Author Interview | Learning about Nellie Bly and the vision Kate Braithwaite had of her life as shared with us through her novel “The Girl Puzzle”

Posted Monday, 6 May, 2019 by jorielov , , 0 Comments

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts,

When I originally signed on for this blog tour, I had confused it with another tour – I had a lot on my mind at the time and for whichever reason, I had two of the titles confused for each other. When the novel arrived by Post, I was quite surprised and then, a bit worried – could I handle reading the story or would it be a bit much for me? Over the past years I’ve been blogging my readerly life – there are some stories which I have had a bonefide interest in reading but had learnt the harder truth that some stories out there are just not my cuppa tea or they are a bit outside the scope of what I regularly read – to where something inside them has affected me.

When it came to sorting out how to read about Nellie Bly – my first instinct was to think this might be too much for me as when I read “Emmy Nation” I found myself having issues getting through some of the harder points within the story-line as much as I generally have noticed plots surrounding asylums are ones which are a bit much for me to handle as they tend to dig into areas I might not personally feel motivated to explore.

Despite having a bad week with my Spring allergies which led-in to a migraine as I had a side effect to the new allergy medicine I was taking – I did attempt to read “The Girl Puzzle” which is how this interview was inspired to be shared with my readers. I was hoping to get further along than where I had left off for the questions I pitched to the author in this conversation – however, my head has been crushing me and the allergies – unfortunately are quite severe at the moment to where I haven’t had the chance to give this story the attention it deserved. I wasn’t sure if I could finish the story as it were but I had wanted to progress a bit more into the story – as one thing I observed about how it was written is how well in-tune Ms Braithwaite was with Nellie and how she understand the people she surrounded herself with in life. I found Bly to be a complicated woman but one whom understood herself well and kept her circle of acquaintances to those of whom would understand her best. I believed Braithwaite might have actually tapped into a truer voice of whom Bly had been as she had lived her life similar to how Fowler gave us “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald”.

I hope as you read through this interview, you’ll have a better scope of understanding this infamous woman from History but with the sensibility Braithwaite instilled into her story. She truly loves writing Historicals and breathing new life and awareness into the people she is exploring through her own vision of their lives.

Be sure to brew your favourite cuppa, sit in a comfy chair and enjoy where the conversation leads! If your a reader of Historical novels with a penchant for Biographical Historical Fiction (as much as I am) I hope this conversation might encourage you to pick up this novel.

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Author Interview | Learning about Nellie Bly and the vision Kate Braithwaite had of her life as shared with us through her novel “The Girl Puzzle”The Girl Puzzle Interview (Kate Braithwaite)
by Kate Braithwaite

Her published story is well known. But did she tell the whole truth about her ten days in the madhouse?

Down to her last dime and offered the chance of a job of a lifetime at The New York World, twenty-three-year old Elizabeth Cochrane agrees to get herself admitted to Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum and report on conditions from the inside. But what happened to her poor friend, Tilly Mayard? Was there more to her high praise of Dr Frank Ingram than everyone knew?

Thirty years later, Elizabeth, known as Nellie Bly, is no longer a celebrated trailblazer and the toast of Newspaper Row. Instead, she lives in a suite in the Hotel McAlpin, writes a column for The New York Journal and runs an informal adoption agency for the city’s orphans.

Beatrice Alexander is her secretary, fascinated by Miss Bly and her causes and crusades. Asked to type up a manuscript revisiting her employer’s experiences in the asylum in 1887, Beatrice believes she’s been given the key to understanding one of the most innovative and daring figures of the age.

Genres: Historical Fiction, War Drama

Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781798936382

Published by Crooked Cat Books

on 5th May, 2019

Published By: Crooked Cat Books (@crookedcatbooks)

Formats Available: Trade Paperback and Ebook

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How did you approach digging into the truer history and legacy of Nellie Bly after so much has been disclosed on her behalf? How did you find a new voice to bring her life into our purview which would give us a better insight into who she was and what had motivated her personally as well as professionally?

Braithwaite responds: My starting point for getting to know Nellie Bly was with her own writing. I bought and a copy of Ten Days in a Madhouse and read it in one sitting. In some ways it was a let-down – I think I was expecting great drama, but Nellie was a newspaper reporter, tasked with setting out facts. She didn’t dwell on how the experience felt to her at all, but that was the aspect that really intrigued me. After all, she was only 23 years old in 1887. So I kept reading about her.

I read Brooke Kroeger’s excellent biography and Matthew Goodman’s wonderful book about Nellie and Elisabeth Bisland racing around the world. From Kroeger’s biography I was able to source articles from Nellie’s life after her great initial success and that gave me a whole new perspective on her story. Although there is a very public record of her work, she was very private and didn’t keep diaries or write volumes of deeply personal letters. For a novelist, that can be mean opportunity. It’s often the gaps in the record where you explore the most. That said, I kept rigidly to her biography, while trying to convey my idea of who she must have been as a person.

What do you feel is the greatest challenge as a historical novelist – writing about a living person, the historical backdrop of their lives or finding a voice out of the past which pays homage to the person but also allows you a bit of liberty of tell their story?

Braithwaite responds: These are all challenges for sure! In the case of Nellie Bly I was particularly concerned about voice because she was a writer. Anyone who wants to ‘hear’ Nellie’s voice can read her work and I hope that readers of The Girl Puzzle will do that. Because she wrote her articles in the first person and was always a feature in her own stories – giving her opinions and commentary – I chose to introduce her when she was older through the eyes of her young secretary, Beatrice, and to have Nellie write her story of her younger years in the third person. By doing it that way, I didn’t just re-hash or mimic her words from her asylum expose and felt it fitted with her personality to reflect on events as Elizabeth Cochrane (the young woman she was) as opposed to Nellie Bly (the famous person she became). I hope that makes sense!

What first inspired you to write Historical Fiction and how did you decide to focus on Biograhical Historical Fiction?

Braithwaite responds: I write historical fiction for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love reading it. I love escaping into other times, places and lives. I love the way the past can resonate with the present. Then I really, really enjoy the research. My first novel came about because I read a book about Louis XIV that talked about a poison scandal I had never heard of. As I dug into that, I knew there was a story I’d love to write. The Girl Puzzle is a change for me toward biographical historical fiction. I didn’t intend to go that way, but Nellie is the story and I wanted it to be more of her whole story – rather than just the well-known bits – so it’s much more a biographical fiction than my previous two books.

Which women in History do you feel motivated to research more about either as a writer or a reader? What would your readers find most curious about the women you’ve been inspired by?

Braithwaite responds: I have got a thing about historical sisters – where more than one sister is famous. I’m fascinated by how that dynamic plays out and I’ve got a long, long list of sisters I’m hoping to explore. There are royal sisters – like the Boleyn sisters and Elizabeth I and Mary I. There are activist sisters like the Pankhurst and the Grimke sisters. Artistic ones like the Brontes, the Alcotts and the Mitfords. The Fox sisters were spiritualists, the Towne sisters were accused of being witches in Salem, the Sutherland Sisters were a group of singing sisters who all had floor length hair. Florence Nightingale had a sister who was a writer and they had a tumultuous relationship, with the sister, Parthenope, even complaining that her sister was a terrible nurse! I’m not sure what my readers would make of this list, but sisters are very much on my mind, notwithstanding the fact that I don’t have one myself.

As you’ve taken most of Nellie Bly’s life direct from her own words, the press surrounding her life and the previous works of Non-Fiction writ on her behalf – did you find anything remarkable which had previously been ‘left out’ of her story? And, why do you think most accounts differ from your own approach to let Nellie speak for herself?

Braithwaite responds: The trouble with Nellie’s story often seems to me to be not what people leave out, but what they add in. There was a recent TV movie on Lifestyle about Nellie’s asylum experience and it was very well acted, with beautiful filming and great sets. But the story was fictional. Nellie was supposed to have amnesia and there was a completely made up storyline with a fictional doctor. She had a fictional lover who rescued her from the asylum and they even set the story in winter and wandered around in the snow. Snow! That had me shouting at the TV. To me, her own story should be enough. She was incredibly brave and determined. I hope that’s clear in The Girl Puzzle.

What do you believe after writing part of her story was her greatest hurdle in life and do you think she achieved a level of happiness she most sought to find for herself? If so, what led you to this conclusion?

Braithwaite responds: I don’t feel she was the happiest of people. As you read in the story, she was amazingly successful, yes, but almost immediately, there was competition to keep her byline. Her personal life is still something of a mystery. There were hints of a romance with both Frank Ingram and James Metcalfe but when she did marry, things didn’t go smoothly and she didn’t have children of her own. Her relationship with her mother was very difficult and although close to some of her siblings and their children, she and her brother Albert were always at loggerheads. She certainly had low points and times of depression but when she had a mission there must have been no one more exciting to be with. I admire her energy and resolve so much. One of my favourite snippets from her biography is the trip she organized to Coney Island for 750 orphans, all paid for by donations she obtained. It takes some kind of special person to do something like that and it was just a small part of all her work and activities.

I felt it was a smart choice to begin Nellie’s story through the perspective of Beatrice – she gives this familiarity with Nellie we might not have felt otherwise. What inspired beginning this novel at this point of entry on Beatrice’s behalf and what did you want readers to observe most from their friendship?

Braithwaite responds: When I read about Nellie’s later years, I was very caught up in the story of Dorothy Harris. Biographer Brooke Kroeger actually interviewed Dorothy as she wrote her book and from Dorothy comes the story of Nellie Bly taking her out of the Leake and Watts orphanage and telling her “I’m kidnapping you today.” Beatrice Alexander was one of Nellie’s secretaries at the time and in some ways and it seemed to me that she could be my eyes on Nellie, trying to puzzle her out and understand what makes her tick (much as I was trying to do). One of my favorite moments between them is when Nellie teases Beatrice about Ernest Coulter. She had a great sense of humor and was not above flirting herself when she was younger. I hope Beatrice makes Nellie more human to the reader and perhaps the differences between the two women serve to highlight just how exceptional Nellie Bly was.

I quickly noted how frustrating Nellie had been with her peers and potential employers in the news industry – what do you think was the fear of the newsmen about having women report the news? As something was keeping them back from allowing women to have more advancement at the better stories?

Braithwaite responds: In August 1887, three months before her asylum expose, Nellie interviewed all the big-name editors of the New York newspapers about their views on women journalists. Their sexism and prejudice was very clear. Women could not be sent out on reports in bad weather or at night. Women would be rushed out of courtrooms and could not report on violent crimes. Women would disrupt the men in the newsroom. Women could not be trusted to be as accurate as men. Here’s a quote from one, that gives an idea of what she was up against:

“Women are unsurpassed as reporters in a few fields…. They can go into a reception and obtain every little detail of the event which a man misses entirely. Why? Because a man must examine minutely a women’s costume in order to describe it, where a woman would take the whole thing in at a glance…She is familiar with everything that belongs to a wedding, reception, ball or similar event… Woman are more ambitious than men and have more energy, if anything, but yet their work has its limit on the papers. Not because they are not smart enough, but because they are women. If there was an emergency just as we were ready for the last edition, I could not send a woman sliding down the banister and have her return up three flights of stairs four steps at a time. That’s where the man gets the better of her as a New York reporter.”

The title of the novel eludes to a woman who is as complex as paradora’s box – what do you think caused her to keep herself closed off from the world and slightly more mysterious than other women? What was motivating her to safeguard herself and her privacy? Do you think she was withholding a secret about herself in other words?

Braithwaite responds: I like to think that there are several puzzles at play here. First, yes, there is the puzzle of what she was really like – as I said earlier, there are few personal records and no diaries, no autobiography to turn to. She was extraordinary. What made her the woman she was? I think her childhood and family problems had a large impact on her. Then there’s the puzzle of women and employment. The Girl Puzzle was the title of her first published article and it questions stereotypes about women and the kind of work they can do. Nellie supported the suffrage movement although she struggled in her views about women and work, feeling that mothers should focus on their children and leave paid employment to unmarried women and widows. And there is also the puzzle of Dorothy and what is best for her. As Beatrice says in the story, being with Dorothy is clearly good for Nellie Bly, but is being with Nellie the best thing for the girl?

Adoption has changed over the years – what I found interesting is how Bly was taking a personal interest in helping the children who needed homes and attempting to find placements for them. How many children did she personally adopt and do you know how many she helped ‘place’ into new homes? I was curious if you had any further insight into this part of her life?

Braithwaite responds: Nellie Bly didn’t formally adopt any children personally although she took legal steps toward adopting both ‘Love of Mike’ and Dorothy Harris. Brooke Kroeger’s biography is my source for Nellie’s adoption activities and she quotes an article Nellie wrote in the New York Journal in November 1921 where she claimed to have placed thousands of unwanted children in new happy homes. This number seems high, given that she only began helping children in 1919, and Nellie Bly wasn’t above a bit of exaggeration when it suited her. But she did help many – a typical example (not in The Girl Puzzle) was a four-year-old boy called Richard. He had been abandoned by his mother and found by a young Bly described as a cripple who approached her for help. Nellie found Richard a home with a well-to-do grandfather who missed having his own family. The man offered the young girl a home too and Bly trumpeted her success in the Journal. Reading the articles about Richard, it’s clear that Bly was acting as a law unto herself, relying on her own judgement and acting completely outside of the scope of a growing social care network around adoption.

You mentioned in the Appendix of “The Girl Puzzle” – she only attempted to write a fictional novel once – do you think she short-changed herself in that regard as a writer or do you think her greater legacy was fittingly epistolary and meant for the papers?

Braithwaite responds: I’ve never thought of that although I have read her novel. It’s an enjoyable read if a bit of a melodrama at points. My guess would be that if Nellie had wanted to write more fiction, she would have done so. I don’t think her heart was in it. For me her legacy is in changing the way women were thought of in the workplace, and particularly in the newspaper industry. I also think she was a shining light for other women who could read her stories, hear her strident voice and see potential in their own futures. She was also a role model in running her husband’s business, even though financial problems and litigation caused her many problems. It’s interesting to wonder what, if anything, she herself thought her legacy would be. I suspect it wasn’t something she thought about a great deal. In my mind she was a person that lived in the moment and did what she felt was right in those moments without any wider view in mind.

What do you believe is the best gift of reading Historical Fiction and especially of the works which delve into an impression of persons who lived in generations behind us but whose lives still are a beacon of insight into the history of humanity?

Braithwaite responds: At the risk of sounding a bit airy-fairy, I think reading in general and historical fiction in particular, gives us the chance to live multiple lives. I’ll never truly know what it was like to be a slave during the Civil War, but last week I read The Tubman Command so now I have felt it and heard it and smelled it through Elizabeth Cobb’s excellent novel. I’ll never have to try and give birth in 17th century England, fearing the midwife I’m relying on is about to be burned as a witch, but I’ve come as near to that experience as I can by reading The Familiars by Stacy Halls a month or so ago. And while I do read non-fiction, and that’s a great way to learn about humanity and our history, only fiction really immerses you, as a reader, into other people’s lives and I think that’s a really great gift.

When your not researching or writing what uplifts your spirit the most?

Braithwaite responds: I am very boring and ordinary. I like binge watching TV shows with my husband, hanging out with my teenage kids, and travelling back to the UK to see my mom in Edinburgh. I like reading books and drinking tea (or wine) and taking my dogs for a walk. I’m always uplifted by a beautiful view or a good laugh with a friend. Straightforward, simple stuff really.

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About Kate Braithwaite

Kate Braithwaite

Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but now lives with her family in the Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania. Her daughter doesn’t think Kate should describe herself as a history nerd, but that’s exactly what she is. Always on the hunt for lesser known stories from the past, Kate’s books have strong female characters, rich settings and dark secrets.

The Girl Puzzle is her third novel.

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Similar to blog tours where I feature book reviews, as I choose to highlight an author via a Guest Post, Q&A, Interview, etc., I do not receive compensation for featuring supplemental content on my blog. I provide the questions for interviews and topics for the guest posts; wherein I receive the responses back from publicists and authors directly. I am naturally curious about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of stories and the writers who pen them; I have a heap of joy bringing this content to my readers.

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This author interview is courtesy of: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

The Girl Puzzle blog tour via HFVBTs

Be sure to not only follow the rest of the tour for keen insight into the novel but for special guest features – you might find yourself unexpectedly drawn to wanting to read the novel which inspired this interview!

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{SOURCES: Book cover for “The Girl Puzzle”, book synopsis, author biography for Kate Braithwaite, the tour host badge and HFVBTs badge were all provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Conversations with the Bookish and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2019.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 6 May, 2019 by jorielov in Author Interview, Blog Tour Host, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

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