This week I have stumbled across three – THREE – stories I’d like to write. In one week.

Now, one of them I know I won’t write within any reasonable time. This is it:

http://www.pascalbonenfant.com/18c/newgatecalendar/mary_frith_otherwise_moll_cutpurse.html

Moll Cutpurse. Great name, great story. And in a week which was dominated by the ‘Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair’ story, fascinating in the insight it gives to the life of a transgender person in the 17th century. Am I the person to tell this story? Probably not. I couldn’t be more cis-gendered if I tried. Nor more hetero. (Cis-gendered means you identify with the gender of the body you were born with.)

But what a character! (Now, a confession. When I find a character like this, with a story I know I’m unlikely to write, I tuck the impression I have of them into a particular space in my head. Someday, I’ll need a larger than life character for a story, and out will come Moll Cutpurse. When I write a story where my characters need to find a fence in order to recover stolen property, for example…. there she’ll be, behind a desk in her man’s clothes, possibly picking her teeth with a knife…)

The other two stories are different, and interesting in entirely different ways, although they both start out the same.

This is the first one:

Mona West

Three girls missing. Two named Mona. Two surnamed Drury. Oh, the possibilities that conjures up! Serial killer; someone killing off everyone who might inherit something important; mistaken identity, incompetent kidnapper, etc., etc….

I had to find out what happened. Mona West was a ‘socialite’: that is, a young woman of means. So her disappearance was followed avidly by the newspapers, as you would expect, and I followed it through about 50 newspaper reports.

Two things happened: there were lots of false reports of people seeing her. Port Macquarie, the Blue Mountains… and one report of a young woman being forcibly restrained by a man and woman on a street in Randwick. When the man who saw this went up to see if he could help her, the man put his hand in his pocket and threatened to shoot him. He immediately went to the police, but they had left by the time the police got there… the shopkeeper identified them, the police went to their flat nearby, but they had done a moonlight flit…

White Slavery (sex trafficking) did happen – only a few weeks later, a man was arrested in Sydney for advertising for a secretary to take on a round-the-world cruise…

Was Mona trafficked?

The other thing which happened was that her mother died three months after her disappearance, of influenza complicated by grief… and then, the story dies. Nothing. Did it just drop off the public radar, or was Mona found in such degrading circumstances that the police agreed to hush it up? (Remember, her family was rich.)

What of the other two girls? Well, one of them, the other Mona, just 18, was found in the city in a hotel with one of her girl friends. They refused to say why they were there and were hoicked off back home. A budding lesbian relationship? Or two girls out for a good time on the town? We shall never know.

Police apparently knew who had the third girl, Rose Drury, who lived in an decidedly down market area. They warned that if whoever had her didn’t give her up, there would be prosecutions – which looks as though she was working in a brothel, or had absconded with a man who was pimping her out.

And then there was the third story. Janet McGregor. Due to the Mona West story, any missing girl became news in the months following, and Janet was one of them. She contacted the newspaper and said, (with some asperity, one suspects) that ‘when she left home she did so knowing that her eldest brother was fully aware of her actions. She took a position at a city office, and has been engaged at the place ever since.’

So. Three stories of three very different women.

Who is most likely to turn up in one of my books? Janet McGregor, by a nose. Yes, Mona West’s story is intrinsically more interesting, and Moll Cutpurse is a fabulous character, but Janet… Janet appeals to me. Why did she tell only her eldest brother? Some problem with her parents, presumably. Why didn’t the brother contradict the stories which were printed? What was he afraid of? Because Janet didn’t go to the police, either. She went to the newspaper office, to try to get the stories stopped. It’s an odd little story, and when there are oddities, there is space for the novelist’s imagination.

On the other hand, since I’m thinking about writing a book with the main character as an early police woman, Mona West’s sister would be a great character – driven by the desire to find out what had happened to her, driven by her mother’s death, driven by her own understanding of how uncertain and precarious life is (unlike the attitudes of her friends, as privileged as they are).  A society girl becoming a police officer at that time?  Great situation.

Maybe Mona West’s sister and Janet McGregor will meet one day. Wouldn’t that be nice?

One Response

  1. It’s all so fascinating. I always find myself distracted by other stories when I’m researching – the most amazing story starters reveal themselves – when I’m trying to avoid exactly that. I try to be disciplined and put them away for later but… I have a folder full of first chapters found while researching something else. I do intend to get to them one day.

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