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