From Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons

The arrest of a suffragette Amazon?

Riot

Does this rare photograph taken at a suffragette rally show the arrest of one of Mrs. Pankhurst’s bodyguards?

It appears that the police constable is holding a pair of wooden Indian clubs in his right hand as he moves towards the woman who is turned away from the camera.  Alternatively, the woman may be holding the clubs in her left hand as the constable twists her left arm behind her back, with his right hand covering her left hand.

Indian clubs were designed and sold as exercise tools but they became the signature weapons of the Amazon guards, who sometimes carried them concealed underneath their dresses.  A large number of Indian clubs were confiscated from suffragette bodyguards after the infamous “Battle of Glasgow” brawl in 1914.

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“The Isle of Dogs”: a Suffrajitsu novella by Michael Lussier

Isle of Dogs cover small

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.

Bio

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.

twitter: @Decervelage

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Suffrajitsu Issue #2: Shoulder to Shoulder

Suffrajitsu 2 cover

Shocking events propel the Amazons into a daring rescue mission against a sinister enemy, far from the familiar streets of London …

Issue #2 of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy is now available via comiXology: . We strongly recommend using the comiXology “Guided View” app for an intuitive, fluid reading experience.

Readers who have purchased the Suffrajitsu series via Kindle from Amazon.com will find Issue #2 automatically downloaded to the end of Issue #1.

The Edwardian Foreworld adventure continues …

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“The Pale Blue Ribbon”: a Suffrajitsu short story by John Longenbaugh

PBR cover

We’re pleased to be able to present this interview with John Longenbaugh, the author of the short story The Pale Blue Ribbon which is now available via the Kindle Worlds platform.

“The Pale Blue Ribbon” tells the history of Toupie Lowther, the fiercest of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, and reveals an altogether different beginning than what you might expect.

A frivolous girl becomes a dangerous and powerful woman in a story of challenges met, swordplay engaged and romance betrayed.”

Q: What was it that first attracted you to writing stories set in the Edwardian era of the Foreworld?

J.L: For the last few years the focus of much of my fiction has been Steampunk. The Foreworld history hews more closely to the world we know than my own, which features classic Steam tropes like aethereal batteries, airships and mechanical body parts, but it all draws inspiration from the same historical period. Oh, and the fact that my MA from York University is in Turn-of-the-Century English fiction has sure been helpful.

Q: What were the greatest challenges in writing this story?

J.L: In keeping with Tony’s dictates, I wanted to make sure that the duel stayed as close to an accurate description of an Edwardian fencing match as possible. While I’ve done a little fencing (and use cutlass in my Bartitsu class), I had to spend a lot of time thinking through the “choreography” of the fight, and using some of the language of fencing while still making the action clear to the general reader.

Q: What were the most interesting discoveries you made during your research?

J.L.: Learning that Toupie Lowther was both an ambulance driver in the First World War and the inspiration for the main character in the classic post-War novel The Well of Loneliness, much to her personal displeasure. She lived an amazing but ultimately very sad life and I am glad to give her a chance for a bit of derring-do in a fictional setting.

Q: In what way(s) would you say the themes of the Suffrajitsu series are relevant to us today?

J.L.: It seems that the gender wars are again heating up, stoked by a discontent among people in the West about all sorts of political flashpoints. In a lot of ways I feel like the issues were clearer in the time of suffragists, because the fight for the vote was an achievable goal. Now so much of the fighting that’s going on seems to be among the various members of the Left themselves, a state that I often find frankly depressing when it’s accompanied by stalled politics and low voter turnout.

I hope that the Suffrajitsu series will encourage people to remember what tremendous sacrifices were made to bring the vote to women, and to remind them that while we squabble about proper pronouns and who has what sort of privilege, women in this country still earn a fractional percentage of what men do in most jobs. There are bigger issues to address and larger fights to wage than the ones that consume us.

Q: Do you have any philosophies or advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?

J.L.: Write what you love, and write the stories you absolutely have to tell. Read not just for enjoyment, but writers who challenge and intimidate you. You may never write with the imagination of Virginia Woolf or the pristine clarity of Susan Sontag, but don’t settle for just reading the easy stuff. Scare yourself with great writing.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

J.L.: The only thing more fun than reading about Bartitsu is getting up on your feet and trying it. If you ever get a chance to do so, I highly recommend it.

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Suffrajitsu #1 launches today!

Sufffajitsu Book 1 cover largerBook 1 of the Suffrajitsu trilogy launches today via both Amazon.com and comiXology!

Set in London during early-mid 1914, the story follows the adventures of Miss Persephone Wright and her team of Amazons – the most radical of Edwardian England’s women’s rights activists – as they battle for the right to make their voices heard …

 

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Meet the Amazons …

… the elite secret society of bodyguards sworn to protect the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement.

Persephone

Persephone Wright

Athletic, charismatic and a brilliant tactician, 27 year old “Persi” is the field leader of the Amazon team.  In daily life, she teaches the martial art of Bartitsu at her uncle Edward’s gymnasium in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Persi’s hedonistic, free-thinking lifestyle sometimes clashes with her disciplined drive to protect others at all costs.

Flossie

Flossie Le Mar

A rough-diamond adventuress from New Zealand, Flossie has a quick temper and a sarcastic wit.  She is, however, a passionate advocate of women’s rights, including the right of self-defence.

 

Toupie LowtherToupie

A skilled tennis player, singer, fencer and Bartitsu fighter, the aristocratic, cross-dressing lesbian Toupie Lowther is also one of England’s best “lady motorists”.  She serves as Mrs. Pankhurst’s chauffeur and getaway driver and is effectively the second-in-command of the Amazons.

Judith LeeJudith

Judith protests that she is not so much a detective as simply an inquisitive woman with some unusual talents; these happen to include martial arts training and lip-reading, which she employs in her daily work as a teacher of the deaf.  She is, however, “morally compelled” to investigate crimes and mysteries when they cross her path.

Miss SandersonMiss Sanderson

A silent woman of mystery – not even her Amazon teammates  know her first name.  Miss Sanderson is a mistress of the art of parasol fencing and is darkly rumoured to have worked as a “governess“.  She wears a tight-lipped, predatory grin in the heat of battle.

Katie “Sandwina” BrumbachMrs. Brumbach

At 6’2″ tall and 240 lbs., Mrs. Brumbach is a woman of notably feminine bearing when she’s not snapping iron chains and out-wrestling strongmen.  The only daughter of an Austrian circus family, she is fiercely loyal to her Amazon cohorts.

Kitty MarshallKitty

18 year old Kitty is the youngest member of the Amazon team.  She’s inclined to over-apologise and harbours a secret fear of ghosts, but she’s a quick-thinking and brave fighter for the cause of women’s freedom.

Kitty keeps her Amazon training and missions secret from her over-protective family.

 

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Secret histories and outlaw suffragettes: an interview with Tony Wolf, creator of “Suffrajitsu”

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 …

Tony Wolf headshot 2

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!

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