she should be. She’s taken up with Lily’s uncle who’s come down to look after the household while his brother’s in prison. And he’s lecherous and he’s using every opportunity he can to try and sleep with Lily. And she knows that its only a matter of time before he’ll do what he wants to do. So she’s under a lot of pressure to remove herself from her circumstances. She works with her mother and sister in a laundry, and there were lots of laundries in Brighton at the time. And the novel opens with her on the pier. It’s her one escape. So she’s paid the tuppence to go onto the pier on a Sunday, and she’s sitting there eating a penny ice, and Ellen sees her and Ellen is drawn to her, this fragile looking, very pretty girl who seems so wistful and sad. And she approaches and asks her if she’d like to come along to the studio and have her photograph taken. But as readers will discover, she picks the wrong person with Lily. Of the three women, Lily’s life is undeniably the worst. They’re all sort of wrestling with the restraints of their own circumstances, which are all different.

Charlie: Yeah, no, I liked how you chose people from different backgrounds [Jacquie agrees] because… obviously you can only do so much with a certain character, you can’t show the lives of every person from that class or anything. But it gives a really nice balance and it’s also very informative in that way without info dumping. It’s really nice.

Jacquie: Oh, thank you.

Charlie: Yeah. I want to ask about Harriet Smart and the musicals. I did not see what happens with Ellen and Harriet coming, which I’m guessing was what you were intending [Jacquie: exactly] to not see [Jacquie: yep] yep. So, yeah, just, I suppose, tell us about her importance to the plot, to the book, and also, yeah, the music halls, if you can also add that in as well.

Jacquie: Yeah. So Harriet Smart, she became one of my favourite characters. Well, Harry Smart, as she’s known, is a male impersonator. She has a… a ‘residency’ [laughs], as they wouldn’t have called it then. She’s at theatre. She goes every night, she does various songs and she dresses in men’s clothes, and she’s a popular figure in Brighton. And she was partly – I suppose, the research that I did – she was inspired by Vesta Tilly, who I’m sure a lot of your listeners will have heard of. And she was a very, very famous music hall star in the late Victorian era and into the 20th century, actually. And she was a male impersonator. That aside, she was married; she had a fairly conventional background. She was in a heterosexual relationship. So I used her… really just researching her life to get a sense of what it must have been like to do that job. But Harriet Smart is really her own person. And she’s a gay woman who is quite unusually, well, very unusually at the time, living life on her terms as she wants to live it. And she lives in Hove, so a little bit out of Brighton, in one of the villas that overlooks the sea. And she lives a very bohemian life. And she sees from the beginning, she knows who Ellen is. She knows that she is another gay woman. She knows that Ellen is repressed and a bit scared of who she is. And through the novel – at the beginning, there’s sort of… not animosity exactly, but Harriet’s often teasing Ellen and Ellen doesn’t like her and she finds her annoying. But really there’s a whole sort of push-pull going on between them as quite an elaborate dance that carries on through the novel. And as far as the theatres go, it was popular pursuit at the time, going to the music hall, depending on the kind of shows you went to – they were varied – but there was a programme of entertainment. So it’d be like a variety show, really. And one of the things that I found really fascinating was that there was a real craze for these tableau vivant at the time, or the living statues. So towards the end of the bill, the end of the night, they would lower the lights and they’d have these different models come onto the stage and they’d mimic – so under the guise of being art, fine art, they’d pose, like sort of Greek poses – and these women, they were mostly women, would be wearing body stockings, so they were naked. It was highly titillating for audiences and extremely popular. So this was fascinating detail to bring in to The Golden Hour. And so I created a set of characters who are the models who I called ‘the tableau girls’ in the book, and they regularly pose for photos in Booth Lane, at the studio. And then, of course, as part of the story as well, I mean, you didn’t ask about this in relation to the theatres, but the Vigilants Association, which were a social purity group, were set up mainly, actually, to help young girls out of prostitution, but they also wanted to maintain moral order throughout the country. And so they did not approve of nudity, of the direction that the music halls were taking, so they did a lot of campaigning to try and get the tableaus banned from theatres without any success. So music hall entertainment was extremely popular.

Charlie: Maybe we should say, uh, nudity aside, I don’t know, but, I mean, it certainly sounds a lot more interesting than what you’d have been doing otherwise at that time. Sewing and knitting, I like knitting, so I’m not disparaging knitting and things like that, but there’s something else about the music halls. But, yeah, you said about the Vigilants Association, I would like to ask you more about that. And also you said that they started with helping prostitutes – I suppose I thought that they would have started with trying to get rid of all the immorality, and actually they started by being a helpful group. I mean, could you tell us more about them?

Jacquie: Yeah, so it was a group that came out of another organisation called The Suppression Of Vice. To be fair, I think in my novel [laughs] they get a bit of a knocking, because a lot of the members were there with the best of intentions but as always happens, when you have these big groups that grow and grow, you’re going to have people at either end of the spectrum, so you’re going to have the zealots and you’re going to have people that are more moderate. So they were founded in 1885. They lasted for 60 years, which is quite a long time. Yes, so their main objective – prostitution was absolutely rife at the time – was to help young women, or to stop them going into prostitution to begin with, and to help women, vulnerable women, who had found themselves in situations that they weren’t expecting and were difficult. And they’d often try and find places, alternative employment, for some of these women in service or so on. But I did quite a lot of research into this organisation and I found them really interesting because there are a lot of women in the association and I thought that was a really interesting outlook. There weren’t many opportunities for women at the time to have a public voice and have agency. And so it’s quite interesting to think about the types of women that would get involved in an association like this. So there were branches that sprung up all over the country. As I’ve said, some of the members were perhaps overly zealous. So you can read reports in the minutes, which I did – I went up to the women’s library in London and trawled through the meeting minutes of committee meetings, and you’ll have agenda items like ‘library books’ [chuckles]. Some of the Vigilants would go to local libraries and just check that there were no obscene, or what they would term as obscene books, and if there were books that they thought shouldn’t be in the library, then they would petition to have them removed. Same for the, you know, they’d go along to music halls where there were tableaus, again with a view to getting them first to see how bad it was and then to see if they could do something about it. And the other thing that they did was they had agents around the country to keep an eye on people, to keep an eye on people who they thought might be up to no good. So it could be somebody that was running a brothel, for example, that kind of thing. So uncovering that detail was too good an opportunity, actually, not to bring into The Golden Hour. So in The Golden Hour, there is an agent in Brighton who is keeping an eye on Harriet Smart’s Villa, where there’s all kinds of comings and goings at odd times of night. So they’ve got her marked because she’s different.

Charlie: I couldn’t help but think that a lot of the people there would probably quite enjoy the theatre in many respects!

Jacquie: Yeah! Well, I did think it was funny when you read accounts of them actually going to sort of see how bad it is. It’s quite funny, really. But I think they did also do a lot of good at the same time. So they did have very puritanical members, but there were also people who genuinely could see that in a country where there was really very little help, there’s no assistance, I mean, the workhouse wasn’t assistance…

Charlie: I think that’s amazing that you’ve got the minutes there that you were able to go through. That’s, yeah, really, really cool. Gonna divert to how you wrote the book for a moment. Something that really stuck with me was how you’ve plotted this book and you’ve got, I don’t know, secret number 1. Person A knows X about it, person B knows Y about it, wires get crossed. And I did read it, thinking, you’ve got this all done really, really well. So I suppose I wanted to ask how you kept everything straight in your mind – you knew where you were going?

Jacquie: Well, what I do when I’m planning a book, I do that very crude storytelling thing of structure, i just go right back to structure. So what’s the inciting incident? I do a three act structure, basically. So first act, climax, second act, climax, turning point where everything changes, darkest hour, crisis, choice, resolution. That’s the skeleton. I’m quite an organic writer in some ways, but I do like to know how something will end and I like to know what those different points, those different beats will be. My first drafts are often… I mean, I don’t really use them, to be honest, when in the second draft; they’re really there for me just to explore the world, explore the characters, try and get a sense of what the themes might be. When I wrote the first draught, Ottile, who is Clem’s sort of stepdaughter, she was quite a major character and so she disappeared by the second draft as a point of view. And I gave a voice to Lily, which felt really right, that as one of the models, she should have her own point of view. But in terms of all the ins and outs of the plot, I think the hard work for me came at the second draft; I do remember that being where I really had to get to the bottom of what was happening and why. What the character motivations m were and why. I do find that having a title can really anchor the plot and help you with direction for the plot. So, to be honest, I was struggling with getting all the events in the right order and making it work, when I started writing the second draft, and I was talking to my editor at the time about it, and then I said, ‘oh, I’ve come up with this title. I don’t know what you think?’ And it was sort of tying in with something with these golden hour photographs and calling it The Golden Hour, which I quite liked because it works on different levels and it’s ‘the golden hour’ in photographic terms, which is that hour which is known as the ‘magic hour’, when the sunlight’s really soft and gives everybody this sort of golden light. And it’s sort of ironic – it’s a golden hour that isn’t a golden hour, where events turn quite dark. So that helped me; I do find that once you’ve got a title that you believe in, that can help with plotting, too. And this is all probably sounding quite vague, because I spend a lot of time thinking about it and I’m quite rigorous with myself. I mean, I do it all on paper by hand, the plotting, and so that’s what I’ve got, just big pieces of paper, with this happening, this happening – I interrogate my decisions, so I’m quite tough on myself. So it’ll be ‘why would this happen? Is this realistic?’ I’m an editor as well, by trade, so I’m used to looking at something objectively as well, so I try and do that as much as I can with my own plots because I do think that is the hardest thing about writing a novel, I would say – sustaining someone’s interest from the beginning to the end. And I think if you manage to do that [laughs], then you should give yourself a pat on the back because that’s a hard thing to do. And, of course, it really depends on readers, too, because what one person finds compelling, somebody else won’t. I’ve read books that I may not have loved or will even remember, but I think the fact that I’ve given however many hours of my time and kept reading and kept reading and kept reading, when there’s so many other distractions, is something’s working. Like the mechanics, the mechanics are working. And I think that the mechanics are the thing that I would say is probably the hardest to get right. The pages have to turn. And you as a writer, that’s your job, to keep those pages turning, to not bore your reader. That’s a crime!

Charlie: Well, that’s very interesting, I’ve interviewed, I think by this point, something like 104 people.

Jacquie: Wow.

Charlie: And you’ve said some things I’ve never heard before. That’s absolutely fascinating. Yeah. Never heard anyone say about the title being useful to progressing in your drafts and things. Yeah, that’s been really interesting [Jacquie: oh, good]. So yeah, you said it’s quite vague, no, I would disagree with you. I think it was very informative.

Jacquie: Oh, thank you. That’s good.

Charlie: And you said that Ottile had a bigger role in previous drafts [Jacquie agrees]. I wondered. Because she seems – in the book as it is, as it’s published – there just seems something in there that I read it and thought, there’s something more there. I’m going to have to ask about it, how was she more involved, et cetera?

Jacquie: Oh, well, yeah, I mean, that’s very intuitive of you because, I mean, I had to pair her back because there was no room for her, but there was so much more to her. So she had her own point of view. So it was Clem, Ottile and Ellen were three characters. And she had a relationship with Reynold and she modelled for him, naked, of her own… she chose to do it. So it’s a form of sort of liberation for herself because she wasn’t free and she was – actually, I don’t think she was going to be married off, she was going to be sent to finishing school, as she is in the current book. And they elope – when the photographs are discovered, of course, that’s a huge scandal – she elopes with Reynold to Paris and he does go to Paris, but under different circumstances. So I suppose in some ways the plot was similar-ish, but she played a part in it. Yes. And then, I can’t quite remember… Reynold does die, they have no money, they have no money in Paris, so she goes along and poses for photos that are very, very different to the kind of photograph that she took, which is more artistic, I suppose, with Reynold. And so it becomes quite dark, quite quickly. But the reason I dropped Ottile – and I think, actually, it was the right decision because I think Lily needed to have her voice, and I think the book is definitely better than it would have been if I’d gone with that plot line, which is a bit more predictable as well – but my editor said she felt it was too exploitative. It felt too exploitative to have Reynold and this young girl of 15/16 having a sexual relationship. Which, I completely understand what she means, but actually, at the time, it wasn’t – it’s sort of imposing these 21st century or 20th century sensibilities on life over 100 years ago. And actually, young women would get married very young. Young women could be married at 15 or 16, and it wasn’t seen, people didn’t see it, in the same way. But I think the instinct to take in a slightly different direction was right, but it’s one of those things as historical novelists, I think can be a bit frustrating, because people will read a book and say, ‘oh, well, that’s such an exploitative relationship’ but actually, at the time, it might not have been, but that can be hard to reconcile.

Charlie: Yeah, no, I get where you’re coming from with your view, and also, obviously, I understand where your editor’s coming from. So, yeah, no, when you said about Ottile and what she decided to do with Reynold, I would say there’s still slight remnants of that in her character, still.

Jacquie: Yeah, no, that’s really insightful! Yeah, because, I mean, I know Ottile very well [laughs], but she’s so paired back. It’s a shame, but I couldn’t bring more of her in.

Charlie: No, I understand that entirely. So I will move us on, then. And you have mentioned about Harriet, Harry, Smart – that’s a very good point, she is Harry, mostly – and her sexuality. And, yeah, I think this is a question that is relevant here: I wanted to ask, was there a particular importance to you in including this discussion, or the basic inclusion, of questions of sexuality?

Jacquie: [Agrees.] Oh, definitely, yeah. I started with Lily, well, not Lily as a character, but this young woman who committed suicide and been found washed up on the beach. And then the main character, of Ellen, sort of presented herself to me. And I picture her, and she was repressed, she was a woman who sort of knew what she wanted but didn’t know how to get it. And I just knew that she was a gay woman. She was living in a patriarchal society, in a heteronormative society, where there were no words for being gay, there wasn’t a language for it. And so The Golden Hour is also about her journey to finding her own sexuality, becoming herself. And so Harriet smart was kind of secondary to that, so she was a bit of a foil to Ellen. But then she grew because she’s such a big personality, and it was just interesting – there Harriet is, as I said before, she can see who Ellen is, she knows who she is. You’ve got Clem. Clem is experimenting. What happens between her and Ellen, as Harriet points out at the end, it’s going to be disastrous for Ellen if she decides, that her life will take her away with Clem, because Clem, in essence, she’s a straight woman. She’s not going to walk off into the sunset with Ellen

Charlie: It was all very exciting for her. And that was the thing, I think. Yes.

Jacquie: Yeah, yeah, it was exciting. It was impulsive, it was exciting. It was a kind of experiment – well, I won’t call it experiment because that makes sound like it’s premeditated – but, yeah, it was just something that happened. Yeah. I mean, it’s a very important part of The Golden Hour as a whole. It wasn’t like I didn’t sort of sit down and think, right, I’m going to have my main character, be a gay woman. And I just thought it was an interesting, there’s a lot of potential for conflict there, of course, because Ellen is sourcing these young women, and so there’s a feeling of shame, her own feelings of shame, around what she’s doing that she can’t really express. And I think Reynold as well, you know, they’re a bit of an odd pair. So he sort of knows. He knows in his heart that his sister is never going to get married. But again, it’s all unvoiced. He can’t quite accept it or voice what he knows her to be, and what he knows, really, is going on with Lily when he sees that Ellen has this soft spot for her and has her photograph in the Bible, and it’s clear, but they don’t have the words to talk about it.

Charlie: I thought it was an interesting… exploration. I thought it was an interesting exploration, how you did it, yeah. On the subject of Ellen still or her family, you talk about Ellen and Reynold’s mother a bit, and they didn’t understand exactly what was going on, they were children at the time. And so, yeah, I wanted to ask about her story, I suppose, the significance of Ellen’s mother to your book as a whole.

Jacquie: Yeah, well, I mean, Ellen’s mother, she could probably have a whole book, she could feature in her own novel!

Charlie: Yeah, yeah!

Jacquie: So she’s married, obviously. And she’s promiscuous. She’s sexually promiscuous. So implication is that when Reynold and Ellen are children, she spends her afternoons visiting different men and having different affairs. She’s in bed with these men and the children are outside playing marbles in the corridor. And then her husband finds out. She leaves in disgrace with the children and goes to her mother in France. And her mother, her mother, is very religious and rules with a rod of iron. And so I think when I was writing her character, I thought she comes from this extremely repressive background, and that’s why she is partly the way she is. And I mean, there wasn’t room to really discuss it in the book – but she leaves her children. She leaves them. And women do do that. It does happen. And I just thought it would be an interesting… again, it’s the past and the present – like, human behaviour doesn’t change – so I wanted to weave that in and see how it sat and see also how that impacted; I’m really interested in the psychology of my characters, always, like who they are, what their backgrounds were, the parents, what their relationship was with their parents – so without their mother, Ellen and Reynolds would be very different people, her absence has shaped who they are. The circumstances of her absence, the fact that they saw her, they’re basically peering through a keyhole, watching her having sex at a young age. Again, there’s that prurient voyeurism about the camera lens and the photographs that they’re taking. There was something that was acceptable about it to them. Although they both are, clearly repressed, sexually. Reynold too – he’s very unlikely to walk down the aisle with anyone [laughs]. He sneaks off to London to visit prostitutes every so often and comes back feeling mortified. Yeah, so she appeared very early on the mother, and I didn’t really change her much. And the flashbacks that are in the book are pretty much as they were, they haven’t gone through much redrafting, because I sort of knew. I knew who she was. I knew what she’d done. And what I wanted to explore was how her behaviour had impacted on her children and turned them into the adults that they are.

Charlie: The part where we see, effectively, the final scene with the mother in the flashback, or what Reynold and Ellen think is their mother, I found that interesting because the way you wrote it made me question as a reader as to whether that was the mother in the carriage with the children, which I thought was very interesting, made us feel what Reynold and Ellen were thinking. So, women’s cycling. I’m gonna have to bring that up. I really enjoyed researching this. After I’ve finished your book, I thought, ‘I’m gonna have to go there. I’m gonna have to look this up.’ So we’ve got Clem and Ellen doing the cycling, and I was wondering if you can tell us more about the social mores of this and the importance to Clem and Ellen in the historical context?

Jacquie: Yeah. Yeah, so just to set it in the context – the penny farthing, I think, came out around 1870 or so. This book’s set in 1896; bicycles have been around for 20 years or so, but it was only in the 1890s that a lot of women were taking to the roads on bicycles. And when I was doing the research, I came across adverts in Brighton publications for bicycle lessons for women. They might be inside on a rink, so that you’d have somebody walking around with you, because it’s not, I guess, very ladylike to cycle around the roads and fall off [laughs]. So it become fairly mainstream at that time. And you’ll read diary accounts of people trying it. So, for example, Linley Sambourne’s wife, I’m pretty sure in her diaries, she talks about riding a bicycle and enjoying it, and her daughter certainly did. So it’s not subversive, but it’s not to say that everybody was doing it or was able to do it. So, again, that’s [in regards to] the bicycle, the lady’s Rambler, which is the model that Ellen receives from Reynold for her birthday. It’s liberation, isn’t it? You know, it’s independence. It’s the start of something. And Clem, there is absolutely no way her husband – as I said, Herbert Williams, he’s old fashioned, there’s a point in the novel very early on where there’s a collision with Ellen on her bicycle and a street boy who’s running to open the door of the carriage – and he makes some pompous remark about lady cyclists. And that opinion was held by a lot of men. And you only have to look at Punch magazine, which I often go back to as a source for the satirical drawings because you can get a good sense of what people were thinking at the time. And it’s full of caricatures of women in knickerbockers, and kind of really poking fun at them. And it was all linked as well to the rational dress movement, which started a few years earlier, which was all about women wearing clothes that were more comfortable and easier to wear if you were doing physical activity. Google quickly and you’ll get illustrations of women, or photos of women in bicycle suits, these knickerbockers and jackets, tailored jackets. And there’s some great, great photos, if you research them, of groups of women that would go cycling together. I’m sure there’s a novel in that, too, about a group of Victorian cyclists. Again, it’s that idea of the turn of the century, a country on the cusp of change. The bicycle was a symbol of emancipation, beginning of emancipation for women, which makes it all the more frustrating for Clem. That’s something she wants to do and her husband won’t allow it, so there’s the convert cycling lessons that bring her and Ellen closer together.

Charlie: It was fascinating to research and actually, listeners, I’ll look for links of what Jacquie’s said, and I’ll also put up the link to the Wikipedia page that I’ve been reading and finding really interesting because, yeah, it really was… maybe other people have heard of it, it’s just me who hasn’t, but it was really interesting to read how the bicycle has been so instrumental in women’s rights and them getting out the house and being able to go where they wanted without a chaperone, necessarily. Although [Jacquie: yeah] it sounds like they tried to make bikes so that women could be with the men and, you know, they can make sure they’re escorted and all that. But, yeah, it was really fascinating information. There is definitely a novel in there if you need an idea for novel four, I think you might have found a possibility [laughs].

Jacquie: Yes! [Laughs.] Unfortunately, I’m not much of a cyclist myself [both laugh].

Charlie: Fair enough. So. Okay. Hmm, I do want to ask on this. It had a big effect on me, I did struggle with what happened to Flossie. Obviously, it’s also realistic, you can’t have a wonderfully positive novel all the time, it wouldn’t be realistic at all. So I wanted to ask you about just your inclusion of the cats and the importance they had because I’m guessing it was important to you as well?

Jacquie: Yeah, I mean, I’m not really a cat person, which is maybe how I was able to write the scene you refer to!

Charlie: I thought you were. So I am surprised to hear that.

Jacquie: Well, I do have a history with cats. Having said that – when I left home before I went to university, I was a cat au pair in the south of France. So I looked after ten cats.

Charlie: Oh wow.

Jacquie: So I do have a history of cats, saying not cat person, so I do know a bit about them. But I could picture the studio, Reynold and Ellen’s studio, and I could see a cat there. And I also thought that the cat, Flossie, is there to in some ways make things easier for the models. So animals are a distraction, aren’t they? You know, like children, from what’s going on. So when Lily comes to the studio for the first time, Ellen’s really glad of Flossie because that lessens the tension between her and Lily. And I think to begin with I might have thought there’s something a bit manipulative about having a cat – I don’t know – on their part, but I think that’s something that might have got lost in later drafts. I think Reynold is the cat person; he’s somebody that’s emotionally distant. And in my experience… well, I have met people in my life, or I’ve known people, who are quite emotionally distant but are very attached to animals. And so I think that’s where I was going with that. But I’m glad you picked up on that because again, you know, you’re right. It’s important. Flossie is important. And the kitten that Harriet then brings, that’s important too. Maybe I’m more of an animal person than I realised [chuckles].

Charlie: Yeah, no, I am surprised. I’m not saying listeners that I read in an interview or anything that Jacquie loves cats, and I’m not saying I’ve got it wrong here. It was more something that I felt when reading the novel. I mean, I don’t think you can say cats are a theme, that’s not it [Jacquie laughs]. But there is definitely… created something to that effect in your book, if that makes sense.

Jacquie: Interesting, yeah.

Charlie: Okay, let’s ask this question then: what’s next?

Jacquie: Oh, well, I’m working on a novel; I’m at that horrible second draft stage. I do have a title, which is good, but I’m not going to reveal it quite yet. It’s another wartime story, and it’s set in World War One, and it’s about the early years of British silent film and conscientious objection.

Charlie: Okay.

Jacquie: So it’s about class and fame, the cost of fame, women, again, there’s a very strong female character who’s the daughter of a radical suffragette who’s wanting to break free from this domineering mother by appearing in silent films. Yes, I think that’s all I can really say about it at the moment. But I’m enjoying writing it. Again, it’s a different period, and there’s a love story running through it.

Charlie: Okay, that sounds very interesting. So, yeah, Jacquie, this has been lovely. I’m very happy to have met you and to have talked about The Golden Hour. Thank you very much for being here today.

Jacquie: Well, thanks so much, Charlie. It’s been my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

[Recorded later] Charlie: And thank you very much for listening! Please do share this episode with anyone you think would be interested in it. The Worm Hole podcast episode 101 was recorded on the 3rd April and published on the 8th July 2024. Music and production by Charlie Place.

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