Resuscitation by Fiction

The current covers for the Jack the Ripper Victims Series
The current covers for the Jack the Ripper Victims Series

I set out to revive the victims of the Whitechapel Murderer in fiction, to write dramatic novels about their lives and create a Jack the Ripper Victims Series. 

There is something of Doctor Frankenstein in what I did. These photos give a sense of where I started—with the police reports and evidence. They are mortuary images of four of the five victims taken shortly after they were murdered. The fifth victim was left unrecognizable, and the crime scene photo is so extreme, it’s not fit for viewing on this blog. Part of my goal was to give voices back to the five women who were lost 131 years ago, so they might tell us what life was like in their time. In the midst of the work on the writing, I used Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the mortuary photos and bring life to the faces. Being rather visually oriented, repairing the damaged features, opening their eyes, and giving them a hint of color gave me the most vivid sense that I was reviving them. I strove to change the faces as little as possible. Even so, I have no idea if anyone who had known the women would have recognized them from the images I came up with.

Motuary photographs of four of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. From left to right, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.
Motuary photographs of four of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. From left to right, Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.
From left to right, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.

Of course, the same would be true for the novels. When writing a fictional drama about the life of a person who is long-deceased, one has to make up much of the story. I had to invent, to flesh out around what was merely a skeleton of information. There are points in the historical record in which we have some confidence that certain things happened. But we do not know what motivated the women from moment to moment. We don’t know what they said or did in most cases.Just as Victor Frankenstein did, I had to borrow parts to make my creations’ lives seem whole. Not body parts as the fictional doctor did, but parts from other lives. I borrowed from my knowledge of the people I’ve known, from history, from the dramas I’ve read and watched. I asked my female friends and family members a lot of questions. Some were surprised by what I asked about the female experience of love, sex, pregnancy, and child birth. Filling in the gaps, I had to bring my own emotional experience in life to the telling of the tales. As an example, my experience as an alcoholic was invaluable to the telling of tales about alcoholics, which several of the women seemed to have been. Yes, the stories are inevitably inaccurate. Yet establishing fact is not my purpose. A different sort of truth emerges from the tales. The object was to give readers some experience of the world the victims knew, to provide a sense of walking in their shoes, of knowing a different time and place through senses that, although fictionally portrayed, gave a persuasive representation of a bygone environment and social situation. That took a lot of research, something that, though plenty frustrating at times, I thoroughly enjoyed.

Covers for an earlier release of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series.
Covers for an earlier release of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series.

As I developed the book covers for the series, I chose at first to take advantage of the high profile Jack the Ripper has in pop culture. On each of the original covers there was at least an intimation of the killer. Although that may have attracted attention to the books, it wasn’t the best idea perhaps, since the novels are not about JTR. Instead, they are about the struggles of women in a society with a class system that kept the poor down, one in which women had few rights and were treated as having little value if they had lost their male partner and were past their prime years. These are novels about women for women. Men who love women will also find much to like in these tales. Female readers appealed to me to depict the women on the covers in a manner that spoke of life. I took the advice to heart. Working from the images I had derived from the mortuary photos, I created a whole new set of covers for the books. I regressed in age the faces I had done to depict the women in happier, healthier times.

For the interior illustrations for the novels, I often opted for the expressiveness of hands to convey emotions for the characters. As my good friend, Jill Bauman once said to me, “Hands are the voices of figures in artwork.”

"Reaching into the Past," interior illustration for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT, the novel about the life of Catherine Eddowes.
“Reaching into the Past,” interior illustration for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT, the novel about the life of Catherine Eddowes.
"The Old Woman's Crooked Hand," interior illustration for SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS, the novel about the life of Elizabeth Stride.
“The Old Woman’s Crooked Hand,” interior illustration for SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS, the novel about the life of Elizabeth Stride.

Not all the illustrations are of hands. Here’s one of a phantom of alcoholism that haunts Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. All the illustrations appear in black and white in the paperbacks. The ebooks have some full color while others illustration are sepia, blue or green monochromes.

"The Bonehill Ghost," interior illustration for A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST, the novel about the life of Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols.
“The Bonehill Ghost,” interior illustration for A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST, the novel about the life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols.

While writing the first novel in the series, I feared my effort would be greeted with the same horror people had toward the lumbering monstrosity that first awoke to Doctor Frankenstein. An American male, what qualified me to write about British women of the 19th century? I worried that women, my British friends, and those who consider themselves Ripperologist would ridicule my depictions. Yet that did not happen—far from it. The reviews for the books in Ripperology magazine have been glowing ones, women have praised the stories as sensitive and pro-woman, and the UK market is where the books sell the best. I gained knowledge of my subject and confidence with each novel. The Whitechapel Murderer is not a dashing figure who got away with something daring. The killer did not deserve my time and creative energies. The tales in the Jack the Ripper Victims Series are of common women who would have been forgotten but for the outrageous manner of their deaths. As with all of our stories, simple or complex, rich or poor, it’s the emotional content and context that counts. I found I had a lot to work with.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

The novels are available in paperback, ebooks in ePub and Kindle format, and audio books from Audible.com

Click here to purchase the novels from THE RIVER’S EDGE

Below are links to purchase the novels on Amazon.com (The listing on Amazon may sell you one of the earlier releases that had a different cover and possibly fewer interior illustrations):

A Brutal Chill in August 

Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

Say Anything but Your Prayers

Of Thimble and Threat

The Prostitute’s Price

A Parliament of Crows: Horror that Happened (™)

Murder in the service of maintaining wealth and status. That’s not uncommon, but when it is done by seemingly “proper” Victorian women, three sisters who teach social graces in women’s colleges in the old South, the contrast sets us up for a good Southern gothic. Based on crimes committed by the infamous Wardlaw sisters against members of their own family, A Parliament of Crows, explores in fiction the emotions and the thinking behind such crimes. The novel was released this month under the new IFD Publishing imprint, Horror that Happened (™). I have changed their name to Mortlow and made some other changes to drive the story, yet I’ve tried to follow what history has told us about the Wardlaw sisters’ crimes. The tale unfolds from their respective perspectives, the chapters rotating through the three POVs.

Murders committed over the course of many years left the three Mortlow sisters, Vertiline, Mary, and Carolee, with many secrets to keep. Differing in personality, faith, and outlook, they were at odds with one another from the start—more so even than with those they killed. Jealousies, grievances, and mistrust threatened to break their loyalty and shared silence.

With a final crime, the murder of Mary’s daughter, authorities caught up with the sisters. They were indicted for murder and insurance fraud. That’s where the story begins. The backstories of all three are revealed as the court case proceeds.

The mystery here is not whodunnit, but how they found it reasonable to do what they did.

Concerning the title, some have asked if I meant owls, because a gathering of owls is referred to as a parliament. There is also a parliament of crows that is less description of them as a group and more something the group may do when they gather together in large numbers, say in an open field. In such gatherings of perhaps fifty or more crows, occasionally an argument breaks between one or more of the birds. The others seem to watch. When the argument is done, the crows turn on one of the participants, presumably the loser, sometimes maiming, killing, or even cannibalizing the creature. Some people who have viewed this phenomenon have likened it to a trial in which the defendent is convicted and punished. A parliament of crows is the term for that type of gathering. With the way the sisters go after each other and because they habitually wore black mourning clothes, I thought the title appropriate.

A Parliament of Crows, by Alan M. Clark, is the second novel to be included in the new IFD Publishing imprint Horror that Happened (™).

The outrageous is all the more extraordinary when we know it actually occurred. Horror that Happened (™), provides riveting stories in three catagories: True Crime, Based on a True Story, and Lifted from the Past. We hope you will come back to IFD Publishing for your high-quality reading entertainment.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon