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Wednesday 15th August 2018 Olga Wojtas and ES Thomson. Chaired by Sally Magnusson. @OlgaWojtas @es_thomson @sallymag1 @edbookfest #edbookfest

August 15, 2018

Going to this session was a must, not least for the opportunity to hear Olga read from Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar. If you have read my review, you’ll know that it is a hugely funny book and Olga’s reading of it is one of those moments you just should not miss.

I also wanted to hear from Elaine Thomson, whose books I have not read, and which again need to find their way onto my TBR pile. I love the sound of her books. Historical crime with a medical bent, about a female apothecary who can only be an apothecary if she dresses as a man.




Sally was at pains to point out how well ES Thomason evokes the sights, sounds and smells of pre public sewer works in London. Elaine’s PhD was in entry by women into the medical profession, so she is well researched in her subject. She says she took the interesting stuff and used it, moving it a bit further back to the 1850’s.

Why a crime novel? Elaine says that place, time and setting are all important to the way you tell a story, it to engage people you need a puzzle for them to solve.

Olga did not know she’d written a crime novel. As a journalist and constant news junkie she was getting depressed at the constant stream of bad news from the 24 hour cycle and set out to cheer herself up by writing this book.

Elaine has not only made her protagonist, Jem, a woman living as a man, but she has complicated that life by making her attracted to women and living under the threat of potential madness. Jerks disguise is aided by her port wine birthmark over her eyes. The idea, Elaine told us, came from the fact that she used to suffer from very severe eczema and she saw peo0le looking the mask and not the person she was behind it.
She tries to balance authenticity and imagination to make her books interesting as well as accurate.

Jem is based on James Miranda Barry, a surgeon who served in the British Army.  Although Barryks entire adult life was lived as a man, he was born Margaret Ann Buckley and his gender was only discovered after his death.

Interestingly, one of the people who reads her early drafts is Olga and vice versa and the two are great friends. Olga credits Elaine with the transformation of her writing Jen she suggested a change from third to first person. Both women agree that having other writers critique their early work is invaluable.

Olga’s protagonist is the redoubtable Shona McMonagle, a renaissance woman and former prefect of Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls. She time travels to Imperial Russia and in her feminist fashion, endeavours to raise the consciousness of everyone she meets. (You have to read it).

Rumour has it that Shona’s next trip through time may well be to fin de Siecle France, though not to Paris, but to a small village where she thinks her tasks to fight vampires….

Watch this space, I can hardly wait.

If you want a fuller version of this panel, you can catch the recording this Sunday morning on BBC Radio Scotland at 10am.

  1. I’m so enjoying your round-ups Mary. Hoping to have something up myself on Friday!


  2. Thank you so much for your generous review – and thank you for coming!


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