The sequel to HEART of CRUELTY is set in Dublin in the late 1840’s. William Doughty and Jane Verity meet again in the glittering capital city of a land ravaged by famine, rural evictions, and epidemic disease.
I relocated from Birmingham to Wexford in Ireland when I was part way through writing HEART of CRUELTY. I was tempted to move its setting but it would have meant too many changes. After Poolbeg Press accepted it for publication, they were keen for a sequel. So THE PIANO PLAYER is my chance to visit 19th century Dublin, a few years after HEART of CRUELTY ends.
The mid 1840’s saw the Great Famine in Ireland, accompanied by famine fever (typhoid and typhus). 1847 was the worst famine year (Black ’47), but in 1849 Ireland also suffered a cholera pandemic. During this time, the practice and teaching of medicine in Dublin was in a golden age when hospitals were developing from mere holding institutions for the destitute sick to become centres of excellence where medical treatment advanced. Doctors came from all over Europe to Dublin to learn.
Millions of people died or left Ireland during the Famine. The potato crop failures were accompanied by large-scale rural evictions. Landowners were taxed according to the number of tenants, so that even tenants who were up to date with their rent represented a financial burden which they would not support. Their bailiffs carried out brutal evictions, burning roofs off cottages to make them uninhabitable. They left whole families dying of cold, starvation and disease in makeshift shelters, in ditches by the road, or, if able to make the journey, in the big cities: Dublin, Cork and Limerick, in what were considered to be the worst slums in Europe. During all this, huge quantities of meat and grain continued to be exported by the landowners to Britain. This is why the famine was far more than a natural disaster, and is often argued to have been a form of genocide, or ‘genoslaughter’.
In 1848, inspired by uprisings across Europe, there had been an abortive attempt at an Irish Nationalist uprising, followed by suppression of Nationalist newspapers and the arrest, conviction and transportation of ‘seditious’ journalists. There was also a vastly extravagant state visit to Ireland by Queen Victoria in 1849, and a failed attempt by the nationalists to kidnap her. I have chosen 1849 therefore, and will set the glittering life of the elite and the progress being made in medical knowledge against the misery of the Dublin slums and the suppression of dissent.
In THE PIANO PLAYER, Jane and William will re-encounter each other after a long period apart. There are many barriers between them, yet they still need each other. And I’m introducing two new characters, both Irish Nationalists: a female writer inspired by Jane Elgee (‘Speranza’, or Lady Jane Wilde), and a young doctor.
Here’s my impression of the cover, which is going to be nothing like the final version…