Here are two radio interviews with Tony Wolf, covering both the real history of the suffragette Amazons and the creation of the Suffrajitsu graphic novels:
BBC World Service:
A BBC News article by Camila Ruz & Justin Parkinson.
The film Suffragette, which is due for release, portrays the struggle by British women to win the vote. They were exposed to violence and intimidation as their campaign became more militant. So they taught themselves the martial art of jiu-jitsu.
Edith Garrud was a tiny woman. Measuring 4ft 11in (150cm) in height she appeared no match for the officers of the Metropolitan Police – required to be at least 5ft 10in (178cm) tall at the time. But she had a secret weapon.
In the run-up to World War One, Garrud became a jiu-jitsu instructor to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), better known as the suffragettes, taking part in an increasingly violent campaign for votes for women.
Sick of the lack of progress, they resorted to civil disobedience, marches and illegal activities including assault and arson.
The struggle in the years before the war became increasingly bitter. Women were arrested and, when they went on hunger strike, were force-fed using rubber tubes. While out on marches, many complained of being manhandled and knocked to the ground. Things took a darker turn after “Black Friday” on 18 November 1910.
Black Friday protest, 1910: Suffragettes were assaulted by police and men in the crowd
A group of around 300 suffragettes met a wall of policemen outside Parliament. Heavily outnumbered, the women were assaulted by both police and male vigilantes in the crowd. Many sustained serious injuries and two women died as a result. More than 100 suffragettes were arrested.
“A lot said they had been groped by the police and male bystanders,” says Elizabeth Crawford, author of The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide. “After that, women didn’t go to these demonstrations unprepared.”
Some started putting cardboard over their ribs for protection. But Garrud was already teaching the WSPU to fight back. Her chosen method was the ancient Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu. It emphasised using the attacker’s force against them, channelling their momentum and targeting their pressure points.
A suffragette’s guide to self-defence
The first connection between the suffragettes and jiu-jitsu was made at a WSPU meeting. Garrud and her husband William, who ran a martial arts school in London’s Golden Square together, had been booked to attend. But William was ill, so she went alone.
“Edith normally did the demonstrating, while William did the speaking,” says Tony Wolf, writer of Suffrajitsu, a trilogy of graphic novels about this aspect of the suffragette movement. “But the story goes that the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, encouraged Edith to do the talking for once, which she did.”
Garrud began teaching some of the suffragettes. “At that time it was more about defending themselves against angry hecklers in the audience who got on stage, rather than police,” says Wolf. “There had been several attempted assaults.”
By about 1910 she was regularly running suffragette-only classes and had written for the WSPU’s newspaper, Votes for Women. Her article stressed the suitability of jiu-jitsu for the situation in which the WSPU found itself – that is, having to deal with a larger, more powerful force in the shape of the police and government.
The press noticed. Health and Strength magazine printed a satirical article called “Jiu-jitsuffragettes”. Punch magazine showed a cartoon of Garrud standing alone against several policemen, entitled “The suffragette that knew jiu-jitsu”. The term “suffrajitsu” soon came into common use.
“They wouldn’t have expected in those days that women could respond physically to that kind of action, let alone put up effective resistance,” says Martin Dixon, chairman of the British Jiu-Jitsu Association. “It was an ideal way for them to handle being grabbed while in a crowd situation.”
The Pankhursts agreed and encouraged all suffragettes to learn the martial art. “The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practice it as well as men,” said Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline, in a 1913 speech.
As the years went on, confrontations between police and suffragettes became more intense. The so-called Cat and Mouse Act in 1913 allowed hunger-striking prisoners to be released and then re-incarcerated as soon as they had recovered their health.
“The WSPU felt that as Mrs Pankhurst had such a vital role to play as motivator and figurehead for the organisation that she was too important to be recaptured,” says Emelyne Godfrey, author of Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.
She needed protectors so Garrud formed a group called The Bodyguard. It consisted of up to 30 women who undertook “dangerous duties,” explains Godfrey. “Sometimes all they would get would be a phone call and instructions to follow a particular car.”
The Bodyguard, nicknamed “Amazons” by the press, armed themselves with clubs hidden in their dresses.
They came in handy during a famous confrontation known as the “Battle of Glasgow” in early 1914.
The Bodyguard travelled overnight from London by train, their concealed clubs making the journey uncomfortable. A crowd was waiting to see Emmeline Pankhurst speak at St Andrew’s Hall. But police had surrounded it, hoping to catch her.
Pankhurst evaded them on her way in by buying a ticket and pretending to be a spectator. The Bodyguard then got into position, sitting on a semi-circle of chairs behind the speaker’s podium.
Suddenly Pankhurst appeared and started speaking. She did so for half a minute before police tried to storm the stage.
But they became caught on barbed wire hidden in bouquets. “So about 30 suffragettes and 50 police were involved in a brawl on stage in front of 4,000 people for several minutes,” says Wolf.
Eventually police overwhelmed The Bodyguard and Pankhurst was once again arrested. But the difficulty they had in dragging her away showed just how effective her guards had become.
Garrud did not just teach them physical skills. They had also learnt to trick their opponents. In 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech from a balcony in Camden Square.
When she emerged from the house in a veil, escorted by members of The Bodyguard, the police swooped in. Despite a fierce fight she was knocked to the ground and dragged away unconscious. But when the police triumphantly unveiled her, they realised she was a decoy. The real Pankhurst had been smuggled out in the commotion.
The emphasis on skill to defeat and outwit a larger opponent was what first impressed Garrud about jiu-jitsu. She came across it when her husband William attended a martial arts exhibition in 1899 and started taking lessons.
Garrud was soon teaching it herself and became one of the first female martial art instructors in the West. In exhibitions, she would wear a red gown and invite a martial arts enthusiast dressed as a policeman to attack her.
“As far as the suffragettes were concerned, she was very much in the right place at the right time,” says Wolf.
“Jiu-jitsu had become something of a society trend, with women hosting jiu-jitsu parties, where they and their friends underwent instruction.”
Garrud and her jiu-jitsu students continued their fight for the vote until a bigger battle engulfed them all. At the outbreak of WW1, the suffragettes concentrated on helping the war effort.
At the end of the war, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act was finally passed. More than eight million women in the UK were given the vote. But women would not get the same voting rights as men until 1928.
As time passed, The Bodyguard and their trainer began to be forgotten. “It was the leaders that wrote the books and set the history,” explains Crawford. The stories of those who helped them were less likely to be recorded.
Edith Garrud does not feature in the new film but one of its stars, Helena Bonham Carter, has paid her own tribute by changing her character’s name from Caroline to Edith in her honour.
She was “an amazing woman” whose fighting method was not about brute force, Bonham Carter has said. “It was about skill.”
Helena Bonham Carter’s character in the film Suffragette is named Edith in homage to Edith Garrud
It was this skill that helped the suffragettes take on powerful opponents. As Garrud recalled in an interview in 1965, a policeman once tried to prevent her from protesting outside Parliament. “Now then, move on, you can’t start causing an obstruction here,” he said. “Excuse me, it is you who are making an obstruction,” she replied, and tossed him over her shoulder.
This new Atlas Obscura article by writer Tao Tao Holmes highlights both the Suffrajitsu graphic novels and the real history of the suffragette Amazons, including an interview with Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf. Here’s an excerpt:
“Wolf describes himself as a ‘very staunchly feminist sort of guy,’ and while writing Suffrajitsu, he approached the women as a group of professionals, political radicals committed to an ideological goal. “The fact that they were female was third or fourth in the list of priorities in terms of how I wanted to present them,” he explains.
At the same time, he didn’t want it to be ‘women: good; men: bad.’ There were many men who very assiduously supported the radical suffrage movement to the point that they earned their own nickname: suffragents. Suffragents supported these women while they engaged in very aggressive, though non-violent civil disobedience. ‘These women were very careful and also very lucky that no one was physically harmed in their protests—even the extreme stuff like bombing,’ says Wolf.”
Journalist Kate Lismore of Konbini recently interviewed Tony Wolf on the inspirations and process behind the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy:
Kate Lismore: What inspired you about the Suffragettes to create your comic/graphic novel?
Tony Wolf: I’d been fascinated by the real-life history of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons for many years, so when Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo asked me to contribute a graphic novel story to their Foreworld Saga franchise, I jumped at the chance to get creative with that theme.
Given that I’d never actually written a graphic novel before, it was a bit of a leap of faith on Neal’s part to get me involved, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. He actually makes a guest appearance in the first story, as a well-dressed villain …
Beyond that, though, I just think it’s awesome that a group of women in Edwardian England – “King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men!” as Mr. Banks sings in Mary Poppins – actually risked their safety and freedom, over and over again, to improve the lives of future generations. The fact that some of them were also kick-ass martial arts-trained bodyguards is the icing on the cake.
Lismore: What is it about comic book genre that makes moments in history more accessible/engaging for people?
Wolf: I think it’s the appeal of a dramatic character-based narrative over “dry”, academic history, although I love the genres of modern, popular historical nonfiction that are bringing so many amazing stories to light. History is everything that ever happened before now – there’s a lot of very cool stuff in there.
I’m hoping that the Suffrajitsu trilogy, along with the new Suffragette movie, will serve as a kind of edutainment. It’s astounds me that so few people know about the radical suffragette movement. It was an incredibly complex, dramatic and interesting period in recent British history, and yet women’s suffrage is mostly remembered as meek ladies waving placards, Emily Davison being hit by a racehorse and a funny song, also from Mary Poppins.
Obviously, there was a huge amount that, with the best will in the world, I simply couldn’t fit in to a 66-page action-adventure graphic novel, but I tried to communicate certain key points. For one thing, lots of progressive men supported the suffragettes – the newspapers nicknamed them “suffragents” – and lots of conservative women vehemently opposed them, especially as the protest campaigns became more militant. Two male supporting characters, Edward Barton-Wright and Vernon Kell, represent the suffragent perspective in my stories.
There was also a great diversity of opinion among the suffragettes themselves. For example, Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst who led the radical Women’s Social and Political Union, became a strident nationalist during the First World War.
She was a very fierce and intelligent strategist and she campaigned for young men to be shamed into entering the armed forces, by having young women hand them white feathers, symbolic of cowardice. That was extremely controversial at the time, similar to Internet shaming campaigns today. In the Suffrajitsu stories, Persephone Wright, who has been one of Christabel’s loyal bodyguards, takes serious ethical issue with the white feather business.
Lismore: Your series focusses on the Amazons and their work protecting the other Suffragettes, how much were you able to take from real life accounts and how much were you able to create for Suffrajitsu?
Wolf: Almost all of the main events in the first issue are very closely based on real-life accounts. Sometimes people hear that Suffrajitsu is an “alternate history” story and jump to the conclusion that the central premise is fictional, but no – there really was a secret society of martial arts-trained women who protected the leaders of the radical English suffragettes!
I think a lot of people are surprised to hear about this because they assume that, if something that awesome really happened, it would be common knowledge by now. Unfortunately, though, as with many interesting social phenomena of the very early 20th century, the Amazons were virtually forgotten in the cultural chaos of the First World War.
It sometimes also happens that people go the other way and assume that Suffrajitsu is supposed to be a verbatim documentary, but the reality is that the story was always intended to combine history and fiction at many levels.
Almost all of the characters are fictional representations of historically real people, the major exception being my main protagonist, Persephone Wright, who is the leader of the Amazon team. Persi is partly inspired by a number of real women, including Gert Harding – the young Canadian who led the Amazons in real life – and Edith Garrud, who was the team’s martial arts instructor. Edith also makes a cameo appearance in the graphic novel, and she’s received quite a lot of press over the past couple of years.
Persi is her own woman, though. She’s what would have been called a “bohemienne”, basically an artistic, free-thinking Edwardian hippie chick, who also happens to be highly trained in the martial arts. She’s bisexual and, like many people during the early 20th century, she’s heavily addicted to cocaine, which was prescribed by doctors as a wonder-cure for all kinds of ailments. In Persi’s case, it was “melancholia”, or what we’d think of as depression, arising from a trauma that occurred when she was seventeen. So, all together she has a pretty complicated life, but fundamentally she’s a person with a very strong drive to protect other people and to fight for what she believes in. Literally, when necessary.
Our representations of the Amazons’ confrontations with the police are very faithful to the historical record, with only minor tweaks for storytelling purposes. That includes the spectacular “Battle of Glasgow”, in which 30 suffragettes brawled with squads of police constables on the St. Andrew’s Hall auditorium stage, in front of an audience of 4000 shocked spectators. Again, yes, that really happened. However, there’s an event at the end of the first story that is a radical departure from history, and that event really spins the adventure off into the Foreworld universe.
That said, the second and third stories are also shot through with historically real characters and locations. Even our main villain was directly based on a real person, although he’s much more powerful and successful in the story than he was in reality – which is a very good thing!
Lismore: Often the term “feminism” is considered a very loaded term; how do you think young men and women can reclaim this and make it more positive?
Wolf: I think that feminism is ideally a position of positive advocacy. For literally as long as I can remember, I’ve understood that all people deserve equal rights and responsibilities, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc. I worked for several years as a women’s self-defence instructor, which enlightened me to some extent as to the power imbalances that still play out every day, everywhere, and I do what I can to redress those imbalances when I have the chance.
The serious risk with any “-ism” is that it mutates over time into a parody of itself. The worst case is that an originally positive, dare-I-say common sense position can degenerate into a kind of dogmatic, conformist control mechanism that supplants individuality, open-mindedness and critical thinking. “Be careful what you hate”, and so-on.
I’m about half a century old now, so young people should feel free to ignore my opinions, but it does give me pause to hear about student activists agitating for “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces” and so-on. I appreciate the sentiment, but I have to say that previous generations, from the suffragettes through to the women’s liberationists and other social activists of the ’60s and ’70s, did not typically portray themselves as victims, except as a tactical choice.
Frankly, students should be seeking out challenges rather than demanding to be protected from ideas that they don’t like. These trends trouble me because I want to be able to respect and support these young men and women as the next generation of social progressives.
So, that’s me being all curmudgeonly. My best advice for the younger generation is to be skeptical, imaginative, curious and honest.
Lismore: How did you learn about the Amazons? Despite learning about women’s suffrage in school I’d never heard of them before.
Wolf: I first learned about the Amazons as a teenager, reading a book on martial arts history which included an anecdote about young London “society girls” shinnying down drainpipes and sneaking off to secret suffragette jiujitsu classes in the dead of night.
The “secret society” aspect – the idea of this cat-and-mouse game between guerilla suffragettes and the police, playing out in the streets at the height of what was almost a state of civil war – struck a very romantic and transgressive chord. I experienced something similar a few years later, during the massive and frequently violent social unrest that erupted during the South African Springbok rugby team tour of New Zealand, when anti-apartheid protesters clashed with rugby fans and police.
When the Internet came along I became seriously involved in reviving Bartitsu, which is an eccentric “mixed martial art” for ladies and gentlemen that was founded in London right at the turn of the 20th century. As I was researching Bartitsu I started to come across more and more information about the suffragette bodyguards.
I included chapters on the Amazons in several Bartitsu-themed books I produced between 2005-2008, and then I wrote the book Edith Garrud: The Suffragette Who Knew Jujutsu, which was intended to interest young teenagers in herstory and in learning self defence. The Amazons were also featured in a Bartitsu documentary that I co-produced in 2011, and I’ve advised on quite a number of articles and academic theses about them over the past few years.
Lismore: You’ve released the trio of Suffrajitsu comics, are there any more adventures in the works?
Wolf: I’d love to do more, and I’ll never say never, but Suffrajitsu was commissioned as a stand-alone, self-contained trilogy. That said, the idea of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazon team obviously cries out for expansion beyond what I was able to do in one graphic novel.
Last year I organised a project that brought together four other writers who have produced further adventures set in the Suffrajitsu milieu, incorporating many characters from my stories. I gave the writers advance access to the graphic novel scripts plus a detailed “world guide”, as well as editorial feedback. Their short stories and novellas are now available as e-books via Amazon.com’s Kindle Worlds, which is a platform for licensed fan fiction set in numerous fictional universes, including the Foreworld Saga.
Incidentally, we have an open invitation for writers to contribute their own Suffrajitsu stories via the same scheme, and I hope more people do join in. I enjoyed every bit of the process of developing the Kindle Worlds stories – it was both humbling and deeply satisfying to have others playing in my sandbox!
Lismore: Is there much collaboration between your storylines and Joao’s illustration? How did you decide on your strong visual aesthetic?
Wolf: There was a great deal of collaboration over about 12 months, all by email as Joao lives in Brazil and I’m currently based in Chicago, USA. I wrote the graphic novel script as if it were a screenplay, with detailed “stage directions”, etc., anticipating a close collaboration with the artist. Likewise, there was a lot of email collaboration with BOOM! Studio in Seattle, who handled the colouring, lettering etc.
The visual aesthetic was very much a team effort. Joao Vieira has a superb sense of dynamic action and a real flair for illustrating the Edwardian period, plus expertise in framing and “camera angles”, and our colourist, Josan Gonzales, found exactly the right palette. I had strong ideas about certain things – the Art Nouveau covers, etc. – and, because I also work as a fight choreographer for theatre, TV, feature films and video games, I had definite opinions about the Bartitsu action scenes.
I sent Joao a large number of character, item and location reference photographs, which I’d compiled during my years of academic research. Some of those are just little personal touches, like a brandy flask which is shown at one point, which is based on a flask I inherited from my grandfather.
Myself and my wife, Kathrynne, who is an actress, posed for some further reference photographs, and there are also “guest appearances” by my parents and my son Josh, who appears as a back-alley Soho hooligan in the third story.
I also had the chance to revise the script in certain areas, in response to what the art team was doing. I was delighted with the look of the comics. I’m sure this is old hat to experienced graphic novel writers, but there was something magical about having the scenes that I’d been visualising brought to life on the page.
Lismore: If there’s one lesson that today’s society, particularly young women, could learn from the Suffragettes and the Amazons, what do you think it is?
Wolf: To have the courage of their convictions. The group of domestic violence protesters who creatively disrupted the red carpet premiere of Suffragette had the right idea. “Deeds, not words” was the suffragette battle-cry, and I think that has a particular resonance today, when so much of our daily lives are lived in virtual space, bouncing tweets and likes and shares back and forth. The Internet is a fantastic tool, but if you want real-world change, you have to get out there and do it.
Along with rave reviews for the recent world premiere of Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette feature film comes the surprising news that Helena Bonham Carter’s character was actually named in honor of real-life suffragette jiujitsu instructor Edith Garrud.
Edith Garrud makes cameo appearances in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy and is a supporting character in several of the short stories and novellas inspired by that trilogy. Suffrajitsu was largely inspired by the adventures of the secret society of bodyguards known as the Amazons, who defended suffragette leaders against arrest and assault. Edith Garrud was their chief trainer.
Bonham Carter’s movie character, Edith Ellyn – representing the most radical of the suffragette activists – is also portrayed as a jujitsu instructor in the movie, although, as the actress notes, a number of the jiujitsu scenes have been removed for story reasons. Hopefully they may re-appear in some form when the movie is released on DVD.
Click here to read the full interview by Hayley Weiss for Interview Magazine, from which the following comments are excerpted:
WEISS: Did you feel pressure portraying Edith because she’s a historical figure?
BONHAM CARTER: No, it was only tangential to the fact that she was historical. Originally the character I was asked [to play] was somebody called Caroline, and then I found out about this character called Edith [Margaret] Garrud, who was 4’11” and taught the suffragettes jiu-jitsu—basically self-defense—against the police.
I based a lot of this character on Edith, but having said that, for story reasons, a lot of the jiu-jitsu has been cut. But no, I didn’t feel pressure, because no one knows about her anyway. She’s a real inspiration and, I thought, an amazing story; this woman who is literally 5’1″ or even 4’11” and could defend herself against these men twice her weight and twice her size. One of the big arguments against women getting the vote, which was such a stupid one, was that they couldn’t fight for their country. They can fight.
WEISS: Edith speaks of the need for action rather than words for change to happen, and the fight in this film isn’t a quiet one. Was the filming process intense?
BONHAM CARTER: We had riots, obviously not real riots, but we had proper fights. Anne-Marie [Duff] got hurt at one point. If you’re having a riot, and the police are restraining you, and you say “Stop,” the stunt men didn’t realize she was saying stop as an actress. So it ended up being quite complicated at first, but then luckily she wasn’t really badly hurt. It was extraordinary, actually, being in the middle, as I’ve certainly never experienced any physical violence. I learned lots of jiu-jitsu, too, so that was fun. So it wasn’t peaceful, it was extraordinary.
WEISS: I actually grew up doing jiu-jitsu.
BONHAM CARTER: Did you enjoy it?
WEISS: I loved it. I liked that you could be small, and it’s about using the right moves to find your power, versus brute strength.
BONHAM CARTER: That’s exactly the method that I wanted to get across. That’s what I thought was so potent for Edith: it wasn’t about brute force; it was about skill. Women can hold their own against men.
We’re pleased to be able to present this interview with Australian author Mark Lingane, whose new Suffrajitsu novella The Second Story Girl is now available from Kindle Worlds.
London, 1910. Spoilt and wild, Genevieve Cranston is a party girl with little to live for when her reckless lifestyle flings into the gutters after the suspicious death of her father and the mysterious disappearance of her younger brother Lindsey.
Rescued, redeemed and trained for action by the radical suffragette Amazons, Genevieve will stop at nothing to find her missing brother. She is soon caught up in a dense web of deceit and double-dealing, as both sides of the political landscape manoeuvre to shape the future of the free world.
Time is running out, war is on the horizon and Genevieve needs to grow up fast. Lindsey is an important player in the game of cat and mouse, and with the aid of some gifted friends, Genevieve is hell-bent on saving him, and upon revenge.
Q: What was it that first attracted you to writing stories set in the Edwardian era of the Foreworld?
M.L.: I’ve been dabbling with a futuristic steampunk series, but wanted to write something more in line with the actual Victorian era. The opportunity to contribute to the Foreworld popped up, and I thought, well, Edwardian/Victorian, that’s got to be close …
Q: What were the greatest challenges in writing this story?
M.L.: The writing style of that era was much more formal, directly at odds with my own style. Also, I had to revise a lot. History wasn’t a strong subject for me at school. Then making sure that the history didn’t get in the way of the story …
Q: In what way?
M.L.: My previous knowledge of this subject, from school, amounted to a woman jumping out in front of a horse at a horse race. Reductionism to the point of absurdism. And so I researched, and the more I researched, the more I realized I didn’t know. But, what was more shocking, when I discussed these issues with a younger generation, they knew nothing about women’s suffrage.
Q: Nothing at all? How did you explain it?
M.L.: As with most civil movements, it starts with someone with an epic amount of bravery, accompanied by either a burning rage of fairness, or a breaking point. Brave people standing up and saying ‘no more’. The brutality. The ridiculous laws. The bloody-mindedness. It hardly seems to fit in a civilized world.
It is hard to get your head around how such a simple and obvious right was perceived as being so offensive in such recent history. But the women stood strong – shoulder to shoulder – enduring, and they won.
Q: In what way(s) would you say the themes of the Suffrajitsu series are relevant to us today?
M.L.: Fourteen thousand people in the UK are over one hundred years old. Everything has changed within living memory. In a world where there are so many things to know, do we have time and inclination to revisit the past?
I believe that when it comes to basic human rights, these are the ones that should be pushed the strongest and loudest. Civil rights campaigns are the events that have made the world a better place. Learn about it. Talk about it. Because, as the world moves on in so many ways, at the base of ‘change’ is us – people, and people make a difference, from the individual to the wider society.
The world is better today than it was a hundred years ago, but it’s not massively different. Suffrage was about the vote, yes, but also it was about equality. It was about discrimination. Many of those same issues still haunt our society and world today. We fear change and things we do not understand. We fear ‘them’. Information (true or false) about ‘them’ is easier and quicker to disseminate. We rant about minor irritations in the isolation of our homes with the internet as the megaphone. We lock ourselves away, with nothing but opinion as king and fact relegated to an afterthought after the heat has died down, distracted from the issues that are worth debating. Equality is one of them. Possibly the one to debate. Add your voice, because debate leads to revolution, which leads to change.
Q: “Be the change you want to see in the world”?
M.L.: Yes. One hundred years ago, the world was different. If we forget that then in another hundred years it’ll still be the same.
Q: Do you have any philosophies or advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
M.L.: It’s all about the editor. And try to write something with a message. Before you finish your story, find the heart in your work and make sure it says what you want to say. Give the reader something to think about when they close the book. It’s your own journey, so keep your head down and stay out of trouble. Don’t read the reviews/comments. And I’m serious about the editor.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
M.L.: Authors like reviews! I have other books available in the lobby. Well, some of us have got to make a living. I said to him, ‘Bernie.’ I said, ‘They’ll never make their money back …
Mark was first published at the ripe old age of eight, when a local newspaper published his review of Disney on Ice. The next time his name was in print was a lifetime later, at the age of fifteen, when a national magazine ran his review of the Commodore 64. It was downhill from there, picking up a weekly columns in national newspapers, which funded a rather noncommittal path through university, studying a wide range of topics from Robotics, Anthropology, Philosophy, Computer Science, and Psychology.
After more than a decade as a newspaper columnist, he turned technical writer for resource companies, which provided the opportunity to travel and live in some desolate and exotic locations where the locals don’t like you much.
His novels include the multi-award-winning Tesla Evolution Series, The Ellen Martin Disasters series, and several hard-boiled Science Fiction
We’re very pleased to be able to bring you this interview with Michael Lussier, whose new Suffrajitsu-inspired novella The Isle of Dogs is now available via Kindle Worlds.
Isle of Dogs is a dark, hard-edged mystery/revenge drama that pits Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons against an insidious new enemy:
“London: July, 1913.
The body of a young socialite is pulled from the Thames, her suicide note hinting at blackmail, conspiracy and corruption in high places.
Meanwhile, a mysterious street gang is moving through the East End with military precision. leaving a trail of murder and mutilation in its wake.
Enter Persephone Wright and her outlaw band of Bartitsu-trained suffragette Amazons, who will stop at nothing to avenge a fallen comrade …”
Q: What was it that first attracted you to writing stories set in the Edwardian era?
M.L.: Style and personal taste have a lot to do with it. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and there was something about Victorian and Edwardian literature that enchanted me when I was young. I grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Brontës, Bram Stoker, G. K. Chesterton, Baroness Orczy, H. G. Wells, Arthur Machen, Kenneth Grahame, and Oscar Wilde. I even enjoyed – god help me – that occult oddball Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Q: And what was it about the Foreworld Saga?
M.L: I am particularly drawn to the Foreworld because there are still huge areas of Edwardian society that have rarely been explored outside of academia. Suffrajitsu is a breath of fresh air, in that regard. It isn’t so much historical revisionism as it is a shadow history of people who were shoved to the margins because they were poor, foreign, queer or female.
2) Can you describe some of the challenges in writing The Isle of Dogs?
M.L.: The amount of research that needed to be done was staggering.
I never imagined that I would spend more than a couple hours of my life studying Burke’s Peerage or exploring the links between C. & E. Morton’s Bloater Fish Paste and the Millwall Athletic Football Club. Poor naïve bastard: I sacrificed whole days and weekends to these subjects.
3) What were the most interesting discoveries you made during your research?
M.L.: My story concerns the activities of a revived Hellfire Club, so I spent quite a bit of time researching contemporary attitudes toward sexuality.
There is a misconception that the Victorians were essentially prim, high-minded eunuchs. This isn’t even remotely true.
Q: So what were they?
M.L: Several popular music hall songs of that period that are far filthier than anything I’ve ever heard in a bar or machine shop. I’m not talking ‘saucy’ or ‘bawdy’. Eskimo Nell and Kafoozalum are vulgar, profane and ribald on a level that surpasses Lil’ Kim and Too $hort.
I also came across an obscure genre, which I call Erotic Biography. Probably the best known examples are Walter’s My Secret Life and The Romance of Lust. These are explicit memoirs which detail an anonymous gentleman’s sexual development and experiences over the course of many years and several volumes. They portray Victorian upper-class sex as ravenous, male-oriented, compulsive and predatory. Maids and serving girls were obliged to observe the droit du seigneur, prostitution was commonplace, pregnancies were disowned, any female age nine and above was considered fair game. These stories are Dickensian in a really disconcerting way.
4) In what way(s) would you say the themes of the Suffrajitsu series are relevant to us today?
M.L.: Suffrajitsu is the intersection of many fascinating underground streams. Feminism, ‘mixed martial arts’, drug addiction, homosexuality, violence against women, police intimidation and institutional intolerance. These are issues and subjects that are still incredibly pertinent to 21st century readers.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
M.L.: Read as much as you can, and study the techniques of your favorite authors. Sit down and write every day. Don’t worry about quality at first – no piece of writing is ever very good before the first revision. Find an editor and listen very carefully to his/her advice. Take your reader feedback with a grain of salt.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
M.L.: When I was young, there was a truism in advertising that declared the most coveted market demographic to be men between the ages of 18 and 49. This is no longer true, although for the most part nobody in power wants to admit it just yet.
Women are emerging as a very powerful consumer block. They represent 60% of the world’s population and 78% of gross domestic product. I’ve seen reports that suggest that women will soon control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the United States. They are, for the most part, better educated and more media savvy than their male counterparts.
Additionally, young women are entering into fields that were once considered male-only; music, law, video gaming, martial arts, etc.
As the economic clout of women grows, so too will the visibility of their issues and interests.
Having spent so much time with Emmeline Pankhurst recently, I cannot help but wonder how she would seek to leverage this power in pursuit of equality in a country where the Violence Against Women Act can barely make it through Congress.
Michael Lussier has been a machinist, an orderly in a psychiatric hospital and (on one occasion only) a celebrity babysitter. He is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Bartitsu, which can be found online here. As a general rule, Michael hates to talk about himself.
Sparked by the true adventures of the Suffragette Amazons, Tony Wolf and João Vieira have teamed up to create a new kind of adventure story. Their graphic novel, Suffrajitsu, is the first in a series of three books as part of the Foreworld Saga. We caught up with Tony Wolf to learn more about this ambitious project, and what we have to look forward to with the release of the first installment.
Read M. Leigh Hood’s interview with Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf courtesy of the Pandora Society.
We’re pleased to be able to present this December, 2013 interview with Tony Wolf, the author of the upcoming graphic novel series Suffrajitsu. Tony’s books will be part of the Foreworld Saga created by Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo and others.
Both Bartitsu and the elite Bodyguard Society of the British Suffragettes play key roles in the Suffrajitsu trilogy, which will be published by Jet City Comics.
SOME LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD …
Q – Tony, this is your first graphic novel, but not your first book – how did you come to be asked to write this series, and did your prior work have anything to do with it?
TW – I’ve written and edited quite a lot of historical non-fiction, mostly on esoteric Victorian-era martial arts topics – that’s been my major research interest over the past fifteen years or so. The project most directly relevant to the graphic novel was a children’s history book called Edith Garrud – the Suffragette that knew Jujitsu, which I wrote in 2009.
I actually kind of moved sideways into scripting Suffrajitsu out of my participation in brainstorming for another Foreworld project. I think it was in late 2011 that Neal (Stephenson) first mentioned the graphic novel deal with Amazon and asked me to contribute something on the theme of the Suffragette bodyguards.
Q – How did the writing process compare to your prior books/anthologies?
TW – It was a joy in that after so many years of antiquarian research into these themes, this was my first real opportunity to get creative with them. There was this sense of a dam, not completely bursting, but definitely exploding at certain key points.
Q – Tell us what you can about the series in your own words.
TW – Well, the events of the first book are based very closely on historical reports of actual incidents, although it’s become a kind of “secret history” in that the Suffragette Bodyguards were almost completely forgotten after the First World War.
We’re introduced to the main characters and their situation as political radicals – outlaws, really – in 1914 London. By that time, both in real history and in my story, the battle for women’s rights had reached a boiling point. The suffragettes’ protests and the government’s reprisals were becoming more and more extreme. Persephone Wright is the leader of a secret society of women known as the Amazons, who are sworn to protect their leaders, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, from arrest and assault.
Q – And that really happened, correct?
TW – Persephone is a fictional character but yes, there really was a secret bodyguard society attached to the militant suffragette movement.
The Amazons are Bartitsu-trained bodyguards and insurgents, saboteurs – the most radical of the radicals. They’re all under constant threat of imprisonment and worse.
Something happens in the first book that is a major divergence from actual history and that’s what spins the story off into the alternate timeline of the Foreworld universe.
Q – Where did you get the inspiration for the storyline when it veers away from history?
TW – It was clear that it would take a dramatic event to move the story into the events of the second book … I can’t say much more than that!
Q – But I understand that both historical and fictional characters appear as principal figures?
TW – Yes indeed. Many of the characters, like Edward Barton-Wright, are lightly fictionalised versions of their historical selves – as well as I “know” them from research – transposed into the Foreworld timeline.
The real Amazons were literally a secret society and even now we only know the names of a few of the actual women who were involved. I took that as artistic licence to bring in several “ringers” from both fiction and history. Judith Lee, for example, was the protagonist of Richard Marsh’s popular series of “lady detective” short stories during the early 20th century. Flossie le Mar, another member of my imaginary Amazons team, was a historically real person – she was a pioneer of women’s self defence in New Zealand – but she also had a sort of dime novel “alter ego” as the adventurous “Ju-jitsu Girl”, so it was a very easy decision to make her one of the Amazons.
Q – Are any of them purely invented and, if so, what purposes do those characters fulfill?
TW – The only major character that I entirely invented is Persephone Wright herself. Even though she was partly inspired by several real suffragettes, including Gert Harding and Elizabeth Robins, I wanted the freedom of creating an original protagonist.
Persi actually surprised me several times – she’s much more of a Bohemian than I’d first imagined, and there’s a fascinating tension between her free-thinking inclinations and her disciplined drive to protect people at any cost. She’s roughly half hippie and half samurai. I think she’d often really rather be off partying at the Moulin Rouge or writing poetry in a Greenwich Village tea-room, but damn it, she has her duties.
Q – What do you hope will come out of the series?
TW – My dream scenario is that it will inspire readers to create their own stories set in the world of the Amazons; anything beyond that will be gravy.
Q – Do you have any trepidation about being a male author writing a graphic novel with mostly female protagonists?
TW – No, but I’m aware that some readers will have me under the microscope on that account. My only agenda is that I think it’s amazing that a secret society of female bodyguards defied their government, putting their physical safety and freedom on the line over and over again, to secure the right to participate as equals in a democracy. Their story was absolutely begging to be told in some medium or other and I’m honoured to have been given that chance.
One thing I tried hard to do, allowing that this is a work of alternate history fiction, was to portray the Amazons as fallible human beings. For example, some of them have habits and attitudes that have become deeply unfashionable over the past century. They’re also more-or-less outlaws and have that very specific ethical/political perspective of the end sometimes justifying the means; none of them are entirely “wholesome”. Actually, none of them are “entirely” anything. As far as I’m concerned, their foibles, ambiguities and unique perspectives make them worthwhile as characters.
Likewise, I’ve been careful to try to convey that it wasn’t just a simple matter of “righteous women versus oppressive men”. Historically, many men energetically supported women’s suffrage – the newspapers nicknamed them “suffragents” – and many women were vehemently opposed to it, especially as the cause became more radical.
Q – Would you have been a suffragent?
TW – Absolutely!
Q – How has the process of working on Suffrajitsu been for you?
TW – It’s been an intensive, ground-up self-education in the nuts and bolts of scripting a graphic novel. You’re constantly playing Tetris with the plot and dialogue to work everything in within strict boundaries – only so many words to a speech balloon, so many speech balloons or captions to a panel, panels to page and so-on. My editors and João Vieira, the artist, have been very patient with me as I’ve worked those things out.
Obviously, there’s a huge amount of sub-plot and back-story etc. that I simply couldn’t fit in. We’re currently developing the Suffrajitsu.com website for the series, which will help with all of that and hopefully allow for some ongoing, active engagement with readers. There will also be some free short stories to whet readers’ appetites for further Suffragette Amazon adventures.
Q – Do you have a favourite character or a favourite moment in the series?
TW – Oh, that’s hard … my inner 13-year-old has a real weakness for cool badasses so perhaps the mysterious Miss Sanderson is a favourite in that sense. Similarly, (name of the villain redacted because spoilers) … the fact that he was actually a real person is somehow both appalling and deeply satisfying. If he hadn’t really existed, I would have had to invent him.
I do have a favourite moment, come to think of it, but that comes late in the third book. I haven’t even seen the art for that sequence yet, so it’ll have to wait for a future interview!
Q – Finally, then, when will the stories be released?
TW – We don’t have definite dates yet, but the website will probably be officially launched in November and the first book is scheduled to be published during early 2015. All of the stories will be issued first as individual e-books via Kindle, then later together with some bonus material as a printed collector’s edition.
Q – That’s something to look forward to! Thanks for your time.
TW – Thank you!